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With the conclusion of Apple’s much-awaited demonstration of the iPad – a name that is drawing a considerable amount of humour at the expense of the feminine hygiene product industry – the waiting is finally over. We have seen the future, and the future is a) very sleek and pretty, b) much less expensive than predicted, and c) rather underwhelming.First, let’s talk about what it can do. Take away the nice big screen (with the strangely large bezel) and the more desktop-like interfaces for Apple core experiences like iTunes and iPhoto, and we basically have an iPod Touch. It’s a closed platform like the iPhone, with only the applications that Apple makes available. No Firefox or other browsers that compete with Safari, no Microsoft Office instead of iWork, that kind of thing. This will seriously limit its use to many of its target users. It’s terrific that someone with the iPad can put together a Keynote presentation and then plug it into a projector, sure, but without the far more widely used Powerpoint available, its utility will be severely limited for the kinds of users who actually need presentation software.

The $499 entry price point is great… but it’s pretty stripped down at that price. For a device being touted as a platform for viewing multimedia, 16gb isn’t much room for video, and when you add in the rest of the stuff you’d want on it… well, my own iPhone is a 16gb model, and that’s enough room for my apps, a couple movies, a couple TV shows, about a third of my photo library, and about 5% of my digital music collection. That’s acceptable for a phone, but far from ideal for a device designed expressly for this kind of thing. Once you get up to 64gb, the price goes up a lot. And when you add in 3G for another $130, it’s getting pretty expensive – $899 for a fully-loaded 3G 64gb unit. We’re getting into Air territory there.

The 3G announcement has little bearing on Canadians. One thing I’d like to know is whether I can tether my iPhone to the iPad. Pretending for a moment that I live in the US, I have no desire to pay another $30/month for an unlimited 3G plan for my iPad when I already have a $30, virtually unlimited 3G plan for my iPhone, especially when I have to pay another $130 for my iPad to be capable of it. And I already know I could tether a Macbook Air for sure.

It’s astonishing it doesn’t include a camera, when even Nintendo hand-held gaming machines have them these days. A screen-side camera for iChat seems like an absolutely natural feature and it’s missing. I see how the eBook reader could be fully acceptable even without the “electronic ink” technology of the Kindle, as I find the screen resolution on my iPhone more than acceptable for reading books through Stanza. I’m hoping that they release an app that will let iPhone users also access their new book library, but I’m not jumping on any for-pay eBook bandwagon until many of my concerns about it are laid to rest, and until I figure out whether I’d be better off building a library with Apple or Amazon.

I’m a consumer Apple user. I don’t need portable computing for my job – any email-capable portable device does me fine in that regard. I don’t travel for my job and work close to home, so I don’t need to fill in time on commutes or business trips. My principle portable needs are for personal reasons. When I head down to PAX this year, I need a device with me that will let me blog and write, carry some novels in my pocket, keep up with email and Twitter, watch videos and listen to music while killing time in lineups, and dump my photos and videos off my digital cameras. My iPhone lets me do everything except clean off my digital cameras, and the iPad won’t let me do that, even at $499. For $299, though, I could get a perfectly acceptable netbook with more than enough storage, as well as providing a larger screen and keyboard for writing, and in a pretty similar footprint to the iPad.

Sorry, Steve, you lost me with this one. I’ll wait and see what the second generation of them looks like, but for now, it’s looking like a Hackintosh is the way to go for the next year or two.

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