It’s been five months since Apple launched the iPad, the sleek and powerful tablet that has ushered in a new age of mobile computing. The Cupertino company has sold more than 3 million devices and is ramping up production to fend off a slew of new competitors ready to launch tablets for the holidays. Wayne MacPhail, an emerging media consultant who teaches online journalism at Western and Ryerson universities, reflects on how the device has changed his habits.

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It’s not unusual, I suppose, for a five-month-old to attract attention in a coffee shop. But, it never fails: I bring mine out, set it next to my latte and muffin and someone will double-take and ask, what’s that?

That is an iPad, a tablet computer from Apple. I’ve had it for a half year now. on April 3, I stood in line early in the morning at the Apple Store in the Buffalo Galleria along with hundreds of others — many of them Canadian — hoping to score one (or more) of the coveted devices.

Back then, the iPad was, according to Apple, magical and revolutionary. But has a half year rubbed the mystical patina off the bright and shiny slab of computing? not judging from the over 3 million sold, the fact that it remains my go-to device each and every day and not from the furtive glances I still get from the caffeinated patrons of my hometown, Hamilton.

I had hoped it would change my life, or at least the good portion of it I spend online. I had imagined myself, my little iPad propped on my knees, leaning back on the sofa, ingesting tea, cookies, news and videos. In other words, I’d be just like the folks in the iPad commercials, minus the Banana Republic outfits and manicures. and, that’s happened alright, just about every night.

And, every morning, as the kettle boils, my iPad serves up news from the BBC, a host of RSS feeds, the Globe and Mail, the CBC and a dozen blogs. So, ironically, because it has also replaced most of my books, it bookends my day.

It has made my laptop jealous. The rugged Macbook Pro, almost always my previous companion on my commutes to Toronto, now rarely gets to leave my home office (where it does the heavy lifting of audio and video editing).

I have found I can write articles like this using the large virtual keyboard on the iPad’s screen. for longer work, I pair a physical Bluetooth keyboard to the tablet and write as comfortably as on a laptop. I’ve mined recipes on it, propping it up in a cookbook stand, listened to international radio, podcasts and music as I work, have played games where I pit flora against zombie hordes and put-upon, petulant birds against swine.

I have used it as an Etch-a-Sketch, a drum machine, a dulcimer, a guitar, an astrolabe, a hearing aid, a corkboard, a photo frame, and a potter’s wheel. It really is a shapeshifter that becomes whatever you wish it to be via whichever inexpensive app you suck into it.

It is impossible, unless you own one, to appreciate how engaging, immersive and addictive it can be. When you touch the news, pictures, games and characters the experience becomes as all-encompassing and joyful as finger painting.

Speaking of fun, it’s a great comic reader. I’ve rediscovered a dozen Golden Age DC and Marvel comics that I remember from my youth. I’d forgotten how Atom got his powers and how skinny Thor’s alter ego was. I’ve also motored my way through the first half of the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series, the panels zooming and sliding as I read. I’ve become a Dr. Who addict, watching the British time lord and his comely companions phone booth around the universe as I ride the GO Bus.

And, I’ve done serious reading too. To my wife’s astonishment and amusement, I’m half way through a book about the history of the battery. “A book?” she asks. “A whole book? about batteries? Really?” and have been through a half dozen other Kindle titles in bed, on the beach (not the best experience), and lounging in the living room. on the subject of batteries, five months in, my iPad lasts long days without going below 25% capacity.

Jim Parsons, a Toronto-based entrepreneur and industry consultant, says his iPad has turned him into a text-consuming machine. “I have never read as much or as consistently in my life,” Parson says. He uses Twitter, RSS feed readers, Instapaper, Safari, e-mail and flipboard.

Flipboard is one of a growing cluster of iPad apps that turn RSS feeds and content scraped from news sites into elegant digital magazine experiences. Instapaper translates web pages into easy-to-read offline text documents.

Online media prof Wayne MacPhail writes on his iPad at the Mulberry Street Coffeehouse in Hamilton.

Online media prof Wayne MacPhail writes on his iPad at the Mulberry Street Coffeehouse in Hamilton.— Barbara Ledger

The iPad is not without its flaws, transferring files to and from the device is far more complex than it needs to be, printing from it is a royal pain (iOS 4.2 coming in November pr
omises to fix this) and a lack of support for javascript means online tools like Google Documents are unusable. and then, of course, there’s its inability to show flash. But those, by and large, are minor annoyances.

Oh, and remember those Canadian families that lined up for the iPad in Buffalo six months ago? The Brueckman family of St. Jacob’s was one of them. Back then they bought two iPads. they sold one to a friend after they got back to Canada but Madison, 11, still uses hers every day. “I play lots of games, Tap Tap Revenge, the Moron Test. I watch Glee and I read books. The Red Pyramid was my last one,” she says. Scott, Madison’s father, says they used his daughters iPad in a Montreal WiFi hotspot to book accommodation after a favourite campsite had unexpectedly closed down. “and we’ve used it to show vacation pictures to friends,” he says. “we just propped it up on a stand and let it go.”

As for me, I should wrap this up. I need to go spend some quality time with my laptop.

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