GIZMO: The handy dandy iPad.
FILL IN THE BLANK: Were he alive today, the 17th-century philosopher John Locke would have called the Apple iPad a new representation of his "tabula rasa," or blank slate. Locke's premise was that humans are born with pristine minds, ready to be filled and formed by the stimulus around them.
So, too, is the iPad, though it hit the ground running Saturday with lots of potential distractions - more than 2,000 customized apps.
FINGER FOOD: Some early adopters standing with me outside the Apple store in Ardmore early Saturday morning were talking about using the smart, fast, 1.5-pound iPad to replace a stodgy, 7-pound laptop for work chores and pleasure applications on the road. And, hey, if you get lost, it's easy to read pre-installed maps on the iPad's crisp, colorful, LED backlit 9.7-inch screen.
Ah, but when this $499-and-up product gets cheaper (surely it will), adds a few more features and develops a stronger "works with iPad" rapport with other products, I think a mainstream audience will want to sprinkle a couple around the house - mostly for fun and games, information access, two-way communications and home control.
This is a wi-fi connected computer that doesn't look or act like a computer, that sits attractively on a coffee table and that doesn't put you in a work frame of mind.
For starters, the iPad boots up instantly. And you work it with neither a computer keyboard or mouse. Instead, your fingers tap and swipe instinctively across the touch screen. Just make sure to get an iPad with a decent bucket of flash memory to hold all your stuff. First-gen iPads come in 16, 32 and 64 GB memory configurations. I went for broke.
THE BETTER PICKER UPPER: Some naysayers grouse that the iPad should have offered a wide format (16:9) screen optimized for movies. Nuts.
Even a letterboxed movie plays clearly enough for two to enjoy on this more conventionally shaped, multi-purpose screen. The sound from the built-in monaural speaker is decent, or you can plug in wired headphones or speakers.
For a real treat, activate the iPad's Bluetooth transmitter to shoot high-fidelity music and movie soundtracks to wireless earphones or a device like Bose's pioneering SoundDock 10 amplified speaker system with optional Bluetooth receiver module.
That excellent-sounding, $750 bundle, with an iPad, could theoretically replace a rack of audio/video gear for the generations who've given up on "physical content."
I might delve deeper into that scene, too, if the iTunes store offered more deluxe editions of albums fitted out with lyrics, artwork and liner notes, which should show very well on the iPad screen.
While Apple couldn't get deals done to offer cheaper movie and TV content through the iTunes store, it has struck a surprising deal with Netflix. Subscribers can do that no-extra-cost streaming thing directly on the iPad.
Netflix movies played very well through my so-so (2.2 Mbps) DSL wi-fi wireless home network but locked up when delivered to the iPad through a Sprint Overdrive 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot - a phone-to-Wi-Fi "hub" device. That made me feel a little better that I hadn't waited for one of the 3G-ready versions of the iPad, coming at month's end. (Text, still images and audio streamed fine through the Sprint Hub.)
iPad owners can also pull down subscription baseball games from MLB.com and free TV shows from ABC and CBS sites "maximized" for the device. But with the freebies, this guinea pig experienced even more rampant freeze-ups.
PRINT THIS: My tidy wife is already encouraging this clutter bug to give up on physical newspapers, magazines and less essential "hard copy" books to get all that on the paperless iPad.
Some iPad-ized newspaper and magazine sites have gone for a "bleeding edge" design, like the vertical/horizontally flowing Popular Science+ and the Associated Press' tap-on-the-post-it-notes approach. Others, like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, are offering a scaled-down but still recognizable version of the print editions. (See here for philly.com and the Daily News' iPad plans.)
Most exciting to me are NPR and BBC hybrid news/entertainment sites, which let you listen to a streaming radio station or podcast while browsing short articles or video clips.
So that business about iPads being unable to multi-task isn't entirely true. You also can listen to tunes pre-stashed in the iPod section while viewing content on some news sites or playing a board game like Scrabble.
Another happy surprise: All 450,000 books in the Amazon Kindle store are available on iPad, too. Kindle offerings remain monochromatic on the iPad, for the moment. Downloads from Apple's own iBook store (60,000 choices) offer color, a side-by-side page view option and moving eye candy.
OTHER APPLIANCE FUNCTIONS: This multi-purpose, clutter-reducing tabula rasa is easily transformed into an alarm clock, big-button calculator, digital picture frame, voice recorder or compass. It's sure to find good use as a fancy, tabletop remote control for Internet-connected music systems, home security and automated lighting setups.
And the iPad makes a much better portable video game player than the iPhone or iPod Touch. But just as with some magazine and newspaper subscription offerings, early adopters are being socked with significantly bigger fees ($5-$15) to download the likes of "Flight Control HD," "ESPN Pinball" or "Need for Speed Shift" to this game-changer. Hope that doesn't last long.