Apple Computer’s iconic Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs has made another bid to create digital history. Following months of speculation, he unveiled the iPad, a 24.64 cm (9.7 inch) touch-screen tablet. This device, he proclaimed, lets people hold the internet in their hands. Mr. Jobs hopes to make the same game-changing impact on the digital world that he did with the iPod, which has sold 250 million units, and the iPhone. Apple’s nifty new creation is positioned as a “third category” mobile device — between the laptop and the smartphone. It is 1.27 cm (half an inch) thin and tips the scales at 0.68 kg. The iPad can browse the web, zoom into maps, do email, display and share photos, play video and music, and enthuse gamers with a raft of ready games. It can turn into a digital canvas with one application, complete with an easel and brushes to create art anywhere. It doubles up as an e-reader for books, with an attached online bookstore. The e-reader model for downloadable books was made popular by Amazon’s Kindle; the iPad hopes to expand that base with an augmented virtual reading experience that is comparable to print (although the backlighting can be a problem). The reader can pleasurably flip the pages back and forth. The publishers can even add colour pictures and video to the virtual pages.

The stock market did not react to the iPad with instant enthusiasm, but that hardly settles its future. Mr. Jobs may be resorting to hyperbole when he claims the iPad does many things better than a laptop or a smartphone. But what industry sceptics sometimes forget is that Apple’s runaway success is not just about functions — it is also about charisma, starting with design and feel. The iPod rewrote — and how — the rules of how people discover, purchase, and enjoy music. The iPhone (with its below-par battery storage) and iPod Touch unleashed the development of over 140,000 software applications, which have been downloaded three billion times in 18 months. That the iPad can run virtually all of them ‘from day one’ gives it a huge advantage in the consumer market. Apple now hopes to enter a whole new realm, where technology and the liberal arts converge and entire sectors such as newspapers, magazines, video producers, game developers, and book publishers come on board. For the media, the iPad opens up fresh possibilities on how content can be created and distributed and, crucially, monetised. The models with the 3G cellular option (built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are standard) will connect the user to news, video, books, and key sports channels on the go. But universal appeal may elude the web-focussed iPad if it does not offer compatibility with Flash and Java formats; nearly 70 per cent of games and 75 per cent of video on the Internet depend on Flash support. To become the convergence device of choice, Apple’s latest creation must aim to embrace all web-technologies and platforms and be global and open.

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