I have an iPad. (I think I already mentioned that a while ago ...)
I think the multitouch tablet interface style exemplified by iOS is the future of computing, in much the same way that the Mac interface circa 1985 was obviously the future of computing back then. Decried as a toy and handicapped by a closed architecture and a lack of third party applications though the Mac was, it nevertheless pointed towards a vastly more transparent and accessible way of working with computers, which in turn made computers useful to many more people. (I discount earlier GUI platforms such as the Xerox Alto because at $75,000 a seat in 1980 money accessible isn't exactly a suitable word to describe it.) You're reading this blog entry online (and, knowing my audience, you are more technologically literate than average), so you may be over-accustomed to using computers, which makes it hard to see it may be desirable to make them even more accessible; but if you watch an 80-year-old try to double-click the left button of a mouse within a particular window on a screen, it becomes glaringly obvious why we need a better, truly intuitive, interface paradigm.
(Moreover, by this time in 2013 we will, for the first time, have a networked general purpose computer in every adult's possession. Smartphones are real computers, and they're finally crawling out of offices and nerd bedrooms and into everyone's pocket. This means computers are making a great leap forward in social penetration, from being embraced by 10% who are truly proficient (and accepted reluctantly by 25-35% who can be taught to click on an icon to run a program), to being used by literally everyone.)
Anyway: I have a criticism ...
The iPad is primarily targeted as a media consumption device. Yes, I get that. Apple are focusing on speech (via Siri) as a next-generation tool for conversational interaction with iOS devices. I get that, too. But if iOS is going to reach its true potential as the next generation of general computing, then among other things, it needs a vastly better text input system. The current one is so poor that I'm not writing this blog entry using it. That's a warning sign. It ought to be a no-brainer that the iPad (or an equivalent 10" touchscreen tablet running Android) should be usable by a writer. It has a brilliant battery life by laptop standards, weighs two-thirds as much as Apple's lightest Macbook Air, and has a range of text editors and word processing apps available. So why am I not using it?
I think the answer is down to input methods. The iPad provides a couple of on-screen keyboards; but whoever designed them was aiming for simplicity, not generality. The missing Control key I can understand, for the same reason that the original Mac 128K had no arrow keys or function keys: it's an attempt to block simple-minded ports of applications designed for the previous paradigm. What is less clear is why Apple omitted cursor movement keys from the on-screen keyboard. As it is, If you want to reposition the cursor you need to hold your finger on the text for long enough to trigger the magnifier and then drag the thing around using your finger, which is way too big and imprecise for the job: it turns a simple move-to-previous word operation into an interminable exercise in threading a needle, which in turn makes editing text on-screen incredibly laborious. A simple cursor-key diamond in the touch-screen keyboard would solve the problem — and there's plenty of room to add one, by clawing back space from the symbol-shift keys and the space bar — but appears to be taboo: a hold-over from the ancien regime that shall not be allowed to contaminate the garden of pure ideology that is iOS.
Some of the text editor apps (for example, Nebulous) provide their own on-screen keyboards — complete with cursor movement keys and, in some cases, keyboard macros (so that you can assign your own functions to keys). It's a huge step forward in terms of making it easier to write using an on-screen keyboard. However, the alternative keyboards are sandboxed; they're baked into the apps they come with. There's no general mechanism for replacing or augmenting the standard keyboards in iOS (unlike Android).
Yes, you can use an external bluetooth keyboard. But they add weight, bulking the iPad up to the weight of a netbook or a Macbook Air, and they add complexity (device pairing, remembering to charge the keyboard, and so on).
And if you do use an external keyboard, another problem comes to light; iOS is really not very rich in text movement features. With a keyboard, you get arrow keys for single-character movement, and word forward/back, and paragraph up/down, and start of document/end of document. That's it! How about incremental regular expression search a la emacs, guys? Or sentence forward/back and page up/down? How about (while I have my shopping list handy; this isn't strictly part of the keyboard's job) bookmarks in documents so I can drop a marker, go edit something else in the text, and then jump back to the marker? (I hear WordStar had that in 1979.) How about keyboard macros? Yes, I know about shortcuts; I'd like something a bit more powerful. Yes, I understand the need to keep it simple and approachable for people who may never have used a computer before. But there also needs to be some depth behind the pretty face.
I'd like to see Apple add a mechanism to allow developers to install custom keyboards that are globally accessible so that other applications need not be crippled by the default on-screen keyboard's limitations. Ideally, I'd like to see extra key bindings for richer cursor movement commands, an enhanced search API with pattern matching and substitution, and some kind of keyboard macro system that goes beyond simple shortcuts. By all means leave this switched off by default, hidden behind the keyboard preferences for those who know what they need; but at least make it possible to enhance the text entry capabilities of the OS!
I gather Apple's suppliers are now shipping retina displays for the iPad 3, which is due to ship in March or April 2012. It's going to be a steamingly powerful machine compared to the original iPad — much like the Macintosh II in comparison to the original Mac 128K. It'd be a shame to hobble such a powerful tool by not making it more productive for content creators.