Apple's announcement of the iPad tablet computer drew ample attention from the technology world. As Martin Peers wrote in the Wall Street Journal December 30: "Last time there was this much excitement about a tablet, it had some commandments written on it." But will that buzz translate into applications for libraries?
At the January 27 introduction, Apple CEO Steve Jobs pinned the iPad's potential for success to whether it could occupy a niche between smartphone and laptop, claiming that netbooks fail to meet that niche's needs. Key tasks include web browsing, email, viewing photos and videos, listening to music, reading ebooks, and playing games, he said, declaring that "if there's going to be a third category of device, it's going to have to be better at these kinds of tasks than a laptop or a smartphone. Otherwise it has no reason for being."
The iPad will run all iPhone apps without modification, but developers will also be encouraged to create iPad-specific apps. Several developers, including Gameloft, the New York Times, and MLB.com, demonstrated some trial apps for the iPad at the device's introduction. Their preliminary innovations generally utilized the iPad's larger screen than the iPhone to allow more space and customization for onscreen controls, although the Times incorporated display options such as resizable text and customizable columns as well.
And while video and gaming are clearly focuses for the tablet, text is also getting its due. Jobs announced the iBooks application for reading ebooks, claiming that "Amazon's done a great job of pioneering this functionality with their Kindle, and we're going to stand on their shoulders and go a bit further." The iPad will display ebooks in ePub format in full color, and can play embedded video. In addition to popular books, Jobs said that Apple anticipates adoption for textbooks, and periodicals have also begun planning for the iPad. Abilene (Tex.) Christian University committed to publish its student newspaper on the iPad the day it was announced. And Sports Illustrated has created a video that speculates about how it may be able to incorporate the capabilities of tablet computing into its offerings.
Will the iPad be a more effective mobile device for library applications than laptops or smartphones? David Lee King, digital branch and services manager at Topeka and Shawnee County (Kans.) Public Library, sees value for reference desk and roving reference applications currently performed with netbooks. "I've always thought that a tablet would work better," because of better maneuverability and display options, he told American Libraries.
The tablet features a 9.56-inch by 7.47-inch multi-touch screen with a resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels, and a 10-hour battery life. It weighs a pound and a half and measures half an inch thick. Prices will range from $499 to $829. Notable omissions from the feature list, as identified by Wired, include any kind of camera, support for Flash, multitasking, and USB ports.
The iPad is scheduled for release at the end of March for Wi-Fi models, and the end of April for versions with both Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity.