As we were talking, I began to realize that he didn't really have a clear idea of exactly what this gadget is -- and lots of you probably have parents in similar situations. So I put together this Q&A using actual questions my Dad asked throughout the course of the weekend.
"So I can use it instead of my normal computer, right?"
The iPad isn't going to replace your home computer. In fact, it's supposed to be like an iPod -- a mobile device you bring along but not a primary system. You manage your music and movies and everything over on your main machine (a Windows unit in my Dad's case) and then synchronize that data to your iPad using iTunes.
"But what about Microsoft Works? Can I load that on?"
Afraid not. The iPad is more like a mobile phone than it is like a computer. You won't be able to run Windows on it, or even the Macintosh operating system OS X. It has its own private system and can only run apps that you buy at the App Store. (Trust me, my Dad does not want to know from jailbreaking or Cydia.)
"So how do I get apps on it?"
You can buy applications from iTunes, either on your home computer or on the device itself. There are a gadzillion of really great games and utilities available and they usually cost just a few bucks. It's a way, way better deal than buying applications for your PC or for most mobile phones.
"Where do I put in the DVDs?"
Unfortunately, you don't. You can rent or buy movies from iTunes, again either at your computer or on the device, but you can't get a DVD from the library and watch it on your system unless you want me to tell you more than you really need to know about something called "ripping". Rentals cost just a few dollars. You have a month in which to start watching the movie and once you start watching it, you have to finish watching within 24 hours. If you buy a movie, it's yours to watch forever. Just be aware that movies are big space hogs, so don't put too many movies on your iPad at once. You can store them on your home computer and just choose which movies you want to sync at any time.
"So what's the point of it?"
The iPad is going to let you check your mail, surf the web, and enjoy your music and videos when you're out waiting for Mom to finish up at the store. Or the dentist. Or the doctor's. Or the DMV. Or wherever she's dragged you. You can pull this out and play a few games or get on the Internet or just watch some TV.
"Right. So when can I buy it?"
April. That's when you can get the 3G version -- and you want that because Mom's errands rarely offer free WiFi connectivity. 3G lets you connect to the Internet wherever AT&T has a decent signal in your area.