Three things the iPad is, and isn't

I've been playing with the iPad for a while now, and I quite like it. But, I've also noticed that there are a lot of misconceptions about what the iPad is and isn't.

1. The iPad is the greatest new tech device ever! / The iPad is an ancient idea.

Some would claim that the iPad's concept is 38 years old. Sure, the idea of an iPad is ancient. I've been using Fujitsu tablets off and on for over a decade, and I've been fiddling with touch computing for even longer. So what?

You can argue that cars go back to 1769 — though if one-off experimental vehicles don't work for you, then by the 1880s, two guys named Daimler and Benz were producing cars. But it wasn't until Henry Ford combined advanced technology and the production line to start turning out Model T Fords in 1908 that cars become commonplace. The iPad, ladies and gents, is the Model T of tablet computing.

2. The iPad isn't open! / Open source, no; open standards, yes.

Some people are shocked — shocked I tell you — to find that the iPad isn't open source and so are encouraging people to avoid it. Hello? What part of the iPad being an Apple product did you not get? Apple, even more so than Microsoft, is the un-open company. If you want an open-source based iPad clone, congratulations: Linux-powered iPod-like devices are already on their way.

At the same time, Apple is supporting open standards. Sure, if you want to develop applications for the iPad, you have to jump through Apple's hoops — but if you want to develop iPad-friendly Web pages, you'll do it by embracing HTML5 and avoiding proprietary formats like Flash.

If you really want to open up an iPad's software and void the warranty, the iPad's already been jailbroken. In two weeks' time, someone will doubtlessly have Linux running on it.

3. My Kindle/Nook e-book reader/netbook is better than an iPad!

In the case of an e-reader, no, it's not. What really amazed me about the iPad is just how readable its display is. Whether it was an e-book or a news Web page, it's a pleasure to read anything on the iPad. Yes, I know all about the virtues of E-Ink. I still like the iPad better.

In addition, I can write e-mail, wander the Web, watch a movie, listen to music, read a map, and more, all on a device that costs the same price as a Kindle DX, which can be used only for reading e-books. Which would you rather have?

But the iPad is not a laptop, or even a netbook replacement. Yes, you can use it as a netbook — the display's keyboard is surprising usable — but to really use it you need to add a Bluetooth keyboard. As Jason Hiner, the Editor in Chief of TechRepublic, noted that about the iPad's business purposes, "It doesn't replace anything, yet." The key word is 'yet.' Sure, if you want to try convince your CFO into issuing you an iPad, good luck to you. But it's really not ready to be a general-purpose business device.

However, the iPad and the Linux-powered iPad clones that will follow it will be killing off special purpose devices such as vertical-market work tablets, GPSs, and, yes, e-readers. The general purpose tablet is here.

Just as there were many portable MP3 players before the iPod, the iPad is going to revolutionize the old tablet market and start a new line of computing devices: the entertainment tablet. The only real question isn't going to be how successful it will be; it's how quickly will Linux, and even Windows, vendors can catch up with it.

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