A few weeks ago a rather chatty fellow sat next to me at the coffee shop where I was working and said: "How do you like your Mac?" I replied. He then said "I hate Macs." I told him that I think people should use whatever computer operating system they find useful. I mentioned my area of research, computer security, which piqued his interest. He said "I don't have any antivirus software on my Windows PC and I don't have any viruses." He assumed that he had no viruses because there was no evidence (nothing crashed or disappeared). He went on to report that his computer runs pretty slowly (which I found quite humorous). I told him that he didn't have *a* virus, that he actually had *many* viruses. I explained a little about botnet zombies to which he replied "I just want to read email and watch videos." He didn't seem to care in the least bit that his privacy may be at stake or that his computer may be participating in computer crime.
A research project that I am part of, Poly^2, investigates the idea of increased security through the use of specialized operating systems. In short, the idea is that we could tailor make OS's for specific tasks. The idea isn't as simple as merely turning off unused network services (though that is a good idea in general). It goes further. It tries to restrict the primitive functions of the OS (such as memory access) to the bare minimum needed to carry out the specific task. Those who have studied information security may recognize this as the "principle of least privilege". General purpose OS's defy the principle of least privilege, especially in the context of consumer-grade computers.
The iPad isn't necessarily a realization of the full Poly^2 ideology. However, I think they are related. If Joe Blow just wants to "read email and watch videos." what options does he have? He could buy a standard PC (from here forward PC refers generally to personal computers, no OS is implied) and patch it every six days. However, the act of patching a computer is distinctly not reading email or watching videos. Should Joe be able to read email and watch videos without additional responsibilities? It seems like a reasonable desire to me. Joe isn't required to patch his car even though it likely uses a microprocessor.
Botnets are a huge problem. Some botnets, like Confickr, control millions of zombie PCs. The zombies are made up of unpatched PCs. Many of them are likely owned by people like Joe who just want to consume information. If all of those people, who don't require a general purpose OS, were to buy media consumption devices (MCDs) such as the iPad, instead of PCs then we would likely see a dramatic reduction in botnet zombies.
Most of the criticisms I have seen of the iPad revolve around the assumption that it is a PC. It is not a PC. If you are comparing it to a PC, then yes you will likely be disappointed. I heard someone say that they didn't like it because it wouldn't run MatLab. If you want to run MatLab or Photoshop you should not buy an iPad. Some have criticized the iPad and iPhone because of their closed nature. I haven't developed for either, I prefer Android myself, so I don't know first hand what is required. However, as far as I can tell their APIs are available and they allow you to program in open standards programming languages. Will the iPad have security vulnerabilities? Of course! However by carefully controlling what applications can be created with and how they can be distributed, Apple can strongly influence and remedy future vulnerabilities.
Is the iPad for me. Probably not, I am not Joe. It may however be a good media consumption device for my wife.