When the iPad was first unveiled last January, one excited blogger wrote ...
... Think about your family. If it's big enough, your extended family will have at least one person who's, you know, poor. They may have cognitive or psychiatric disabilities. Or you may have a family member who, like most of American, can't keep a modern OS running without an on call geek. These people are cut off...
By 2011 the combination of a $400 iPad (and iTouch for less) and $15/month VOIP access will start to replace a number of devices that are costly to own and acquire, while providing basic net services at a rate that other family members can subsidize. Not to mention something pretty, which, speaking as someone who grew up poor, ain't a bad thing.
Steve Jobs - friend of the poor and the outcast. I wouldn't have guessed (ok, so I did predict this a year ago)..
Since then I've noted how well an iPad can work in practice for special needs persons (most elderly people are special needs, but don't tell them that) and I've configured an iPad-mini (aka an iPhone) for an adolescent with autism, ADHD, anxiety and low IQ.
Now we're reading slightly breathless reports of magical interactions of autistic persons with the iPad environment. I suspect there's some hype and wishful thinking going on, but I also believe there's some reality. These platforms are bringing communication and support technologies to populations that were previously unserviced. They are also making it possible for neurotypical non-geeks to deploy and maintain these tools at a price most families can afford.
The current iPad generation still require a desktop computer (relatively modern PC or a Mac). That's a serious roadblock to widespread deployment. There's no technical reason for this, but there may be business reasons. Apple may be unwilling to wipe out their legacy devices sales just yet. I think there's a 70% chance, however, that iPad 2 will not require a desktop device.
If you have the money and the geekiness, there's no real issue with buying and using an iPad 1.0 with your special needs person of any age (do read my writeup on the iPhone for special needs adolescents though). For most people, however, the iPad 2 or iPad 3 will be more interesting. You want to watch for a device that doesn't require a legacy desktop machine. (In our new world, Windows 7, for example, is legacy.)