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Apple's iPad - the tablet with the data center soul

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Comment The soul of Apple's soon-to-be-unveiled iPad won't reside in Cupertino. You'll find it in Catawba County, North Carolina.

That's the whereabouts of the WestStar Mission Critical Data Park, where Apple is busily building its $1bn data center, scheduled to open later this year.

Yes, we're fully aware that the iPad is still a chimera and that no official word has yet emerged from The Great Steverino - not even about its mere existence, let alone its capabilities.

But let's muse a bit. The iPad - or whatever Apple chooses to call its upcoming tablet-style computing platform - will be first and foremost a content-consumption device. That content will include web pages, downloaded audio and video, ebooks unlike anything a Kindle or Nook can offer, and interactive games with in-game level and attribute purchases.

As such, the iPad will succeed where other tablets have failed. Despite what some naysayers are naysaying, the time is ripe for a portable device that's designed primarily to entertain and educate. The earlier waves of tablets occurred before the maturation of the internet, before the digitization of music and video, before the coming emergence of enhanced ebooks.

The failures of other tablet tries such as GO Corporation's PenPoint OS, the GRiDPAD 2050SL, and Microsoft's Windows for Pen Computing teach us exactly nothing about the future of the iPad. Their developers wanted you to ditch your laptop and replace it with their tablet.

That's not Apple's goal. Cupertino wants you to keep your laptop - or, better yet, buy a new MacBook - and also get yourself an iPad. The iPad isn't a replacement for anything. It's a new paradigm. It's not a creation device. It's a consumption device.

Oh, you'll almost certainly be able to use it for productive work. After all, such apps as Quickoffice even let you muck about with Excel and Word docs on your iPhone. But that won't be the iPad's raison d'être.

And that's where that big ol' data center in Catawba County comes in.

Apple wants you to devour content on your iPad in big, tasty - and, for Cupertino, lucrative - chunks. It wants you to watch TV on your iPad. Otherwise, it wouldn't be talking to CBS and Disney about subscription TV. It wants you to read enhanced "redefined print" content on your iPad - or it wouldn't be holding "secret meetings" with New York book publishers or talking with HarperCollins, one of the megapublishers looking to standardize ebook formats, publishing systems, and sales.

It wants you to continue to buy (or rent via subscription services) tunes, videos, apps, games, and other content from its ludicrously successful iTunes Store - which, by the way, just downloaded its three-billionth app two weeks ago, adding to the unknown squillions of tunes and videos it has sold.

And it wants to serve ads to you while you're blissfully enjoying your iPad entertainment. Witness Wednesday's rumor that Apple is in talks with Microsoft about a deal to ditch Google and go Bing - a search engine with a graphic-heavy style that's a natural for the iPad. As we noted in today's story, however, a Bing pact might be just a stop-gap until Apple can launch its own search engine - with its own ad service.

More work for all those servers humming away in low-electricity-costs North Carolina.

The iPad is not an independent device. It's the sucker on the end of a tentacle that's rooted all the way back in Catawba County, down US 321 Business at Startown Road. And that sucker is aimed directly at your entertainment dollar.

So pay no mind to those who kvetch that the iPad isn't an acceptable business machine. Of course it isn't - that's not what it's for. The Walkman was a poor substitute for the Dictaphone, but Sony's iconic portable music-maker had a pretty good run.

Expect the same for the iPad. ®

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