Recently I bought my wife an Amazon Kindle (the new international unit), at her request. Personally I was rather skeptical -- trying to read book material on computers, even laptops or netbooks, has always felt very awkward to me. I always believed that there was something about holding a paperback (or even a hardback) which would never be replaceable by technology -- maybe for others, but at least not for me.
I have to recant. Debbie has read something like a dozen novels already on her unit. I decided to try it out... and I have to say, I was surprised. I was reading H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds (not for the first time of course), which was a free download, and wow, was I surprised. After 10 or 15 minutes of reading, I almost forgot I was holding something in my hand that isn't printed paper. (The form-factor, which is quite similar to a book, works quite well here. I don't think I'd like the larger DX, as it would destroy the "illusion" of reading a paper back book.)
Not only did the technology not "get in the way", the reading experience was actually more pleasurable, largely because I was able to bump up the font size up to a more comfortable reading level. Last night I read about 1/3 of the book, before I got too tired, but I'm sold on the concept -- and I was a die hard skeptic before.
I don't think I'd like to use it for other things ... but for the primary purpose of reading novels, it settles in quite nicely bringing some technological advantages without letting the technology get in the way of reading.
Will Apple's newer iPad compete here? I'm skeptical. The Apple product is a fancier device, with its backlit screen, and probably will feel more like a hybrid between a laptop and an iPhone (of course I still have an ancient model of phone that is used pretty exclusively for making phone calls -- call me a Luddite.) I suspect that the combination of screen glare, snazz, and lower battery life (iPad users will need to be lot more cognizant of their current battery status), means that its going to be a poor replacement for a Kindle, and an even poorer replacement for the printed materials that the Kindle is meant to replace.
When I go on my round-the-world sailing trip (not any time soon!), would I want a Kindle with me? Absolutely (or something similar) -- along with a solar or wind based charging system. (Product idea... a case for the kindle that integrates photovoltaic solar charging system, so your Kindle is always charging when its closed.)
An iPad? Not likely -- if I'm going to be working or sending e-mails, sure, but then one of the netbooks is probably a better option.. with a "real" keyboard.