It has become fashionable to argue that the iPad is a laptop killer. Walt Mossberg kicked things off with his iPad review in March, and CNet's Brooke Crothers chimed in earlier this month.
As much as I love my iPad, and indeed all things Apple, I can't help thinking that this is crazy-talk. Sure, iPad is a great device for reading the odd e-mail and browsing the web, but when I hear people claiming it's all they need on their business trips, it makes me wonder how much work they really do when they're clocking up those frequent flyer miles.
iPad's lack of a physical keyboard and Flash support are the two shortcomings most commonly cited as differentiating it from a laptop, but these are just the most superficial and obvious shortcomings (although I accept that for some, the absence of Flash is an advantage rather than a shortcoming).
1. iTunes dependency
Put simply, an iPad can hardly replace a Mac/PC, when you need to connect it to a Mac/PC to turn it on (initially). At present, for setup, backup and system upgrades, you have no option but to sync with a Mac/PC.
2. No shared file system
The "Finder"/"Windows Explorer" is an essential component of a Mac/PC. But this feature is entirely absent on an iPad. In most cases, a file is only accessible from within the app that owns it. So, for example, to e-mail a document as an attachment, you must send it from the app that generated it, rather than directly from the Mail app itself. And if you want to download a PDF from Safari, to view later in another app, you're out of luck. It's also impossible to link between locally stored files, meaning iPad is currently useless to web developers, designers or serious spreadsheet users.
3. Limited document format support
iPad can do a reasonable job of viewing Microsoft Office files, but it is far from perfect. Oddly, support for viewing Apple's own iWork files is not perfect either. Apple has implemented a fraction of the formatting options that are available on the Mac version of iWork. So by amending a document on an iPad, you risk stripping away important formatting. In Pages, for example, paragraph borders and padding are missing. In Keynote, transitions on grouped objects are not implemented.
4. No file sharing
Options for transferring files on an iPad are limited to syncing via iTunes or sending via e-mail. MobileMe users may also use iDisk, and third party apps like Dropbox can help. But as yet, the simplest and most obvious solutions, such as regular file sharing via AFP for Mac and SMB for Windows are unavailable. Also missing is the ability to mount the iPad on your Mac/PC file system as a USB mass storage device to transfer files directly without having to use the cumbersome iTunes syncing method - even an iPod classic can do this!
5. Native file formats only
When opening MS Office or iWork files on an iPad, using Pages, Keynote and Numbers, the files must first be converted into a special iPad format, in order to appear in the relevant app. Consequently, in order to open them on a Mac or PC, they then have to be converted back. This is extremely cumbersome, and creates risks with version control, by duplicating files, rather than allowing you to work directly on a file on your iDisk or Dropbox.
8. Not extensible
Many have griped about iPad's lack of Adobe Flash support, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. iPad is not extensible in any way. Indeed, 3rd party developers are explicitly prohibited from developing shared frameworks, runtimes and libraries. So, not only is there no Flash, but no Java, no WMV, Silverlight, Apache, PHP, nor SQL. You can't even install your own fonts, which is a big shortcoming for a platform promoting graphics apps, such as Keynote.
9. No Terminal app
The Terminal app is one of the hidden gems of Mac OS X. Buried away in the utilities folder, it may not be very pretty, but if you learn how to use it, it can be incredibly powerful. Since iPad is based upon the same Unix as Mac OS X, (Darwin), it's a great shame that Apple doesn't provide us with a terminal app to take advantage of it.
10. Single-user only
While Mac OS X has excellent multi-user support, it is currently nonexistent on iOS, giving the operating system a strangely retro feel. In practice, this means when an iPad is shared in a household or office, everyone must use the same settings. No customization per user. No parental controls per user. No separating content per user. This isn't a problem on the iPhone, since phone are typically single-user devices, but the iOS should offer more on an iPad.
Please don't get me wrong, I love my iPad, and the recent developments in iOS 4.2 are very welcome. But let's be realistic, as yet, it's a long way away from becoming a Mac/PC replacement.