Apple’s Flashy iPad Takes Aim at Kindle

Can a single gadget, priced at $499, pull publishing out of the doldrums?

The iPad debuted Wednesday with the flashy presentation everyone expected — its shared DNA from Apple's laptops and iPhone make it capable of bringing just about any kind of publishable content to the user in a new kind of way.

What remains to be seen: whether that gee-whiz interface can help pull publishers out of the doldrums. 

And with iBooks, one of the few all-new applications that iPad brings to the Apple suite, Steve Jobs makes no bones about the fact that he's going after the heretofore leader of e-readers: Amazon's Kindle.

“Amazon’s done a great job of pioneering this functionality with the Kindle," Jobs said, speaking to a select group of media at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater. "We’re going to stand on their shoulders and go a little further.” 

The iBooks application looks like a bookshelf, displaying the user's titles as covers, with a functionality similar to iTunes.  

"We're going to open up the floodgates for the rest of the publishing world, starting this afternoon," Jobs said. 

Details of exclusive content deals were scarce, but the New York Times, for its part, got ahead of the iPad apps curve, using a short window provided by Apple to prepare an interface for the paper that's unique to the device.

"Why did we come out three weeks ago to develop an app for the iPad?” Martin Nisenholtz, senior vice president of digital operations for the Times, said during the presentation. “We think that we’ve captured the essence of reading a newspaper.”

Pricing for the iPad will start at $499 (about the same price as a top-of-the-line Kindle), Jobs said, and monthly data plans — through AT&T — will start at $14.99. The device will begin shipping in 60 days.

"It’s so much more intimate than a laptop, and it’s so much more capable than a smartphone,” Jobs said.Jobs, dressed in his signature black mock turtleneck and jeans, showed off the iPad's music and movie viewingcapability, built-in calendar and Google map — all similar to those available on the iPhone, but given the tablet's larger size, capable of a better user experience.

The battery life of the device is 10 hours, Jobs said, adding that the iPad synchs with iTunes to automatically update music, photos and videos like an iPod. Jobs said the iPad will be Wi-Fi-enabled, but only higher-end models will be built with 3G technology. (Pricing for the 3G versions will start at $629.)

The iPad has long been the subject of speculation among tech geeks and content creators, some of whom had referred to it ("the Jesus Tablet") with biblical reverence. And, like the iPhone, which Jobs famously unveiled at the MacWorld Expo in 2007, it was shrouded in mystery.

But details about the device were leaked in recent days. Terry McGraw, the chief executive of McGraw-Hill — the textbook publisher — confirmed its existence in an interview with CNBC on Tuesday, letting slip that the company was working with the Cupertino, California-based company on making its books available on the tablet.

[Images and quotes via GDGT's liveblog]