We've seen this movie before: a frenzied buildup punctuated by constant speculation. And then Apple actually announces the object behind all the fuss -- in this particular sequel the latest iPad, which goes on sale Friday.
Then the mood shifts. People bummed out by the features that Apple did not put into its freshly baked tablet computer weigh in. No extra storage or expansion options, no smaller-screen model to compete against the likes of Amazon's Kindle Fire. Still no Adobe Flash, and no camera flash, either. Not even Siri, the chatty personal assistant who, depending on where you are coming from, either charms owners of the iPhone 4S or bugs them.
No big deal.
Apple may have left a few things out. But Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster estimates Apple will sell up to 60 million iPads this year. And that's on top of the 55 million collectively Apple has sold since the original iPad was introduced in 2010, spawning imitators and redefining an entire category of computing.
And nearly everyone who lands the brand new iPad on Day 1 -- or more likely sometime afterward, since preorders are sold out -- will be delighted.
Apple's latest tablet strongly resembles the iPad 2. At 0.37 inches and 1.4 pounds, it's ever-so-slightly thicker and heavier (though Apple says most cases and accessories should fit). But the new iPad snatches the crown from its predecessor as the finest tablet you can buy. Period. Similar scenes played out last year with the iPad 2.
So it goes with the tablet born in 2012, which Apple for reasons not altogether clear did not name iPad 3 but simply the new iPad. On the surface, the leap from the second-generation iPad to the third-generation would appear to be relatively modest. But all Apple did was again distance itself from the competition:
An overview. The display is spectacular. Apple also improved the camera, added dictation and, on some models, the ability to tap into the speediest available cellular networks. Apple did all this without sacrificing much battery life or jacking up prices. The iPad 2 stays in the lineup and is cheaper.
An iPad 2 with 16 gigabytes of storage now fetches $399, $100 less than a week ago. An iPad 2 with 3G wireless capabilities from AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless goes for $529, plus a data plan if you choose to add one.
Meanwhile, new models with just Wi-Fi cost $499 for 16 GB, $599 for 32 GB and $699 for 64 GB. Same capacity models with Wi-Fi and 4G wireless capabilities command $629, $729 and $829.
Fast wireless. The new iPads are the first iPads that access the 4G or fourth- generation data networks being deployed nationally (but not everywhere) by AT&T and Verizon Wireless, each with variations on how wireless is delivered.
The test machine, a Verizon model that taps into the company's 4G LTE network, was really zippy in a week of testing in San Francisco and Austin. Downloading apps was quick, including previously purchased apps that had to be accessed through Apple's iCloud service. Web pages loaded much faster than on an older iPad running 3G.
The new iPad can work as a personal hot spot that lets you share your speedy wireless connection with up to five other devices, though for now only Verizon has turned on the feature.
Verizon's monthly data plans begin at $20 for 1 GB, go to $30 for 2 GB and climb to $80 for 10 GB. AT&T offers a 250 MB plan for $14.99; 3 GB for $30; and 5 GB for $50. Keep in mind that with 4G you might well consume more data.
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