Dear iPad, I love you.

Last November, I had one of those milestone birthdays that’s not so much celebrated as it is dutifully acknowledged.  My family was kind enough to honor the occasion with the most thoughtful gift of all: Cash.

I immediately socked the birthday money away, budgeting it for the then-rumored-to-be-forthcoming iPad (which, back then was expected to be known as the iSlate).  I’d long been fantasizing about an all-in-one iPod/book reader/comic book reader/magazine reader/video player/PDA.  It would change the way I travel.  It would change the way I exist.  The promise of this technology supersolution was strong enough to keep me from pissing away the money on passing distractions, or on crazy things like food, clothing for the kids, and utility bills.

My reason for sharing all this information is that I felt it important to make clear right from the start that, yes, the iPad is really expensive.  And by “really expensive,” I mean “REALLY EXPENSIVE.”

I bought the 64 GB 3G model the day it came out, along with a Mobile Me account, wireless keyboard, and protective case.  The grand total for all that?  Well, let’s just say that I didn’t take anything out of the box for a few hours. I spent that time trying to rationalize why I shouldn’t just return it all the following morning.

After hours of internal conflict, I gave in to my base instincts.  I’d been thinking about the iPad for months.  I wanted it.  I needed it.  And then, at around 10 p.m., I opened the box and never looked back since.  Not a shred of buyer’s remorse.  I yelped with excitement when I slid the iPad onto my hand.  Summer camp’s going to be tough to swing for the kids, but–hot damn!-now I can read Stephen King books, listen to Nick Cave albums, email my friends, watch “Land of the Dead” in HD, look through all my photos, manage my datebook, and read the latest issue of Classic Rock magazine…all on the same device.

I’ve read all the critiques of the iPad.  Each criticism worked really hard to find something to complain about.  To address a few:

-I don’t want a camera on my iPad.

-The inability to run multiple apps simultaneously is a non-issue for me.

-The keyboard is much easier to use than I’d expected, so much so that my wireless keyboard is near-unnecessary.

-I’d like Flash for Safari, but my websurfing won’t suffer without it.

Some of the iPad’s core functionality really shines:  The Calendar, Notes, and Contacts applications–all standard Apple stuff–feel much more essential on the iPad.  I’ll never enter another contact into my Blackberry. I’m also very close to ditching the old-school black day planner that I tote around everywhere.  And you can just forget the thought of seeing me scribble another note onto a pen-and-ink legal pad ever again.

Making the Calendar and Contacts more appealing is having a Mobile Me account.  Every change I make to my iPad is immediately reflected on my account “in the cloud.”  The opposite is also true; when I make a change to information via my Mobile Me account, that info is updated on my iPad.

A whole world of apps, some amazing, some much less so, is available through the App Store.  Here are some quick thoughts on those I’ve spent the most time with so far:

Marvel Comics. The comic reader is amazing, and the colors absolutely pop off the screen.  What’s missing, though, is depth.  The store has a meager selection of titles to choose from, which I assume will increase with time, and as more people warm to the technology.  My other complaint is with the pricing:  $1.99 for a digital comic seems too steep.  I’d love to see Marvel (and other existing and future comic apps) adapt a price structure similar to iTunes, in that a single issue would cost .99, and a collected storyline or “digital TPB” would run $9.99.

Zinio. The magazine app.  I wrote Zinio off when it was strictly web-only.  I thought the reading experience felt stiff and unnatural, if not altogether silly. The iPad changes all that; it’s the perfect platform for digital magazines.  The technology is excellent, and the experience is superior to holding a print magazine in your hands.  If I can go the rest of my life without another subscription card falling out of a magazine onto the floor, I’ll die a happy man.  There are a few free magazines to peruse (National Geographic, Car & Driver, Macworld), and that’s how they hook you.  If National Geographic was that enjoyable, I thought after reading it, imagine how amazing a magazine I actually enjoy would be…

Last night, I whipped out my credit card for a 12-month subscription to Spin for $5.  That’s how much it would cost for a single issue if I impulse-purchased it at an O’Hare Hudson News.  Now when I’m done reading a monthly issue, it doesn’t get left on my bedside table for a week or two before it gets chucked into the recycling bin.  Instead, it’s digitally archived for later reference. Or more simply, it’s out of the way, and not a bother.
While there are plenty of “big dogs” yet to come on to Zinio (hurry, Entertainment Weekly!), the available options are impressive.

Scrabble. The only app I paid for ($9.99), and well worth it.  I’ve played Scrabble for PC, iPod classic, and iPhone, and none have been as well-executed as the iPad app.  A variety of gameplay options,  bold, vivid, colors and a fun, clean interface are just some of the reasons this is my go-to pick for business and leisure travel time-killing.

Books. The iPad bookstore app is gorgeous, and iTunes-easy to use.  Unfortunately, similar to the Marvel app, the big drawback to the Apple app is its lack of depth.  I simply couldn’t find a lot of titles I wanted to read.  Because of that, I opted to download…

Kindle. The Amazon Kindle app offers access to the Kindle-friendly library of titles, which can be downloaded and read in the Kindle app.  The Kindle library is impressively deep, and I’ve found titles there to be cheaper than those on the Books app.

Beat the Traffic. Real-time traffic maps that illustrate where the trouble spots are, using your GPS location as ground zero.  An invaluable resource to commuters like me.


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