Where to start?
Anyone would have to address the virtual keyboard paradox of the iPad in any discussion where there is an assertion that the iPad is a netbook, let alone laptop killer. I don't see the iPad as "magical" but does it have any teeth? I'm typing this right now on my iPad (however I've had to resort to uploading the images via my iMac until I can figure a workaround with this version of Safari and the iPL blog) anyway, the keypad is more than adequate for typing of projects which are maybe several hundred words long. Why do I say this? Well the keyboard is amazingly accurate, and buttons are well sized even for large fingers and it's feeling more natural in landscape mode now - I'm really impressed.
That said, you can't escape the fact that you're typing on a totally flat surface, and that the keypad is none the less compressed even in landscape, heck my iMac's keyboard is about 10.75 inches (this isn't even including the number pad and command buttons), and the iPad in horizontal is just about 7.5 inches. Toss into that that you can't feel the keys on your finger tips - important for speed if your a touch typer, and there's only so long you can type before finger fatigue sets in.
So with these pros and cons in mind let's take a look at Apples iWorks Pages ($9.99), the preeminent iPad word processor.
For anyone expecting a full blown word processor, I'm sorry to say this is not what you'll get on the iPad, but it's pretty darn close!
You will fInd it also takes some getting used to not having a mouse, granted if you've been living without one on the iPhone or iPod Touch it won't be a system shock to you, but it really takes some getting used to. Here's the thing though, it's totally intuitive to use your fingers on the screen to do the functions a mouse would if you're using the virtual keyboard. For those unfamiliar with tapping, pinching, unpincing, flicking, etc it will take a little time to get used to, but not too much. The touchscreen is starting to feel like a real game changer, what ever you feel about the iPhone touchscreen experience this is waaaaaay better. I'm happy without the mouse.
So what's the lay out of Pages like? On the top row of your screen you have all the controls; Documents - this is where your documents are stored and laid out like saved pages on your iPhones Safari, Undo - this undoes any mistakes, Info - this is deeper than you might think at first glance, it controls your font size, styles, etc., Tools - which controls your page layout, setting your headder and footer, spell checker, etc, then a control panel minimizer - you return it by a tap and using the keyboard.
Below that are the more familiar features for controlling Body, bold, italics underline, justification, etc. Below that you've got a basic ruler for adjusting your margins. Then at the very bottom is the virtual keypad. Here's a few tips if you don't already know from using your iphone, if you need vowels for another alphabet, or different symbols etc. By the way if you add an image you can rotate it like I did with the image to the right by pressing and holding opposite corners and then twisting.
All in all this is a very powerful and intuitive little word processor which you are going to quickly fall in love with. The love just doesn't stop when you realize you have three format options for saving; Pages, PDF and .doc formats. But there's more, you'll also notice that you can not only export by e-mail, but you can share via iWorks.com beta.
This is where it's all going folks, if there's anything about the iPad which is magic it's the simple and direct act of using the Cloud to share and save your work which this device embraces - if you didn't take advantage of a MobileMe account yet, give it a shot $99/yr (less if you buy an iPad) and you'll be amazed what you can do with it. If you do, don't forget to download the iDisk app (free). Granted, you need to be connected to the internet for it to work, but these days - a lot of us are. Don't despair, if you're not connected you can of course work offline and save everything on your iPad for upload when you're on wifi or eventually 3G.
Am I comfortable writing blogs on the iPad. Yes. Will I be writing my dissertation on it? No. The fact is on the iPad you can't easily add references, citations, and all the other things necessary in larger written works - for me this rules the iPad out as my primary work horse.
What about everything in-between?
Well this is where the battle line is drawn in the sand, and as people start to see what the iPad is capable of. For just about anything other than a novel or dissertation, the iPad and Pages shine!