I was e-mailing some friends last week, waxing enthusiastic about the wireless keyboard I had picked up for my iPad, and one of them commented about its impracticality. That struck me as an interesting impression, since if anything, I'm rather taken by the iPad's versatility. It led me to think a bit about my experience with the device so far, and how I use it.
So just how practical is the iPad, anyway? Of couse, as with any device, that depends on what you're trying to do with it. Until I got the keyboard, I'd have said the iPad is best understood as a Super Kindle, rather than, say, a quasi-netbook. And indeed, I pretty much stopped using my Kindle when I got the iPad, though I continue to read and buy Kindle books for the Kindle iPad app. The iPad is like a Kindle you can also use to read full-color magazines, surf the web (enjoyably), play games, look up flight details, write e-mails, navigate, and watch TV and movies. I use mine as I walk between terminals in the airport and as I'm standing in line to board. It's the first thing I reach for in the morning when I wake up, the way I might have reached for a newspaper, back in the distant past–the 90's, say. It's much better than a netbook for doing anything but intensive writing on a plane, especially in coach on those airlines that provide only minmal room between you and the person in front of you–which is unfortunately most of them, these days.
Of course, there are certain ways in which the Kindle will outperform the iPad. It enjoys better battery life thanks to its e-ink display, for example. Its screen is also easily read in direct sunligh; the iPad's is not. I rarely used my Kindle in ways that made those features particularly appealing in light of the iPad's other features–but if you spent a lot of time sitting on the beach reading, the Kindle might be a device you'd want.
Overall, I find I more frequently use the iPad in situations where I might otherwise read a book or magazine than those where I'd pull out a laptop. However, I also find I'll use it in those situations where I might have previously *wanted* to use my laptop but wouldn't have, because it was too big a pain to dig the computer out of its case, turn it on, have it wake up, and navigate to whichever program I wanted to use.
As far as limitations go, I could see regretting that I got the Wi-Fi version instead of the 3G version. Thus far, however, it hasn't been an issue. The airports I travel through for work at present all have free Wi-Fi, as does my office, as does my hotel–so I'm rarely outside a hotspot when I want to use the iPad. For those odd times when I am, I've got the iPhone with most of the same apps loaded as a backup. (Though in general, I find you don't appreciate how much better many iPhone apps are until you can use them at double-size, or in their iPad optimized configuration.) If my travel patterns change, I could see picking up a mobile hotspot so I could carry the Internet love with me at all times.
Which leaves the intensive typing. Without a physical keyboard, I'm not a fan…. I just wouldn't want to do any serious typing on this touch screen. The addition of the wireless keyboard, however. makes for a dramatic improvement in the experience. I just wrote most of this post on the iPad while on a plane, with the keyboard in my lap, and the iPad resting on my arm, where I can easily see it, despite my terrible vision. On the whole, it feels like this largely fills in the capability gap.
That's not to say there isn't room for a notebook in my life, however…