Apple iPad, Day 30: The Verdict--Can an iPad Replace a PC?

Today the 30 Days With an iPad series comes to a close. I set out on this journey with the goal of determining whether an iPad is capable of replacing my Windows 7 notebook, and now it's time to review the experience and render a verdict.

To score the iPad, let's take a look at some of the common functions I need to do with my primary computing platform and determine if the iPad can deliver:

• Web Surfing: Yes

After 30 Days With the iPad, all that's left is to answer the question "can it replace a PC?"
• Email: Yes

• Office Productivity: Yes

• Manage Contacts: Yes

• Back Up to Cloud: Yes

• VPN to Company Network: Yes

• Online Meetings / Video Conference: Yes

• Calendar: Yes

• Social Networking: Yes

• Finances: Yes

• Printing / Scanning: Yes

• Entertainment: Yes

Did I leave anything out? Looking at this list, and scoring the iPad based on its capabilities, it seems that the answer to the question "can an iPad replace a PC?" is an absolute "yes". Just...not for me. And, not for many others. Really, the answer is a very solid "it depends".

There are a couple crucial drawbacks for me. I write. A lot. That's what I do. Virtual keyboard vs. physical keyboard aside, I need a much larger display and more efficient multitasking so I can research and type simultaneously. I also need a real browser that can work with the PCWorld content management system (or I need the PCWorld developers to alter the system to work with a mobile browser) for publishing what I write.

For me, the experience over the past 30 days demonstrated that it is possible to an extent, but not necessarily preferable for all. Essentially, I wouldn't give up my notebook PC and rely solely on the iPad, but if my Windows 7 notebook suddenly died I know that the iPad can fill those shoes in a pinch.

There are a number of scenarios where an iPad simply won't work as a PC replacement. If you are a developer--even a developer of apps for an iPad--you need a PC. If you are a professional photographer, or a graphic artist, you need a PC. If you are a hardcore gamer, you need a PC. I can keep adding to that list, but basically using an iPad as a PC replacement will not work for everyone.

I am not an average user, though. I have an iPad and a notebook that dual boots between Windows 7 and Ubuntu Linux. I have an iPhone, and I am considering getting a MacBook Air. I may get an Android smartphone and Android tablet just because. This is what I do, so I have a vested interest in learning and using as many platforms and technologies as possible.

Many of the criticisms and negative comments throughout this series also came from users who don't necessarily represent the average. Some of the issues were more mainstream than others, but many of the complaints related to more advanced functionality. For many of the concerns, there is in fact a solution--or at least a workaround--but then it comes down to a question of "why should I accept alternative solutions and workarounds if my PC already does those tasks just fine?"

So, who does the iPad work for as a PC replacement? Most people, really. My father, my in-laws, my brother, my best friend, my cousins, my neighbors. People who are still using a Windows XP PC. People who think that Google is the Internet because it's the home page when they open their browser. People who think they can't switch ISPs or they'll have to get a whole new Hotmail account and start over. People who buy a PC from Best Buy and basically use it as is out of the box.

The reality is that the iPad--particularly the iPad 2--is not only capable of handling the computing needs of an average user; it is probably a better choice than a PC. It is easier. It just works.

You can give an iPad to your Luddite grandmother who has never used a computer and she can surf the Web and send an email in a matter of minutes. You can give an iPad to a three year old, and they can intuitively navigate the interface and use it without a second thought.

AirPlay streaming
Streaming a movie from the iPad to a TV is simple with AirPlay.
The iPad can do these things, and it's more versatile than a desktop PC--or even a notebook or netbook--because of its form factor. You can read a Kindle book on your iPad in bed, stream a movie from your iPad to your 42" LCD TV in your living room, video chat with your parents from the den, and cook dinner using a recipe from the AllRecipes app in the kitchen.

The iPad lets you check your email when you have a spare 30 seconds standing in line at the bank, or post a status update to Facebook about the guy next to you on the train with two different colored socks. The iPad lets you read National Geographic, keep up with breaking news on CNN, or watch your favorite HBO series while sitting in the waiting room at the dentist.

Can you do these things with a notebook or netbook? Sure. Can your grandmother or your three year old do them intuitively? Probably not. Would you want to get out a notebook PC, open it, boot (or wake) it up, and try to hold it in one hand while navigating the touchpad with the other just so you can check your email while standing in line? I doubt it.

I don't plan to get rid of my notebook. I don't recommend that any of my techie friends dump their PC any time soon. But, for the vast majority of my friends and relatives, I have no reservations whatsoever telling them that the iPad is all they need.

Read the last "30 Days" series: 30 Days With Ubuntu Linux

Day 29: Five Things I Like Most About the iPad

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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