Is the iPad the Ultimate Personal Computer?

November 8th, 2013

It’s a sure thing that Apple has received loads of accolades for the iPad Air from the mainstream and tech media. It’s not just a modest refresh but a fairly major upgrade that addresses some of the most severe criticisms of the product. One of the more serious issues was the size and the weight. At 1.4-odd pounds, it seemed light enough, until you held it for a while with one hand. Even if you had a strong hand, it would invariably become uncomfortable. It’s not that competing tablets were necessarily lighter, but this very factor explains some of the popularity of the iPad mini.

So the 2012 iPad mini weighs .68 pound (.69 pound for the Cellular version), and the Retina display model that will go on sale later this month is roughly three-quarters of a pound. It’s certainly more suited to reading, say, a book, although a magazine would clearly be more at home on a full-sized iPad.

Now I’m not going to assess the magic by which Apple managed to shave size and weight down to create the iPad Air. The end result weighs one pound for the Wi-Fi version, and 1.0.5 pounds for the Cellular model. That extra five grams would hardly be noticed. In all fairness, I see that Amazon is busy making Kindle tablets lighter too.

Apple also reduced the physical size, which increases the comfort level. The new shape essentially mirrors the iPad mini form factor, so you can see they come from the same family.

But let’s get down to brass tacks: When you buy a new iPad nowadays, you get a complete package before you consider any third-party software, and it’s not all for consumption either. Although Apple has been rightly criticized for removing some of the features of the Mac version if the iWork suite, on an iPad, it’s perfectly at home. The larger virtual keyboard even makes it possible to get shorter documents written, after a fashion, without having to pair with a Bluetooth keyboard, and editing is now consistent among all platforms. This is particularly important if you need to move from device to device while working on a document.

So Apple uses the same file format, even if it’s a tad feature-restricted. But Apple has promised that iWork will be fleshed out over time, and that a number of key features, such as custom toolbars and vertical rulers, will be restored in the first six months. Meantime, Mac users who are chafing over iWork’s limits can stick with the ’09 version for now, although that doesn’t help if you also want to work on the same documents on an iPhone, or iPad, not to mention the iCloud site.

You also get the iLife app suite, including GarageBand for making music and podcasts, and iPhoto to organize your library and do some basic image touch ups. The latter is more suited towards consumption, dealing with the family photo library and such, but the former is definitely a production tool with a decent amount of power.

Over time, as iPads become more powerful, you’ll see feature sets fleshed out, and many will wonder whether it makes sense to buy a Mac or PC except for some heavy lifting.

The point here, however, is that you have a product that can be used to create content out of the box. It’s not just for getting online and answering your email. There’s a whole lot more, and with over 450,000 apps specially optimized for tablets, you will have a rich selection that’ll allow you to accomplish quite a bit at very affordable prices.

Let me give you a personal example of how an iPad’s reach has grown: My son, now aged 27, started using Macs when he was quite young. He has a 2008 black MacBook, one that’s suffered through loads of defects and repairs, but that’s another story. Assuming it holds up, and just about everything except the bottom of the case has been replaced, once he earns his masters degree, he plans to get an iPad and put the MacBook out to pasture. To him, everything he does, even writing, could be accomplished in a reasonably productive fashion on an iPad. He will leave the Mac with no regrets.

For Apple, cannibalization isn’t a bad thing, so long as it’s from one Apple gadget to another. Apple also hopes to continue to win iPad sales from PC users whose disgust with Windows 8 has only hastened their determination to give up on the PC.

For me, I’m not ready to move all iPad. I still do most of my writing and audio editing chores on an iMac, and I am quite satisfied with the workflow. Maybe I’m too old to change my ways, though if I ever retire from the radio business, maybe I’ll consider a tablet alternative. Maybe.

But I can see where more and more people have no need whatever for the PC. That’s what Microsoft is fighting with their peculiar all-in-one, Windows everywhere concept. It may even do them in unless the new chief executive, whoever he or she might be, issues the wake up call.

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6 Responses to “Is the iPad the Ultimate Personal Computer?”

  1. Len Swierski says:

    To me the best thing about the new versions of iWork is the file compatibility between OS X and iOS. Now anything I want to do can be done using whichever device is at hand. That being said, I am still a bit disappointed with how iCloud Document Sharing works. It seems as though it is very difficult for me to share a document such as a home budget spreadsheet with my wife, who handles our bill payments. Her iCloud is used with her Apple I.D. Mine is used with my Apple I.D. So I need a way to share between us.
    I also won’t give up my desktop just yet, mostly because I have so many external devices (hard drives, music keyboard, printer/scanner, etc.) connected to my Mac mini. Even if I could connect them all to my iPad, it would still have to be confined to the home office in our house, so what would the point be? iPad for on-the-go, and Mac mini for home. That works best for me.

