A discussion going on over at Technologizer - started in the comments, here http://technologizer.com/2010/01/28/microsoft-the-ipad-is-humorous/ and followed up in an article, here http://technologizer.com/2010/01/29/the-ipad-isnt-just-for-us-its-for-aunt-bettys-too/ - points out an interesting possibility concerning user comfort with a device such as the iPad. As pointed out by commenter Bouke Timbermont and later by the article author David Worthington, perhaps the people Apple is after with the iPad are embarrassed when they get a multi-functional computer and don't feel knowledgeable about it. To a middle-aged techy like myself, that may be the equivalent of getting schooled by a 10-year old in an online game, repeatedly, for the life of the device. Perhaps a restricted device like the iPad is more comfortable because what it can and can't do are much more straight-forward. For example, there are no USB-ports whose purpose is so universal (hence the U) that people still don't know how many they want or need on their computers. Every app you add to an iPhone OS-based device, since it can't really interact with other apps, adds precisely the capability you paid for, or so Apple's review process would have us believe. While an engineer, like myself, tends to focus on the lost potential of capable hardware limited by a locked-down OS, perhaps a more common point of view is that its a tool refined for a more-understandable set of purposes.
Comfort considerations aside, I'm still not sure the set of purposes described so far for the iPad contains any "killer apps" that justify its size and price. It still looks to me like a coffee table device, as expressed in my last post. Perhaps more software capabilities, hardware add-ons, or content deals will be revealed in the ~2 months before launch that make the iPad more compelling. Perhaps I'm right and Apple really is gambling on the coffee table market. Perhaps I'm wrong and my engineer's perspective limits me in ways the market's imagination doesn't. I doubt it. We'll soon see.
Note: post updated at 11:05 EST to include link to second article at Technologizer.