Is the iPad right for you?

I laugh in the face of people who say the iPad will be a "laptop killer"

I've had my Apple iPad for about two days now, and when someone discovers I have one, they always ask two questions: "What do you think?" and then, "Can I touch it?" After I let the person try the device and explain what it can and can't do (it won't make toast, in case you're wondering), I then find myself either trying to defend the device or point out its flaws, depending on the predisposed opinions of the person asking me the question.

Like almost everything Apple makes these days, people have formed an opinion of it before they even touch or try the device, based on countless articles, blog postings or tweets about the device in the months prior to the device being launched.But when someone asks me, "What do you think?" they're also asking, "Should I buy one?" The answer to that is a more difficult question, of course, depends on the type of person you are. So here's a list of questions that you should ask to figure out if an iPad is right for you.

Are you an Apple fanatic?

If so, you already own an iPad, and you're just waiting for the 3G versions to come out later this month. You already have your plan in place to either sell the one you have now on eBay or Craigslist.

Do you dislike Apple and its "closed" platform?

To own an iPad (or iPhone, etc.) means accepting Apple's way of doing things in terms of what you can put on the device (apps, multimedia) and what you can view. For example, no Adobe Flash support in the browser means some Web sites won't display well unless they add support for HTML5, which may or may not happen. If these things bother you, the iPad is not for you.

Do you own a home wireless network?

If not, you'll need to either buy one (along with high-speed Internet service) or wait for the 3G versions to come out. The current iPads only have Wi-Fi connections for Internet access, there's no built-in Ethernet port. It's Wi-Fi or nothing at the moment. (See: Wireless router basics.)

Do you already own an iPod Touch or an iPhone?

This gets a little tricky. On the one hand, iPod Touch and iPhone owners already have experienced the types of applications and features that you can use on the iPad. You may feel you don't need an additional device for those apps. On the other hand, the iPad's larger screen makes for more visually appealing apps and scenarios. Sure, you can watch videos on an iPod Touch and iPhone, but watching with multiple people becomes hard to do. Several people can watch videos on a single iPad without invading their personal space.

If you don't already own an iPhone or an iPod Touch, the iPad makes a lot of sense for experiencing these applications – it's a music player, TV and movie viewer, e-book reader, Web browser and more. But remember, there's no phone or camera, and the device is heavier than a smartphone.

Are you a content creator?

I laugh in the face of people who say the iPad will be a "laptop killer." No, it won't. This version, at least, is for people who want to consume content. It's for watching movies and TV, listening to music, viewing photos, reading e-mails (and writing quick responses), reading books, accessing quick bits of information ("Hey, what other movies has that actor been in?"). The iPad does these things (and more) better and faster than a netbook or a notebook - and again, on a larger display than the iPhone or iPod Touch. Sure, there will be people who will try to prove me wrong by replacing their notebook with this device, and there will be apps and accessories created that will try to let people do this. But they are creating more work for themselves, and probably fall into that category of "Apple fanatic" mentioned earlier.

Do you commute a lot?

The iPad is a great device for workers who are sitting on a train, bus or airplane and want to consume some content. This is a great way to entertain kids in the car on a long road trip. The GPS even seems better than on my current iPhone, which means I could probably use this as a GPS navigator.

Are you a pragmatist, or on a budget?

Early adopters usually have more discretionary income to spend. The rest of us wait for the first major update that gets rid of the early glitches – yes, the iPad has several early glitches. Some of those glitches can get fixed through software updates, but others will require a hardware upgrade. Also, the initial price of the iPad isn't the only money you'll end up spending – you will need additional money for a good case (I'm paranoid about dropping the iPad all the time), additional iTunes cards (iPad apps tend to be more expensive than the iPhone/touch apps, and books are in the US$10 to $15 range) and accessories (such as the keyboard docking station and other attachments / speakers that may come down the line).

Do you want to impress those around you?

At least until the next iPhone, or Google phone, or Google tablet, or whatever the next "must-have" device is, then yes, the iPad is the "it" thing to own. But the problem is that since everyone can get one (in theory, depending on shortages real or perceived), the true elites (those who always get things before everyone else) are already onto their next device.

Bottom line: Like the iPhone before it, the iPad is a device that will be discussed for months and years, because it can do so much - and so little. Whether it's right for you, your organization or your spouse depends a lot on what you are expecting, what you already have, and what you want to accomplish with it. If you're still undecided, just swing by my office and I'll be happy to let you try it out. Just be careful with it.

Grade: 4 stars (out of five).

Shaw can be reached at kshaw@nww.com. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/shawkeith.

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Keith Shaw

Network World
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