When Apple unveiled the iPad in April 2010, it really changed the way people thought about computers. This portable device with its built-in Wi-Fi, 10 hour battery life, and 10-inch touchscreen display became the “must have” consumer gadget of the year.
Apple’s critics were quick to scoff at the device, calling it an “iPhone that doesn’t make calls and is too big to fit in a pocket.” However in the 3 years it has been on the market, over 85 million iPads have been sold – making Apple one of the richest technology companies in America.
The unprecedented success of the iPad has other manufacturers in the technology industry racing to bring their own tablets to market. Companies like Dell, Samsung, HP, Acer, Toshiba, and countless no-name manufacturers from China are all offering tablets with a variety of screen sizes, operating systems, and prices.
But is this glossy darling of the computing world really all it’s cracked up to be? Are tablets really going to make traditional desktop and laptop computers obsolete? The short answer is, no.
Let’s take a look at what you can do with an Apple iPad:
- Browse the Internet
- Check emails
- Listen to music
- View photos
- Stream videos and movies
- Play games
- Read eBooks
- Engage in social media
These are some of the primary tasks that the iPad was designed for, and it does them extremely well. But what do all of these items have in common? They all center on the owner using the device to consume content. When it comes to creating content, the iPad is far less useful than a traditional desktop or laptop computer.
Here are a few tasks that I believe are best done (or can only be done) with a real computer:
- Capturing and editing home movies/indie films
- DVD and Blu-ray authoring
- Any kind of graphic design work
- Creating a website or blog
- Professional photo editing and restoration
- Writing a book or short story
- Serious gaming
- Recording musical instruments and audio mixing/production
- Software programming and development
- CAD and 3D modeling
In each of these cases, people who create things demand more from their computers. They need more than 32 or 64GB of storage. They need a larger screen, a real keyboard, and a variety of ports and protocols to connect external devices such as printers, scanners, cameras, better video cards, and more.
Can you imagine trying to type out your memoirs using only an on-screen keyboard? Can you imagine a magazine editor trying to design a layout using only their fingers? Can you imagine a scientist or engineer trying to conduct experiments with a device that cannot connect to any other piece of equipment besides a wireless printer?
The truth is that the world is going to rely on computers for a long, long time yet. There is not yet a tablet on the market that is as robust and feature-packed as a desktop or laptop.
There are a large number people who have abandoned traditional desktop and laptops and now own an iPad or other tablet as their only computer. My conclusion is that for these people, a real computer was never the right device for them in the first place.
Dealing with registry settings, terminal windows, installing drivers and other annoyances was just something that everyone had to put up with for decades because there wasn’t a simpler way. Now, the people who never used computers to their full potential anyway can just buy iPads and be happy.
Up until 2010, every computer owner had either a desktop or a laptop. You couldn’t tell if a person was a power user or a casual user just by glancing at the computer in their home office or living room. There was no easy way to identify a person’s skill level because everyone owned the same type of machine.
Going forward, the difference between skill levels will become much more obvious. Casual users have migrated to tablets while power users understand the benefits of having a fully featured computer. Owning an iPad or tablet tells the world: I am all about consuming content. Owning a desktop or laptop computer tells the world: I am all about creating content.
Until someone comes out with a tablet computer that meets or exceeds the functionality of a desktop/laptop computer, I will be perfectly happy sticking with a big metal box and a bunch of cables under my desk.