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Is the iPad the Ultimate Personal Computer?

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.