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The iPad in Your Future

June 2010

It’s not a matter of whether you’ll get an iPad — it’s a matter of when.

A lot of people have the attitude, “Why would I need one?” Then when they have a chance to play with one, they typically say, “I need one.”

Pardon my zeal, but I am sold. I’ve now had one for four days, and I just can’t get over the feeling that this is what I’ve always wanted. Apple tends to do that — to create something people didn’t know they want. Then people see that it’s so cool and so functional that they want it. No focus groups for Apple — just Steve Jobs’s vision.

By now you’ve seen a gazillion ads for them, or have tried one yourself, and you know what they look like: basically nothing more than a 9.7-inch LCD screen weighing 1 ½ pounds. And like the iPhone, you operate it by touching the screen.

What can you do with it? Just about everything: watch movies, surf the Internet, check your e-mail, play games, read books, look up information, listen to music, check the weather forecast, take notes, access maps, check the latest scores, manage your calendar, and more.

Big deal, you can do all that on your computer. The neat thing about the iPad is that because it’s so light it can go everywhere you go — everything important to you is right there with you all the time in that small package.

Of course the iPhone can do all these things, too. So I didn’t expect to be that amazed by the iPad. But I am. Here’s why.

My experience is that the iPhone’s small size makes it a bit more difficult to see and interact with, creating a distance or separation between you and the device. The iPad, however, feels more intimate in part simply because everything is so much more immediate by virtue of the larger display.

Another thing that makes it intimate is the way you touch it in order to use it. A mouse is 25-year-old technology — a technology that’s intermediate between you and the computer and that creates a barrier. With the iPad, you interact with it so much more directly.

Again, the iPhone and all the iPhone wannabes have touch, but somehow it’s different on an iPad. Probably because there’s a sense that it’s a more hand-friendly size. It just feels more natural.

All of this really hit home the second day that I had it. I was sprawled on my couch playing with it and decided to try Google Earth. It was an astonishing experience — spinning the globe with my fingers, soaring around the earth, zooming in on locations of interest with a simple two-fingered touch. I arrived in Wellington, New Zealand, zooming so close that I was looking at cars on the street.

I’ve got the 3G model, which uses AT&T’s network to connect to the Internet wherever there’s a cell phone signal. Your Internet columnist loves this. (That’s because, as you know, I’m addicted.) The cost is $15 per month for 250 megabytes of data, or $30 a month for unlimited.

Both the iPad 3G and the regular iPad come with Wi-Fi so that you can connect to wireless hotspots, and of course the regular iPad can only connect that way.

The base iPad costs $500, and the base iPad 3G is $630. For more money you can get models with more that the 16GB of memory in the base model. (And thanks to the fact that I write for iPhone Life magazine, I had much of the cost of my iPad paid for. Lucky me.)

You can buy an external keyboard for it, but that sort of defeats the purpose — and the intimacy. I find that the on-screen keyboard, which pops up when you need it, works just fine.

One of the nice things about the iPad is that it can run iPhone apps. Right out of the gate there were already over 150,000 apps available for it. A huge number of those are free, and of the paid apps, the majority are 99¢. A few of the most popular games can run $9.99. But for the most part you can load up your iPad with free or low-cost apps.

So these days if you see me out and about, you’ll see a satchel over my shoulder. And inside is a whole world — something I always dreamed of.

This month’s hot tips:

Card Pool lets you buy gift cards for less than their face value. The free Miro Video Converter can convert video into a format that will work on your iPhone, Android phone, Windows Mobile phone, and more. And the New York Times offers 10 essential Google search tips.

© 2010 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen