Apple has unveiled its much anticipated touch-screen tablet device, the iPad, which fills a niche in Apple's portable platforms between the handheld iPod Touch and the MacBook laptop PC.
The device lacks a keyboard, but offers a multi-touch user interface, like the UI on the iPhone. It includes an on-screen keyboard, iTunes music library, iBook, eReader software, plus the usual mix of personal digital assistant software to support email, calendar and contacts applications.
Users will also be able to buy a docking station that includes a qwerty keyboard.
Apple has introduced a version of the iPhone software developer's kit designed for building iPad applications. Members of the iPhone Developer Program can download iPhone SDK 3.2 plus a simulator that lets them build and run iPad application on their Mac. According to Apple, developers will be able to build apps that run across the iPad, the iPhone and the iPod touch without modification.
Since it uses the same operating system as the iPhone, the iPad is unlikely to support Adobe Flash, Java or other virtual machine environments such as VMware.
Consultancy Deloitte said devices such as the Apple iPad, which it calls "net tablets", are likely to thrive in 2010 despite only modest success for tablet computers over the past decade, due principally to the integration of wireless connectivity into these devices.
"Connectivity transforms the uses that tablets can be put to. Additionally, improvements in touch screen technology, power management and storage all combine to make the netTab a compelling device," said Jim Sloane, lead technology partner at Deloitte.