So now we know.
After weeks of breathless speculation, we now have many answers about Apple's "latest creation." We know what it will be called (iPad). We know what it looks like (an iPhone on steroids) and what it can and can't do (basically everything an iPod Touch can do, but it won't replace your television). We know what it will cost ($499 for the most basic model), and we know when it will be available (late March).
But what we don't know is whether Apple can work its magic again with consumers, the same way it did with the Mac, iPod and iPhone. While the iPad certainly has many things going for it (in particular, that price-point), it's likely that many consumers have been left scratching their heads over why they would want or need one.
"Given the level of hype, I'm sure that lots of people are crushingly disappointed," Dylan Tweney, senior editor at Wired.com, tells Marketing Daily. "That said, it looks like a really cool gadget."
At the presentation event on Wednesday, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said consumers were looking for something to bridge the gap between a smartphone and a laptop computer. "Now some people thought that was a netbook -- but a netbook isn't better than anything," Jobs said. "We think we've got something better, and we call it the iPad."
As showcased, the iPad does an awful lot. It promises to operate all of the 140,000 apps already created for the iPhone and iPod Touch; it will have a Multi-Touch interface with a nearly full-sized touchscreen keyboard (when in landscape mode); it will store music, movies and photos and have access to the iTunes store, and it will come with its own e-Book reader and store featuring books from publishers such as Penguin, Harper Collins and Simon & Schuster.
"It was pretty brilliant," says Lincoln Bjorkman, executive creative director for the New York region of digital marketing agency Digitas. "How could you go buy a Kindle when you can have this for $499? I think they have seemed to have learned an awful lot from the trials and tribulations with the iPhone."
No doubt Apple has some hurdles to overcome, not the least of which is the network carrier for the 3G models. AT&T has taken a beating over its network, which is having trouble supporting the data usage of iPhone customers. Although Jobs called the pricing plans ($14.99 a month for 250 MB of data; $29.99 for unlimited data, as well as free use of AT&T WiFi hot spots) without a contract "a breakthrough," the carrier could remain a liability, at least in the early going. (Because it comes unlocked, it's also possible that the device could be used on other networks, and with no contract for data plans, consumers could switch carriers at any time.)
"It's quite a coup for them to get that from AT&T," Tweney says. "AT&T has some real capacity problems and this isn't going to solve that."
Apple also failed to follow through on hype that other programming, such as television shows, could be streamed on the device (although it's possible a deal for that could come later, Tweney says). But with demos from The New York Times, Major League Baseball and EA, it's clear that Apple has lined up top-tier content providers to help appeal to a broad range of consumers.
"We've done a lot of work [on consumer and media research] over the last several years," says Eric Openshaw, vice chairman and U.S. technology leader at Deloitte LLP. "We all want the content we want, when we want it, where we want it ... If it's [just] a big iPhone, then maybe this device is interesting, but not necessarily groundbreaking. But if it wraps in the rest of the customer and consumer experience -- and it looks like it will with the big publishers they've lined up -- and if it steps out even further with a better TV experience, then I think we've got something that's red hot."
But the real proof about whether people will buy the iPad will come in April. Considering it's an Apple product, there's little doubt people will line up outside the retail stores when the iPad hits the streets. If it meets success in the consumers' hands, Apple should have little problem selling enough of the gadgets.
"I really want to get my hands on it," Tweney says. "I think that will be the acid test when people start using it. Does this interface make content come alive the way it didn't on other devices?"