Though I bought an iPad as soon as I could, 2 days ago, I'm not going to mindlessly boost the thing, and I'm not going to fool myself about whether it's useful to me. It needs to earn its place in between the fabulously useful laptop and iPhone. Obviously, it's medium size and medium weight. I'm more likely to carry it with me than the laptop, but unlike the iPhone, it's not always going to come along. I can't put it in a pocket or my smallest handbag. And I'm not going to pick it up from my bedside to check the time and a couple websites when I wake up. I'm not going to read it from a completely supine position, as I often do with the iPhone, when I'm in bed and not ready to sit up.
I might use it in bed if I am sitting up, because it turns on instantly and if I'm ready to read but not yet inclined to write. It's very nice for checking email because of the relatively big, bright screen and the way, in landscape mode, I can see the list of email to the left and display any given item on the right. I appreciate that I can lock it into landscape or portrait mode and read while lying on my side. That's something the iPhone won't do. Of course, the iPhone, unlike the iPad, is a phone, and that makes it the one thing I want to have near me all the time.
But most of the time, I'm on the laptop. If I have a table in front of me, I prefer the laptop. Even without a table, I prefer the laptop if I'm going to write. Even though it heats up, I'll have it on my lap while I'm sprawled, half-sitting, on the sofa or in bed. The hinge holding the screen upright and the solid keyboard make it far superior to the iPad for what I want to do.
Maybe I could replace the laptop with a desktop for home use. (I have a desktop in my office, but my home desktop died about a year ago.) The desktop would be better than the laptop for serious writing and working with photographs and video, and then maybe the iPad would insinuate its way into my life as I do things in places in the house away from the desk: at the dining table, in bed, near the TV, on the deck, etc. But I think not. If I'm going to write, and I always feel like I'm about to write, I prefer the laptop.
The iPad might be nice for the simple consumption of movies and books. Or looking through photographs, if you do that. This is especially important if you're away from home, since it's easy to carry and the screen is great. (Note: I was an early adopter of the Kindle, but I haven't used it much — and not at all in the past year. I just hate the way the screen looks, with its low-contrast gray-on-gray.) But I'm the restless type. I don't passively consume media for very long. I need to go back and forth between reading and writing, and though it's far easier to write on the iPad than on the iPhone, I'm not going to write on the iPad unless I'm out somewhere and I've left the laptop behind.
Now, I have a special use for the iPad that I'm going to test out today. I have notes for my classes that I keep on iDisk, so that they are saved in one place on line whether I work on them from my laptop or from my desktop. In the past, I have printed out the relevant pages for class. Occasionally, I've just worked from the laptop in class, which is a bit awkward. My primary motivation for buying the iPad was that I pictured myself displaying the relevant pages of notes on a screen that I could lay flat, next to my textbook, during class. I thought this would be extremely convenient.
There's an iDisk app that lets me get to my documents, but the screen image is terrible. It's readable, but not at all crisp. I paid $9.99 for Apple's word processing program Pages, but I can't find a way to work directly with a document saved to iDisk, the way I do on my laptop and desktop. [ADDED: Apple confirms that it can't be done.] I've cut and pasted to get text from one place to another, and I can see that the text would be displayed in high resolution. But that's an extra, annoying step, and it means that if I do any editing, it will not be saved to the iDisk document. Also, I lose important formatting, notably the extra space between paragraphs.
And why am I even using Pages? I prefer Microsoft Word, which I have used on a Mac since 1985. I had version 1.5 of Word, back in the day when you had the program and your documents on a single floppy disk. But Microsoft won't make a Word app for iPad. This is all very annoying. The #1 thing I wanted to do with iPad is not (yet) doable.
IN SHORT: It's a medium size, medium weight device that has some use, but it's a distant third in usefulness after the laptop and the iPhone.