- The Tech Night Owl — Cutting-Edge Tech Commentary - https://www.technightowl.com -

What Do You Do with Your Personal Computer?

I started using Macs in the 1980s not for recreation, but to get work done. I was involved in writing and desktop publishing. The latter had just debuted on the Mac; I was using them at the office, and needed to bring work home from time to time; I traveled with a regular supply of floppies and other material in a briefcase. It wasn’t long before I stayed home and did everything from a room that I converted into an office. Only later did I find reason to perform more relaxing functions on that Mac, particularly when I got a note-book to bring into the bedroom each evening.

These days, an iPhone sits on my night table, and I use it to surf and keep track of my heavy email load, answering messages that can’t wait till my regular workday begins.

At the same time, my wife has embraced an iPad 2 with a passion. She never cared much for my regular Macs, and would only spend brief periods of time surfing, or checking email for me. But always grudgingly; she had better things to do. But when I received an iPad for review, she asked to spend a little time with one, after I gave her a few pointers. Although she continues to ask questions from time to time, she’s figured out most everything for herself without resorting to online references or manuals. That’s the genius in Apple’s iOS design.

Nowadays, you cannot take that thing away from her without asking nicely, and only for a brief time. An iPad is her essential tool for research, the rare email message, and watching an occasional video or listening to music.

A long-time client of mine, who used to market self-help books, these days surfs and checks email on an aging Mac mini. He has a new one in his sights with the hope of an after-Christmas discount, but I have to wonder whether the iPad would suit him, assuming he could become accustomed to typing on a touchscreen, or dealing with an accessory keyboard. But he still has stuff on his Mac that just won’t transfer conveniently, so maybe not.

Another client has worked as a consultant for public schools for many years. Though long past retirement age, he still writes reports in Microsoft Word. There is no way to transfer that workflow to an iPad, even if Microsoft, as is now rumored, opts to build an iOS version of Office in 2012.

Now the argument against using a tablet as a PC is that it’s mainly a consumption device. I suppose if you consider an Amazon Kindle Fire, you’d be right. It’s a loss leader designed to sell e-books, stream videos and books, and maybe play some games. It is reportedly less suited towards magazine reading, and not at all suited towards engaging in any productive work.

At the same time, the iPad is actually being deployed as a substitute for the traditional note-book for many employees. For a number of PC-related chores, the iPad is a worthy substitute. You can write short messages on it, do research, process orders, manage inventory, and even link to an online data center to record critical information. School systems are considering iPads as replacements for traditional textbooks. Certainly any student who struggles from home to school and back again overwhelmed with a heavy backpack stuffed with textbooks would appreciate having all those books in electronic form. Indeed, they could get instant updates, do homework that doesn’t require heavy amounts of writing, and submit the material to teachers. At least there wouldn’t be as many excuses about leaving the note-book with the completed homework assignments at home, because if a child leaves the iPad at home, they can be outfitted with a replacement unit that has also synced the same material from the cloud. So that completed homework assignment better be there!

So in some respects, an iPad may actually be superior to a Mac or a PC.

At the same time, if most people can use an iPad for many chores formerly the province of a traditional PC, it  hardly makes sense for industry analysts or those taking and publishing retail sales surveys not to consider an iPad in the same category. Certainly Microsoft should agree, since they promise to make Windows 8 work on both a PC and a tablet. To them, they are one and the same.

Indeed, HP’s current CEO, Meg Whitman, has already admitted that Apple stands to be crowned the number one PC maker on the planet in 2012, ahead of HP, in large part because she expects the iPad to be included in the overall sales figures.

Why should it be otherwise? Where is it written that a PC must have a physical keyboard? Besides, you can add one to your iPad if you choose, which makes that difference vanish? A mouse? Well, don’t forget that it was once believed, before the Mac and Windows came to be, that a real computer only required a keyboard. A mouse was a plaything, and maybe many will regard the iPad and competing tablets as playthings too. But, in their heart of hearts, they surely know better.