It's alive! As scheduled, Apple debuted its highly anticipated tablet device on Wednesday -- for many, representing the dawn of a new age in media consumption.
Christened the "iPad," the device is expected to be available in March for a (surprisingly low) minimum price of $499 (Wi-Fi enabled, with a 3G version to follow a month later). With it, users can browse the Web, read and send email, view photos, watch videos, listen to music, play games, and read e-books.
"iPad creates and defines an entirely new category of devices," said Apple head Steve Jobs, who unveiled the product at a private event at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.
The iPad is half an inch thin, weighs 1.5 pounds, and touts a 9.7-inch IPS display. Like an iPhone, the iPad has a multi-touch screen, which is "super responsive, super precise," according to Jobs.
The iPad will come in two versions: one with Wi-Fi and the other with both Wi-Fi and 3G.
AT&T is supporting the latter with a 3G prepaid data plans, but -- despite rumors to the contrary -- there was no mention of Verizon Wireless as an additional carrier on Wednesday.
"The iPad is priced lower than expected because it is less revolutionary than expected," says Forrester analyst James McQuivey. "Apple has taken the safe route of offering its existing customers an option that goes beyond today's iPod Touch in size and capability, but it has not offered a new category of devices that tackles the 5-6 hours of media we each consume every day."
Apple has an opportunity to create a new kind of media experience -- but it's not there yet, says McQuivey. And it may not be alone: "As it stands, a quick, well-structured response from Amazon in the next version of Kindle could easily be a contender here."
The iPad is powered by a 1 GHz A4 chip, 16 Gigabytes of memory, and 32 or 64 Gigabytes of storage. It also features Wi-Fi, and the latest Bluetooth.
Photos, music, movies and apps can be imported directly from Macs, PC computers, or digital camera, and automatically organized as albums.
At launch, the iPad will include 12 new apps designed especially for the device, and will be capable of running nearly all of the more than 140,000 apps in the App Store. Similar to the iPhone, every app is expected to work in both portrait and landscape mode.
Hoping to inspire a whole new category of applications, Apple has released a new Software Development Kit for the iPad so developers can create new apps designed specifically for the new device.
Apple also announced a new iBooks app for the iPad, which includes a new Apple iBooks bookstore, which will feature titles and catalogs from participating major publishers, including Penguin, HarperCollins and Macmillan.
MLB.com also demonstrated its own app, which resembles interactive TV in many ways and allows viewers to watch augmented live feeds of games and access special features.
Also announced on Wednesday was new version of iWork for iPad, which is described as a desktop-class productivity suite designed specifically for Multi-Touch.