Stop the Noiz

5 Reasons the iPad Is Not Killing Off PCs

Frank Fox - 2012.04.10 - Tip Jar

The iPad was built and sold as a product that is used alongside a Mac or PC. This positioning made sense, as people saw the device more for consumption than creation. Apple was able to continue selling Macs without the iPad destroying its computer business.

It was a win-win strategy for Apple.

But what happens as more people buy the iPad and find that it is good enough? They will want to replace their PC completely. For many, dropping your Mac or PC and going only with an iPad is not possible. Designed into the iPad are self-limiting features. These make it cheaper to produce, and they also created a distinction between Mac OS X and iOS devices.

Even as the power of the processor and video chips grows, these shortcoming are not going to be fixed anytime soon. It will require competition from outside Apple to create any motivation for change. (Hint to Dell, HP, and Samsung - this is what you call an opportunity.)

1. Multiple OS Support

Today my Mac can boot into Mac OS X, Windows 7, or Linux. If I don't want to reboot, I can launch a virtual copy of Windows or Linux. This is possible because of the shared hardware and the hard work by Parallel, VMware, etc. Their job was made easier because all of these operating systems are designed to work on similar hardware.

The iPhone, and later the iPad, broke from the common hardware model and started using ARM processors. This allowed Apple to drop the need for any compatibility.

Today we cannot even imagine that Apple would offer anything like Boot Camp for iOS. It would be awesome to dual boot into iOS or Android, but it will never happen if Apple continues to lock down the device. It will be years before we get compatibility between Apple's own operation systems, Mac OS X and iOS.

2. Local Storage Is Important

Hard drives have grown from MB to GB to TB sizes. Each major jump is a 1,000 times increase is size. This boom in storage allowed for practical encoding of music, and later movies, on personal hard drives. Today, when I fill up the flash card for my camera, I need to store another GB of data on my hard drive. With a dual 500 GB RAID setup in my Mac, I can store years of family photos and videos.

The iPad isn't so lucky. It has been stuck at the same 64 GB limit since it came out. Apple clearly sees 64 GB as a sweet spot for its devices. This limit also promotes other Apple products. Either you have to sync with a Mac or you can use Apple's Cloud storage.

While cloud storage is all the rage, not everyone is comfortable turning over all their data to someone else. Security failures, draconian user agreements, and servers going offline are a risk with cloud storage.

With an iOS device, what choice do you have? The limit is built into the machine, and only Apple can give you more onboard storage or allow convenient external drives.

3. Multitasking Is Essential to Being Productive

I constantly switch between reading emails, typing up reports, and designing equipment. I constantly have 4-5 windows open, and often this triples if I'm editing or pulling in referenced information.

Multitasking on the iPad is a joke. You can't even buy an app without being kicked out of the App Store so it can download. The operating system is tuned to work with a small screen and a slower processor. It has focused on doing one task well.

With more processing power possible every year, the restrictions will likely become relaxed. It may require a painful transition on the side of app development to implement a new windowing system.

4. Multiple Screens Go Hand in Hand with Multitasking

Dual screens offer twice the viewing area to keep track of all that you have going on. It is one of the reasons I don't like the iMac design - it's limited. One huge screen is better than a small one, but two smaller, cheaper screens are a better bargain and just as productive.

Dual screens are such a great idea that developers have written software to turn your iPad into a second screen. The trouble is that no one is inventing a way to split the iPad display over two separate screens. Apple only offers a way to mirror the same information to a single larger screen.

Since you can't really multitask, there is not much demand to even try. If the iPad is to be a PC replacement, it needs to add this feature.

5. A Touchscreen Is a Great Way to Have a Dirty Screen

It's true that you can lose a stylus, but it's not so easy to lose your fingers. Apple has also done a wonderful job of adding multitouch features to instantly make specific things happen. Despite all of this creativity by Apple, the truth is that touch input isn't particularly accurate.

My cheap $2 mechanical pencil has a 0.5mm tip, while my finger tip is about 15 mm in diameter. That makes my pencil capable of being 30 times more accurate. With my finger and lots of practice, I could accurate pick out an object about half the size of a dime. With a pencil and no practice, I can pick an object the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Controlling a cursor with a mouse is about as accurate as a pencil.

There was once a joke on the Internet about a person who had their fingers surgically narrowed to become more accurate using the iPhone's on screen keyboard. Luckily you can buy a wireless keyboard to work with an iOS device, but you can't use a fine tip stylus or a mouse.* This leaves the iPad functional at text, and there are a few artists who draw like Picasso using an iPad. But for me, I'll never be able to use my fingers to design like I can with a mouse or stylus.

Not a Mac Replacement

In spite of these shortcomings, which got plenty of attention when the iPad first came out, it has been a top seller. I own an iPad, and I like it, but it is not even close to replacing my MacBook for getting work done.

Since Apple appears to be willing to accept these shortcomings, the only change is going to come from competition. The problem is that the competition is scared to do anything that doesn't imitate Apple. This scenario means we are going to be stuck with future tablet computers that can't do many things that today's computers can. LEM

* Last year Macworld took a look at 12 stylus options for the iPad, most of which are more precise than your finger but probably less precise than a traditional PDA or tablet stylus.

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