I got my wife an ipad for her birthday. It is a rare thing in our household that she gets gadgets before I do, so it seemed like a good idea, and I figured that at the very least I could see her use it and decide if I wanted one of my own or if I would, instead, use the money to replace my old netbook. It took about a day to convince me that I wanted one for myself, and a few days more before I decided I *needed* one for myself.
I have only gotten to use the ipad a little. The temptation to rush in and install everything under the auspices of "helping" my wife is strong, but doing so would sort of ruin the whole point of the gift, so I have been restrained (as much as it pains me). That restraint has allowed me to watch my wife use hers, which has given me some interesting insights on it.
My wife is a very technically savvy woman, but her expertise is outside of the field of gadgets. If she must have a widget, she errs on the side of the very utilitarian. She has her phone (which is as simple as it can be and still do what she needs) and her work laptop and with that, she's done. Or at least that had been the case. A while back she ran out of books and I, in a gesture of goodwill, downloaded a stack to the Kindle for her. The only reason I got my kindle back is because she discovered that my ipod could also display my ebooks. The gift of the ipad was, at least in part, an attempt for me to get those devices back.
So, if I had an ipad, it would live in my bag (as gadget do) and never be far from my hand. In contrast, my wife has a far less addictive pattern of use - it's found a permanent home on the bedside table, and in the evening she uses it to play mahjong, read books and watch Netflix, as the whim strikes her. It is not a lifestyle item for her (in fact, she has yet to take it into work to show off despite interest from co-workers) but rather a simple appliance.
Or perhaps not entirely simple. She is, at her own pace, dipping her toe in the app store form time to time to see what looks interesting to her. She's got an SSH client and a few games, and she's willing to try out new things when they're not a hassle, but she's not in any rush to do so.
I contrast this with another friend who has an ipad who, I think, would not object to being described as a power nerd. He had all his apps pre-bought before the ipad arrived, and he's shelled out for commercial apps from Apple and Omni and others, and has specifics plans for using the ipad at home and at work (at least when he can steal it back from his wife, who insists she doesn't need one, but is hooked on big screen popcap games). I played a little with his too, and it's got EVERYTHING.
Comparing those two usage profiles (along with my imagined self-profile) was really interesting to me. It's cool that someone's mom could use this, but I think that's ultimately unimportant compared to how many different ways people can use the ipad to suit their personal needs. When we talk about it "just working" (because it does), it's easy to assume that ease of use is directed at the absolute novice, but that misses the picture. The novice isn't even aware that Netflix streaming exists or of what twitter is. The ipad might be a gateway for someone like that, but the reality is that it's for the nerds, albeit for more of the nerds than most any computer to date.
And by nerds I don't just mean computer nerds. Another friend of mine broke down and got one when it became clear that the pdf organization and reading capability was good enough to handle all his scientific papers. Other folks have talked about how fantastic it is for reading scripts. The possibilities for boardgames and RPGs are obvious and huge.
This is, ultimately, why I think the ipad is going to be a winner. It's not for everyone, but for people who have particular passions, the ipad is going to provide unprecedented tools to help with that passion. It's not a universal tool, nor is it going to offer something for every passion, but when it lines up it's going to be fantastic. What's more, I think it may also be useful for discovery - your ipad may help you with your passions, but it may also lets you find other things to be passionate about.
A bit hype-y? Maybe. I acknowledge some genuine excitement as well as lingering pissiness at the crowds looking for cred in bashing the ipad because it's not how they would do it. I'm willing to be wrong.
But I'm damn sure going to have a good time until the jury comes back.