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It’s finally here. The iPad, the legendary tablet that has been rumored for over a decade. So what to make of it now?

iPad

While the announcement event is set at 10am PST to maximize the impact to US based media, the round world conspiracy placed the event at 3am JST. What is it about Apple and sleep deprivation for fans in Japan?
But it’s a testament to Apple’s popularity in Japan that I and around 50 other Apple Enthusiasts gathered in a basement pub in Harajuku to wait for the fabled announcement. Huge thanks to KNN Kanda and Hideki Francis Onda for arranging this event and I should note that not only was there another similarly sized even on the other side of town, but the livestream traffic covering this event alone included over 16,000 viewers (and of course a few dozen die-hard MiJ members).

iPad Greeky Crew

What a geeky crew! So many computers and smartphones in the room, after the announcement we decoded the human genome for fun

From Midnight Kanda-san led the discussion with a number of interviews with the tech pundits in the room (including yours truly) and it was clear that the expectations were very high for the announcement. Amazingly the energy just seemed to build as we approached 3am and by the time Steve Jobs hit the stage everyone was out of their seats and the room was buzzing with conversations and comments. Of course this led to my big fail of the evening. My plan for a livestream went far under expectations as dozens of computers in the room choked our network to a trickle. Streaming video from the event in San Fan was out completely and my outgoing stream was choppy and frequently dropped off. Sorry guys. :(

Luckily, the event is already up on Apple’s webpage and you can view it here if you haven’t seen it.

So how did things go? Well, even without live video we had a room full of geeks scanning webpages and chat/twitter streams to glean every bit of information as soon as it was posted. So we were able to keep up with each point in near real-time. I was amazed how fast each powerpoint slide was deconstructed. Almost instantly the call came out. “Where’s the camera?” then we noticed there was no Phone option. This was not what people were expecting, but so far no one seemed too upset.

Overall in fact, the device specs were well received. Size and weight seemed to be right on, with the comparison made that it weighs about the same as two large cans of beer (yes we were in a bar at around 3:30am at this point). Screenshots were analyzed for information on ports and potential for accessories. This of course is VERY important here in Japan. The interface drew a less animated response. I guess it fell right in the middle of most people’s expectations. No one seemed particularly excited or disappointing by the new multi-touch interface. Even more than games (which totally excited me), it was the iWork announcement that drew the biggest response. Quick confirmation came down that Japanese language input would be in place as this is a simple ported OS from a multi-lingual OS.

The eBook announcement met with generally positive response. Helped by the presenters, the Amazon Kindle comparisons were thoroughly explored and as a happy Kindle International version owner I have to admit that now I think my Kindle is kind of crappy. In my opinion, the iPad is the ebook that people have been waiting for. A transitional interface that is natural to a paperlover, but powerful for the savvy user. It’s high time that we start the move away from paper guys. It’s bad for the environment, it’s wasteful in terms of distribution and storage, and it does nothing but create waste in the retail arena. Someday, books will be rare things. something you can give to someone as a graduation gift or something. Not a regular part of your day-to-day.

iPad Geeky Crew 2

Now for the big downer of the evening. Well, first there was some happy. Costs were well received here. Steve Jobs made good his attacks on netbooks when he placed the starting cost for a 16GB wi-fi only iPad at $499. I think we can expect to see that translate into around a 55,000 yen pricetag in Japan. Of course the 64GB 3G enabled model will run more than two times that amount, but for similar capabilities, the iPad will certainly give netbooks much to fear. Still, it’s going to be a hard task for Apple to woo Japanese consumers away from “safe” options. The lack of a built in keyboard alone will frighten the typical Japanese customer all the way to a nice safe Toshiba. The Keyboard dock looks good and did get a favorable response in the room, but we will have to see how that holds up in the real world. I am sure however we will see cases with built in keyboards coming out of the woodworks in no time.

Now the bad news was the release schedule. While not explicitly stated, the expectation is that Japan will get the devices very close to the official US launch of “some undisclosed day in March”. But then chaos reigned when it came to the 3G enabled version. The AT&T price plans started off the confusion. Will we see similar plans in Japan? From Softbank (probably)? What’s a micro-SIM? (This is a micro-Sim).
The newly announced format has yet to be seen or connected with any domestic Japanese carriers. This could potentially delay the launch past the initial international launches in June. The modem of course is an HSDPA tri-band (850, 1900, 2100) compatible device eliminating both HSUPA upload speeds and eMobile network compatibility from the mix. The unsubsidized price model may not work well with both Japanese customers and carriers, so we here in Japan have a lot of question marks left following the announcement.

And then it was over. Certainly the room was wanting more. What about iPhone 4.0? No Flash (I’ve been saying for a while it is unlikely)? Murmurs of “One more thing” echoed through the room, but for naught.

Instead, Kanda-san and Onda-san placated us with giveaways galore including restaurant vouchers, tunewear iPhone cases (some even covered with Swarovski crystals), real Apple products (like applesauce) and even a very elite pair of Atomic Floyd headphones. And everyone even got a free iPhone/iPod FM transmitter.

iPad Giveaway

Giveaway loot thanks to Onda-san and Focal Point Computers/Tunewear

So how do I feel about the iPad in Japan?

A bit conflicted to be honest. I think the device is a great hardware platform. Personally I am disappointing that Apple hasn’t figured out how to do multi-tasking on a mobile device yet. I understand why we won’t see it until it’s perfect and agree with the philosophy, but still would have loved to see that one solved.

Obviously this is not a personal communicator tool. The iPhone fill that niche, so the lack of cameras is understandable. But I still think Apple may regret that decision down the road. It may not fit with Steve Job’s image of what the iPad will be, but the future lies heavily on the backs of the individual developers of 3rd party apps and I can’t help but wonder what they might have been able to do with the extra tools.

I do see this as the biggest threat ever to old ways of publication and distribution of media, particularly written media. But it’s still just a threat, not the silver bullet. Now we have to see how the more conservative side of the equation responds.

I’m calling this as Apples next AppleTV. It’s a gamble. However Like the AppleTV, this is not a guarantee win or lose. It will depend on how Apple handles the ball from here. Best case, iPad becomes the new mobile platform to beat/imitate/and berate, worst case, it flounders and Apple will scavenge the corpse for the next generation of Macbooks.

So ask me again in a few months. I’m sure I’ll have a better idea then since I’ll be getting one just for the new MLB Live app.

Follow our complete iPad landing in Japan coverage

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