Future iPad-style machines will inevitably be cheaper, lighter, smaller and more powerful and rugged than the current tablets, which, however, are still a good start regardless of their prices and fragility (stay tuned for more rugged machines using different screen technology).
The proposed program could help drive down prices somewhat from the iPad's current ones by spurring demand, since producers could gear up for a bigger market. Econo-tablets with WiFi are and will be appearing at lower prices, but let's shrink the costs still more, while maintaining iPad-level capabilities.
FIVE: OPEN TECHNOLOGY AND TECHNICAL STANDARDS TO DRIVE DOWN COSTS
I've focused here on the iPad simply because it has caught on so quickly and is a media darling. Don't expect iPad love to last forever. Better machines will inevitably appear in the future.
Let's reduce expenses for everyone via open technology and tech standards--to the maximum extent practical--and avoidance of a one-vendor approach. Scads of companies should be able to compete against Apple. Too, Americans need to be able to call up books and other content with many different kinds of machines, including the Kindle-style E Ink variety, as well as laptops and desktops of all kinds. No one-gizmo-for-all madness, please, not when individual preferences vary so widely. Furthermore, a variety of hardware and software options could be available for blind people and others with disabilities such as dyslexia.
To address one issue, yes, you can prop up an iPad on a stand and use it with an auxiliary wireless keyboard. But the proposed program could encourage the use of built-in stands to simplify matters. Compatibility with a mouse would also be nice; the iPad's touch interface is lousy for long writing sessions, which can be torture if you're on a deadline but must constantly reach for just the right part of the touch screen.
SIX: INTELLIGENT COST-JUSTIFICATION
Use cost-justification inside and outside government, as I've emphasized above. Imagine all the forms, both government and private, that the average American fills out. In effect, iPad-style technology could help redirect wealth from paperwork to knowledge.
Granted, taxes might go up slightly to pay for the plan, but with our Gross Domestic Product of some $14 trillion, the investment would be trivial in context.
Say, we waited until costs per machine were down to $200-$250--almost surely possible in the near future if suppliers minimize use of proprietary technology. And let's say the tax credit on 100 million devices amounted to $50 each for those made with X percentage of domestic parts (a way to slightly reduce the impact on the trade deficit). Or perhaps instead we would have income limits and increase the break from $50 to $100. Either way, the total direct costs to the U.S. Treasury would be $5 billion, plus maybe $1 billion to buy tablets for the very poorest of the poor. Just one machine per household would be eligible for the credit. The idea isn't to give everyone a free ride--rather to encourage widespread participation. What's more, the figures here are not iron-clad. Perhaps we could expand outright purchases for the poor in cases where it was obvious they could benefit, maybe after they passed a simple test, not that big a challenge for a device as easy as an iPad. Must so many Americans continue to go to the library to perform even simple paperwork?