Tuned In

iPad: So Do You Want Some of This?

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Steve Jobs finally unveiled Apple’s long-awaited tablet device, the iPad. Yeah, it’s a dumb name. Get all your jokes out of the way now. (They should call the 8GB version “Light” and the 32GB “Maxi,” the 3G version comes with wings, &c.)

The iPad is a lot of things—better-informed people than I can describe it for you—but it’s largely a media device: games, video, music, Internet and, oh yeah, reading. It has been hailed as a potential savior for newspapers, books and, ahem, the magazine business—to the point, I think, of wishful thinking in the coverage.

So, media consumers: Do you want one of these? I’m a long-time Apple geek and I want to want it, but I still find myself looking for reasons. My thoughts after the jump:

* I have a four-year-old Intel MacBook I need to replace soon. Do I want to replace it with this? I’m not sure I can. And yet don’t think Jobs has given me reason—yet—to see why I need an iPhone and a MacBook and now an iPad. (And that was definitely his sales pitch, as he visually placed it as a “third platform” between the two. Apple does not want to supplant its own hardware.)

* How does it work as a TV? It’s connected to iTunes, and the idea of a larger version of the videoscreen I love on the Iphone is attractive. What would be more attractive: more streaming TV, especially Hulu, which depends on Flash, which (if I followed the demo correctly) the iPad does not have. So: just a bigger iPod Touch, TV-wise? Give this baby real-time TV and PVR-like capabilities and we’re talking.

* I haven’t seen the video, but the New York Times app Steve Jobs modeled looked visually impressive. So did the e-reader, in which books looked more like, well, books than on the Kindle. Then again, I’ve never felt the need to get a Kindle (though I’m in the minority that likes Kindle for iPhone).

* Like all journalists, I’d love it if this thing saved my job. But my gut tells me that most people who buy this will buy it for other capabilities, like video or gaming, and the reader will be thrown in as an extra. Now that may be enough to help out old-media publishers, anyway. But until we see what publishers create to use the specific potential of the iPad, I’m still skeptical that reading us online will motivate anyone to buy an iPad—much less to pay for online subscriptions.

* Speaking of which, I noticed that Jobs showed off not only the Times app, but the websites of the NYT—and TIME magazine. That’s flattering, but it also raises the question of who is going to pay for an e-paper subscription when they can access free (if less attractive) news on the same device in the Web browser. How much will people pay for aesthetics?

* As for gaming, well—not a huge gamer. What I saw looked impressive, but in the way that iPhone games are impressive. This too, I think, will depend on apps that are designed expressly for the iPad, rather than iPhone apps blown up to double size (or played in a tiny window on the lush iPad screen).

* Oh, also: you want me to get a second AT&T monthly data plan, on top of the one I pay for with my iPhone? The frak you say! Either I’d get the cheaper WiFi iPad, or, if the iPad won me over enough, get the 3G version and replace my iPhone with a dumbphone. I am too cheap to be Steve Jobs’ ideal customer.

* Speaking of which, CNBC was entertaining to watch during the launch. Jim Cramer says he’d buy an iPad “tomorrow.” Well, if it’s worth it to a man with five zillion dollars, I’ll take two!

* Bottom line: Every new tech platform has to answer an essential question—”What is this thing for?” I can answer that for my iPhone (mobile communications/info device), iPod (portable music/media player and storage) and MacBook (portable computer). I can’t answer it, yet, for the iPad. It seems like it might do several things better, aesthetically cooler, than I can on my iPhone or MacBook, but nothing—or nothing must-have—that I can’t do with them.

So it must replace one of them, or be redundant. What I want to do is replace my laptop with an iPad, keep my iPhone, and maybe get a (cheaper) iMac for power computing and storage. I’m not sure, though, whether the iPad would be a good enough laptop substitute to suit me (and more important, Mrs. Tuned In). You give me a powerful iPad that I could put on a stand as a TV/computer—with a wireless keyboard peripheral—and I might be good.

The good thing is: this machine won’t even be available until March, and many of the issues I noted are a matter of software. (Others—say the lack of a camera for videochat—would require new hardware.) And it may be a matter of waiting to see how well the iPad works for early adopters, and where the price and features go.

In other words, congratulations, Steve Jobs! You’ve convinced me to postpone buying a new Apple product even longer!

But that’s me. Who’s ready to place their order?