I wanted to wait a week to put down my preliminary thoughts on the iPad both because of the crazy outpouring of people venting some very real emotion on all sides of the debate, and because I've learned that when it comes to Apple and Steve Jobs, it often pays to let the reality distortion field fade a bit.
I am not a fan of netbooks— as I've written before, they are nothing but cheap laptops. Thus I was sort of excited to see Apple try to reinvent the category with the iPad. After a week of reading reviews though, I'm sad to say that this seems like a fairly incremental product— taking the best parts of the closed ecosystem of the iPhone/iPod touch and hitting the 4x magnify button on the form factor. It'll be a fun and possibly lucrative product— and in the end I could see Apple selling 1/3 to 1/2 as many of these as they have iPod touches (which is about 40MM to date). But here is where they fell short:
1. New formats: the Kindle sucks not because of its screen or hospital ID but because despite the connection to the Amazon web service and the persistent data connection, it fails to be as good as a paper book and doesn't reinvent any of the parts of the book that could use some social/cloud juice. From what I could see, Apple is doing nothing better here (at least with version 1). They haven't defined a new format that would allow publishers to take advantage of video and audio and they didn't do anything to make the experience of finding, reading, and sharing books any more social. Could be that the publishers weren't hip to it, but if anyone could crack that particular cartel, I thought Apple could.
2. Ergonomics: Ned wrote this one up, and frankly, I can't believe the Reality Distortion Field has kept other people from noticing that the idea of a non-tactile keyboard without a place to rest one's palms renders this a piss poor input device. This is ironic as Apple was the first company to do the palm rest design for laptops with the Powerbook 100/140/170 series that was even shown during the keynote.
3. Closed ecosystem: I'm less worried about this one than the people who feel that Apple is starting us on the road to being like the bio-sacks that pass as humans in the movie Walle, because it does seem as though the combination of HTML5 and the A4 CPU will make webapps really sing on this machine, but it would have been nice to have given people some sort of mechanism for side-loading applications (even as "untrusted" like Android and S60 do). Again, this is ironic coming from the company that had its first hit product (the Apple ][) succeed because some crazy hackers in Boston wrote a killer app and distributed it with little involvement from Apple. That said, I do think if the iPad becomes ubiquitous enough, Apple will have to open up (or be subject to aggressive jailbreaking as the FUD around "messing with the carrier settings") doesn't exist for this type of device.
Finally, perhaps the biggest disappointment for me is that because of 1-3 the iPad seems to be primarily a content consumption device, a sort of modern-day version of the portable TVs that Sony and others started selling in the 1980s. That may be what the market wants, but I find it hard to muster the same level of excitement as I would have had for a more general computing type of device. In the case of the latter, creativity really is the upper limit on what can be done. With a closed, content consuming device, we'll end up where we are with the iPhone: with small widgets that all basically do the similar types of information retrieval and display. If this is the new world of personal computing, it looks a little boring.