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Apple iPad Promises Media Revolution

The early speculation is that the tablet brings publishers hopes of new revenue for digital content while ushering in a shift in how users interact with the Web.

Apple on Wednesday unveiled a tablet computer to the surprise of almost no one and the celebration of many. It's called the iPad. It arrives filled with the hopes of publishers and other content creators that a new device can change consumer habits and open wallets for digital goods.

It looks and behaves much like an iPod touch or iPhone, scaled up to almost the size of a letter page.

[Click for our image gallery from Apple's Big Product Launch.]

"It's the best Web experience you've ever had," declared Apple CEO Steve Jobs at the iPad's unveiling in San Francisco. Leaving no superlative behind in Apple's press release, he also called it "magical and revolutionary."

For years, Apple watchers have been anticipating the arrival of such a device. In recent months, rumors about the tablet's characteristics have led to thousands of thinly sourced news stories.

The actual hardware is much as expected: A beautiful slice of glass, plastic, and electronics that offers mobile Web browsing, media viewing, and apps on an ergonomically friendly scale. Its touch-based keyboard may find a few detractors, though the use-case for the iPad is unlikely to involve heavy data entry.

The full capacitive multi-touch screen is a 9.7-inch IPS display. The device is 0.5 inches thick, and weighs 1.5 pounds. It runs on a 1-GHz Apple A4 chip, a clock speed comparable to Google's Nexus One and significantly faster than the 600-MHz processor in the iPhone 3GS.

Its storage capacity ranges from 16 GB to 64 GB of flash memory. It comes with Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, Wi-Fi 802.11n, an accelerometer, a compass, a speaker, a microphone, and a 30-pin connector. It boasts 10 hours of battery life during active use or a month on standby mode. Like Apple's recent model computers, it's free of various toxic materials like mercury, arsenic, brominated flame retardants (BFR), and polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

There are two optional 3G wireless plans, one offering 250 MB of data a month for $14.99, and the other offering unlimited data for $29.99 a month. Both are available from AT&T, Apple's carrier of choice for the iPhone in the U.S.

The device itself costs $499, $599, and $699 for 16-GB, 32-GB, and 64-GB models respectively. A 3G wireless transmitter/receiver adds $130, making the price points $629, $729, and $829.

The iPad will be available in late March.

What's significant about its arrival is its implications for producers of digital content, particularly publishers of news and books.

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