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The iPad has a place in this world, sort of…

Well, one of the things that I’ve heard most about the iPad is that people expect it to replace a Netbook as a computer-on-the-go. I’m currently on a lengthy bus ride to Atlanta so, for once, my ability to be productive is not so much an issue of efficiency. As I’ve mentioned before, typing on this thing is no walk in the park. I’ve finally settled in with the iPad on my lap, propped against the chair in front of me.  Since speed is not an issue, I’m happy enough comfortably hunt-and-pecking my way around the keyboard.

I still can’t see the iPad as much of a business tool. If I truly had the need or a want to be productive. I would rather spend an extra hundred and fifty dollars on an extended battery to get the longer life of a Netbook. That said, right now, the iPad is serving as a welcome distraction and, for the first time, I’m actually rather enjoying the device. Since I’m feeling more benevolent than usual towards this thing, I want to take a moment to talk about the tablet, or “slate” form factor.

The iPad is not going to be the only device of its kind on the market for very long. The HP Slate is due out later this year – a full computer roughly the same size and weight as the iPad. Unlike the iPad, it will run a full operating system (Windows 7), have USB ports, and support Adobe Flash.

Asus is following with its own take on the iPad, a roughly $170 E-book reader that offers a full web experience, supposedly including Flash, and 144-hour battery life. Personally, considering how I am enjoying using the iPad, I think Asus has the right idea.

The iPad is a wonderful, lazy distraction. It is nice and big so no squinting is necessary, and it has a wonderful no-wires, no-parts sort of ultra-convenient feel. Unfortunately, for the kind of purpose that the iPad serves best, the price is utterly wrong.

I can see the iPad as a device that a working dad might use to scan the news as he drinks his morning coffee. I can see it as something that you could give to the kids in the back seat to watch a movie on. I can see it as a cool and simple portable sketch pad. I can see it as a device that, to be effective, should be cheap enough to take a beating, and when it dies in a year, it’s simple to replace.

I don’t want to have to remember a cushioned bag, or to be careful how I treat it. I can toss something in the Asus’ price range on my bed or on the backseat without worry – if it breaks, it will either still be under the one-year warranty or I will be OK with buying a replacement.

After all, I could go through four $150 readers and still basically break even for the price of one iPad.

Instead, the iPad is a sleek and expensive device that I feel I have to treat gingerly. I can enjoy it in the few situations where it is stationary enough for me to use it securely, but that takes away from the iPad’s ability to become a part of my life. The iPad proves there is room for a “new book” for the electronic age, but it fails where traditional books succeed.

Books are cheap and easily replaced, and you can choose easily which type fits you best, be it a puzzle book, a sketch book or a good story. An electronic pad can replace them all – and thus be a bit more expensive – but if Apple wants the iPad to be ubiquitous, the company needs to make it affordable to someone like me who can’t spend more than about a hundred dollars a year on books and doesn’t have $600 to burn.