After the topic of tablet-style devices recently came up in discussions on Sugar Labs' "It's an education project" mailing-list as well as while talking to various people in Montevideo I felt like summing up my own thoughts on this topic.
Like it or not, touch is here to stay
The short version
I think tablet-style devices could be quite well suited for use by primary-school children however I don't think that the products currently available or foreseeable to be available within the next two or three years will be well suited for secondary-school use.
The slightly longer version
In my mind tablets are generally more suited for content consumption rather than content creation. Some will be quick to blame that on the fruit company offering the only major product for the consumer market at the moment keeping close tabs on what its product is used for. Others will argue that this is only due to the lack of suitable software and input interfaces. While there is truth in both of those points I feel that it's the form-factor itself as well input via capacitive touchscreens that currently doesn't and will not allow for extensive input, especially when we're talking about input in the form of text.
I don't consider this to be too much of an issue within primary education because while learning to read and write is obviously a core concern here the production of long texts - what doesn't work well on tablets and touchscreens in my opinion - generally isn't required.
On the other hand writing texts (and by that I don't mean tweet-sized text but rather things like essays) is one of the core things that secondary education is about. The real skill being taught might be making sense of extensive and complex source materials and expressing them in ways most appropriate for one's own way of understanding and remembering. Yet I strongly feel that being able to independently express thoughts in writing is in many ways the culmination of an important aspect of secondary education.
At this point many people will argue that writing is only one of the many ways to express thoughts. They might also argue that education in general has so far been skewed towards text-based learning. Others will point towards the increasing importance of multimedia, video and audio in the much discussed information and knowledge society.
We need to talk about your TPS reports.
All of these are valid points and especially with the universal access to devices such as mobile phones or laptops (such as in Uruguay) we'll likely see some relevant changes in (secondary) education systems around the world over the coming years. Yet I don't see society at large becoming significantly less reliant on text over the next decade or so. Regardless of whether I think of business plans, applying for a job, working within academia as well as regular day-to-day communication within organizations and companies, producing coherent text with more than Twitter's 140 characters will be a core skill for the foreseeable future.
Having said all that: I do realize that for better or worse the move towards touch-driven devices - whether in the form of OLPC's XO-1.75 machine that will come with a touchscreen, the XO-3 tablet or any number of other devices in that space - is pretty much inevitable at this point. Hence it makes sense for projects such as Sugar, tinygames/Karma, etc. to prepare for this by starting to research and work on how to make their software work well with touch-driven devices sooner rather than later.