Wondering if you'd want to buy Apple's new iPad? If you love to read books and can start at what is basically a 9.7-inch color computer screen for hours on end without your eyeballs falling out of your head - then maybe the company's 21st-century version of a tablet computer is for you.
That's if you have $499 to spend on the cheapest of the six iPad models announced Wednesday by Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who proved once again why he's the technology industry's master showman. Jobs may have called his newest creation "magical," but he's the only one who can conjure such interest and speculation among tech reporters and bloggers - or the mainstream media, for that matter.
His 90-minute iPad show-and-tell at San Francisco's Yerbe Buena Center for the Arts made it sound like you really have been missing yet another screen in your home for surfing the web and viewing media. I tend to think it's more of a roll of the dice for Apple than that; I don't know that most consumers think they need an iPad just yet when smartphones and laptop computers are still the mobile media machines of choice. And Apple is asking people to permanently change their mindset regarding how they interact with their media; fingerswipes, scrolls and taps, along with typed input on a virtual keyboard.
At least the prices offer a wide range of choices. A WiFi-only iPad runs from $499 to $699 depending on storage needs. If you want WiFi and 3G data network access, you'll start at $629 and go to $829 for storage variations. The WiFi pads are due in Apple stores and online in March; the 3G versions should be available for sale a month later.
Surprisingly (when you consider complaints and Verizon's latest marketing campaign) AT&T is still the 3G data provicer of choice here. But Apple was able to get concessions from the carrier - no contracts for iPad service and it can be activated within the iPad. 250GB of data will cost you $14.99/month; unlimited data is $30/month, which is much better than some home data plans.
For all that, Jobs promises super-fast processing (thanks to Apple's proprietary new A4 chip) that will let you surf the web, play games, check out family photos, watch movies like "Star Trek" or "Up" and videos on YouTube, and get access to the App Store. If you have an iPhone and have already bought apps, they will automatically sync to the iPad; no need to buy them twice, and they'll scale up to the larger-size screen.
The iPad gives Apple a chance to introduce the iBooks app and the Apple iBook Store, subject of much pre-release speculation. Five of the world's biggest publishers are on board as partners, and their books will sell from $8-15 a copy. They can be read in full color and pages are turned by tapping the screen.
That automatically draws comparisons with Seattle-based Amazon and its Kindle e-reader, which doesn't have color and touchscreen capabilities. But Kindle's greyscale e-ink screen is actually easier on the eyes for prolonged reading. However, color screens means textbooks, and Amazon has so far received an "incomplete" grade when it comes to getting its device into more classrooms.
Yankee Group analyst Carl Howe, who attended Jobs' event and got to play with the iPad, tells me that Apple has instantly set the e-reader bar higher, and made it seem that those who are already in this space - like Amazon - are "so last decade" because their devices can't offer the other multimedia functions and color screens. The entry-level iPad is $10 more than the large-screen Kindle DX; that sets up a potentially-tough consumer choice for those who want to read "Sophie's Choice" and have the option of watching the movie starring Meryl Streep.
Late Wednesday, an Amazon spokesman reminded media outlets that his company does have a Kindle application that lets you read e-books on a PC, iPhone and soon Mac computers. So theoretically, iPad users will be able to enjoy any of the 400,000 e-books in Amazon's catalog.
From Blue Nile to Zulily
Maybe you bought your engagement ring from Blue Nile, the Seattle-based e-commerce company that sells diamonds and jewelry online.
Well, you know what happens after that engagement ring goes on; soon you're building a nursery and shopping for onesies.
Blue Nile veteran (and family man) Darrell Cavens knows that can be the way of the world. That's why he's co-founded Zulily.com, a private sale site for moms, babies and kids. The site sells everything from clothes to furniture to child-based gear.
Private sale sites are on the rise, even as the economy staggers out of a recession. This segment of e-commerce generated more than $500 in sales by the top four private sale sites alone in 2009.
Private sale sites are membership only, although Zulily doesn't charge for membership. There are only a few items available for sale each day on Zulily; they're usually only there for about 72 hours but they are marked down anywhere from 25-70 percent off. "As we looked at the e-commerce space over the last ten years, we found the first real consumer-based revolutions focused on giving them a chance to respond to a different way of shopping," Cavens told me. "We have great brands with great stories behind them. It's a real sense of discovery for our members."
Zulily sells overstocked goods but also has some partners that are providing clothes and items that usually go straight to boutiques. Cavens says some of their partners want to use Zulily as a way to introduce themselves to consumers.