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The Apple iPad: It's just ahead of its time

Molly Wood explains why you needn't worry about the lack of features, the high price, and the missing content just yet. See, the Apple iPad is simply ahead of its time!

It's hard to argue the fact that this week's Apple iPad launch disappointed the tech crowd, and not just because of that inexplicable name. Despite its lovely design, beefier core apps, and new e-book features and store, the iPad is hampered by a well-documented string of missing features: a camera, 16:9 support, Flash support (seriously?), multitasking, SD card slot, HDMI or high-res video output support, USB ports, GPS, and so on. Plus, it's exclusive to the AT&T network (again: seriously?) in this iteration, the pricing scheme is overly complex, and while I'm not sure it's genuinely overpriced, it's nevertheless expensive, and you can't imagine the price going much lower without crashing into the 64GB iPod Touch and making the iPad look a lot like a sucker's buy.

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OK, but all that said, I think we all need to take a deep breath and remember: it's not that the iPad is a failure. It's just a product ahead of its time. No one should actually buy this iPad--between its inevitable first-generation bugs, fulfillment problems, and buyer's remorse over added features and price drops, it's heartbreak waiting to happen. Try to think of the iPad as, like, a proof of concept. A concept car, even. A work in progress, really.

Now, I know tablet PCs are nothing new, and I know Microsoft's been trying to get the idea off the ground for a decade now. But this is the concept design for the e-reader/media device we'll all own in three to five years--when every publication is available as a feature-rich, interactive reading experience, when Apple (or someone else) has introduced the Newsstand app store with some actual newspaper and magazine content partners, and when prices are in the $100 to $200 range and 3G wireless is not a $130 add-on (SERIOUSLY?), and the idea of consuming just 250MB of data a month on a true multimedia device is recognized as the belly-busting joke that it is.

Right now, the iPad is a product in search of a market. It's kind of poorly implemented, feature-wise; it's been poorly articulated, market-wise; and it's hard to imagine why on earth you'd ever need such a thing at such a price. But I think there will be a market for a touch-screen, all-in-one device that's more than a Kindle and less than a laptop, and it's easy to imagine getting all my media on one slick Internet-connected device that also works as one heck of a pretty digital picture frame.

Here's what Apple needs to do: stop trying to convince me that an iPad is better than a Netbook. That's not the point. I have plenty of things in my life that can bring me a calendar, music, photos, and touch-screen painting. I don't need more of that (no matter how pretty you make it). Don't try to put the iPad between a laptop and a smart phone--that positioning doesn't make any sense to anyone, and no one needs that.

Start pitching this thing as the actual replacement for paper. Get some serious content deals with periodicals and papers, and maybe even offer a combined subscription service that lets you choose 8 or 10 papers and magazines for a flat fee. Get the bookstore up to Amazon stock levels, put an e-ink/LCD hybrid display in the next version, and get serious about what this really is: a multimedia reader. (Also, get your product line and pricing in order and stop trying to act like a 3G chip really costs an extra $130.) See you in three to five years!