Sleek, shiny and desirable

There can be few people in the developed world who have not heard something about the launch 10 days ago of Apple’s new iPad computer tablet.

When you think that the iPad is just a portable tablet computer designed for web surfing, e-mailing, viewing photos, reading books and playing music, the level of interest in it has been incredible. Earlier this year, Apple issued an invitation to journalists to be present at an event on 27 January and the Internet began to hum with even more discussion and speculation that, at last, the truth would finally be known.

Being interested in these things, I had some vague sort of plan to go through to my office at launch time to check what Apple had been up to. I was watching Sky News on television killing time before the launch when, much to my surprise, the presenter announced that the Apple event had begun and that they were going to be crossing live to it.

The amount of time given over by Sky to the launch was quite extensive and, included with the live footage, were a number of experts giving their analysis as, feature by feature, the iPad’s capabilities were revealed. I have no idea of the exact amount of time that Sky spent covering the launch, but it was at least as much as that given to murders, floods, famine, pestilence and minor wars.

Just think about that for a moment; a product launch by a technology company, albeit a very cool one, is given equal weight to actual news events. My first impulse was to be outraged by this but, thinking back over Apple’s recent history, their products launches have tended to pretty significant and changed the way we do things.

There were some doubts when Apple first launched its iPod music player but the company has gone on to sell more than 250 million of them and, in the process, changed the way that a large slice of the public obtains its music. The music industry is still reeling from the shock realisation that huge numbers of people have no interest in trekking to a record store, buying a CD, and going home to play it.

As Apple’s online music store, and its imitators, is changing the face of music retail for ever, their iPhone set new standards in mobile handsets, and their App Store is likewise threatening a major change to the way people buy and use software.

It seems that people really do prefer the convenience of an online store where they can pay small amounts of money for the music or piece of software they happen to be needing, and it seems there is a chance that the iPad is going to do the same thing to the book, magazine and newspaper sectors.

The iPad is 24 cm high, 19 cm wide and 1.5 cm thick, and sports a 24 cm (diagonal) touch screen, WiFi, and a few other controls. It has a claimed battery life of 10 hours, comes in 16 GB, 32 GB, or 64 GB capacities, and can be used for surfing the Internet, watching video, viewing photos, listening to music, and other computer tasks such as word processing and spreadsheeting, if there is such a word.

One of the most hyped iPad features is that it will be able to interface with Apple’s new iBooks store where users can buy and download books, magazines and newspapers to read while they are out and about. There are a number of e-book readers available at the moment but they are still quite expensive and are really only suitable for displaying text and line drawings.

Apple is banking on the fact that the iPad will prove popular because it costs not very much more then one of the existing e-book readers and can do so much more. The iPad is lacking in certain ways, chief of which is the fact that it cannot multitask (do more than one thing at a time), and there is a lot of heated discussion going on in the Internet forums about whether it will succeed or not.

My feeling, for what it’s worth, is that the iPad is just too gorgeous to fail and that it is going to revolutionise the print business, just as the iPod changed the game in the music industry. If I were a print publisher at the moment, I would be moving full speed ahead making sure that my content was available as soon as possible, both for the iPad, and the imitators that it is bound to spawn.

It’s not clear when the iPad will be available down here at the bottom end of Africa, how affordable it will be, or even if we will ever have access to the iBooks store, but it is going to be a surefire hit elsewhere.

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