Since its release in April 2010 the iPad has sold more than 15 million units worldwide, seen some serious hardware upgrades in its second generation and gobbled up more than 75 percent of tablet PC sales. Along with the iPhone, Apple has used the iPad to forever transform the way we interface with devices of this nature and invented the “there’s an app for that” mindset from thin air.

Plus they made it look sexy.

But with its hefty $400 price-tag (and that’s just the iPad sans 3G network capabilities) how does a college student justify the purchase of a luxury item that fills the role of a few cheaper devices?

To get to the bottom of that question let’s look at a few things that the iPad (or more specifically the iPad 2) does very well.

With the addition of the forward facing camera to the iPad 2 video chat using Apple’s FaceTime or a third party app like Skype is a no-brainer.  A free, easy way to stay in touch with family and friends from home video chat on the iPad is a seamless experience and a joy to behold on Apple’s incredibly crisp display.

With over 425,000 apps available to iPad users through the Apple App Store there really is almost always “an app for that.”  And it’s not just a big number.  Each app must be approved by Apple before it is available for purchase and almost every app has dozens of customer reviews.  Add it all up and you have a system designed to deliver a huge pool of quality programs to meet almost every need though one that also occasionally comes under fire for its sometimes overly stringent criteria.

Combining a music player, eBook reader, web surfing tool and movie player paired with the iTunes store, the iPad combines the functionality of a half dozen devices in one.  As a platform for consuming media the iPad is in a class all its own. That’s all great in a cool piece of consumer electronics but what makes it an essential device for students? Honestly…not much.

Weighing in at a pound and a third and about as thin as your #2 pencil the iPad is an incredibly portable device…or is it? Too big to fit in your pocket (besides you’ve already got your iPhone in there) it’s still going to take up a spot in your backpack. Which brings me to my next point…

If you’ve already got a laptop (or even a smartphone)…you don’t need it. I’ve made it pretty clear that I think the iPad is an awesome device but the fact remains that the bulk of its functionality already exists on your smartphone or laptop.  And though it might fill a niche need with its eBook support, devices such as the Kindle or Nook can deliver the same functionality at less than half the cost. Add to that the less then stellar support for office applications on the iPad and you have a device that just isn’t optimized for students. Mac users may find some similar ground with the three streamlined iWork apps for the iPad but Microsoft Office users are out of luck.

It’s my belief that tablet PCs are the future.  Considering their impressive functionality it may not be too long before we forego our laptop machines, eBook readers and mp3 players entirely in favor of their tablet cousins.  Our habits for consuming media are changing, driven by the availability of information on the internet and devices like the iPad offer a unique way to experience it.  For the time being however, devices such as the iPad are an expensive and ultimately unnecessary luxury for students. But hey, if you’ve got a spare 400 dollars laying around…they’re still pretty cool.

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Eric Lillehaugen

A super-senior working at the ITS Solution Center on campus Eric enjoys the summer breezes, long walks on the beach and late-night Halo matches conquering all those who dare step before him.

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