iPad gets mixed reaction in Sonoma County

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Call it the iEffect.

The release of the latest Apple gadget, the iPad, had people across Sonoma County speculating how they might use it at their jobs, homes and in their classrooms.

From Santa Rosa city hall to a remote vineyard west of Forestville, people said it might just upset the status quo.

Eric McHenry, the city's chief technology officer, said the city has long sought an alternative to the reams of paper printed every week for city council meetings. The iPad could potentially replace binders full of paper and also the laptops issued to council members, he said.

"We've already had conversations about it," McHenry said. "It's quite compelling because it could save us money, and reduce our reliance on paper."

A year ago, the city considered using Amazon's e-reader, the Kindle, for the same purpose. But it eventually scrapped the idea.

"The Kindle works well for what it does. But it doesn't do e-mails or let people quickly link to other material," McHenry said.

Josh Hermsmeyer, a vintner west of Forestville who designed an iPhone application to manage grape production at his Capozzi Family Winery, said the iPad's 9.7-inch screen could make it easier to display graphs showing sugar levels and temperatures.

"There were certain things I couldn't do on the iPhone because of the small real estate," he said.

But like others, Hermsmeyer felt a little disappointed by Apple's latest device.

"It's just kind of a bigger iPod Touch," he said. "I thought this fell a little flat."

But even if the iPad is not the revolutionary gizmo that Apple chief executive Steve Jobs so exuberantly portrayed Tuesday, it has people dreaming.

Andy Brennan, a tech-savvy teacher at Santa Rosa High School, would love an electronic tablet that could store all his students' books, let them take pop quizzes, and quickly transmit their answers for automatic grading. He thinks the entry-level iPad, which costs $499, might be that device.

"It provides a whole bunch of great opportunities for learning. It makes the environment much more interactive," Brennan said.

The device, or one like it, could possibly replace books in his classroom within the next five years, he predicted.

Making the iPad useful for a wide range of users will likely fall to software developers. Many Sonoma County programmers were busy downloading the developers' toolkit Apple released Tuesday.

"It's pretty exciting," said Jason Davies, head of marketing for Berkley Integrated Audio Software in Petaluma.

Davies' company developed a high-end audio recorder for the iPhone that ranks among the top 20 most popular business applications. Now it will consider developing programs that weren't possible on the iPhone because of its smaller screen.

"You could make an audio editor on an iPhone, but it's not that practical because the screen is so small," he said.

Jeff Baudin, founder of the iPhone development company Offspring in Santa Rosa, said he hopes the larger format will also lead to consumers paying higher prices for applications. On the iPhone, people only like paying 99 cents for an application, he said.

"With the iPad that could change, because we're halfway between Mac software and iPhone software," he said.

Davies agreed, noting that higher-priced programs would allow companies to spend more time and resources developing applications.

"I don't think it's overhyped," Baudin said. "It might very well eliminate the whole laptop market."

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