UK Operators Compete For iPad

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Apple has finally announced the launch of its long-anticipated iPad tablet, but its UK launch date is uncertain, as is the question of which operator will provide 3G

Apple yesterday announced the launch of its long-awaited tablet device, known as the iPad – an all-in-one entertainment device optimised for browsing the web, emailing, sharing photos, watching videos, listening to music, playing games and reading e-books. The iPad comes in two versions – one with Wi-Fi and the other with both Wi-Fi and 3G capabilities.

The Wi-Fi-enabled version of the iPad will be available worldwide in late March for a recommended retail price of $499 (£307) for the basic 16GB model. The 32GB model will sell for $599 (£369), and the 64GB model will cost $699 (£430). Apple has revealed that in the US it is pairing exclusively with mobile operator AT&T to provide pre-paid data plans for the Wi-Fi + 3G model, which will be available from April.

The company says that some other “selected countries” will also get the 3G-enabled model around the same time, although the countries and network operators involved remain a mystery. In a statement the company said that international pricing and worldwide availability would be announced at a later date.

When the iPhone was first launched in the UK in 2007, Apple signed a two-year exclusivity deal with mobile operator O2 to stock the handset. However, since that contract expired, other operators including Orange, Vodafone and Tesco Mobile have all launched the iPhone on their networks, with Vodafone in particular reporting massive sales.

eWEEK Europe spoke to both O2 and Vodafone, neither of which were able to confirm a 3G data contract for Apple’s iPad.

Earlier this month Orange executives suffered an embarrassment after Stéphane Richard, deputy CEO of France Telecom – which owns Orange, mistakenly let slip that Orange was planning to stock the device in an interview on French radio. When asked whether Orange customers would be ablet to enjoy Apple’s tablet, Richard answered “Of course!” However, Orange has not yet officially announced any plans to partner with Apple.

Meanwhile Carphone Warehouse has been dropping hints that the iPad is on its way. “For the category to succeed, the iPad really needs to capture people’s imagination and act as a catalyst for a whole new ‘pad’ format,” said Andrew Harrison, CEO of the Carphone Warehouse UK, in a statement. “We are really excited about all the slate/tablet products currently in the pipeline and look forward to providing our customers with additional options for connecting and consuming content in the future.”

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eWEEK took a first look at Apple’s iPad following the launch yesterday. The device is half an inch thick and has a 9.7-inch LED-backlit widescreen multi-touch IPS (in-plane switching) display. The iPad weighs 1.5 pounds. It has a good feel in the hand and the display is both responsive and resists smudging.

“iPad is our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO, in a statement. “iPad creates and defines an entirely new category of devices that will connect users with their apps and content in a much more intimate, intuitive and fun way than ever before.”

The lucky winner of the UK iPad contract may have some ultimate regrets, as some analysts have predicted that – compared to the iPhone – Apple will drive down the subsidy with which operators tie customers to their own service.

A large screen is also likely to drive heavy data traffic, and could overload operators’ networks. O2 suffered a data network failure in December and blamed it on excessive iPhone data traffic.


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