iPad as a PC Replacement: Really?

November 11th, 2015

So Apple CEO Tim Cook wants you to believe that he doesn’t even use Macs anymore. When he travels he takes an iPad, presumably an iPad Pro nowadays, and an iPhone. No doubt he also has an Apple Pencil and a Smart Keyboard. Aside from the stylus, why not a MacBook or a 13-inch MacBook Pro? Yes, I suppose they cost more if you aren’t the CEO of the company and get your stuff free, but wouldn’t they provide more functionality, particularly for those who have a fairly traditional PC workflow?

But I realize that Cook wants to sell more iPads as a PC replacement in the face of dwindling sales. I mean, it’s not as if you can look inside his carrying bag and see what he’s really taking with him. Even if there is no Mac note-book to be found, relying on an iPad may be a deliberate decision made for marketing reasons. Not that I’m saying he’s a liar, but clearly he has his priorities.

Regardless of his motives, you shouldn’t take what Cook says as necessarily representative of your needs or your priorities. While I expect to have some face time with an iPad Pro soon, I am still on the fence about iPads right now. It’s not that I don’t think they can replace a PC in at least some cases, but that doesn’t mean that I’m one of those people.

When it comes to the Mrs., Barbara, she adopted an iPad a couple of years back and won’t let it go. She has it nearby wherever she might be in our home. On the road, she uses an iPhone 5c, but, due to her vision problems, finds the display just too small for much of anything other than taking phone calls. So she uses her iPad to write email, surf, and is an enthusiastic animal rights activist on her Face-book account.

Barbara has used my iMac, but is no longer comfortable with a mouse and a physical keyboard, so she works on it haltingly, and only when it’s necessary.

I’m probably the reverse. I rely heavily on the iMac and my iPhone. I’m reasonably flexible writing messages on the iPhone, at least so long as they do not exceed a few sentences in length. But when I work on her iPad, it’s mostly to help her with a problem, or review something to which she wants to draw my attention. More often than not, however, she’ll just send me an email with a link and I can see it on the device of my choosing.

To me, the iPad is just clumsy and not a comfortable fit for typing long passages. I have, from time to time, tried accessory keyboards, but they usually lack the feel of a “real” keyboard, and seem to be unfortunate hybrids that don’t quality for fast, fluid typing. Then again, I’m not enamored of Apple’s keyboards and prefer the Matias Quiet Pro, which is a big, bold keyboard with real mechanical switches. It’s in another universe.

Aside from typing comfort, the iPad doesn’t provide the tools I need to accommodate my workflow. Yes, the iWork apps are decent, and Microsoft Office is clearly the best there is when it comes to a mobile productivity app. When working on single documents, they work well enough if you can accept touchscreens or an iPad-style keyboard. But when it comes to managing multiple apps, even iOS 9’s Split View takes a back seat.

My workday includes sessions in WordPress blogs, and there is a decent WordPress app for iPhone and iPad, but it’s nowhere near as flexible as just doing it with the online interface. But I grant the app is fine for minor touchups.

Unfortunately, the apps I use most often, the ones I use to record and edit my radio shows, are mostly foreign to the iPad. There’s no direct comparison to Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack which, as the name implies, allows you to grab the audio from all sorts of apps and sources. We use it to capture the audio feed from Skype, and mix it, on-the-fly, with the audio from my outboard audio console.

Apple’s sandboxing feature, which walls off apps from one another for security purposes, prevents one app from grabbing the audio from another in iOS (and the Mac for that matter, but its apps aren’t restricted to the Mac App Store). It’s not that Apple couldn’t add an exception to support this capability, but it doesn’t appear to be on their radar, although I’d be delighted to see a change.

Still, that means I’m already on the outs with the iPad, since it cannot handle a key portion of my workflow. The other is managing multiple files, since direct access to the iOS file system is a pipe dream mostly unfulfilled with some rare exceptions, such as FileApp for iOS.

That Apple has paid some attention to multitasking on the iPad with iOS 9, at least the newest ones, means there is hope. Once the iPad Pro is out for a while, it’ll be interesting to see what sort of apps appear for it, and whether Apple will take the steps necessary to allow developers to add the features businesses and content creators need to switch from Macs and PCs.

Obviously, a lot is depending on at least some level of success from the iPad Pro. It may be arriving too late to make much of a dent in December quarter sales, but it could come into its own in 2016. Would I switch? Right now, the answer is no, but I’d be delighted to be proven wrong.

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5 Responses to “iPad as a PC Replacement: Really?”

  1. William Timberman says:

    In the spirit of different strokes for different folks, here’s my take: I gave up my MacBook, and now travel with an iPad air and an iPhone 5s, soon to be a 6s+. (At my age, my pockets are large enough, and my eyes are weak enough, to justify the jump in size.) It took me a while to admit it to myself, but the things I have to do on the road since I’ve retired can all be handled very comfortably on the iPad. E-mail, banking, accommodations and reservations, web surfing, FaceTime or Skype and so forth are a cinch. Updating a WordPress blog is equally satisfactory on an iPad, although it did take me a few experiments to figure out how best to upload the podcast audio files and graphics featured on the site I manage. I don’t record or edit these files, mind you — that’s done by the engineer at the radio station which broadcasts the show from which the podcasts are derived. If I did have to do the editing, I agree that an iPad wouldn’t be the best tool for me, nor would it be if I were still doing the kind of office work that requires complex spreadsheet manipulations, page layout, or company-specific Windows apps piped through VPNs. Lucky me, I guess, that I no longer have to mess with such necessary annoyances.

    The things I prize most highly about traveling with an iPad are the convenience and the flexibility. I don’t need a special laptop bag, and I can consult the iPad pretty much anywhere, without doing a any elaborate unpacking, pretty much the way you’d look things up in a pocket guide or a brochure. I can also read, watch movies, check schedules, etc. in pretty much any position without propping myself up somewhere first so that the thing can’t tip over. For me, then, the laptop would be overkill, and to be honest, I don’t miss it. I don’t think even the new MacBook Air or 12-inch MacBook could change my mind, tempting as they would be if I more complex tasks to take up away from home.

  2. DaveD says:

    A good response to Mr. Tim Cook.

    In a mobile computing world, it’s good to have options. I don’t have a smartphone and like bringing both my MacBook Air and iPad mini with me. I’m glad to see a third iPad size and if the rumors are true, the 4-inch iPhone may be back.

    The iPad mini is serving me well for the light stuff. The MacBook Air is for completing things quicker. I would never give up on the Mac.

  3. AdamC says:

    I believe it depends on what you need to do with an iPad or a PC(laptop or desktop).

    Mobile is the future and many of us are not letting go with the PC model is because they is still a lot of things we can’t do with a tablet and sometimes out of sheer habit.

    But the millennials are different they are brought up on the mobile form and they are and will be more at home with that form of computing.

    Today may not be the day but tomorrow no one knows and with the arrival of more pro apps, the sky may be the limit.

  4. S. Mulji says:


    I don’t think Tim Cook is trying to take away options. In his interview with the Telegraph, he mentions that “the iPad Pro replaces the laptop for many, many people”. Note, he does not say everybody.

    I think a good way to think of “iPad as PC replacement” is this;

    The iPad Pro is not a laptop replacement – it replaces the need to purchase a laptop for many people, in the same manner that the laptop replaced the need to purchase a desktop for many people.

    • @S. Multi, Well, yes, if the iPad replaces a laptop in some cases, it is, in those cases, a laptop replacement. A laptop, in turn, is a desktop replacement for many people. Indeed, more people buy laptops than desktops, far more.


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