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iPad as a PC Replacement: Really?

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.