The iPad changes the game.

On Saturday, Apple released it’s new device, the iPad. I didn’t pre-order one, but I thought I would stop by our local Best Buy to see if I could snag one. If the line was too long I would just go home. Well, as I arrived at the building a mere 15 minutes before opening, I was ninth in line. I saw footage on TV later in the day that showed hundreds of people in lines at various locations around the states and Chicago in particular. I guess I just got lucky.

Anyway, since luck was on my side, I figured I should pick one up. As you know, I’m a gadget freak, and an Apple fan in particular, and my job as an IT Manager requires me to keep up on the latest trends (at least that’s how I justify it to myself and my wife.) So, it was a pretty easy decision on my part.

Anyway, I want to tell you, this device lives up to the hype. The screen is absolutely gorgeous, applications are lightning fast, and navigating it couldn’t be easier or more intuitive. Now I know I have naysayers in my readership that simply think of this as a big iPod touch. To a point you’re right, but I really think this is a niche product that bridges the gap between your phone and computer perfectly. Let me explain a bit.

First, you can think of this as a better Kindle. I’ve always had a technolust for the Kindle myself, but I don’t read enough to really make one worth my while. Also, I never really liked the fact that it wasn’t in color. Well, the iPad is basically a better color version of the Kindle. Some might prefer the e-ink of the Kindle to the iPad display, but from my experience with it, I can read for hours without any discernible eye strain, and it’s very readable. In addition to the iBooks app you can get from Apple, you CAN also download the Kindle application from Amazon and read books from the Amazon store. To me it’s the best of both worlds. If Barnes and Noble ports an e-reader to the iPad, you can get all three. So out of the box, it’s a better book reader.

Next, it handles Photos really well. They are easy to view with the multitouch interface, but you do have to import them from iTunes. More on this in a bit, but just understand, once you DO get the pictures on the device, it’s gorgeous in pretty much every aspect. Now once you get those pictures on there, you can click a button on your lock screen to kick off a photo slideshow. Now you have a digital picture frame. So the iPad can replace that as well. Set up the charging dock on a shelf with other photo frames and there you go.

Next you have the email client, calendar and contacts applications. They all work rather well as you would expect from Apple, they’ve just made them look a little nicer for the iPad display. I synched them all up via Mobile.Me and was ready to roll. The iPod “Music” piece was as you would expect as well. The Movies piece was the same as on iPhone, but looks a WHOLE lot better.

Next is the web browser Safari. Safari does everything great, except for Adobe Flash. This is a direct snub on Apple’s part, and one that annoys me greatly. That said, any site that I go to on a regular basis worked fine, just the Flash aspects were blank when I ran into any.

So you get an eReader, a digital picture frame, Movies, Music, Email, Calendar, Contacts and Web Browsing. For a LOT of people, they don’t really need anything else.

Take my parents for example. I helped them buy a MacBook near the end of last year. They had never used a computer before and it’s fairly overwhelming to them. This device really would have been all they needed, as the things I mentioned are all that they ever really do. My family has a desktop computer in the living room. My kids, wife and I all use it. My wife has an old Windows laptop too. She uses it to surf the web and do email, but as it’s probably 5 years old, the thing is a tank. She never really wants to take it along when she’s on the road. The iPad changes that. She’ll get one (when the ones with built in 3G) come out, and all of the portable stuff she wants to do can be done on the iPad. She’s not replacing a laptop with a laptop, she’s replacing it with the iPad.

Then there’s my mother-in-law. She has a MacBook and loves it. But when she travels on a plane, or is somewhere with the grandkids in a hotel she wants to be able to take along some movies, music and games that they can all utilize. The iPad does that for her much easier than her MacBook. And she can still do pretty much everything SHE does on a normal machine, only in a much smaller footprint.

Then there’s me. I have several machines for work and home, but I love the iPad. I can use it on the couch, or out on the deck with a cigar, or pull it out easily on a plane. To me it’s the perfect size device to use in those situations. It doesn’t replace another device like it does for my wife, but it supplements it in a way that’s easy to take around, and wonderful to use.

So that’s just the base functionality. If you take all of the applications being built, you can see how this one device will change how certain things are done. For example, seeing interactive newspapers and magazines, in full color with embedded video and interactive weather maps is amazing. And if you check out the Marvel comic book app, it’s absolutely stunning. I can see how people’s entire collections of comic books going forward could be digital. In a future post, I’ll debate whether or not that’s a good thing. But there are so many applications, that it boggles the mind what this can do going forward.

The only real issue I have with the device, is the same one I have with the whole Apple eco-system. They trap you into using their programs, or buy stuff that only they approve. It works so well that we as users experience Stockholm syndrome and fall in love with our captors. Things like not supporting Flash, blocking applications from the app store (Google Voice, adult apps,) having to use iTunes to sync devices, or the DRM they tie to many files you download should not be applauded. This device is no different in that regard. In fact you HAVE to sync it to iTunes when you get it to even use it out of the box. It’s annoying to say the least. The thing is, it all just works, and works great, so most people really won’t care, or if you are like me, you’ll at least put up with it.

All I can say is, this device does everything it needs to do to be successful. Over 300,000 sold on launch day can attest to that. You can scoff if you want to, but I dare you to play with one for 15 minutes and not be impressed. I thought going in that I would like it, but I’m surprised as to how cool it really is to me, and it WILL change the way media is published. Trust me on that.