321What’s the big deal about Apple’s iPad, currently arriving in stores on the biggest wave of hype since, well, Apple’s iPhone? The easy answer is that the iPad comes from Apple, and we always expect big things from Apple because it is run by Steve Jobs, whose California garage was the birthplace of the personal computer in 1976. Since then, Jobs has transformed computing by making machines people actually like to use.

He’s changed the movie business, buying Pixar and ushering in the era of computer animation, and he’s led a takeover of the music business with the iPod and the iTunes music store. Then came the iPhone, and even now, nearly three years after its introduction, no other phone comes close.

Jobs is a relentless perfectionist whose company creates such beautifully designed products that they have changed our expectations about how everything around us should work. He has an uncanny ability to cook up gadgets that we didn’t know we needed, but then suddenly can’t live without. The iPad is his personal pet project. It’s something he’s been working on for years, reportedly even while he was recuperating from a liver transplant. Jobs calls it “a truly magical and revolutionary device,” and supposedly has told people close to him that the iPad is the most important thing he’s ever done.

Which is why so many of us raced to San Francisco in January to get an up-close view of the miraculous tablet. Yet my first thought, as I watched Jobs run through his demo, was that it seemed like no big deal. It’s a bigger version of the iPod Touch, right? Then I got a chance to use an iPad, and it hit me: I want one. Like the best Apple products, the user interface is so natural it disappears. The iPad runs on the iPhone operating system, so it’s even easier to use than a Mac. Like the iPhone, the iPad is a sleek, slim device. It has a nice 9.7-inch (24cm) screen, weighs just over one and a half pounds (500g) and can play movies for 10-hours on a single battery charge. Right away I could see how I would use it. I’d keep it in the living room to check e-mail and browse the Web. I’d take it to the kitchen and read The New York Times while I eat breakfast. I’d bring it with me on a plane to watch movies and read books. That may not be life-changing, but is it worth 500 bucks? Yup. Done. Sold. No wonder, then, that by some accounts Apple has received
pre-orders for 240 000 iPad’s, and some analysts project it could sell up to 5-million units in the product’s first 12 months.

One early adopter is Steve Wozniak, who cofounded Apple with Jobs. Woz has already ordered three iPads and plans to camp out in front of an Apple store the night before the iPad’s debut, just for kicks. “We all say we want things to be simpler, and now here is this simple thing. I think it will be a huge success,” Wozniak says.