Justin MoningerThe iPad is certainly a game changer when it comes to the converging laptop/netbook/tablet/e-reader market. As media consumers increasingly receive their content from the Web in the form of streaming video, streaming music, podcasts and news sites, the need to make the content portable increases. Smart phones have tried to fill this need, but no one really wants to watch Blockbuster movies or just about any other video longer than 30 seconds on a 2-by-3-inch screen. Beyond that, the Web just isn’t an immersive experience when you are constantly zooming in, zooming out and squinting. Laptops are OK for a Sunday morning at Starbucks, but they are expensive, bulky and generally don’t come with a slick touch-screen interface.

In its traditional fashion, Apple has managed to define and redefine a piece of our technological future, specifically the way we will consume content on the go. As always, the Apple-defined Brave New World doesn’t arrive without plenty of strings attached, but it does result in a consumer product that does a great job of filling a tech need of physically disabled mediaphiles.

Let me digress for a moment and discuss something I get a lot of questions about.  Most modern touch-screen devices use a capacitive screen, meaning you must use a conductor (a material that can conduct electricity) to allow the screen to sense the touch. A human finger is a great conductor; a rubber-tipped typing stick is not. So if you use typing sticks or a mouth stick, you’ll need to make some modifications. You can buy a stylus like the Pogo Sketch for about $8, or try making your own (www.lifehacker.com has a nice tutorial using antistatic socks).

What is so great about the iPad? The user interface is intuitive and generally requires a limited number of taps to accomplish a given task. I saw a great viral video recently about a 99-year-old grandmother who gets an iPad as her first computer and uses it to write limericks. The large touch screen keyboard makes typing with a finger or knuckle relatively easy. As for music, there is the iPod application as well as Internet radio applications like Pandora. I regularly listen to audio books via the iPod application, and Audible (the prominent audio bookstore now owned by Amazon) claims to be launching its own application this summer.

What It Does and Doesn’t Do
The iPad also shines as an e-reader, having both Apple’s iBook application and an Am