Depending on the technology circles you travel in there maybe controversy over the value of Apple's iPad. Some discount the device just because it's an Apple product, others because it doesn't have a boat load of features you would find on a typical laptop or netbook computer. Then there are those who have embraced this new platform in a big way and praise the iPad as the salvation for the dying print media industry.
As with most things in life no one can answer this question for you but I can share a few of my own observations that might be helpful. First let me say that generally speaking technology is nether good or bad, helpful or harmful, useful or a waste of time. Technology is solely dependent on our moral values and how we apply its use to our daily lives. For example atomic energy can be used to make a destructive device or provide millions with the quality of life they have never experienced. A cell phone can save someones life or take a life if used incorrectly while driving. The point (if its not too obvious by now) is the iPad is not the answer to an entire industry nor is it just a big iPhone as some have suggested.
I purchased my iPad about 3 months after they were available and like many I debated long and hard about whether this was just another gadget or a real business tool. As a self employed commercial photographer I have to look at technology purchases beyond my normal reaction of "Wow that is cool" as a justification for a purchase. I already own a Macbook Pro so another portable device wasn't absolutely necessary, but there was something about the iPad that I was drawn to. Steve Jobs has referred to the device as magical and I am not sure what his definition of magical is but I will admit when you hold one for more than a few minutes it does draw you in and changes ones view of handheld computing.
My personal assessment after four months of use is the iPad is one of the best pieces of technology I have ever purchased. My number one purchase would have to be the Nikon D3's but the iPad is a close second and a remarkable device. I now use it 80-90% of the time over my laptop and I carry it almost every where I go. Even in the house it travels from room to room and is such a convenience to use because it is instantly available. Hit the home button and I am reading emails, checking RSS feeds, etc. etc. For me it really does change how I access information and how often.
Now I could go on and on about the virtues of this device but what about from a real business case and justification. Beyond the usual easy of use, ability to type and read emails and other online services, the real value has been in having my photography available at the most opportune times. I am amazed at how often I will be in a discussion with someone, totally unrelated to photography when the subject comes up. "Oh you are a commercial photographer, what kind of work do you do" is a typical lead in.
A few weeks ago I was in a cell phone store with my wife and we were making some changes to her phone plan. While my wife was talking to Jose who has helped us for years and has one of the best customer service attitudes of anyone I have ever worked with, I was talking with one of the other guys who works there. Some how we got talking about sports and he told me is a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu. This peaked my interest because I am looking for someone to work with on a sports portrait project. Obviously this lead to the oh you are a photographer comment and of course I told him all about my work. Then it hit me, I had my iPad in the car, "hold on a minute I will show you some of my work", I told him. I sprinted out to the car like a kid at Christmas running anxious to show another unsuspecting hostage my portfolio.
After a few minutes I had the rest of the sales staff and even a few customers looking at my work, oohing and aahing and asking me all kinds of questions about the images. Next thing I know they start asking for business cards and I am handing them out like candy at Halloween. This is not an unusual experience at a typical networking event where people are expected to share information about their company and services but it is not something I expect at a retail cell phone store.
Our business is very visual (duh) and so many times people will ask me about photography in general or the type of work I do. I often find it difficult to describe the role of a commercial photographers and even harder to describe one of my signature images. When you say wedding photographer most everyone get it's it, but explaining an ad campaign using composites or an editorial portrait using dramatic lighting is a bit of a challenge.
The iPad has allowed me not only to carry my work with me and update it or customize it on the fly, but it also has given me more opportunities such as the this one than I never expected. Handing an iPad to someone and allowing them to view, stop and stare or flip through the images with the touch of their finger has not only paid for itself. But has allowed me to engage people whom I would never have considered a potential client. For me people is what my business is all about, the more I can engage them and get the opportunity to learn about their lives, interest and business, the better photographer I become.