No, Apple’s iPad Isn’t a Computer Replacement. Here’s Why.

Can an iPad replace your computer? Credit: Shape.so
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“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

When is a computer not a computer? Let’s face it; many things can constitute as a computer. Your iPhone is a computer. Your Apple TV is a computer. Heck, even your calculator is a computer.

So by all accounts, an iPad is a computer and always has been a computer.

But when we humans use the term “computer,” what we’re really referring to is a traditional personal computer. A desktop or notebook computer. A device with a physical keyboard, mouse (or trackpad), and traditional, desktop-class software.

Mixed Messages

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Around two years ago, Apple created a new ad for its iPad Pro, then running iOS 11. It features Hannah Alligood playing a character called “Scout.” Scout is seen roaming Brooklyn and chatting with friends via FaceTime, her iPad in tow, and being used for various activities, including drawing with her Apple Pencil.

Near the end of the ad, Scout is seen using her iPad in a backyard. A neighbor asks, “What are you doing on your computer” and Scout replies, “What’s a computer?”

The ad was met with a variety of mixed reviews. While Apple probably meant for this to be a kind of “OK, Boomer” moment, it was perceived as ignorant and resulted in several parodies seemingly mocking the ad. But, the message was pretty clear: an iPad isn’t a computer, it’s better. 

Fast forward to the present day, and Apple’s tone has somewhat changed. What wasn’t a computer, is now a computer. Apple says, “It will make you rethink what iPad is capable of,” and then follows up with “And what a computer is capable of.”

Huh? One second it’s not a computer, but kind of better than a computer; and then, it’s a computer again.

To be fair to Apple, the message is likely being misconstrued. If you really pick it apart, it seems like Apple is merely comparing the two –– both their similarities and their differences. They’re showing off what an iPad is capable of, and some of that is the same as a computer; but some of it might be even better. But the message falls flat and makes it sound like iPad Pro is a computer replacement. It’s not.

Trucks and Cars

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Apple founder Steve Jobs famously said that devices such as the iPad and iPhone were the future of computing. In my opinion, he was right. My iPhone and iPad get used a lot more than my computer and redefine the way I work. In fact, I write many of my articles on my iPhone (and edit/finish them later on a computer about 90% of the time).

Jobs compared iPads to cars and computers to trucks. He explained that different vehicles could accomplish different things, and we adapt to what we need. They also have similarities. They both get people around and have many of the same features, but they’re different.

How does the iPad factor into this? iPads are cars in this situation. They are what most people need most of the time. Computers, on the other hand, are becoming more and more business-oriented. They’re the workhorses that carry out many tasks that require more processing power or better utilize the space of a desk. They’re great for gamers, writers, and accountants. They have a wide variety of uses, and their versatility is what sets them apart from tablets.

iPads are different. Like computers, they can run Microsoft Excel, Photoshop, and GarageBand. They can browse the web and print documents. But they’re not cut out to do many of the tasks that are better suited for a computer; and some of those tasks are specific to the person using the device. For example, while I prefer to write on my iPhone or iPad, I would guess most people prefer writing on a computer. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of preference; other times, it comes down to capability or ease-of-use.

But Apple says the iPad Pro is “Faster Than 92% of Portable PCs.” Is this true?

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Sure. But just being faster than some PCs doesn’t always mean better. There are some benefits to a standard laptop that may be more suitable for some users and specific scenarios. Here are a few:

  1. True multitasking and support for multiple windows.
  2. The ability to install third-party apps from sources other than the App Store. There are some iOS tricks here, but it’s not really the same.
  3. Web software such as Adobe Flash. It has its issues, but sometimes it’s needed. As a side note, there are some iOS apps that can bridge this gap.
  4. The ability to run other operating systems—like Windows 10—natively.
  5. True screen-sharing with remote control.
  6. Compatibility with certain hardware.

These are just a few examples, and truth be told, you may not need these features. The point is, lots of people do.

So Can an iPad Replace Your Computer?

It depends. Whether an iPad can be your primary computing device isn’t a straight answer. What you do and how you do it play deciding factors. In today’s world and using today’s mobile devices, you can find yourself less dependent on a traditional computer; but that doesn’t mean they’re not needed.

My personal opinion is that an iPad can be your “computer,” but it will take effort on your part. 

When the iPhone first came out, people mocked its lack of a physical keyboard, arguing you needed physical buttons to be able to type effectively. Nowadays, we’ve adapted. It took a moment, but we learned. I think embracing the iPad can result in a similar outcome. You might still need a computer for some things, but challenge yourself to use your iPad more, and you’ll be surprised at how much you can do.

So What Can an iPad Pro Do?

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Putting it simply: A lot! While it doesn’t have the same multi-window support as most PCs, it does have more than an iPhone. You can have two apps on display in Split View, another floating over the top; you can drag-and-drop items between apps, and more. So multitasking is there, even if it’s different—and somewhat limited—when compared to a traditional computer.

iPads have a wide variety of apps and games thanks to the App Store, and Apple’s closed app ecosystem helps mitigate security risks. iPad supports popular game controllers, keyboards, and even some mice. You can connect a flash drive, a camera, SD cards, and more. The Files app lets you manage, access, and sync all of your documents, files, and media from anywhere.

Unlike most computers, the iPad features a back camera in addition to the front-facing FaceTime camera, making it easy to shoot photos and record video. iPad Pro’s immersive multitouch display and support for Apple Pencil makes creating content easy and enjoyable.

Built-in cellular and GPS connectivity add additional functionality not available in many portable computers, and 10 hours of battery life means you can get a lot done, no matter where life might take you.

Finally, the iPad’s design isn’t anything like other computers. It’s unbelievably thin. No, really. And while this might not seem like a feature, a thinner, lighter device contributes to portability. It’s easier to hold for long periods and takes up less space in a bag or purse.

What’s Right for You?

You’ve heard it time and time again – everyone is different. You need to decide if the trade-offs that come with an iPad are worth the additional features found on most portable computers. Do you require Windows or Adobe Flash for your work? A laptop might be your best bet. Do you watch a lot of movies, like to draw, and take pictures? You might be better off with an iPad. Are you a gamer? Depending on the type of gamer you are, both will make compelling choices. It all comes down to your preferences. But an iPad is a car, and a Mac is a truck – your car is not a truck replacement.

Which do you prefer? Can an iPad replace your MacBook? Why or why not? Sound off on social media and in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

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