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Column: The newest, shiniest thing

Last weekend Apple released a device that has created a bit of a divide among the public at large. The new iPad has launched a discussion some might consider overkill for a device that so far as I can tell does nothing to cure cancer or deliver world peace.

Then again, maybe there's an app for that, too.

To some, the new iPad tablet computer is the first clear peek into a bright new future filled with superhip people who can watch movies beamed straight from space, create spreadsheets on a device that looks like an oversize glass legal pad and play games more sophisticated than any currently available on a mobile device. To others, it is an overpriced, underpowered toy that is more hype than substance.

There are also presumably some people who fall into some middle ground -- neither in awe of the new device nor utterly dismissive -- but this is America, darn it. We deal in extremes.

Both sides have valid points. On one hand, the iPad doesn't really do anything other portable computers don't already do. It appears to do a few of those things better -- video watching, for example, sounds like a wonderful experience, and no other portable computer is nearly as good at convincing customers that a heavily regulated, company-controlled marketplace is the best way to buy programs. Other things it does not do as well. It is less powerful than most laptops, and because you need a computer to set it up and to download software upgrades, you can't use it as a complete replacement for your existing computer.

The iPad is reportedly wonderful for browsing the web from wherever you happen to be. But it doesn't handle Flash, the online architecture that powers most online animations.

In counterpoint, many iPad fans might argue: OMIGOD! HAVE YOU SEEN IT!?!? It's so pretty!

Maybe that sounds shallow, but you know what? I don't care. Most supporters of the iPad suggest you have to hold it -- to caress it, to accept it into your life like a new child, maybe even to taste it -- to fully understand its appeal. It's less about what it does and more about how it looks while it's doing it. You know, like Megan Fox.

Download Scrabble for the iPad and you can use your iPhone as a letter tray. And sure, if we're talking about an iPad plus four iPhone letter trays we've got the most expensive game of Scrabble ever played, but how cool is that? You can read books on it! You can leave it on your coffee table to let your visitors know just how cool you are. Try doing that with an ordinary laptop.

I'll admit, I fall more into the latter camp. I don't plan to buy an iPad just yet, but I believe there is potential there for something interesting to develop. And let's face it, as much as we're taught never to judge a book by its cover, appearances matter. Why else would a commercial that aired as I was mapping out this column be trying to convince me that wood accents with silver flakes hand-polished into them are a selling point?

If we're willing to pay a premium for sparkly wood in our luxury cars, are we really going to be reluctant to pay a little more for the hottest new gadget just because it has no clearly defined value yet?

Let's face it, if we're all of a sudden going to start insisting things have some kind of value, you really have no business reading this column.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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