Sunday, 28 November 2010

Top 10 reasons iPad is not a Mac/PC replacement

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.

Summary
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.

14 comments:

  1. 11. No automation or inter-app communication, as in AppleScript, Automator, Services, Command-Line, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You know, no disrespect, but most of your list says "I want a laptop" not I want a iPad. The iPad _ISN'T_ a laptop, it's a cheap simple device that works for basic tasks (and, with apps, some more complicated things.) Remember, this isn't a laptop. If you want what you describe in your post, buy a HP slate, OR, jailbreak your iPad. I know how to jailbreak my iPhone, but don't. Why? Because I don't want that complexity on my phone. I don't NEED that. I just want it to work. My MacBook Pro is hacked to high heaven with all sorts of add ons. Cool. But I don't need a device that I bought to do simple tasks to aspire to be something it's not. iPads are SIMPLE devices. They are marketed as that, they are sold as that.. They aren't sold on the promise of something they can't do. When OS updates provide new features, I am happy, but I remember that I bought the device based on what it could do at the time. The rest is just gravy.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi! Equally "no disrespect," but that is precisely my point. All this post is saying is that the iPad is not a laptop!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Very good post Graham.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Pretty much everything you mentioned is a software limitation. Seeing as Apple is adding in pretty big features at least once a year (OS 3.2 itself added a lot of functionality over the iPhone at the time) then I think it's just a matter of time until it becomes a pretty powerful computing platform.

    Three years ago we had an iPhone that you couldn't even install native apps too, or even "install" web apps to. Now there's the App Store, lots of little usability stuff like Copy/Paste and Find-In-Page in Safari. Of course there's also multitasking and the ability to bring files in through iTunes.

    I think that probably the first thing to go will be the super heavy dependence on a tethered connection to iTunes. With the new Find My iPhone setup there are now lots and lots of users who are signed up for at least some free Mobile Me services without having to subscribe. Expand these free Mobile Me features and add wireless syncing for the other things and it starts getting a whole lot better.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi Stetson.
    Thanks for your post. I agree, a lot of these things are coming. I think it's unlikely we'll see a shared file system, extensibility or a Terminal app, but one way or another, I think Apple will address the other points over time.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Finally someone else echoes my main iPad complaint -- lack of multiple users. More than cameras, a retina display and a SD card slot, support for multiple users is my #1 feature request for iPad 2.0

    ReplyDelete
  9. I like how you skip from 5 to 8...

    ReplyDelete
  10. Using natural and organic cotton and hemp that is harvested and made with out the utilization of bug sprays or sweatshop labor, Pigeon Passenger has created only one by way of fundamentally the most adaptable attire by way of the season. generally known as the Nora Wrap Dress, it genuinely is similarly reversible and versatile. Custom-made for just about any Friday in the office, playful sufficient for just about any Sunday brunch, and enthralling sufficient for just about any evening out, the Nora Wrap gown could perhaps be the best eco-design for earth-friendly wives through the go.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Using natural and organic cotton and hemp that is harvested and made with out the utilization of bug sprays or sweatshop labor, Pigeon Passenger has created only one by way of fundamentally the most adaptable attire by way of the season. generally known as the Nora Wrap Dress, it genuinely is similarly reversible and versatile. Custom-made for just about any Friday in the office, playful sufficient for just about any Sunday brunch, and enthralling sufficient for just about any evening out, the Nora Wrap gown could perhaps be the best eco-design for earth-friendly wives through the go.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Using natural and organic cotton and hemp that is harvested and made with out the utilization of bug sprays or sweatshop labor, Pigeon Passenger has created only one by way of fundamentally the most adaptable attire by way of the season. generally known as the Nora Wrap Dress, it genuinely is similarly reversible and versatile. Custom-made for just about any Friday in the office, playful sufficient for just about any Sunday brunch, and enthralling sufficient for just about any evening out, the Nora Wrap gown could perhaps be the best eco-design for earth-friendly wives through the go.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Using natural and organic cotton and hemp that is harvested and made with out the utilization of bug sprays or sweatshop labor, Pigeon Passenger has created only one by way of fundamentally the most adaptable attire by way of the season. generally known as the Nora Wrap Dress, it genuinely is similarly reversible and versatile. Custom-made for just about any Friday in the office, playful sufficient for just about any Sunday brunch, and enthralling sufficient for just about any evening out, the Nora Wrap gown could perhaps be the best eco-design for earth-friendly wives through the go.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Using natural and organic cotton and hemp that is harvested and made with out the utilization of bug sprays or sweatshop labor, Pigeon Passenger has created only one by way of fundamentally the most adaptable attire by way of the season. generally known as the Nora Wrap Dress, it genuinely is similarly reversible and versatile. Custom-made for just about any Friday in the office, playful sufficient for just about any Sunday brunch, and enthralling sufficient for just about any evening out, the Nora Wrap gown could perhaps be the best eco-design for earth-friendly wives through the go.

    ReplyDelete