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BY NICO VREELAND

[UPDATE: It’s confirmed that the iPad won’t be compatible with Adobe ePub books. That means no library books, and it takes a lot of the shine off the new iBooks. For some reason, Apple hates Adobe, and Adobe hates them back.]

A few short weeks ago, the Plastic Logic QUE ($650 WiFi/$800 3G) and the Spring Design Alex ($400 [EDIT–the Alex is now $360, I missed that]) debuted at CES, and immediately crushed my interest in them with exorbitant price points.

Today, Apple unveiled their new tablet computer, the “iPad,” (Gizmodo’s full coverage here) and made the QUE entirely irrelevant. The iPad is cheaper ($500 WiFi/$630 3G), faster, and more functional than the QUE, and it will actually be available earlier.

Not only does the iPad have a new, Apple-branded ereading program (iBooks), it can do video, internet, maps, and everything else that an iPhone can, on a grander scale. The only advantages the QUE has left are its ability to hand-write notes, and its E-Ink screen which makes for less eye strain and longer battery life. Still, the iPad has ten hours of battery life, so that last point is moot.

Basically, this spells doom for the $650 QUE, and if you were thinking about getting the Alex for $400 $360, or (God forbid) a $490 Kindle DX, how can you not scrape up a little extra for an iPad instead?

The iPad’s debut highlights the folly of “luxury” ereaders like the QUE and the Alex, which have gone in the wrong direction, trying to have an ereader that’s half laptop, with a price tag to match. Simple, affordable ereaders like the Kindle, Astak Pocket Pro, and Sony Pocket Edition are the only ones worth looking at now, at least until the Alex’s price drops by $150.

A few more tidbits, and links to more iPad coverage, after the jump.

  • The 3G iPad features pay-as-you-go, $30/month, unlimited internet (or 250 MB/month for $15)—but with AT&T. So AT&T can’t handle iPhones’ data usage, but they can handle full tablets with videos? Uhhh, I don’t believe that. $30 a month will stack up quick compared to the Plastic Logic’s free 3G, but the vast difference in hardware specs and functionality makes the iPad the clear choice for even those looking to use bandwidth on the go.
  • iPad has a 1 Ghz processor, and the standard model has a 16 GB flash drive (upgradeable up to 64 GB). By comparison, the Alex’s chip is 624 Mhz, and its flash drive is 2 GB; the standard QUE has a 4 GB flash drive, and doesn’t specify its processor (but it’s definitely slow—here’s a video wherein a Plastic Logic salesperson says page refresh takes a full second).
  • However, the non-3G iPad also doesn’t seem to have GPS (no dedicated ereader has GPS, of course).
  • Books on the iPad will cost a few dollars more ($13-$15) than Amazon’s $9.99 price point. But if the iPad is really compatible with open ePubs, you can jt buy books elsewhere and load them up on the iPad. (That’s a big “if.” It’s also the difference between getting library books and not.) [Confirmed. No Adobe ePub books. No library books. Sigh.]
  • Like it or not, the iPad will give more people access to ebooks than all the other ereaders put together. Is it crazy to think Apple could sell five million of these this year? Ten?

Some links: the official iPad product video; the iPad website; full Gizmodo coverage; Wired’s coverage; Ars Technica coverage. And here’s the whole keynote.

[UPDATE: Also, some ebook-centric iPad links: Random House is not yet an iPad partner; GalleyCat gets reactions from publishing experts; the Guardian gets reactions from all kinds of experts; and here’s a proof-of-concept video about magazines on such a device.

More useless blather:

There’s been serious backlash since the keynote, mostly taking Apple to task for making a giant iPhone, with all the iPhone’s limitations intact (namely, no multitasking, no flash, no outside apps). It also feels like Apple’s ePubs won’t be compatible with the rest of the world’s ePubs (which makes it disingenuous to call them “ePubs,” no?).

Personally, I don’t own an iPhone because of all those mentioned limitations, but I’m considering this device in spite of them. I frequently want to, say, listen to Pandora while I check a few emails on my phone, or use a real keyboard to type an email error-free. But the iPad seems more like a multimedia powerhouse, not a multitasking workstation.

You can show people your pictures, engagingly read full-color (and multimedia) newspapers and magazines, watch movies (presumably Hulu and Netflix will step up with apps soon), and read books [but no library books]. Once the second generation comes out and the price drops—maybe by Christmas—this might be a pretty good deal for a high-tech coffee table toy.]

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