A few days ago, Adrienne Tan of brainmates and I had a conversation about the iPad. She took the time to put the thoughts together into a coherent blog post.
The conversation really revolved around who is the iPad valuable for, or, in more "product managery" terms, "What problem does the iPad solve?" Generally, I think you are in trouble if you cannot clearly articulate the answer to that, and, as you can see if our conversation, neither of us could.
However, every once in a while, a product gets introduced that, by itself, may not solve a problem, but it allows people to think about solving problems in a completely different way. I think the iPad falls into this category: people are going to approach the types of applications that they build, and how they build them, differently as a result of this innovation. Future computing hardware will also be changed as a result of the iPad and how people expect to interact with their computers.
However, being a category changer is dangerous ground to be on. The cliché most often used is "The early bird gets the worm," but I think, in these cases, "It's the second mouse that gets the cheese" is often more appropriate.
This is not the first time Apple has tried to build a category changing device. Most recently, the iPhone received many of the same comments I'm hearing about the iPad. People obviously figured that one out. Nobody asks what the point of an iPhone is anymore.
But don't forget that Apple also had another experience trying to be a category changer: the ill-fated Newton. It did succeed in changing mobile computing, but it was Palm that came in as the second mouse and reaped the rewards.