Rhodri Marsden: A marketing triumph from masters of suspense

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The things that we become massively invested in without realising it are extraordinary. I have no real interest in who wins the Eurovision Song Contest each year, but at the height of the voting I'll find myself roaring on Romania or Malta for no particular reason. And it's the same now, after the Apple press conference; I feel mentally exhausted, but all I've got to show for it is a picture of a computer that I'm not likely to be able to get my hands on in the UK for at least two months, and probably longer. Swizz.

The long, painfully slow build-up to the announcement of the iPad has been a marketing triumph, establishing Apple as the new masters of suspense.

The whole circus began to feel slightly surreal; we may as well have been talking about the effects of a possible ebola outbreak in East Anglia, such was the pointlessness of the speculation. Yes, patents had been filed by Apple in Europe in May 2004 and in the US in May 2005 for an "electronic device" with a picture of a man prodding a tablet-like screen with a finger. But beyond that, we knew nothing.

So, now it's here, what does it mean for the computing world? As far as tasks such as browsing and emailing are concerned, it occupies a niche between a laptop and a smartphone; yes, a beautiful display, but nothing you couldn't have already imagined. More interesting is the way that the apps iPhone and iPod touch users enjoy can be transferred to their iPad and scaled up to full screen displays and its use as a 21st-century easel; a demonstration of the Brushes app was particularly impressive.

Initial reactions to the device within the hall seemed slightly muted. Questions like "Does it not have a camera? Why can't you make phone calls on it?" were being murmured almost immediately; maybe that's only to be expected after one of the most intense, yet curiously uninformative and possibly unintentional hype campaigns in history.

The bigger deal is what the device might be able to do for the print media industry via its new iBooks application and iBookstore; the fact that you'll now be able to read e-books on a machine that's also capable of full colour web-browsing and video and audio entertainment suddenly makes devices like Amazon's Kindle and Sony's eReader look incredibly feeble by comparison.

Its ability to rejuvenate the newspaper and magazine industry is less clear; an iPad app was unveiled by The New York Times yesterday, but why would iPad owners spend money on that, when they can use the built-in browser to visit a website instead? The answer, one guesses, is rich, iPad-specific content. And if the old print industry does manage to flourish as a result of the iPad, Jobs' overheard prediction of it being "the most important thing I've ever done" could just be correct.

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