(Bias disclosure: I’ve been a Mac user for over 20 years and am an AAPL shareholder. I do not claim to be dispassionate about this :-)

So the iPad has come out, and the questions have begun: Is there a place for it in the average computer user’s life? Isn’t it just a big iPod touch? Why doesn’t it do X?

The complaints that I have seen come mainly from tech-savvy users who see the iPad’s shortcomings in comparison to their laptop or desktop. Any they’re right. No one is going to write code, edit video, mix audio, design a magazine cover or billboard, or filter large amounts of scientific data on an iPad. Fortunately, computers are not going away.

However, for the majority of computer users, the iPad aims to excel at the tasks they care about most: surfing the web, consuming media, getting information, and having fun. And in doing this, the iPad’s functionality indicates Apple’s vision of the future of mainstream computing (i.e. not hard-core geeks and the like). This vision includes:

  • Abstracting the filesystem (where things go). No dealing with folders, subfolders, and the like. Files are contained within their respective applications and searchable.
  • Non-traditional interaction. While a hardware keyboard is available (and obviously necessary for writing a substantial blog post or creating a Pages document), Apple assumes the future of computing is a multi-touch interface. This has, of course, been a part of crime shows for years and been features prominently on CNN. The runaway success of the iPhone/iPod touch shows that this resonates with people. It just feels natural.
  • Simplifying the experience. While the screen on an iPad is marginally smaller than that of a 13” MacBook (1024x768 v 1200 x 800), the usable space is larger. A full-screen interface, without the clutter of windows, menu bars, makes for a more focused and engaging experience.

Will it sell?

Almost certainly. I don’t think those who are complaining (about an unreleased device!) understand the potential. Linux promises openness, but is plagued by compatibility, a splintered user base, and poor-UI. Windows, with their Windows 7 commercials, is just now touting ease of use as a feature (in the ads, the ‘average user’ gets the idea to make it simpler, implying to me that MS has not considered it), and Apple has been to expensive/uppity for many. This is the computing experience most people want (for at least most of their tasks).

We have been a better, more intuitive computing experience for years. Computers have gotten progressively more powerful and complex, but not better for the average user. I think the technology and price point are now here to deliver a long-overdue promise. I’m looking forward to it.

PS: The excellent article Future Shock, which I read after writing this, makes the point excellently.