I wasn't going to write anything about Apple's iPad for fear of being labeled a "fanboy," but I just can't help it. Yes, I want one, even though the name kind of sucks. (iSlate was cool, I thought.) Yes, it's mostly because it's Apple and it's almost sure to rock, especially because I already love my iPod Touch, iPhone, and MacBook Pro (although I am disappointed there was no mention of Intel's i5 processors going into a future MacBook).
Really what I'm excited about with regards to desktop virtualization is that Apple has created a very capable device that fits into the client device conversation that Brian and I talked about last week on Brian Madden TV. It's a classic unmanaged device that's completely decoupled from an organization and from any virtual desktops it might access. Unlike a mobile thin client, which might have a browser or something, the iPad has many of the same features as a netbook.
During one of our VMworld 2009 BMTV episodes, we talked about Wyse PocketCloud and the practicality of using an iPod or iPhone as a thin client. We lamented that if it weren't for the small screen and lack of a keyboard, the app would actually be incredibly useful. At the time I suggested that the solution might be a bluetooth keyboard and mouse coupled with a broader video-out solution that went beyond just movies. The larger size of the iPad fulfills the latter requirement with its 1024x768 9.7" (24.6cm) screen. And while an external keyboard option doesn't yet exist for the iPhone (at least, not without jailbreaking), the iPad has the ability to plug into a keyboard dock or use a Bluetooth keyboard, essentially turning it from coffee table conversation piece into full-on client device.
I'm not suggesting that iPads will relieve any of today's client devices of their duties, but when compared to netbooks, I can see a decent use case building up. If I'm deciding between a netbook and an iPad, I'm taking a good look at what each offers me. Battery life and wireless connectivity are a wash (maybe even a little bit on the Apple side here). Apple is favored in the weight category by almost a pound, although that's not counting the keyboard dock. Screen size goes to the netbook, but not by much. (The largest netbook screens come in at around 11", and the popular Dell Mini 10 series screens are only 10.1"--less than half an inch larger than the iPad.) At that point, it really comes down to the OS and the hardware. All that said, I haven't bought a netbook yet because I didn't want another PC to manage: it just wasn't worth it for the small amount of horsepower running the big boy OS and big boy applications. In the case of the iPad, though, we have a device coupled with an OS and apps that are designed to run on it. That's a pretty tasty recipe.
Sure, the iPad has its shortcomings. No user-replaceable battery, no Flash support, no camera, no multitasking, and it doesn't run "true" Mac OS X, to name the big ones. The normal detractors will add that there's the built-in obsolescence (which is a decent point when looking through the eyes of a consumer). As an unmanaged remote access device, however, as long as it runs the client, we really don't care all that much as long as it continues to work.
I asked Brian about his thoughts of using the iPad as a desktop access client. Being a fellow fanboy, of course he was excited too. But he also pointed out an important caveat. "It's cool that you can hook up a keyboard to this thing. That will be great for running real Windows apps at 1024x768. But remember," he said, "Apple hasn't mentioned anything about Bluetooth mouse support. So that means that we'll be wiping our fingers on the screen to use the mouse in our remote Windows apps. While that will be cool at first (since it will instantly "touchify" every single app we have), after about ten minutes our arms will be tired and we'll just think 'This blows! I wish I had a normal mouse!'"
All that said, Apple isn't trying to make a remote access device. Steve Jobs himself said they are a mobile device company, so it's up to the software makers to utilize the hardware as best they can.
I'm almost afraid to ask, but what do you think? (And try to keep your comments relevant to using the iPad in a desktop virtualization context. We don't need another blog post full of comments about how much people love or hate the device itself!)