Despite the introduction of iWork for the iPad, I do not see how this device could be useful in an academic setting. Perhaps if I were the one presenting slideshows using Keynote, it would be interesting. But I'm the student. I listen to lectures and take notes, and I prefer, if possible, to do so paperless.
Currently I use my aging laptop to take notes on slides exported to PDF. My preferred software package to do that is PDF-XChange Viewer. I can make comments on specific slides, highlight ideas and comment on them, and even do some basic diagramming using primitive shapes. Naturally, for some classes, I have to use a pad of paper for complicated drawings. Unfortunately, I do not see how I can do any of that on an iPad.
The next problem is a problem of data integrity. I keep all of my data on a flashdrive and I make daily backups to my laptop using SyncToy. The iPad glaringly lacks a USB port. That is also a handicap for those times when I need files from a fellow student (such as field photos).
The keyboard on the iPad looks large but appears to be largely a single-hand affair. I doubt I could type fast enough to keep up in lecture. And certainly I would have to buy the case/stand to do so somewhat ergonomically. Furthermore, I would not want to lug around an Apple Aluminum keyboard with accompanying stand all day long. Another negative is that it lacks a Unix environment. I love using LaTeX for my reference laden papers and math-based homework; not a chance of doing so on the iPad.
So at this point, the iPad seems to lack PDF annotations, a USB port, and most likely it has a very slow input interface. I would have to try typing on an iPad to really know.
What can I see this being useful for? I think a few pundits have already indicated that it is more of a leave-at-home device. You can take it into any room, lounge around, surf the web, check e-mail, and read books. Thus if you have an iPhone, you can leave it to phone calls while in the home. With the iWork suite, you could potentially be productive with it. Perhaps you wake up in the middle of the night with a great thesis: turn on the iPad and clumsily type it out.
I do not have plans to buy this device in its first iteration. In fact, I'm still looking for the perfect device. I'm surprised Apple did not refresh their Macbook Pro line; I'm a bit more interested in their 13" variant.
I will post a new interpretation soon; it will be on ripples. I've a great picture for that, although it lacks scale! Stay tuned.