Apple finally gave us the date the first iPads will hit store shelves: April 3. We've been closely following the touch-screen tablet since Apple first announced it in late January, but here's a quick guide for your most essential questions about the device.
First things first: How big is it?
The iPad's screen offers a maximum resolution of 1,024x768 pixels and measures 9.7 inches diagonally, 5.75 inches wide, and 7.75 inches tall. An 0.86-inch bezel frames the screen (with a hair extra room on the bottom to account for the home button), making the front of the iPad a total of 7.47 inches wide and 9.56 inches tall. The total thickness of the iPad is half an inch at its thickest point, which tapers down to a quarter of an inch near the edges. Total weight is 1.5 pounds for the model with Wi-Fi only, or 1.6 pounds for the version with 3G.
What hardware features does the iPad offer? Many of the iPad's hardware capabilities are identical to the Apple iPod Touch, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1, a stereo audio output (headphone jack), built-in speaker, an integrated lithium ion rechargeable battery, and NAND flash memory. A built-in accelerometer and ambient light sensor are also included on the iPad.
Hardware features that distinguish the iPad from the iPod Touch include a 1GHz A4 processor, an oleophobic screen coating, integrated digital compass, built-in microphone, mute switch, and support for 802.11n Wi-Fi (in addition to 802.11b/g). The 3G version of the iPad includes a SIM card tray, as well as assisted GPS capabilities.
What's the deal with the wireless plan?
Apple and AT&T are offering a pretty good deal on 3G service for the iPad. There are two options: $15 a month for 250MB of data, or unlimited data for $29.99 a month. The bonus is that you don't have to sign any contracts that bind you to the device for two years. Each option can be prepaid for a month in advance. Again, you need the iPad 3G model, which bumps up the baseline price of the device to $629 (16GB), $729 (32GB), and $829 (64GB).
If I already have apps for my iPhone or iPod Touch, can I use them on the iPad?
In most cases, the answer should be yes. Older or existing apps can run on the iPad at their native iPod/iPhone resolution (taking up a small portion of the iPad screen) or used in a full-screen mode that artificially doubles the resolution. So long as the apps are in your iTunes library when you connect the iPad to your computer, most should transfer with no problem. There are exceptions, of course. Apps designed to take advantage of unique hardware characteristics of the iPhone (such as the photo camera or video recording) may not transfer, and would be useless on the iPad anyway.
That said, many popular apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch will likely be offered in a new iPad-specific version that makes better use of the device's larger screen. These apps, designed specifically for the iPad, will not be backward-compatible with the iPhone and iPod Touch.
I've heard the iPad is basically just an oversize iPod Touch. Is that true?
In some ways, it is a super-sized version of Apple's touch-screen iPod: same basic look and functionality with its multitouch screen and reliance on iTunes and the App Store to install applications and download media. But there are plenty of differences.
The operating system is a version of the iPhone OS, but with a slightly different look and feel. Many of the same apps are there--e-mail, photos, notes, an iPod, calendar, contacts, maps, YouTube, and Safari--but have been tweaked to take advantage of the iPad's larger screen size.
The 9.7-inch screen offers far more screen real estate and also makes the iPad much more realistic to use an e-reader. That brings us to iBooks, the e-bookstore Apple created specifically for the iPad. It's an app that features a virtual bookshelf with content from five major publishers: HarperCollins, Hachette, Penguin, Macmillan, and Simon & Shuster. The iBooks store will feature both popular books as well as textbooks. Readers can choose to read in portrait or landscape mode and change the size of the text.
But that's not the only iPad-only software Apple has cooked up. The company had its engineers completely rework iWorks for the device, including Pages (word processing), Numbers (spreadsheets), and Keynote (presentations). Each iWorks app will be sold separately for $9.99.
There are accessories that will cause some major iPhone/iPod envy as well, like the keyboard dock accessory. There's also a camera connection kit that lets users import images from their SD cards, and a charging/docking accessory, that when used in conjunction with the photo app's montage mode turns the iPad into an electronic picture frame.
What else might I need to use the iPad?
While the iPad can be used without a computer for the majority of its features, you will need to connect to a computer running Apple's iTunes 9.0 or later to initially set up the device. Computer specification requirements for iTunes 9.0 can be found on Apple's Web site.
If you plan on using the iPad at home for surfing the Web, and you do not have a 3G-capable model, you will need to make sure your home is set up for wireless Internet. A power adapter is included with all iPads, but users should consider investing in a charging dock if they wish to take advantage of the iPad as a photo frame. Users who anticipate using the iPad heavily as a word processor may want to consider buying Apple's keyboard dock or a compatible Bluetooth wireless keyboard.
What's missing from the iPad that I might find in a competing product?
The iPad is in many ways one of the first products of its kind--making it hard to draw easy comparisons. When weighed against high-end smartphones, users should know that the iPad is not designed for voice calls or text messages (though there are apps that can work around this limitation). More importantly, the iPad does not include a built-in camera for taking photos or videos.
When compared to low-end laptops and Netbooks, the iPad can't run common full-fledged applications (such as Microsoft Word), or use multiple apps simultaneously. Conventional input and output ports, such as USB, SD, VGA, and LAN are also missing, though some adapters exist to address this. Critics routinely point out that the iPad does not support Adobe's Flash media format, which is required to view content on many popular Web sites. Lack of an integrated hardware keyboard or high-resolution video output are also common complaints from the laptop perspective.
Finally, compared against dedicated e-readers (such as the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook), the iPad's reflective glass front and backlit color LCD screen arguably strain the eyes more than a passively illuminated non-glare e-ink display.
When and where can I buy it, and how much is this going to set me back?
There are two versions of the iPad. Apple announced Friday that the Wi-Fi version will launch in the U.S. on April 3, followed by the Wi-Fi and 3G-capable edition later in the month. Both versions will hit Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Switzerland, and the U.K. in late April.