After all these months of speculation, the iPad is now official: An oversized iPod Touch essentially, with access to the same capabilities of an iPhone (minus the phone) such as Web browsing, video and music playback, e-mail, contact management, game-playing, and map-based navigation.
And it uses a touchscreen as the keyboard; in his demo, Apple CEO Steve Jobs -- no doubt mindful of the many users who hate touchscreen-based virtual keyboards -- composed an e-mail on it while sitting in a living-room-style leather chair, to suggest that the touchscreen keyboard on a device the iPad's size should be little different than using a standard tactile keyboard. But Apple will also offer a dock that contains a physical keyboard, and you can connect an Apple wireless keyboard to it via Bluetooth.
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Like the iPhone and iPod Touch, it runs the iPhone OS -- and so most iPhone apps should run unmodified on it as well. There's even an on-screen "2X" icon to scale up the existing apps to fit the iPad's 9.7-inch screen.
So what's significantly new? Not as much as one would have expected given the all hype. But the combination of technologies and apps suggest that the iPad could provide an alternative to netbooks and cheap notebooks for basic productivity needs while bringing all the entertainment and media capabilities that have made the iPod and iPhone such big hits.
The New York Times showed off a version of its news app designed for the iPad -- it's an app like the Times' iPhone edition, not the standard Times Web site (which you could also browse in a desktop-like experience on the iPad). That means you can access content when offline after it's been downloaded, but it supports the more familiar newspaper layout conventions of columns, except that you can rearrange them in a sort of My Yahoo way.
And Apple has added -- as long rumored -- an e-book reader called iBooks for books and publications, along with an iBook Store that is nearly identical to the iTunes Store to purchase books and other print-type media. The goal is to make printed media as available in an on-demand, paid way as iTunes has done for music and is trying to do for video. Unlike the Kindle, which Jobs cited as an inspired first entry, the iBooks app supports color images and text, not just black-and-white. You can even change the font. The books are in the EPUB format, not an Apple-proprietary one, so widely used tools like Adobe InDesign can be used to create them.