Issue of the week: Does the iPad live up to the hype?

Apple's newest and much heralded device reached stores last week, with early adopters snapping up 300,000 of them on the first day.

Apple’s feverishly anticipated iPad tablet computer doesn’t suddenly make all other computers obsolete, said Walt Mossberg in The Wall Street Journal, but it “has the potential to change computing profoundly.” The “sleek, light, silver-and-black” device reached Apple’s U.S. stores last week, and early adopters snapped up 300,000 of them on the first day—fewer than in the most aggressive forecasts, but impressive nonetheless. Priced from $499 to $829—costlier models have more memory and, in some models, 3G wireless capability—it’s “a whole new type of computer.” Relying on a touch screen for navigation rather than a mouse, the iPad is well-suited to Web-surfing, e-mailing, social networking, and watching videos. For me, its “virtual” onscreen keyboard works fine for “light content creation,” such as e-mail and Facebook postings. But if you’re a heavy user of spreadsheets or word-processing documents, “the iPad isn’t going to cut it as your go-to device.”

The iPad certainly is oriented more toward content consumption than content creation, said Ryan Kim in the San Francisco Chronicle. But then, so are many computer users. Over the years, people have come to use computers less to “make stuff” than to consume media, and the iPad “plays to this new reality.” Games, for instance, “come to life in ways that their iPhone counterparts can’t accomplish.” And the iPad-formatted versions of such publications as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal give users “an experience that blends the best of print layout with interactivity.” The lack of a keyboard (though Apple will sell you one you can plug in for $69) may doom the iPad for some consumers. But I have to admit, “Apple has me dreaming of a post-laptop world.”

It’s a noble dream, said David Pogue in The New York Times, but a dream it remains. To give the iPad its due, it “really does qualify as a new category of gadget,” and could make “a good goof-proof computer for technophobes, the aged, and the young.” But we shouldn’t underestimate its drawbacks, starting with the fact that it can only run one program at a time. And “it will probably be years” before the bulk of the videos available on the Web “become iPad-viewable.” Moreover, you can’t read it well “in direct sunlight” and at 1.5 pounds (compared with the 10-ounce Kindle), it gets heavy after a while. Apple will likely address these problems in subsequent versions. But the bottom line, for now, is that you can find a much more functional laptop—one with a real keyboard, USB ports, and a camera—for a lot less money.

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