Will the iPad become your pad?

Apple’s latest product impresses, but will it replace — or supplement — laptops, phones and other eReaders?

Everyone seems to have an opinion on the iPad. If they don’t, they’re probably working on one.

Steve Jobs with his iPad. Photo: Michael Copeland

But there are two things about the iPad that we all seem to agree on (even the ambivalent among us): The name is ridiculous, and it looks like a huge iPhone.

The latter point reflects some confusion about what the iPad is meant to do. According to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, “iPad creates and defines an entirely new category of devices that will connect users with their apps and content in a much more intimate, intuitive and fun way than ever before.”

While many are surely excited about getting more intimately connected with their apps, others are still left wondering: Where, when and how will I use this device? And what will it replace (if anything)?

To help answer this we talked to a range of folks from the world of digital media for their perspectives.

The Kindle lover

Sean Finnegan, chief digital officer at ad agency Starcom Mediavest, is a frequent flyer who never leaves home without his Amazon Kindle. “It’s my daily routine in the morning,” he says of his eReader habit, which includes everything from the blog Techcrunch to his hometown rag, the Chicago Tribune.

Finnegan praises “the ability to just be on a plane, to kick on the wireless and have all these publications update, for half or a third of the newsstand price.” These factors outweigh what he terms the Kindle’s “semi-okay user experience.”

Seemingly a candidate for an upgrade to the iPad, Finnegan acknowledges, “It’s a good leap toward where we want to be.” But he expresses reservations about rebuilding the media library he has on his Kindle, and says, “The price point may give people pause. I don’t foresee lines around the corner at the Apple Store for the iPad.”

The heavy laptop user

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, an entrepreneur-in-residence at Accel Partners and the former president for Asia-Pacific and Latin American operations at Google, is also a fan of the Kindle — and the iPhone, BlackBerry (RIMM) and her laptop. She doesn’t predict the iPad will replace any of these devices soon.

“I’m a very heavy laptop user and given the lack of a built-in physical keyboard, I don’t see iPad becoming my netbook or laptop replacement anytime soon,” she wrote in an email. Singh Cassidy sees the iPad being attractive for more casual laptop users, and for those who own neither a netbook nor a Kindle.

The gamer

Voices from the gaming world have a different angle. David Helgason, CEO of Unity Technologies, a startup with a popular platform for developing iPhone games, is thrilled about the possibilities.

“Apple is really taking gaming seriously after all these years,” he says, pointing out that a huge chunk of iPhone app store revenues come from games.

Among the most popular of these games, are those developed by SGN, which claims to have 13.5 million downloads.

SGN CEO and gaming industry veteran Randy Breen notes the opportunities on the downloadable app front for the iPad. But with gaming also finding a home in the browser through Facebook and other platforms, he sees promise there too.

“The tablet looks like a natural thing to use for web browsing,” he explains. Whereas the iPhone’s screen was too small for a full browsing experience, and the laptop required pointing and clicking, Breen says the iPad “really does play a role none of the devices did until now.”

He also thinks the iPad is ideal for all the media multitasking that goes on today. “It’s not unusual for me to have my laptop next to me even if I’m watching TV. I’d much rather have a tablet in my lap.”

The music fan

In another corner of the media world, Clear Channel Radio’s president of digital, Evan Harrison, sees potential for augmenting the listening experience. With over five million downloads of its iheartradio app, the company began weeks ago to explore how to take advantage of the iPad’s larger screen with more interactivity and rich visuals. “Now it’s a full entertainment and communication device, not just a reading device,” Harrison says, comparing the iPad to the Kindle.

Accel Partners’ Ping Li agrees that the iPad “has lots of use cases beyond just being a reader.” He suggests its potential for replacing two more devices: portable DVD players and personal gaming devices like the Nintendo DS. Li relies on his BlackBerry for email and phone calls, and his iTouch for media like games and music. He doesn’t own a Kindle. “If I had to choose, I would get the iPad,” he says unconvincingly. Maybe it’s the name?

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