Apple Joins the Media Tablet Fray with iPad Launch

Apple Inc today announced the iPad media tablet. The media tablet device category, which began to gain traction in 2009, will come into its own during 2010 and beyond.

“While laptops are focused on productivity, and mobile phones are still primarily about communication, the main focus of media tablets is entertainment,” says ABI Research senior analyst Jeff Orr. A new ABI Research study on media tablets forecasts 4 million devices will be shipped worldwide this year.

“Content consumed on laptops and smartphones is increasingly based on Internet services,” says Orr. “Home networks and mobile broadband data services make viewing possible without wires. These media tablets could not have come to market any sooner than 2010.”

Designed for use in the home or office environment, the Wi-Fi-powered 9.7” touch device ($499-$699) resembles and functions like a large iPod touch. The tablet will utilize existing Apple services available for the smaller Apple media player and iPhone, including the iTunes music and app stores. An additional eBook storefront, called iBooks, is also being added.

Three additional models of the media tablet will include 3G wireless radios ($629-$829) for mobile data access over cellular operators. Initially available in the United States, special pre-paid pricing plans from AT&T Wireless ($15-$30) will be available. International carrier agreements are anticipated mid-year.

Media tablets, and specifically the iPad, pose challenges for purpose-built CE devices such as eBook Readers. Media tablets are able to display a wider variety of content, though with more frequent battery charges. has already made its Kindle eBook Reader application available for smartphones and personal computer operating systems, perhaps signifying the e-commerce company had read the tea leaves and the onslaught of media tablets.

Apple's entry into the media tablet market does not guarantee its success. Several functions -- cameras, external storage interfaces, support for Flash in the browser -- are absent from the first models. The iPad prices and gaps in functionality are likely to leave the door open for other media tablet vendors.