Today everything starts to change. None of us know yet whether it all changes for good or for bad but I feel fairly certain that the discussions we have about computing won't be like the discussions we had last year. The change won't be overnight, but it will come.
Amit Gupta wrote an interesting post comparing laptops to point-and-shoot cameras. His point being that the rank amateurs for whom they were intended are gravitating towards camera phones and the serious amateurs are being creamed off by low-end DSLRs.
Amit draws the parallel between desktop computers (DSLRs), laptops (point-and-shoots) and the iPad (cameraphones). The only wrinkle, I'd say, is that laptops aren't as squarely aimed at amateurs than P&S cameras, but I am aware that everyone I know who owns only one computer owns a laptop.
The analogy works for me because the power of desktop computers is edging downwards in price. Witness the 27" Core i7 iMac that I use daily for all my development work. People who provably need computing power can get it in a cheapish desktop machine. Those who need serious computing power can move up to the Hasselblad of desktop machines, the Mac Pro.
I'm a photographer of sorts too and, for years, I scoffed at camera phones. I was even more contemptuous of those who seriously claimed that a camera phone was "all they wanted". How could that be, when you couldn't fix colour balance, crop, retouch, etc.
It wasn't that cameraphone users didn't care, they didn't even care to learn enough about photography to know that such things were available to care about.
Today, I shoot more pictures with my iPhone than my EOS 30D.
An example which, I argue, may generalise quite well
At the moment, my family stock of computer hardware is as follows:
I use a 27" Core i7 iMac for development, photography and most of my computing life. I have a 15" MacBook Pro that I take to school and on trips and an iPhone 3GS.
The MacBook Pro is little more than a data cache: it has a copy of my Dropbox, a few cloned Git repositories, my synced OmniFocus database and that's it. I could recreate that setup in under 10 minutes on any Mac.
Carolyn, my wife, uses a 20" Core 2 Duo iMac and an original iPhone (her 3G met, shall we say, a watery end). She uses it for using the web, email, watching BBC iPlayer and producing the occasional flyer for her Mothers & Toddlers group.
April (age 5) has an iPod touch. I didn't exactly give it to her - it was at one time a development device - but it seems clear that it's now regarded as hers. She adores audio books and is quite partial to a game of Pickin' Time.
I can easily see us becoming a one-Mac, three-iPad family by the end of 2010. Carolyn's iMac will be gone. My 15" MacBook Pro will be gone. We'll both have iPads.
When I go to teach, what do I use? The tools are surprisingly simple. I use Pages, Keynote, Safari, Preview to read PDFs. The only big thing I'll miss on the iPad is Apple Remote Desktop, but I can find an admin machine for that.
It'll be fascinating to see where the rough corners show up in using the iPad as a day-to-day teaching tool. I'll be writing it up here for sure.
On The Road
The iPhone has already changed my entire travel experience. In the Olden Days, the laptop was the most important thing to take, and everything was geared around finding ways to hook it up to power and internet during layovers between Glasgow and San Francisco. Those days have been gone for a while.
In the past year, I've found that I carry the laptop "just in case something happens", where that something rarely does.
I've needed a laptop in cases where I have to give a presentation. The iPad will handle that.
I've needed a laptop in cases where I have to reply to a lot of email. It certainly seems like the iPad will stand up to that better than the iPhone.
I've needed a laptop in cases where I have to code on the road. The iPad definitely won't handle that.
In all honesty, as my children have grown up, my trips are growing shorter. As my products and development processes have matured, I'm doing fewer emergency bug fixes. When I'm travelling, I'd really rather spend my time relaxing, hanging out with My People and occasionally keeping up with the world than holed up in a hotel hacking away.
The only time I've done Serious Work on the road in the past four years was during WWDC '08 when I was rushing to get Darkslide 1.0 finished for the opening of the App Store.
The one thing that I didn't have an answer about until today was The Photography Question. It turns out, though, that the iPad supports RAW images from digital cameras (I presume the same files as Mac OS X supports).
My most data-intense photography trip of the year is when I shoot the Scottish Ruby Conference. This year - last weekend - I came home with 873 RAW images from a Canon 7D and 30D. The 7D at full-bore produces RAW images around the 24MB mark. That's about 21GB of RAW images. That's not a huge chunk out of a 64GB iPad, and many modern DSLRs will now record a reduced-resolution RAW file that's more than fine if you're just going to Flickr (where 99% of my photos end up).
Assuming the iPad can actually handle that kind of load, performance-wise, then it could become a serious tool for review in the field.
The Future's Bright
As a user, I'm extremely bullish on the iPad. The iPhone turned into more than we ever thought it could be. The iPad will be the same.