NPR logo The iPad: Just One More Gadget To Lug Around

The iPad: Just One More Gadget To Lug Around

I'm a "pad" skeptic. Yeah, I saw Steve Jobs on stage with the shiniest, newest, coolest tablet computer out there, but I couldn't help but ask myself, where does this fit into my life?

Here's the thing, for a long time, all I've wanted was a device that consolidated all the electronics I carry around on a regular basis. In the old days — that's to say five years ago — it used to be a phone and an iPod, a PDA and a laptop and, if it was a longer trip, a digital still camera and a camcorder. It meant a hulking book bag full of cables and chargers and devices that needed their own special pouch to keep them from getting hurt.

The iPhone definitively got rid of three of those devices. And to some extent, I no longer feel compelled to lug around any cameras. That made the iPhone revolutionary.

But what does the iPad tablet do for me?

It's a reading device with no camera. It surfs the Web and at, first glance, doesn't appear to be Flash enabled. It's got a good size screen but, in the end, is really very much a super-sized iPod Touch. It plays media but its capacity is limited. The largest flash drive is 64 gig, so, it's not as though I can dump my photos midway through a trip or that I can store a boatload of videos.

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I'll concede that a sophisticated, elegant book market is exciting, especially in the educational space where it no longer makes sense to carry around a few 500-page books. And from a business perspective, the Keynote functionality is brilliant: presentations can be much more dramatic.

But all of this brings me back to my initial question, a very consumer-centric one at that: The tablet is cool and sleek but in the end, it does little to literally lighten my load.

For the most part, I still think I'd prefer to do most of my reading on the iPhone and that may well be because my eyes haven't gone bad, yet.

Also, it feels as though the tablet fits into a nowhere land between my iPhone and my laptop. I still need my laptop for significant tasks (especially because at least in this iteration, the iPad doesn't allow you to multi-task) and my iPhone is light enough, portable enough and powerful enough that in a pinch it lets me look up restaurants and even capture OK quality video. It lets me check my e-mail and respond quickly, without having to reach into a book bag. What would I go for on a plane? The phone in my pocket or the iPad in the overhead bin? With my laptop, I can type full steam without the ergonomic issues the tablet introduces. (How do you type and hold the iPad at the same time?)

For me, what it comes down to is this: Do I think the tablet will improve my life? No. It might make it slightly easier to read e-books and slightly easier to surf the Web. It may even — finally — bring the charm of the printed newspaper to a digital medium, but will it improve my life? No. If anything, it just means that I'll have one more device to synchronize into my digital life.