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Wednesday Apple revealed the iPad to the people of Earth, imparting on them the sweet freedom of tablet computing, cementing its reputation as the world's top supplier of sexy new gadgets, and forever changing the destiny of mankind.
Or wait. It could be that Apple has just thrown a big Hail Mary to the gadget world, gambling that tablets — until now the toy of choice for überdorks — are something regular people will actually want to use.
Once the hype dies down (if we can imagine such an era), does the iPad have what it takes to move tablets into the mainstream? There have been tablets before, of course, but this is a fundamentally different animal.
If you were disappointed by the iPad, chances are you're not its target customer.
The iPad works almost exactly like an iPhone, and that's worked out pretty well so far for both Apple and its customers. The iPhone OS is easy to master — after a couple of minutes using the multi-touch interface, you're an expert. Buttons are consistently shaped and in logical locations, there are no "hierarchies," and that font is everywhere. It's the epitome of easy.
Possibly too easy. By making the iPad more like an iPhone and less like a Mac, Apple has sacrificed versatility for simplicity. After all, a MacBook can do pretty much everything an iPad can do (albeit with fewer sleek screen wipes), plus it can run applications that use Flash, run them in the background, even run apps that Apple didn't approve — and do it all with more processing power.
But those same qualities that make a MacBook versatile also make it intimidating. I can't tell you how many times my wife has asked me to do something that I would consider simple on my MacBook because she couldn't be bothered to figure it out. But she downloads apps and launches them on her iPhone with ease. She loves her Kindle. The iPad has real appeal to people who shy away from computers in general, even while the computer-savvy regard it — if not dismiss it — as an expensive toy.
The iPad's big bet is that a letter-size shiny slate is something people — real people, not tech geeks — will actually want to use to browse the Web, watch video, read books and all that other wonderful stuff Steve Jobs showed in the keynote. There hasn't been much evidence of that, despite Jobs' observation that 75 million iPhones and iPod Touches sold means there are 75 million people out there who know how to use an iPad. What he didn't mention is the other side of the equation: If I already own an iPhone/iPod Touch, why would I want an iPad?
That's the $499-to-$829 question, and Apple may not have given enough of a convincing answer. Without a novel, game-changing feature like reliable handwriting recognition, speech-to-text, or a Pixel Qi screen (to name just a few examples), the iPad is betting big on pure sex sell itself. Sex is pretty popular, though, so this just might actually work.