Having spent a week now with an iPad, I'm convinced that it will be the foundation for the next major computing platform, joining Windows and the Mac. Unfortunately, Apple's foolish attempts to restrict innovation in development tools seems likely to be a serious handicap.
The iPhone and Android (and even Blackberry) may be higher-volume platforms, but the applications that can be built for small screens just don't have the same impact. The iPad is more in the desktop class than the mobile category in this regard; it is the first real "laptop" platform.
Web-based interfaces are, to some degree, in a rut, and the emergence of a new platform seems to have shaken designers out of it. Web sites need to work on a variety of devices, with different resolutions, and generally using a mouse as the pointing device. People have a lot of expectations about how web sites work, and that is constraining.
The iPad is a new platform, with an opportunity to set new expectations. Plus you know what resolution to design for, and that touch is the primary interface, and this changes things.
On the Mac and Windows, there are few success stories of dedicated applications winning over browser-based interfaces. To some degree, this is a Good Thing, as it has made the browser a platform of its own. But on the iPad, browser-based applications are clearly second-class citizens, even for Web-based content, and this is a big shift. Apps not only can hook into the device more intimately and run faster, they also get a permanent piece of real estate on the "pad top".
For web designers, this raises the bar in a major way. A great content site now needs not just a web site, but also an iPad app. And creating such an app requires a different set of technical skills.
One might have hoped for a new class of development tools that would make developing iPad applications more accessible for the design community, but Apple seems hell bent on preventing this from happening — unless, of course, they are building this tool themselves. The announcement of new licensing terms with version 4.0 of the iPad/iPod OS that prohibit use of any tools but Apple's is disturbing. It will be interesting to see how Adobe responds, as this seems to cripple its forthcoming Flash-to-iPxd compiler. The change could also be the death blow for a variety of useful cross-platform authoring enviornments from a variety of small companies. We can only hope that Apple gets so much heat for this ill-advised strategy that it backs down, but I wouldn't bet on it.
Some links to other articles about Apple's ugly licensing terms: