Rationalizing the purchase of an iPad usually includes a few of these:
- I’ll carry it around most of the time.
- I’ll be able to replace my laptop with it.
- I’ll be able to replace my Kindle with it.
- I’ll bring it on trips instead of my laptop.
- I’ll respond to email with it.
- I’ll get work done with it.
- I’ll take notes with it.
After a month of heavy use, I don’t think it’s good for any of those. A more accurate list might be:
- I’ll play games on it.1
- I’ll check email on it, but not respond much, because that requires a lot of typing.
- I’ll check RSS and Twitter on it, but not exclusively.
- I’ll read for short periods on it before my hands get tired of holding it.
The iPad is a great device, but what’s it for, really?
Logically, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for most computer owners. In reality, if you needed a laptop before, you probably still need one. If you want to read novels, the Kindle is still a much better device for that. If you need a small computer for ancillary tasks that’s always connected and always with you, an iPhone is better (and you probably already have one). And, even though it’s a great deal for the hardware, most people will have trouble justifying the $500 entry price.
But using it is satisfying and delightful, and there are some things that it does better than a computer. That list isn’t as big as I, and probably most early buyers, initially assumed. And that’s OK.
The Kindle has a built-in web browser and is always connected to the internet for free. That’s amazing. Imagine how useful that is! But, in reality, it’s not. It’s such a terribly suited device for web browsing that the browser is buried in an “Experimental” menu and almost no Kindle owners are likely to have used it more than once. The Kindle isn’t even great at reading all “books”: textbooks and anything relying heavily on graphics, color, navigation, or precise formatting are all nearly unreadable on the Kindle. Even most periodicals offer a passable-at-best reading experience, despite having the huge technical advantage of scheduled, automatic, wireless delivery.
It doesn’t matter, though, because the Kindle is great at one thing: reading novel-length text.
We don’t need every computer-like device to do everything. A gadget just needs to be good at something that you need or want to do.
For me, my iPad is the ideal Instapaper device. It’s also a lot of fun for games, especially with multiple people gathered around. And it’s convenient to casually browse RSS, Twitter, and the Tumblr Dashboard on it while hanging out around the apartment away from my computer, even though I also do these things on computers. It’s the perfect living-room computer that lives on the coffee table and can be used to quickly look up a fact, find a restaurant, check mail, browse news, and play a game.2
It’s absolutely not a productivity device for me, but that’s OK: I have computers for that.
Accepting that the iPad isn’t an all-purpose computing device is going to be a slow process for everyone, including Apple. They can’t quite explain what it’s for, either, which is why the launch marketing, software, and accessories are a bit scatterbrained. For instance, if you’re using a hardware keyboard with the iPad very often, you’d probably be much better served by a MacBook Air.
This doesn’t make the iPad a worse product or a waste of money3. It’s just not as general-purpose as a regular computer. (Nothing could be. That’s an impossible goal.)
Find the balance: use the iPad for what it does well, accept that it won’t be everything, and use other tools for the rest.
Plants vs. Zombies has probably sold more iPads than iBooks has. ↩
The iPhone also does all of these things, but I’d rather use the iPad if it’s nearby because the additional screen space will allow me to do these things more effectively and efficiently than on the iPhone. It’s like having both a desktop and a laptop: you use the desktop if you’re near it. ↩
But you may not be able to as easily rationalize its cost, e.g.: “If I buy an iPad, I can sell my laptop!” Because you probably won’t. ↩