The 'iPad Era' dawns

How a 'perfect storm' will make iPad the biggest cultural phenomenon since The Beatles

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As with games, the network effect phenomenon will affect education. It won't take long for apps to emerge that pull together courseware with downloadable instruction and live lectures, events and so on. It will become a medium by which far-flung schools can help one another. But you can't get in on all this collaboration unless you're using the iPad. So schools will. Students will. Teachers will. The iPad will be very big in education.

Pilots -- both professional and private -- have been clamoring for something like this for decades. The pilot supply industry will go crazy with the iPad, creating what are now called "electronic flight bags," as well as charting and navigation products.

The military is already embracing the iPhone. The iPad is even better because of its size and superior firepower.

Many other professions, from real estate to medicine, will jump into iPad app development and create new markets.

The media is the iPad's 'killer app'

In the realm of books, magazines, newspapers, TV, movies and other media, the iPad is poised to take over. In addition to offering its own conduits for all this -- the new Bookstore and the existing iTunes stores for music, movies and TV -- the iPad will co-opt existing channels.

For example, for people reading classic books via Google Books, the iPad will become the best place to do that. They'll be able to read all Project Gutenberg tiles -- 30,000 free classics -- and all Amazon Kindle books. Because the iPad will be the best place to read not just one channel of books but all channels, readers will gravitate toward the iPad. This big reading audience will attract book publishers and e-book-related app developers (already huge on the iPhone).

The iPad is obviously perfect for viewing video, including TV shows, movies and YouTube-like videos. Of course, the iPad can't play Adobe Flash-based videos. But I believe Apple will win this battle. If video producers of all kinds want to stream to where the eyeballs are, they're going to have to offer non-Flash alternatives -- and they will.

Will the iPad succeed? Oh, yeah. As Joe Biden would say, this is a big f***ing deal.

But more important than that, I believe the iPad will become such a cultural phenomenon that it will become a symbol or an icon of the coming decade. Future generations might refer to this decade as the iPad Era.

I know I'm going to catch a lot of flak for this column. I'll be accused of being an Apple fanboy, and worse. I will be told that netbooks are better, or Windows- or Linux-based tablets will do better. I'll be told that iPad will just be a niche product of little significance.

My answer: Wanna bet? If so, get an iPad. It's going to take over online gaming, too.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and global tech culture. Contact Mike at mike.elgan@elgan.com, follow him on Twitter or his blog, The Raw Feed.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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