Meditations on the iPad

I've been using the iPad for about a week now and I've gotta say, it's been a pretty good week. Apple, as always, delivered a product that is both easy and fun to use, and while the critics are correct that it's not a device anybody needs, I'll go ahead and say it's a device you probably want.  Sleek and light, it is, more or less, an overgrown iPod Touch, but size matters, and the iPad has quickly become one of my favorite ways to consume media and interact with visual content.

The big knock on the iPad was that it didn't really do anything all that different from a laptop or a smartphone, and that its in-between size and functionality wasn't really better for anything. But this criticism is based on the idea that we're moving toward a world in which we all have a single, do-everything device-- and I think that's a fallacy.  Rather, I think we're moving into a world of many, interconnected devices, that all seamlessly access the same information and content. To have a robust market, the tablet computer doesn't have to be "better" than a smartphone or a netbook or a laptop, it just has to do certain things well.  And as it turns out, the iPad does a lot of things well.

Me & My iPadThe display is gorgeous, and it shows off video content and photos beautifully. I've had a lot of fun scrolling through the Guardian Eyewitness photo-of-the-day app, and YouTube videos have never seen a better platform. The built-in speakers are loud enough and of high-enough quality to be satisfying as you watch a TV show or movie, and video apps like the ABC's Player stream video seamlessly.  I should also add that the Twitterific iPad app is the single best way to interact with Twitter that I have yet discovered. Can you do all these things on a laptop or a smartphone? Yes.  But the iPad's size, weight, and sleek functionality make it the right device for certain circumstances.

I've only dabbled with it's e-reader functionality, but text displays nicely, and I think it will replace my Kindle. While I've always been a fan of the Kindle's e-ink, the device felt like it was missing a touchscreen.  Maybe it's because the iPad is sitting in my lap, rather than on my desk, but I don't mind reading on its backlit screen, even after a day in front of my monitor at work.  I've played around a bit with the Que, a touchscreen e-ink device due out later this year, and while e-ink may still have a place for those with sore eyes, I'm unconvinced.

Lest you think I'm on Apple's payroll, I will point out a few flaws, which are mostly well-documented.  The absence of Flash is annoying, as it means that most video platforms aside from YouTube don't work at all. You can't print from the iPad, and you can't really add content except via cable or by e-mailing it to yourself-- no Bluetooth or WiFi data transfer. The lack of a camera seems like an egregious oversight-- the iPad would have been great for videochatting. And ChatRoulette. But none of these are dealbreakers for me.

In my mind, the greatest potential of the iPad is as a platform for innovation. Just as the iPhone's major contribution was not in the hardware but in the app revolution that followed, the iPad has already seen a flood of innovative apps developed, with many more in the pipeline.  It's not very hard to imagine the iPad (or iPad-like devices) replacing texbooks for students, medical charts for doctors, playbooks for coaches, blueprints for developers, and yellow legal pads for people like me. It's a networked world we're increasingly living in, and anything that you previously used to use to interact with information, media, data, or content is soon to be replaced with devices like this one.