iPad: Really cool toy or game-changer, that also happens to be really cool?
It's difficult to know what to make of the iPad. On one hand it really is just a big iPhone, minus the phone, camera and, depending on what model you buy, the 3G Internet. Compared to a laptop it's kind of anemic - you have to plug in a keyboard and mouse to squeeze any productivity out of it and even then it can only run certain kinds of software Apps - there's no loading Microsoft Office for Mac on this thing.
The storage maxes out at 64 GB, which isn't that much these days, and there's no slot to plug in an SD card; there's no built-in camera for video conferencing, which any netbook over the price of $250 can offer; there's no stylus like other tablets use to let you make quick noodles and notes on the fly. You can stream video out using a dock, but there's no HDMI port or component cable connectors and no USB jacks (which would also solve the memory issue).
You're also a captive audience - Apple controls what software you can use and funnels everything through the iTunes store that meets their requirements, which are often tied to their own financial interests. They're not going to let other software developers give you free software if it competes with something that they offer for money.
Another drawback is the lack of multi-tasking - like the iPhone and iPod touch you can only have one open program at a time and can't, for example, switch back and forth from your address book, calendar and the instant message/email you're trying to write.
According to reports the construction is similar to an iPod Touch or iPhone, which means you're going to want to protect the almost 10-inch glass touch screen with an extra sheet of plastic (unless you don't plan on taking it out of the house) and you'll want to protect it in another plastic case to keep it in one piece - which means another investment right off the bat.
So what is the iPad? Who is going to use this and how? For that matter, why?
For me, the iPad is really a multimedia machine with a long 10 hours of battery life to watch movies and television shows, play video games, surf the Internet, read books and that kind of thing - although the lack of storage and HDMI/USB ports is a little disappointing for a media machine.
It's for long car rides and flights, to bring movies and videos to rooms that don't have televisions.
This is not a business tool, although the address book/calendar feature that was shown at the launch seems pretty cool.
It's not for word processing, although you can easily plug in a keyboard and mouse to bang off a few words in iWork or using a web-based document editor like Google Docs.
It's not for the doctor's office or factory floor, like other tablets.
It's not, as I'd hoped, for the serious graphic artist, although you can do remarkable things with your fingers and some of the graphic software apps that were shown at the launch. The fact that the Operating System is closer to the iPhone than an iMac means you can't use video editing tools, Photoshop, Illustrator or any of the graphics software designers use these days. I would have liked to see Apple create something that you could also plug into your computer and use as a mousepad/graphics tablet.
Overall, the iPad doesn't really do anything that other media tablets (www.archos.com, www.oqo.com) do, and far less than PC tablets by Dell, HP, Wacom and others. Competitors at Asus, which invented the netbook category of computers, and MSI are releasing their own tablets in the next few weeks, which will likely be based on Windows 7 or Linux and will have a lot of the features that the iPad is currently missing.
But at the same time I don't believe that Apple would have released something like the iPad without a plan up their sleeves to own the tablet market. The price, 10-hour battery life, integration of apps, new iBook store, etc. are very compelling from the start. And all the things that are missing can be integrated later with software and in cases, like a camera and viewing stand, with accessories.
When it comes to deciding whether to purchase a new, relatively expensive piece of technology you shouldn't worry about all the things it can do as much as what it can do for you. The features that you will actually use.
Like all Apple products you can't be blamed for wanting the iPad - it's beautiful, like everything they make - but do you really, really need it?