iPad – or should that have been LooBook Pro?

Or even ‘a little something for the weekend’?

Like the 2000 network engineers whom I’m filming in Barcelona this week, I downed tools to watch the Apple announcement of their new toy: the iPad.

It is, to all intents and purposes, a big iPhone. Big enough to watch stuff on, read stuff (in colour, in magazine format, rather than a Kindle-like virtual page), browse stuff, send stuff, tweet stuff, and do a whole lot of things that iPhone applications do and more besides (page layout, spreadsheets and so on).

So is this brand over substance?

Well, here’s my thoughts after watching it through.

This is the computer that non-computer users will like. One could say it’s the Flip Camera of the notebook world, but that would be unfair.

I think it’s the computer my parents would want, now that they’ve owned an iMac for nearly a decade.

A computer more at home on the sofa than the desktop. A computer that they can take on holiday, or take to the dentist, as well as accompany them round the TV or even in bed.

One could get all techy and think of it as a mix of portal to the cloud, media browser and communication tool, but like the iPhone blended a music player, phone, satnav, torch, blackberry and gameboy (but better), so the iPad does the main jobs of email, web, photo, music and video browsing, adding books, magazines, then there’s the games, the distractions, the visual toys, the educational toys, and so on.

So it’s a computer for people who don’t like computers – and that, ladies and gentlemen – remains a huge untapped market. And a steep mountain to climb in getting the message to them that the iPad is a Nice, Useful Device.

It is also going to appear in places where a laptop is currently used, but not comfortably. Tried using a laptop in Economy? Ever wanted to catch up with reading in a waiting room and couldn’t find a power point and a horizontal surface? Ever wanted to fire up the BBC iPlayer in bed? Ever burned your lap whilst surfing in the loo? Okay, don’t try that at home, kids.

Noteworthy is the lack of a camera. I think this is Jobsian purism at work here, and that future iPad devices will have them. Ye Gods, try the ‘PhotoBooth’ app that encouraged use of the built-in webcams on Macs. Think about skyping home, virtual meetings, guided tours, quasi augmented reality. The iPad needs, REALLY NEEDS front and back cameras.

And then there’s the really amazing things that iPhone application developers do, filling in with niche products.

I am going to use my iPad as a prompting device on my camera. I am going to use it as a clapper board for filming. I hope soon to be at least doing rough edits of freshly shot footage on it whilst chilling in the hotel bar. But I think those are fairly pedestrian in comparison to what the community, the ‘crowd’ will create over time.

The iPad is a very clever, very well researched device that I really hope will set alight a whole new world of computer usage. My fear is that its best target market (the non computer user) is going to be very negative and a very hard sell.

In 20 years time, I could be buying one for my grandchild for the price of a box-set of books, but right now lots of people who could really benefit from such a device will not pay the price, and get a cheap laptop from PC world instead. And they will still hate computers.

iPad isn’t all sharbat fountains and shang-ri-lah. Apple is a shrewd company adept at emptying the pockets of its fans, telling them that is the price of simple things that work well. But they are also the company with the bone-head policy of banning some applications that might be something Apple doesn’t want, or falls foul of some idiotic interpretation of draconian rules – a news reader application is classed for Adults Only, may contain nasty stuff… News can be nasty. A browser gets an 18 Certificate because it’s possible you might see a saucy picture or too. An app might upset the hidden marketing of an Apple Partner, so you’ll never see that one. Yet a crass and shameful prank app (Shaken Baby – you can guess) is passed and approved.

Apple may have billions of apps and millions of units shipped, but they still can’t work out how to intelligently vet their App Store, and continue to muck up the businesses of many developers – big and small.

I’m not a developer (I wish I could be). But I am a media maker, and I’m very interested on what this class of device will excel at in media terms. Casual learning like Rouxbe.com?

So the iPad might drown in a sea of apathy that surrounds the tiny island of the Mac Faithful. The iPad may shrivel on the vine of ‘a good idea badly marketed’. The iPad may fall at the first fence of performance by being too little too early like its embarrassing uncle Newton.

But it could be good. Very good.