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Eugene Hernandez: I want it, but what do I *do* with it??

By Eugene Hernandez | Indiewire April 5, 2010 at 6:29AM

New York City, April 5, 2010 -- When you use a computer sometimes you need to lean forward but other times you want to lean back.
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New York City, April 5, 2010 -- When you use a computer sometimes you need to lean forward but other times you want to lean back.

With that in mind, some thoughts about iPad.

When Apple released its anticipated device last week, critics said the product could revolutionize the personal computer experience. Even so, a lot of people seem rather confused about what they'll do with a full color mobile tablet.

Late Friday night and early Saturday morning, thousands of Mac devotees gathered outside Apple Stores around the country to be the first to buy an iPad (priced at $500 - $700). Analysts said that Apple would sell as many as 700,000 wi-fi iPads over the weekend (a 3G edition is set for a late April release).

"Many of the people waiting for the iPad had a vague sense that they were involved in yet another big Apple moment," reported the New York Times, "Although they could not precisely say how they would use the tablet computer, which shares features of both laptops and mobile phones."

Yesterday, after a leisurely Easter brunch in my neighborhood, I walked up Ninth Ave. here in NYC to the Upper West Side Apple Store. Given the breathless TV and Twitter reports of large crowds, I was surprised to find just a modest mob at the store. It was quite easy to settle in at an iPad demo station. Blue-shirted Apple employees seemed to out number customers 2 to 1.

In the wake of reading a lot about the device, I spent nearly an hour with an iPad yesterday, gaining insight into the product from a trio of Apple employees.

At the Apple Store today. Photo by indieWIRE

I don't own one. Yet.

Consume v. Create

The iPad is more a mobile device for consuming content rather than a product for creating it. That's a key distinction emerging in early reviews and conversations - and not something we're entirely used to clarifying in our daily experiences with computers.

I've been thinking a lot this week about the many ways we use our personal computers. At the office, all day I read and write, collect news, gather information or watch movies and clips on a desktop (iMac), while at home I compose or create on a laptop (MacBook Pro). But, when I'm on the go, I scan a mobile device (iPhone) to stay connected or organized. With the iPad, Apple is betting that users will warm to a portable tablet that bridges the gaps or, better yet, offers a more natural experience for many of our daily tasks and interests.

This first edition iPad won't replace the modern laptop, but it should ignite the growing mobile computing category, building exponentially on the promise of Amazon's Kindle.

Sitting on a sofa, in an airplane, at a cafe or elsewhere to read extensively, write casually or watch video isn't quite ideal with a laptop or mobile phone. It's not hard to imagine a tablet like the iPad offering a more comfortable way to consume content, even if we don't quite realize we need an alternative option.

"Holding the iPad feels like you’re holding the future, and not in a hazy dream-like way," MacWorld wrote in their extensive review of the iPad this weekend, "But in a I can’t believe I’m actually here kind of way."

I'm excited to own one soon.

At an Easter BBQ in New York City yesterday, I polled a few friends -- a tech expert, a friend in publishing and a journalist -- about the iPad. All were initially a bit wary about the device, but also intrigued and open-minded. The new media designer and producer said that iPad would revolutionize personal gaming, the publishing insider said it could be a boon for individual authors seeking wider awareness, while the editor from a major media conglomerate imagined the device boosting an ailing media business.

While some will focus on the books, newspapers and games, watching movies and TV on the device might be the way a lot of us embrace the iPad.

With a Netflix streaming application available, subscribers will gain access to thousands of films, taking the selection available via iTunes to a broader level. Apps for Hulu, ABC and CBS are apparently coming soon, not to mention a Daily Motion app. Will other digital content providers and platforms follow suit and find a way to stream movies and video content to the device?

As with the iPhone, the power of iPad hinges on the creativity of application developers. In just a few years, the iPhone has become a vital device for many. Thousands of apps -- built to specs approved by Apple for inclusion in its online store -- carry users through a day: maps, info, charts, news, games, social networking and more. But, is it keeping consumers inside a closed world? A so-called 'walled garden'? Writing for Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow warned of, "the technical and social infrastructure that accompanies [the iPad]." He argued, it's a threat to open platforms.

Despite concerns, the iPad just may usher in a new era for content consumption. The discussion and debate will continue whether or not it gains wider acceptance. I look forward to discovering how we navigate it.

Eugene Hernandez is the Editor-in-Chief & Co-Founder of indieWIRE and can be followed on Twitter: @eug or through his indieWIRE blog.

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