All problems in computer science can be solved by another level of indirection
My last post was a bit of a teaser for the app that I am writing for the iPad. I don't apologise for that. While I did want to pique your curiosity my key point was that there are developers, like me, already out there with plans for iPad applications that simply wouldn't be feasible for any other platform. Just to clarify that: they would be possible for sure - I was planning first a desktop version, then later an iPhone version, of my app - but the experience would always feel like a compromise. I still plan on desktop, iPhone, and even web clients - but they will effectively be auxiliary clients in much the same way that many iPhone apps today are auxiliary to their desktop counterparts.
Does this mean that, before such apps arrive, the iPad is just an empty slab? Perhaps useable only for the very old, the very young, or the technically illiterate? Not at all. The key reason that there has been such a backlash against the iPad is that there was so much hype about it before the announcement. It wasn't just that everyone had idyllic expectations of what it would be for them - although that certainly didn't help. Just the fact that there was hype meant that everyone was watching this event as being a turning point in the history of computing. The trouble with historical turning points is that they are often only recognisable as such when you have the historical perspective. Put it this way: if the launch of the iPad really does turn out to be the moment of a revolution in computing, when looking back on this in years to come, would it seem reasonable to think that its lack of a front-facing camera or support for Flash would be a factor in that status?
I think it's quite likely that some sort of camera facility will arrive at some point - either by way of a future hardware upgrade, or as a peripheral. There are some practical challenges there, but if they can be overcome I suspect they will. As for Flash, that's another story. I'm with the camp that hopes it doesn't get it. There is plenty of good discussion of why that should be the case around already. Whether you agree with that or not, and whether Apple does eventually allow Flash or not, I think is irrelevant to whether this device will change the way we think about computing in the future.
Some great articles and blog posts have been written already about why the iPad really is a revolutionary new device. I think I can summarise them in one sentence:
The iPad takes the tasks we use personal computers and the internet for the most and packages them into a focused, polished, device with an interaction method that gets out of the way.
To add a couple more sentences to that: It does this by removing the need to know about mice and windows and multi-tasking and file systems and cables and hard drives and memory and even, to some extent, physical keyboards! Not that those things are gone forever - just that, for most tasks - tasks that even us technically-savvy power users perform much of the time - they are just a distraction! They are, or were, the means not the end. The iPad gets you to what you were trying to achieve more directly than any device before. If this is not what you wanted that's fine. That doesn't mean this device won't change the way many - perhaps most - people interact with and think about computers forever.
But that hasn't answered the question of what can we use the iPad for right away? Well, even assuming there are no additional game-changing apps available on launch (remember that's still 2-3 months away) there are still some very worthwhile apps bundled with the device, or available on the app store (including Apple's own iWork suite). While none of these are conceptually revolutionary, the ways you interact with them, and when you can use them, may well be. Here are some of the things I can see myself doing that currently would be either impossible or a different quality of experience:
I should point out that I consider myself very much a power-user of my laptop/ desktop computers. I have my laptop (a Macbook Pro) connected to a 30" display and still use Spaces to give me more workspace area! As a developer and technologist this will alway be my primary computing experience, but I still see myself using the iPad for more and more tasks too - and not just when I'm on the move. For many people I can see it being their primary, and at some point only, computing device (for now, at least, it seems the iPad still needs to sync against a general purpose computer but the need for that seems to be decreasing).
I started to write about multi-tasking here too, but realised I had a lot of material that diverges from this post, so I've moved it into its own article, which I'll post a bit later.