Apple unveiled its latest product today: the iPad, a 24cm x 19cm (9.5″ x 7.5″) tablet computer. It’s a sort of hybrid between the company’s wildly popular iPhone and a traditional laptop computer. Reaction from around the internet is almost universally negative; most people think the iPad sucks. I’m not one of them.

The iPad is the computing device I’ve been waiting years to see, and I’m confident that it’ll be my primary method for consuming information when it’s released to the public in a couple of months. In fact, I’m willing to bet that the iPad will effectively eliminate my need to own a laptop.

To explain why I think the iPad looks so awesome, let me explain how I use the other computing devices in my life.

My computers
As you all know, I’m on the computer a lot. I produce a lot of content, both online and off. (My best guess is that I produce half a million words per year, which just boggles my mind.) To produce this content, I need an actual computer, one with a keyboard and USB inputs and a reasonably sized screen.

I do most of my work on a 24″ iMac with wireless keyboard and mouse. This setup is big and bulky — and thus immobile — but it meets my needs. I also have a 15″ MacBook Pro for home use, but to be honest, it feels like too much for content consumption (watching videos, browsing the web) and too little for content production (working with photos, writing a book). (I had a 17″ MacBook Pro for a while, but I sold it; it had the same problems as the 15″ model, but in a bulkier package.)

I’m not saying the MacBook Pro is a bad computer. It’s a great laptop — but it’s still a laptop. I can work with Photoshop and Word and other productivity apps, but to do so, I have to use the trackpad, and I don’t have as big a screen as I’d like. I do work on the laptop from time to time (I’m doing so now!), but if I really want to get work done, I walk up to the office and use the iMac.

The MacBook Pro is also our primary media-consumption device in this household. It’s where Kris and I watch our TV shows (purchased from iTunes or streamed from Hulu), and it’s the source of all of our music (streamed through an Airport Express). If I’m going to browse the web, I’m going to do it on the MacBook Pro. But here’s the thing: This device is overkill for these applications. It’s a $2,000 TV/stereo/web browser.

My portable devices
As a geek, I also own a wide array of special-purpose computing devices. I own an iPod, an iPhone, a Kindle, a digital camera, and even a portable audio recorder. The iPad won’t replace all of these, and I wouldn’t expect it too. (Though it will certainly replace the Kindle!)

I’ve been using an iPod since 2001. It took me a while to integrate a portable music player into my lifestyle, but now I couldn’t live without it. I use the iPod for a couple of hours every day. Or I did, anyhow, before the iPhone came along.

After some initial skepticism, I’ve become a fan of the iPhone; I like having the world in my pocket. It’s nice to be able to access e-mail and Google Maps and a web browser from anywhere. I also like the apps, especially the games.

But the iPhone is very limited. Yes, you can watch video on it — and I do all the time — but it’s not an ideal experience. (Except that I think it’s perfect for using while using the elliptical trainer at the gym.) And, of course, the iPhone is also an iPod, so it’s a great portable music player. But web browsing and e-mail? You can do them, but they’re limited. They’re there as a convenience, and aren’t meant to be industrial strength.

I also own a Kindle, the e-book reader from Amazon. I have very mixed feelings about this device. The form factor is gorgeous (I’d actually hoped the iPad would be this size and weight), but the screen is tiny because the keyboard takes up so much space. Navigation is tedious. And you can’t use the device for anything other than reading books. Plus it’s expensive. I do use my Kindle, and think it’s great for traveling, but I have regrets for buying it.

But here’s the thing: There’s a Kindle app available for the iPhone. It’s sort of senseless on the iPhone since the screen’s so small (though I hear Andrew Cronk uses it and loves it), but it’s there. Since iPhone apps will work on the iPad, I’ll be able to use the Kindle app to read all the books I’ve already purchased. Suddenly my Kindle is obsolete.

Why I’m excited about the iPad
If you were to read today’s online reaction to the iPad, you’d think the device was pointless. “Why not just buy a netbook?” some people ask. (A netbook is a tiny laptop running Windows.) “It’s just an oversized iPhone,” others say.

First of all, the iPad isn’t an oversized iPhone. It’s not a phone at all. Yes, it runs iPhone apps, but it sports a much larger screen, more storage capacity, and a faster processor. Plus, it does stuff. And why not buy a netbook? Because if I want a laptop, I want a laptop, not a dinky toy. And for my personal computing, I avoid Windows. (Windows is fine for other people, but I avoid it; I find it a miserable experience.) I’ve used a netbook, and found the experience maddening.

Here are some of things about the iPad that appeal to me:

  • Portability. The iPad is thin and light, but sports a large display. The screen is about the same size as the screen on a netbook, but the device itself is thinner and lighter. It’s more portable. I’ve seen how convenient it is to carry a Kindle, especially when traveling; the iPad will offer similar convenience.
  • Information consumption. While you can certainly produce information on the iPad — Apple’s making its office suite iWork available for cheap — that’s not what it’s designed to do. It’s designed to consume information. It’s designed to let you watch movies and TV in bed without a hot laptop sitting on your lap (and plugged into the wall). It’s designed to let you browse the web while riding the bus. It’s designed to let you read your e-books on the sofa. This is an media-consumption device without all the overhead of a media-production device.
  • Connectivity. The iPad sports built-in wireless, so you can use it on your regular wireless networks. The Kindle doesn’t offer this. The Kindle does give you free 3G connectivity, but that’s because all you’re really doing with the device is downloading text documents. You have to pay for your 3G use on the iPad, but it costs much less than similar iPhone service.

To be honest, I plan to buy an iPad as soon as its released. I’ve been waiting for something like this a l-o-n-g time. It’ll probably replace my laptop and, to some extent, my iPhone. In fact, I’ll probably carry the iPad with me everywhere I go.

I’ll use the iPad to browse the web, to read books, to watch movies, to listen to music, to look up maps to restaurants, to share my photos, and more. Yes, my other devices can do these things already, but they can’t do them in the same way.

It may be that the iPad’s market is truly tiny. Maybe the haters out there are right. Maybe it really is just a glorified iPhone. But from what I’ve seen, this is the device I’ve wanted for years.

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