iPad unveiled, EA and Gameloft lead gaming charge

[UPDATE] Wi-Fi-only version of Apple's tablet computer ships in 60 days, 3G-enabled version in 90; prices range from $499-$829; all existing App Store games supported, can be blown up to fit 9.7-inch touch screen; control scheme similar to iPhone's.


After weeks of increasing hype, cash-flush hardware giant Apple Inc. finally took the wraps off of its wildly anticipated tablet computer at a San Francisco press event. As rumored, the device will be called the iPad, and it will resemble a large iPhone or iPod Touch. It will have a half-inch thick, 9.7-inch multi-touch screen and will weigh just 1.5 pounds.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs and the iPad.  Photo:   CNET.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs and the iPad. Photo: CNET.

According to GameSpot sibling site CNET, the iPad's heart is an all-new 1GHz processor that places the CPU, graphics, and memory all on a single chip. The device has Bluetooth and a compass built in, and its battery life is around 10 hours--with over a month of standby. It will not, however, include a camera as MacBooks and iPhones do, nor will it support Adobe Flash, the ubiquitous browser software used by Web sites for animation.

The iPad will use the 802.11n wireless standard and will have several models with 3G mobile-network data connectivity. AT&T will offer two prepaid monthly plans--$15 for 250MB of data and $30 for unlimited data--with no contractual obligation. However, unlike the iPhone, the iPad will be unlocked, allowing users to use micro-SIM cards from other providers.

The non-3G, Wi-Fi-only iPad will "begin shipping" in 60 days (March 28) with three models: $499 with 16GB of flash memory, $599 with 32GB, and $699 for 64GB. In 90 days (April 27), the 3G models will go on sale for $629 (16GB), $729 (32GB), and $829 (64GB). Apple will also sell a dock to display the tablet like a standard monitor and allow a keyboard to be attached to it.

iPad's user interface resembles that of Apple's wildly popular iPhone--and its display rotates vertically or horizontally, courtesy of an accelerometer. Data entry is done courtesy of a pop-up keyboard that occupies half the screen, like on an iPhone. It will allow Web browsing and will have some elements of Apple's popular MacBook line of laptops, including a version of iPhoto.

The iPad will have a super-sized version of the iPhone's Web-browsing capability.
The iPad will have a super-sized version of the iPhone's Web-browsing capability.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs bragged that the iPad will have a "built-in iPod" and demonstrated its modified form of iTunes, which will offer the same robust multimedia playback. It will let users buy music, TV shows, and movies as they would via an iPhone or iPod Touch. He then showed off its HD video capabilities with clips of last year's Star Trek reboot and Up, the animated feature film from Pixar, the studio that Jobs owned before Disney bought it in 2006.

Gamers wondering if their library of iPod titles will work on the iPad can rest assured. Senior vice president of iPhone software Scott Forstall took the stage to announce that all App Store programs--including games--can run on the iPad unmodified. iPhone apps' pixels can be doubled to fit the iPad screen with the touch of a button, and new apps can be designed with the iPad screen in mind. A software developer kit for the device is available as of today.

EA's Travis Boatman shows off Need for Speed: Shift optimized for the iPad.  Photo:   CNET.
EA's Travis Boatman shows off Need for Speed: Shift optimized for the iPad. Photo: CNET.

While Forstall demonstrated several games, he also brought Gameloft senior business development manager Mark Hickey onstage to show off a first-person shooter designed specifically for the iPad. Its control scheme was similar to that of existing iPhone shooters such as Doom Resurrection, relying on the touch screen and accelerometer for movement and targeting. According to tech blog Engadget, Gameloft's title is called Nova (not to be confused with the existing iPhone game Nova Run), and it will be available later this year.

After Hickey took his leave, Electronic Arts' vice president of worldwide studios, Travis Boatman, took the stage to show off an iPad version of Need for Speed: Shift. He claimed that converting it from the iPhone to the iPad took "a very short amount of time," indicating that iPad versions of EA iPhone games could be incoming en masse. A Wall Street Journal report from last week said that EA was partnering with Apple to promote gaming on the then-unnamed iPad.

Asphalt on the iPad up-close.
Asphalt on the iPad up-close.

In addition to unveiling the iPad and its gaming initiatives, Jobs showed off iBooks, the tablet's format for electronic books. The service will let users buy books almost exactly as they would songs or videos from iTunes and adjust fonts and font sizes on the fly. The service already has the support of the five major publishing houses: Penguin, HarperCollins, Hachette, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster. Jobs also said that the service would be offering textbooks at a later date.

Finally, Jobs reflected on how far Apple has come since its founding in 1976. After flashing a black-and-white photo of a comparatively cherubic younger self along with Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, Jobs touted the company's $15.6 billion in first-quarter revenues. In fact, by revenues, Apple is now the "largest mobile devices company in the world," said Jobs. He defined mobile devices as iPods, iPhones, MacBooks--and now, the iPad.

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