An iPad Review – Can tablets replace the PC?

It has been a month since I got Apple’s second generation tablet, the stupidly named iPad. Yeah while I do not like the name a single bit, the gadget has so far been so nice to use for me, albeit without some little bit of disappointment. I remember that in 1995, I was just starting to learn the basics of modern computing starting with the Windows 95 and the MS Office suite of applications. Before that I had my hand on typewriters for some school work and does some gaming on the MS-DOS system. So to understand the future, let us find out the way I interacted with PCs back then…

The Windows experience changed the way I used the computer and the typewriter, essentially making one obsolete and the former indispensable. Soon, I got my own personal desktop computer in 1996 and I spent more and more time with it, using the seemingly unlimited ways of using fonts to create nifty word processing documents to hand in for project work. By 1998, I started to discover the Internet and was soon using it to browse automobile websites to discover the new technologies in automotive engineering. Entering the new millennia, I moved to a laptop for mobile computing and was able to do presentations for university courses in tutorial rooms. Studying in a campus complete with high speed Internet access, I was able to fully utilize wireless connectivity to remain logged into the web for information. Mobile computing has come a long way within the short few years between my high school and university days. But the continuous evolution and competition moved the game forward, and smartphones filled with apps gave new inspiration and challenges to the industry starting with the iPhone. If one actually cared to define the computing world, one would realize that it comprises of hardware, software and infrastructure. The hardware being the processors, video cards, input devices, monitors and memory, software being the operating systems, games, and applications that is customizable to one’s own needs and usage. Infrastructure meanwhile is the Internet and purchase method of both hardware and software. Apple, having the edge with it’s iTunes store and the excellent touch screen OS ported from the iPhone, made the iPad easy to use straight out of the box for anyone who has used an iPhone before. But don’t ever think one can use the iPad without a home computer or a laptop that has iTunes installed. Because to even start the iPad for use, one needs to connect it to a PC or Mac that has an up to date version of iTunes installed. So it does seem that this iPad cannot replace the PC as yet.

Starting up the iPad, one finds the Safari web browser pre-installed along with Mail, iTunes, iPhoto, iCal and App Store in the iPad amongst other lesser functions that one can find out about on Apple’s website. Basically upon starting up, one finds nearly the same kind of software that can be found on new PCs back in the late 90s. Word processing apps are extra and can be purchased on the App Store for a small fee of less that US$10. The new iPad also comes with 2 cameras for taking photos and videos and the great FaceTime app to converse wirelessly with other iOS devices and anyone with a Mac system. And it has an amazing touch screen with one of the best displays around. Finally this thing is thinner that any college textbook and can last up to 10 hours of usage, though significantly less for watching videos. Features that definitely trumps any mobile computing device, and just in case one really doesn’t have a PC or a Mac, the guys at the Apple Store can start up the device for you. So then, the features tell a different story, but what about real life experience living with the iPad?

For the first few days having the iPad, I was able to do normal computing work on it, without having to use my new MacBook Air. A bit of a waste really since the MacBook Air was just a few months old. I initially envisioned the iPad as a magazine and e-book reader that I could use to play games with. A living room and lounge kind of device for casual use. But it did more than that in the first couple of days I used it. I was able to research for information while on the go, draft and send whole emails and reports for work, and even use it for simple navigation. This is on top of being able to read National Geographic on high definition, and browse my collection of travel photos. The only thing lacking was the ability to playback full HD videos and photo editing software like Lightroom. Therefore I still needed the MacBook Air to edit my photos from the DSLR, port my HD videos to iPad resolution for playback, and for storage and backup since the iPad still has no capability to recognize my USB external Hard Disk Drive. Basically it is a light computing device with limited storage since the maximum storage space is 64GB, though that by all account is quite generous considering my first desktop has perhaps less than that in storage space. What really made me want to use the iPad more is how I could use it while watching a hockey match or while waiting to pick up my takeaway order from the neighbourhood restaurant. It is that device that revolutionizes the way one uses computer. There is no need to stare at advertisements when one can go browse magazines and read the news on the iPad, and Sunday afternoons can be spent in the couch with an iPad on hand. Lazing by the poolside, one could also do some gaming or catching up with friends. The possibilities are limitless, just like when the PC started to change the way students do their work, and offices send their invoices. And the touch screen display? It is one of the best out there with gorgeous lighting and a screen that would not get mucky after a day of finger swiping, and typing. That is just for the hardware, as the amazing App Store holds a large amount of great apps like Pulse news reader that I use to receive news from a customizable list of sources, the Zinio magazine app that allows me to buy PDF copies of magazines at half of what it would cost on newstand in Singapore, or just a game of Cut the Rope in HD. The list doesn’t stop here as I see more iPhone apps to be ported over for HD viewing on the iPad. These are stuff which makes the iPad stand out from its laptop brethren, and with tweaks and future improvements, the iPad and tablets in general could well displace laptops as the de-facto hardware of the computing world. The only difference (or problem)? Apple is close to monopolizing this market just like what Microsoft did to PCs back in the late 90s. Oh and by the way, I typed this post entirely using the iPad!

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