Exactly 32 hours after the iPad was released to the masses, I walked over to the Apple Store on 5th Avenue in New York City. I stood in a line of about 40 people, walked down the spiral staircase feeling like the belle of the ball, plunked down $520 or so, and bought myself an iPad.
I’d never actually done that before. I’m typically a “wait and see-er” when it comes to anything that costs more than $5, and like to be a version behind because it’s too easy and too expensive to get caught up in being an early adopter. But the iPad was different.
The biggest question most people have for the iPad is simple: “what will I use it for?” It’s bigger and less pocket-friendly than your cell phone. It’s smaller and less versatile than your laptop. It’s not really a netbook, or an ebook reader. So what is it, and why do I need it?
I initially promised myself I wouldn’t weigh in on this topic – even I’m sick of all the iPad discussion, and I own the dang thing, and write about similar dang things. But I’ve come to see myself as something of a middle ground between techies and regular people (though I’m admittedly closer to the techie side).
That means that, as heartfelt as Cory Doctorow might be, I don’t really care that I can’t tinker with the innards of the iPad. It also means I’m sensitive to things like Flash capabilities, and whether or not there’s expandable memory on the thing. I’m sure I’m not the perfect center, but I’m betting I’m closer than a lot of people who own an iPad so far, so I thought I’d share a little of my experience. Plus, there are plenty of technophiles who get it – but that’s a discussion for another day.
First things first:
Do you need an iPad?
In short, no. In slightly longer, not yet. There’s nothing the iPad currently does that you can’t do elsewhere—though I suspect that will change in the not-too-distant future. It’s beautiful, does a lot of things smartly and well; but it’s not a device you need, or will find yourself unable to do things without.
So Why Buy an iPad?
Eight days into my ownership of this device, I had a moment. That moment, to be fair, is largely thanks to Xeni Jardin of Boing Boing, who was recently on This Week in Tech, one of my favorite podcasts in the Universe (the bit I’m talking about is around the 20-minute mark of this episode). She was talking about the iPad (she was one of the first people to get a review unit), and said something profound. What she said, in a few words, was that the iPad is not an ebook reader, or a TV, or a laptop; it’s made up of parts of all three of those things.
That is exactly what the iPad is for me, and what it purports to be. It’s a catch-all device that doesn’t do any single thing as well as the dedicated device, but does all of those things really, really well. Watching TV will never be as good as it is on a 50” screen, but it’s darn good. Surfing the Internet isn’t as good as it is on your 27” iMac, but it’s awfully good. It’s not as good as a Scrabble board (actually, I might debate that point), but it lets me play with my girlfriend while we’re 400 miles apart.
Using the iPad means not carrying 15 gadgets around with you, because it does all 15 of those things 95% as well, and does all of those things with a stable, intuitive interface and battery life to die for. It means instant-on, eliminating the three minutes of awkwardness when you’ve got some time to kill, but not enough to get your computer running full speed ahead.
I bought an iPad because whether I feel like reading a book, reading a newspaper, watching a movie, playing a game or cooking dinner, I’m now always going to pick up the same device. It travels with me everywhere (my shoulders already notice the difference in bag weight since I stopped carrying my laptop), I never worry about battery life, and it just simply works. Never underestimate how much of a weight it is off your shoulders when the browser’s never going to crash, the video will always play, and a big blue screen is never going to come waltzing its way onto your device.
Every day, I discover new little things I love about the iPad. It’s the best-ever “huh. I wonder…” tool, giving tons of ways to find information, settle bets, and win at the “what song is in that commercial?” game. Thank you, Shazam. It’s also the best device for sharing content I’ve ever seen – more holdable than a laptop, but much easier to gather around than an iPod or iPhone. It’s the little things like these that endear me to a device, and have me endlessly coming up with use cases.
The iPad is the fastest, smartest, most invisible device I’ve ever used. It’s the only thing I own that I could hand to my Grandma, my two-year-old nephew, or my IT guy and expect them all to use it meaningfully. That’s partly due to the apps, partly due to Apple’s design talents, and mostly due to the fact that this device isn’t trying to do anything perfectly. It’s trying to do a lot of things really, really well, in a way that makes sense to anyone who picks it up.
And boy, does it ever.