  2. Gary Brockie says:

    Good points. Apple is obviously pointing the iPad towards the day when it will replace a PC for a large number of people. I have to think that at some point a 13″ iPad like product will arrive and can replace the PC in enterprise for the average user. Now that iWork is overhauled and baselined across Apple’s computing platforms, features will be added for all platform instances. MS Office will find this a difficult feat to match.

  3. DaveD says:

    It is not a matter of will the iPad be the ultimate computer, but when. The iPad is slowly becoming the Steve Jobs’ vision of a computing appliance.

    The PCs and Macs can be complex beasts. The Macs do get out of the way to get stuff done. But when things go south, unproductive time is needed to get the computer, PC or Mac, back to normal working condition. Especially with PCs, think of all the time lost having to reinstall Windows.

    I get a lot of uses out of my Macs and don’t see an iPad Air in the near future.

  4. Shameer Mulji says:

    The long-term vision for the iPad, I believe, is to be the ultimate personal computer. It’s close but not there yet. I think John Gruber said it best in one of his posts;

    “The way I see the iPad taking over the mass market from laptop PCs is subtly. I think it’s more about people hanging on to old laptops for legacy tasks, spending their money now on new iPads, and then using their old laptops less and less over time. I can tell from my email and Twitter feedback that there is much skepticism among some of you about the iPad as a full-on PC replacement, but if you’re thinking about this trend as switching cold turkey, dropping all Windows/Mac usage in lieu of iOS in one fell swoop, you’re thinking about it wrong. It’s a subtle weaning.”

  5. Steve says:

    You people are all insane – and not in a good way. There is no way I’m ever going to declare that a dumbed-down iPad is better than my iMac or MacBook Pro. Check out Steve Jobs’ introduction to the iPad on YouTube. Go ahead. I’ll wait…

    He declared that there was a gap between the iPhone/iPod and the laptop. Note – “between” them. On the continuum, Steve Jobs notes right there that the laptop is superior to the iPad. There was a need for several tasks that the iPad does well, and that’s why Apple invented it. But overall, the Mac isn’t going anywhere. Until I can actually manage files instead of pulling my hair out, until I can effortlessly print documents on the network at work or home, until I can access my students’ documents, until my iPad’s apps are MORE powerful than my Mac’s apps are, until my iPad is MORE efficient than my Mac, it will never be replaced. Those who think we are in post-PC world are delusional. Admittedly, we are buying iPads. I bought one myself. But we are NOT letting the PCs/Macs gather dust. Why not do a survey and ask how many would be willing to dump their Mac or PC and use the iPad exclusively? You will suddenly find out that iPads are a lot less popular than you thought. And guess what? This won’t change unless the iPad changes big-time. I use my Mac far more than my iPad, and this will not change.

    Apps on the iPad are for simpletons. I wish that Apple would stop thinking that the “rest of us” using Macs are also simpletons, so they will dumb down apps like Keynote and Pages. No thanks, Apple. Leave my apps alone with all of the features that I use to be productive and demonstrate pride in my work. iPads will not do that. Why not brain-up the iPad so that it can match the power of the Mac or PC? THEN you’ll be onto something. Instead, the Apple Kool-Aid sippers continue to think they’re on the yellow-bricked road to the Emerald City, when in reality, they’re on a time warp going back in time. Back to a time when computers were LESS powerful and LESS capable. Sorry. That’s not for me. I choose to use technology to stay ahead – not to admit that it’s too tough for me to handle and I’d prefer something insanely simplistic.

    When iPads are the “victim” of being OS X-ified, then Apple will be onto something. The reverse is nothing more than angering, and setting Apple back in terms of progress. Mark my words.

  6. Ted Schroeder says:


    Well-written comment and I agree completely.

    With the phones and pads, I feel like Apple is sort of ‘inheriting’ millions of Microsoft customers. Or customers that are new to computing. And for many of these millions, just want simple things – they want the hardware and gadgets to ‘just work’ and they want the whole iCloud stuff to just work, no matter how stupid and spoiled they are and how oddball their requests.

    For these customers, I think Apple’s decision to really walk guard on the walled garden is a good one.

    But there millions of customers for whom using an iPad could be a helluva a lot more like using a Mac.

    How to make the decision? Where to draw the line?

    Maybe that’s involved in the ongoing decision to keep iOS and Mac OS X separate.

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