Apple's new "magical" product, the iPad, has certainly surprised some people. In the same breath it should be said that there are many who are not impressed. Namely, Nintendo's president likened it to nothing more than a larger iPod Touch.

One of the killer features of the iPad is its price. If I had seen a specification list for the iPad prior to launch, I probably would have anticipated the price to be at least $300 more than the price point selected by Apple. However, Apple's choice of price tells a lot about where they might see the iPad going, and what it is expected to compete with.

Competes with Kindle

At a price point of $499 for the Wi-Fi version, the iPad is clearly trying to compete with popular e-book readers such as Amazon's Kindle DX.

But is the future of the e-book really going to be imitating authentic books? The iPad is the e-book equivalent of the mid-20th century television revolution, except instead of holding onto antiquated black-and-white broadcast technology, Apple has moved right along to high-definition color television. The Amazon Kindle audience is going to diverge; those who wanted the e-book for the electronic value, the "e," will move along to the iPad. Those who bought the e-book for the book value will have to hold out for lower prices, which must undoubtedly follow.

While that's a pretty harsh outlook for the Kindle, Amazon is not out of the game. This sort of thing happens every time there is a convergence of technology that brings something new to the table at a competitive price. Amazon will differentiate their product (they must do so by price so long as they wish to retain a four-shade display) and find their own place.

Handles multimedia experiences

There are not very many portable media players that can compare to what the iPad offers. In fact you'd be hard-pressed to find anything with such a reasonable screen size and resolution to play video.

Portable DVD players, while much, much cheaper, are a brick compared to the iPad and are usually sub-par in the video resolution department. Actually, the most comparable alternative to the iPad is Apple's own iPod Touch. It sits comfortably price-wise between portable DVD players and the iPad. Next in line afterward would be Microsoft's Zune HD, which has the advantage of a stunning OLED screen.

Interwoven with productivity

If the iPad were just a souped-up portable media player, there would be nothing that could justify the half-grand price point. Along with the iPad, other devices like the iPhone, Blackberry, and Google's Android mobile operating system are blurring the line between an authentic productivity device and something to distract you from everything else in your day. They are pushing traditional ideas about computers to the extremes. Laptops are no longer portable enough. Desktops are becoming less useful as items to increase productivity, turning more and more into the brute workhorses of information (or over-throttled gaming machines).

The iPad takes a little from both extremes, being an e-mail client that is purportedly intuitive and effective, and offering the convenience of surfing the web on something like an iPhone at a screen size that actually does justice to websites. Many of the accolades that Apple touts depend heavily on the functionality of the on-screen keyboard. Designed to be comparable to a laptop keyboard, the tactility and ergonomics of on-screen keyboards have often been cited as being meager at best.

Whether or not marketing the productivity benefits - if it can be argued that any really exist — of a device like the iPad is wise depends upon the user. It is easy, if not outright irresistible, to make use of all of the best apps for everything except work. To be fair, many apps are honestly beneficial productivity programs. Others are intoxicatingly entertaining. Then again, who says that anyone will even buy an iPad with productivity in mind?

Builds a bridge for the indecisive

This is the part where a product like the iPad either confuses customers or really pulls them in. The iPad occupies a funny spot between less-expensive portable media players and netbooks, and much more expensive tablet computers. It does so not only with price, but with features, which could turn out to be an ingenious positioning strategy.

The iPhone OS, which runs everything from the iPod Touch up to the new iPad, is a hybrid between a really smart media player and a severely stripped-down computer operating system. It doesn't multitask in any way similar to how consumer operating systems have multitasked for the past 20 years. While it leans more towards a media device, Apple will likely improve upon the iPhone OS to make it more appropriate for a hybrid tablet device after it has been in the marketplace for a while.

Speaking of which, the iPad isn't available to consumers yet. The Wi-Fi version is expected in March, with the 3G model shortly thereafter in April.

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