I’ve had intermittent access to an iPad for about two weeks now through work, and finally feel like I have a grasp on what it is, what it’s good at, and what it lacks.
First off, the iPad doesn’t do everything. It’s not a full-on replacement for a computer. In fact, you can’t even get it running without a computer to which you can connect it. It lacks a camera, so you can’t use it for videoconferencing or photography. While it’s better for content creation than the iPhone, thanks largely to its bigger screen and support for Bluetooth keyboards, it includes no facilities for printing out the content you do create. For that, again, you’ll have to rely on a computer.
That said, it does 90% of what people use a laptop for, and does that 90% beautifully. Web surfing is a smooth, fast delight. Dealing with email goes smoothly and quickly. The Calendar and Map applications are lovely to look at, and a pleasure to use. Listening to audio and watching video, while hampered a bit by the monophonic built-in speaker, is likewise a pleasure. The vibrant high-resolution screen makes it great for showing off photography. (In fact, I’ve already heard of a graphic designer friend-of-a-friend who got a job because he’d loaded up his portfolio onto the iPad to show it off.) Writing works great, especially with a hardware keyboard. And of course, there are a wealth of applications designed for the platform that make it even more versatile and capable.
Is it for the person who likes to tinker with computers? Probably not so much. Apple takes great pains to keep the iPad and its related platforms, like the iPhone and iPod Touch, locked down and controlled. On the other hand, this is a device I could give my Mom and expect her to actually use it. If one wants to do the things the iPad does, there’s not much way to do those things better, faster, or more intuitively.