My earliest experience with a portable computer was with a Zenith Data Systems 386SL, which was one of the first computers built around the low-power 386SL. Looking back on it, it is hard to believe that I got much of anything done on a 20 MHz laptop with a dim 8-inch passive LCD and a 60 MB hard disk.

What that first computer did, though, is get me hooked on working while being mobile. I carried that computer (or one of the its successors) everywhere. About ten years after my first laptop, I started using a Compaq iPAQ handheld, with a little portable keyboard. Once again, I was a bit of an odd sight, going into meetings and unfolding a note-taking device that was far smaller than the typical device at the time.

Although I tried to like the iPAQ, it was never more than an adjunct to my laptop. I could type quickly with an external keyboard, but the keyboard folded out to the same size as a laptop’s footprint and required that the work surface be stable. I even tried using the Margi Sytems Presenter-to-Go product to deliver presentations directly from the iPAQ.

As with so many other technologies, there are two stages in the market: the initial fumbling attempts to make a small, useful sub-notebook form factor device, and then there is the post-iPad market.

There’s a great deal that has been written about the iPad as a consumer device, so I won’t duplicate it here – except to point out that I read magazines on the iPad because it’s far better than reading them on the web; that amazingly, I can touch-type on an iPad thanks to the autocorrect software; and that it has been a great productivity boon to me by recovering little snippets of time as I wait at train platforms on the way to HQ.

In the months since release, we at Aerohive have seen a tremendous push behind iPad usage and development, which was unexpected because we have no consumer-facing business. Much of the enthusiasm is based on the idea of the iPad as a platform. Apple has provided a device that solves the vexing problems of I/O. Application developers start with a bright screen and a refined touch-pad interface so they can start adding functionality right away rather than designing a UI from the ground up.

Several retailers and health care providers are looking at iPads as the core technology inside kiosks. For the company, there is only one hardware platform, which translates into easier testing and development. Many companies are also using iPads as “portals” into virtualized hardware environments. After investing heavily in vmware-type deployments of virtual servers, the iPad is an ideal remote desktop device.

The price of all this incredible iPad functionality starts at $500 – about a tenth of what that first 386SL laptop went for twenty years ago. When people ask me why I work at Aerohive, one of the primary reasons I give is that battery-powered mobile devices like phones and tablets are the equivalent of the laptops of two decades ago in terms of driving change. The best way to understand change is to participate – and all these new devices have Wi-Fi interfaces.