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Originally published January 27, 2010 at 10:20 PM | Page modified January 28, 2010 at 7:31 PM

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iPad lifts off to much iHype

The billion-dollar question is whether the device is exciting enough to persuade Apple fans and gadget enthusiasts to pay $499 or more for a device that falls into the gray area between a smartphone and a laptop.

Seattle Times senior technology reporter

Breaking down the iPad

Processor: Apple A4 1 GHz chip

Storage: 16 GB, 32 GB or 64 GB flash memory

Display: 9.7-inch screen, LED backlit

Weight: 1.5 pounds

Keyboard: On-screen

Connectivity: Wi-Fi, 802.11n; Bluetooth 2.1; 3G available on some models

Battery life: Up to 10 hours

Price of Wi-Fi-only versions: $499, $599 and $699 for 16 GB, 32 GB and 64 GB

Price of 3G versions: $629, $729 and $829 for 16 GB, 32 GB and 64 GB

Availability: Wi-Fi-only versions in late March, 3G versions in April

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SAN FRANCISCO — Some Apple fanboys may not be thrilled by the iPad, the ultra-hyped digital tablet CEO Steve Jobs unveiled Wednesday, but their parents might buy one for themselves.

As expected, the iPad is a supersized iPod, big enough to see most of a Web page, a full page of an electronic book or the front page of a digital newspaper — without having to squint too much if your eyes aren't what they used to be.

The billion-dollar question is whether the device is exciting enough to persuade Apple fans and gadget enthusiasts to pay $499 or more for a device that falls into the gray area between a smartphone and a laptop.

If the iPad is a hit, it could define and accelerate a new category of handheld Web tablets used mostly for entertainment and casual browsing.

The platform is emerging just as media companies are exploring new ways to distribute and charge for online content, although Apple declined to provide terms of deals it's pursuing with publishers.

Media companies let slip details of the device over the past week, making Wednesday's announcement more anticlimactic than some expected from Jobs.

But the Apple chief executive's enthusiasm wasn't dimmed by the leaks.

"The iPad, if you were to sum it up, is our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price," he said during the launch event at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Yet the iPad didn't receive the warm welcome given the iPhone in 2007, with some pundits shrugging and others making jokes about the name, which some thought conjured up feminine-hygiene products.

More important is the reception the device receives from consumers and from software developers who rushed to develop applications for the iPhone.

Carl Staaf, who developed hit iPhone games while working out of a Seattle coffee shop, said he's excited by the opportunity to develop and use a larger screen.

But "the big gotcha," Staaf said via e-mail, is that "it doesn't fit in my pocket anymore."

"After centuries of 'wallet and keys,' the past few decades have seen a shift in our required gear to leave the house. It's now 'wallet, keys and cellphone.' I don't see 'tablet' being added to that."

That also means that instead of writing applications that travel with the user, iPad developers will need to think about how and where the device will be used and whether it's going to replace a laptop or desktop computer.

"If not, it's competing for time with those other devices," Staaf said.

Jobs, who had a liver transplant last year, appeared healthy, delivering most of his presentation Wednesday from a cushy leather chair on the stage — highlighting the iPad's potential as a household Web and media kiosk.

"It is the best browsing experience you've ever had," he said, "... way better than a laptop, way better than a smartphone."

As with its other products, Apple emphasized design in the iPad, which has a 9.7-inch (on the diagonal) screen and weighs just 1.5 pounds.

The company is to begin delivering Wi-Fi-only models in 60 days and models with 3G wireless broadband service from AT&T in 90 days.

Prices will start at $499 for a Wi-Fi-only version with 16 gigabytes of storage.

"At $499, a lot of people can afford an iPad," Jobs said.

The most expensive version, at $829, has 3G capabilities and 64 gigabytes of storage.

Apple is also selling a keyboard/docking-station accessory that could enable people to use the iPad as a low-powered desktop workstation.

At its $499 starting price, the iPad will compete with lower-end laptop computers, media-browsing devices and electronic reading devices such as Amazon.com's Kindle.

In a direct challenge to Seattle-based Amazon, Jobs announced a new online bookstore called iBooks that links to the iPad, has one-click purchasing and places your purchased books onto a rendering of a wooden bookshelf.

Jobs praised Amazon's early work with the Kindle but said the iPad will "make a terrific e-book reader."

"We're going to stand on their shoulders and go a bit further," he said.

Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener didn't comment on Apple's move directly, but noted Kindle's capabilities. "Customers can read and sync their Kindle books on iPhones, iPod touches, PCs, and soon BlackBerrys, Macs, and iPads," he said. "Kindle is purpose-built for reading."

The iPad models that come with 3G connectivity will have a choice of two plans from AT&T. One provides up to 250 megabytes of data per month for $14.99 per month, while the other offers unlimited data for $29.99 per month — "real breakthrough prices," Jobs said. The service is contract-free and available month to month.

The device has a nearly full-sized on-screen touch keyboard that can be called up for doing e-mail and other text-entry tasks. The only button on its front bezel is a home button, just like an iPhone or an iPod Touch.

"Watching it is nothing like getting one in your hands and feeling all that right in your hands and right underneath your fingertips," Jobs said.

He said the device has 10 hours of battery life and a month of standby battery capability. That drew big applause. "I can take a flight from San Francisco to Tokyo and watch video the whole way on one charge," Jobs said.

Jobs demonstrated e-mail and a calendar on the device and searched maps (Paris and Napa, Calif.). He also used the iPad to peruse photos and show a quick slide show of a trip to Paris.

The device also has a "built-in iPod" — he flicked through a media collection and tapped to play the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan, all while sitting back in the leather chair.

Early in his presentation Wednesday, Jobs delivered a few updates, including news that the company sold its 250 millionth iPod a few days ago, 3 billion apps have been downloaded from iTunes and Apple just reported $15.6 billion in quarterly revenue.

Apple is a mobile-devices company, Jobs said, noting that its revenue comes from iPods, iPhones and Macs that are mostly laptops nowadays.

"It turns out that by revenue Apple is the largest mobile-device company in the world now," he said.

Brier Dudley: 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com

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