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YouPad, iDon’t

Apple’s new iPad tablet whatchamacallit (is it a minimalist computer or an overgrown cell phone?) is flying off the shelves and into the hands of buyers who are eager to put it to good use.

I have not yet figured out exactly what that good use is. I keep asking myself: What would I do with an iPad if I had one?

There are a lot of Apple products in my life. I literally sleep with my iPhone. Since I travel so much, and various relatives need to be able to reach me all the time, I now charge my phone at my bedside every night. During the day I use the pocket-size device to check email, keep current with news and market developments, get directions, take photos, listen to music and podcasts, send text messages, and sometimes even to make a telephone call.

My MacBook Pro laptop computer travels with me, too. I am using it to write this post in Fort Lauderdale. In the past eight days the MacBook Pro and I have been to Orlando, Montana, Washington state, southern California and northern Florida. The comfortable keyboard on the laptop helped me catch up on my work as I took six flights on Southwest Airlines’ Boeing 737s. Though I favor the Mac’s OS X operating system, I also value the ability to run Windows on this Intel-based full-strength computer, or to connect easily to my main office computer via the Gotomypc service.

My wife and daughters use Macs, which require a lot less tweaking than Windows computers. I am the tweaker-in-chief at our house, so I try to keep those demands to a minimum.

Most of our firm’s managers carry iPhones (Jonathan, who sends vast numbers of emails, prefers a Blackberry), and most of our staff uses Mac desktops that also run Windows software on “virtual computers” that operate side-by-side with OS X. We get the best of both worlds.

My non-Apple traveling companion is Amazon’s Kindle, the electronic book and periodical reader. I subscribe to The Wall Street Journal on my new, large-screen Kindle. Amazon offers 121 other newspapers, myriad blogs and journals, and about 500,000 electronic books, all available without any data plan subscription fees through Amazon’s private wireless network. In a pinch, I can also use my Kindle as a standard Web browser. But its main purpose is to let me bring my books and newspapers wherever I go.

I have been pretty good lately about spending an hour on the elliptical machine nearly every day. The Kindle is easy to prop up in front of me. I can make the text large enough to read at a distance, and turning a page is a simple press of a button.

The iPad’s large, full-color screen has been touted as a better way to read electronic books and newspapers than the Kindle’s smaller, unlit black-and-white “electronic ink.” Maybe so. I have not used the iPad, so I am in no position to judge. But I don’t know that I would want to change pages by flicking my sweaty fingers over the iPad’s touch screen while I torture myself on the elliptical. The Kindle also is smaller than the iPad and should have much longer battery life.

Also, books are Amazon’s core business. Apple’s library, at 60,000 titles when iPad was launched, has a long way to go to catch up to Amazon.

Do I relish the thought of trading my Kindle for an iPad? Not at all. This is without even considering the price. My large-format Kindle cost $489, including its wireless access capability. The iPad ranges from $500 to $700 depending upon memory capacity, but you have to add $130 for the 3G wireless facility that comes standard on Kindle.

Will I swap the iPad for my iPhone? Not unless my pants and pants-pocket sizes make a great leap forward, which is what I am trying to prevent with all that time on the elliptical. I want my all-purpose device to go everywhere I go. And there are some things, like taking photos, that just won’t work on the iPad.

This leaves the computer. Would I exchange my powerful, Intel-based, OS X-running MacBook Pro for the iPad? Not on your life. Let’s put aside the question of whether I really want to type on a flat touch screen. Here are some things my MacBook can do that the iPad won’t:

  1. Run Windows. (The iPad runs on a proprietary Apple chip, not a standard Intel processor. While there eventually should be software that allow some flavors of Windows to sort-of-work on the iPad, the most popular operating system generally does not perform well outside its native Intel environment.)
  2. Run Flash-based video on the Safari web browser. Apple CEO Steve Jobs thinks Flash is on the way out and not worth supporting. Jobs is unmoved by the fact that many video-enabled websites today require Flash. Tough luck, iPad users. Find some other site that has a clue.
  3. Let me expand the built-in memory if I need to.
  4. Let me replace the built-in battery when it dies. The iPad is meant to be returned to Apple for battery replacement when the power cell eventually wears out. The newest MacBook Pros, sadly, also have batteries that are not readily user-replaceable, though my January 2009 unit’s battery is easily swapped.
  5. Share its internet connection with another nearby computer.
  6. Let me install any program I want. Like the iPhone, the iPad is designed to accept only applications that are distributed by Apple through its iTunes store. That’s far more control than I want to give a vendor whom I already have paid for computer hardware. It’s mine; let me do what I want with it.

I know what the iPad isn’t: It isn’t a phone, it isn’t a full-service computer, and it isn’t a Kindle. I just can’t figure out what it is or what to do with it. Maybe I will find the answer eventually. But if you get there first, let me know.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business."

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