What’s been the big UK story of the last couple of months? The Icelandic ash cloud has certainly garnered some significant column inches and the General Election has been a definite headline hogger.

Yet one topic – the launch of the Apple iPad – has received attention way in excess of its news value. Not that the iPad isn’t a significant technology launch; as I detail below, the portable device requires a new approach to application development.

But how significant is a technology launch? At the time of writing, ash receives 50,000 Google News results; Apple receives 55,000. Could any other company receive so much media attention, eclipsing a once-in-a-lifetime volcanic eruption that has led to huge economic and social consequences?

The answer, of course, is no. While Apple devices are beloved by the media clique, they are only – lest we forget – well designed computers. And while the excitement surrounding their products is excessive, an element of sensible analysis that understands the potential impact of the iPad is required.

Much has been made of the device’s form; what actually is an iPad? Wikipedia – again, at the time of writing – refers to the iPad as a tablet computer that is “unlike many older laptops”. As understated definitions go, that takes some beating – particularly given the level of media hype associated to the device.

So, let’s be clear. What makes the iPad different is its resting place in the middle ground between smart phones and laptops. Its multi-touch screen provides a new way to interact with information in a portable device.

Its intuitive user interface, and Apple’s strong link-up with publishers, will help drive the next generation of electronic books. The device also has a different screen aspect – instead of a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio, the iPad screen uses a traditional 4:3 TV ratio.

Analysts have suggested that Apple is trying to find a middle ground between the requirements for publishing, video and gaming. Once again, such converged thinking should be of concern to developers.

Apple is far from taking an all-encompassing approach to software and services. Rival technology giant Microsoft has talked about its three-screen strategy, an attempt to ensure that Windows can give people access to information on the PC, television and mobile phone.

For developers, the message is clear: do not make the mistake of creating an application for a single platform. In the future, successful developers will have to accommodate applications to fit more than one screen size.

While the iPad isnt the social and economic revolution suggested by media type, it is a significant evolution in technology and developers must be prepared.