OK, first make the predictable two or three jokes, some cleverer than others. Get it out of your system, I can wait.
Now, what do I think of it? Well, I doubt I can afford one, and I’m not uneasy about that; by the time our finances stabilize, a great many other things will have settled down, too, including prices and apps and specs. If someone wants to donate one, I’ll gladly accept it and put it to work, but I’m not making puppy-dog faces at Margaret over iChat.
That being said, I can envision immediately what an iPad would mean for my daily routine. I look at the iPad and I see the main reason I haven’t been drawn into the Kindle world. An iPad will do more, better, in color — and it will do a very fine job of presenting books. And that’s the pulsing heart of such desire as I feel for one: as a recent immigrant to this thistl’d isle, I have had to leave a great proportion of my library behind (as I’ve said before). and I see in the iPad the device that could help me make the transition to digital reading. Most of what I read, I read in unattractive formats. Academic and technical books are generally published with minimal effort toward the selection of paper, ink, page design, illustration (if any), and so on. I would ecstatically trade all my bound copies of academic/technical works for digital copies. Please, make me the the offer. Please.
That doesn’t make me post-bibliophiliac. It does mean that I would select the bound books that I buy for their specific physical manifestations. I don’t want (only) digital versions of Edward Tufte’s books. I will continue buying various editions of the Greek New Testament, Bibles, and liturgical books (although digital editions of Ritual Notes, Fortescue, and A Priest’s Handbook would come in awfully handy). It does mean that book publishers will have to earn their bound-book sales, though at the same time they will be able to mass-market digital pulps. It means that bound-books will retain their value for the things that tangible books do best (archival copies, a centuries-old open format) and digital books will be able to flourish for the things they do best (convenience, portability, multimedia hybrid formats, perhaps some interactivity, low backlist storage costs, somewhat adjustable formatting (no separate large-type editions necessary, and machine-audio once the publishing industry recuperates from its cranio-rectal displacement disorder). All of this should be a very good thing for authors. Different, but very good.
And the super-good news, if Apple doesn’t ruin everything (and I don’t trust them not to), is that the iBook app rests on the open EPUB book format. I repeat my assertion/plea that this is the moment for some university press to lay claim to a huge untapped market share.
Plus the iPad will do much else beside present books — those other uses for which gadgeteers are slagging the current iteration of the iPad as “not good enough.” Word: if people play games, watch video, read and send email, and browse the web contentedly on smart phones (and they do — have you noticed?), they will do so all the more happily with an iPad. If the iPad is as blazingly fast as the people who handled it have suggested, all of these functions will work so smoothly that smartphones will again look as awkwardly clunky as did the monochrome dot-matrixed versions of those apps on early “web-ready” mobile phones. And come on, the bezel about which so many are griping serves the essential purpose of giving a margin for holding the unit. These aren’t flaws, they’re features.
Apple hasn’t played all its tablet cards yet. There’s an upgrade to the iPhone OS due in a short while that may well introduce limited multitasking. There’s plenty of opportunity for Apple design engineers to figure out what to do with a camera such that it fits functionally with the uses to which one might put a tablet (did people seriously imagine that someone might hold a legal-pad-sized item up in the air to take photos? Or that a webcam-like unit would work well with the positions and circumstances in which users will deploy iPads? There’s progress to be made on this front, but I think Apple is smart to wait and see how cameras fit into the emergent usage patterns for this new device). It’s going to get better.
So I’ve almost talked myself into lusting after one — I see a very strong case for the iPad as a note-taking, book-reading, video-watching, web- and mail-browsing mobile computing platform. That sounds like a huge winner to me. So I’m with Dave (except that he’ll own one before I will).