When Apple unveiled their new multi-touch tablet device , the [horribly named] iPad, I watched as half of the internet sung praises of Apple to the heavens while the other half spoke of disappointment. In the tabletop roleplaying community, I saw a trend of tech-minded gamers   hail the tablet as the messiah of digital roleplaying.
My personal opinion is, much like the internet, divided between praise and disappointment. However, I strongly disagree that the iPad will be the savior that shepherds tabletop roleplaying into the digital Promised Land. This article assumes there is such a place, but does not serve as an argument concerning any debate over whether there is, or is not, a digital paradise for tabletop roleplaying games.
Evolutionary, Not Revolutionary
Tablets are not new, and a good friend of mine has used his touch screen Lenovo ThinkPad tablet  as a digital library for gaming for last five years or more. It’s not as slim as an iPad, but it’s not unwieldy either. The iPad looks fantastic as a document reader, but I fear I wouldn’t be able to read any of my existing e-books on it nor could I transfer anything bought through their iBooks  app on any of my other devices.
The iPad does offer a multi-touch display, but that is not new either. Regular (single) touch screens have been available on tablet notebooks for years and multi-touch became available on tablet netbooks  last year (primarily with the release of Windows 7 which supports multi-touch ). I do think that Natural User Interfaces are a revolution in computing, but the fact that the iPad uses it is not.
The iPad does offer an accelerometer, which is great for when you switch between landscape or portrait orientation and for video gaming. The base model (sans 3G and with only 16 GB of storage) did surprise me with its price of only $500. But it’s lack of support for Flash, incapacity to multitask, inability to install apps outside their app store, and Apple’s penchant for DRM  all prevent me from hopping aboard the iPad fanboy train (the lack of a camera or GPS doesn’t affect me though).
Besides, I think the Always Innovating TouchBook  does a good job of providing all the features of the iPad I like (sans multi-touch) while still being able to have control over my content/software for a $100 less ($200 less if you don’t want the attachable keyboard) and it’s been on the market since last fall.
iPad, the False Prophet?
If Apple’s tablet is not really anything new, can it still show the path to the digital nirvana of tabletop roleplaying? It’s possible, but the iPad would have some very big obstacles to overcome. First, this assumes there is a financially viable market of gamers that are looking, whether they realize it or not, for the Digital Promised Land of Roleplaying. Second, this market needs to be willing to purchase an iPad for this game or they need to have already purchased an iPad for other reasons (read: market penetration).
Third, there would have to be a company that would develop the platform and publish a game that targets this market. But just targeting the iPad wielding digital roleplaying pilgrims would not be enough. The game would have to be fucking awesome. So awesome, people are blinded by its divine light when they play it. What is more, this divine game would still have to be a roleplaying game (preferably one that meets my definition ), because that is the only way it could urge the rest of the tabletop roleplaying industry to embrace such a platform… which would truly make Apple’s tablet a messiah.
I do not see all the previously mentioned components becoming a reality; therefore, I do not believe the iPad is the Messiah of the Digital Promised Land of Roleplaying. At best, it is another herald that whispers in the ears of technophile gamers and Macphiles. Publishers looking at utilizing tablet devices to enhance or facilitate tabletop roleplaying would be best served at developing device agnostic platforms that can support any web browser.
Regardless of its impact on tabletop roleplaying, it’s sleek form factor and price point is an important harbinger for things to come in the world of web and document devices.
 Apple unveiled the multi-touch iPad tablet device Wednesday, January 27th, 2010.
 The Apple iPad: It Will Change the Way We Play. The Core Mechanic. 2010-01-27.
 Is iPad a Game-Changer. ICv2. 2010-01-28.
 The Lenovo ThinkPad multi-touch tablet.
 Apple’s iBooks, a storefront/app that provides e-pub format books for purchase.
 The ASUS T91MT is a tablet netbook with an 8.9” multi-touch display for $484.
 MultiTouch Capabilities in Windows 7. MSDN Magazine. 2009-08-01.
 A Look at Apple’s Love for DRM. Ars Technica. 2010-01-04.
 The Always Innovating TouchBook is a touch screen tablet with an accelerometer.
 RPP 101: Defining Roleplaying Games. Mad Brew Labs. 2009-01-15.