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What exactly is the iPad? What is the iPad used for?
In basic terms, the iPad is a tablet or "slate" computer. Upon the release of the original iPad, Apple formally declared that it is a "magical and revolutionary" device for "browsing the web, reading and sending email, enjoying photos, watching videos, listening to music, playing games, reading e-books and more."
Although "magical" might be a bit much, the iPad definitely is a new type of product.
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc. (Original iPad)
Software Support & Lineage
Specifically, Apple designed the iPad to occupy a new product category between the iPod touch/iPhone and the Mac, and consequently, it is really neither an iPod or iPhone nor a Mac.
However, it does run a version of the same operating system as the iPod touch and iPhone. Likewise, the iPad is compatible with the vast majority of applications written for the iPhone and iPod touch as well, it is not unreasonable to consider it a member of the iPhone/iPod touch "family" of products.
The iPad does not run Mac OS X or Mac OS X applications, so it is not Mac, although the iOS is derived from Mac OS X.
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc. (Original iPad with Keyboard/Regular Dock)
In addition to the "official" uses, the iPad also can be used like a basic computer with the original external keyboard dock accessory (above, subsequently discontinued) or any number of Bluetooth wireless keyboards.
When combined with the iWork software Pages, the external keyboard capability makes it possible to comfortably compose full documents on the iPad, which can then be saved in Pages, Word, or PDF format and printed, if needed. Spreadsheets and presentations, likewise, can be prepared with versions of the Numbers and Keynote applications from the iWork suite and saved in either native formats or in Excel or PowerPoint, respectively. Native versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are available now, too.
Of course, the iPad can be used for any number of other tasks by taking advantage of thousands of third-party apps. Like an iPod or iPhone, the iPad models also can be synchronized with a compatible Mac or Windows PC, if desired.