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iPad caveat: Solution seeking a problem

It may be sleek, sexy, and easy to use, but for now Apple's splashy new toy doesn't fill any critical computing niche.

Here's my second take on the iPad: Prospective buyers be warned; it's not a solution to any burning computing problem I know of. At least not yet.

My iPad 3G in the iPad keyboard dock. Brooke Crothers

As I wrote last week, with the glaring exception of no Adobe Flash support, I like the iPad's design. At the risk of repeating what many others have said: It's gorgeous, sleek, very portable, and easy to use.

Now the bad news. Though I've tried to use the iPad as much as possible, that's getting harder and harder to do. In addition to porting it around the house to read news, watch videos, and do e-mail, I've endeavored to use it on the road too (I have the 3G version). So far, it has turned out to be only marginally useful.

It seems--so far, at least--that more often than not I'm banging into its limitations, which usually sends me scurrying back to my laptop. "Hmm, I could be doing this a lot more easily on my laptop?" is usually what comes to mind. Not always, but usually.

The problem is that too many things are done more efficiently on a laptop. And I won't go through the obvious laundry list of what most people use a portable computer for.

That said, I understand I'm overreaching: It's not meant to serve as a laptop replacement. And, further, I understand that there are plenty of people who use the iPad as an e-reader, gaming device, and generally as an enhanced platform for iPhone/iPod apps, as just some examples.

My point is that it doesn't fill any gaping utility hole between my MacBook and my iPhone. I can do everything on my MacBook and/or iPhone with no urgent need to resort to the iPad.

Finally, so I don't scare away all prospective buyers, here's where I've found it to be marginally useful:

  • Quick browsing: When I'm not sitting in front of my computer and I need to do some quick browsing, it's handy.
  • Google Maps: In the car, Google Maps works better on the iPad than the iPhone and is arguably better suited for the iPad than a MacBook. And when outside of Wi-Fi range in the car, it came in handy for checking news and e-mail. (This is based on a recent road trip to Los Angeles.)
  • Productivity: It can be used at times as a light productivity platform. And certainly beats the iPhone in this respect.
  • Companion device: It's handy as an ancillary desktop companion device. Put it in the keyboard dock next to your laptop, and use it (as you see fit) as a secondary computer.

This isn't my final chapter on the iPad by any means. It may yet find a valuable niche for me. More later.