The Apple iPad is not a computer replacement, but a great companion

The Apple iPad is proving to be a fun and enjoyable device, yet also has several limitations that keep it from being a computer replacement. However, it is a fun companion device that appeals to many and has the potential to be a computer replacement with accessories and updates.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

One thought I had after I first pulled the iPad out of the box and started playing with it was that I would buy one for my mother-in-law for her to use as her main computer. She has been bugging me to get her a computer for a couple of years, but she has a tendency to blow all her money on junk treasure on eBay and my wife really doesn't want me making that easier for her. She asked me a couple months ago if she went to the store and bought a laptop would that be all she needs to connect to the Internet and use ebay and Yahoo! email? She thought that Internet connections were floating out there so all you needed was a laptop to connect to it. When I told her the service runs $40 to $50 a month then she was no longer interested. I was thinking an iPad with $10/month AT&T service would be perfect for her. After several days with the Apple iPad, I think it could serve as her only computer with some minimal training and setup being done by me. I don't think it can serve as an only computer for most folks though. Then again, Apple hasn't marketed it that way and I am personally having a blast with it as a companion device.

Why can it be her only computer?

My mother-in-law comes over and uses our computers to email people, look at her photos, surf and buy things from ebay and that's about all she does with a computer. I showed her the Photos application at Easter and she LOVED it and said she may buy one just for that capability alone. I told her I had to use my computer to get photos on the iPad and she wasn't happy. There is an adapter that can be purchased to load photos, but Apple should have put in a SD card slot or at least included a SD card slot in the dock to make this easier for people. The iPad does have limited storage so using it as your only computer may present issues for storing all your photos so I would have to show her how to use cloud storage solutions and note that SugarSync looks to be the first with an iPad client.

The eBay app looks great and that would easily meet her ebay needs while Safari or even the email client would work fine with her Yahoo! email account. I imagine she would also enjoy many other applications on the iPad and know she would get hooked on some of the casual games, like Plants vs. Zombies.

She wasn't that comfortable with the touch interface and on-screen keyboard so it would take her a bit to get used to these technologies. She would also need some kind of physical keyboard since I highly doubt she would fully adopt the touchscreen only keyboard. She is almost 70 and the 1.5 pound weight is also pretty significant for her to hold up for extended periods of time. A dock would be needed as well. After adding all these accessories and getting one with higher memory capacity for photos she would be approaching $1,000 for an iPad with 3G. I think she would be fine with the $10/month lower data plan, unless she starts emailing out a ton of photos and then would jump to the more expensive $30/month plan. This is still less than cable or DSL in our area though so that may be fine.

I plan to let her use it more and will figure out if this will be a good Mother's Day or Christmas gift for her. I will also be keeping my eye on other tablet solutions, but they need to be drop dead easy with no virus software needs or other maintenance requirements. Maybe a Linux-based netbook would work better for her at half the cost.

Why can't it be your only computer?

I think there are many people who have basic computer needs like my mother-in-law, but for anyone else the current iPad will not be a good replacement for a computer. The iPhone OS does not currently support multitasking, this may change with OS 4.0, and I already see this as a bit of an issue as I try to do more than use the apps I have installed or surf the web. One example is that I would like to use Facebook chat in Safari and then jump out to do other things like email or play a game and then jump back into a conversation.

Office document support is actually pretty weak with the iWork suite of apps as Joel mentioned and it is interesting that these three apps are at the top of the charts. I think people did what I did and watched the commercials then purchased the apps without even seeing what limitations there are. I wonder how many people have actually used the applications after purchasing them since it isn't easy to get documents into or out of them and share with others who do not have iWork on a Mac. There is an opportunity here for Quickoffice and Documents To Go to easily grab the top spot in Office apps since their products work with native Office documents and allow access through multiple cloud and email solutions on the iPhone and I can't wait to see their iPad clients.

The Safari browser is good, but it isn't the "full" internet and people have needs to access secure sites (such as bank sites) and other sites that require more than what Safari offers. Not to mention that Flash is not supported either. After several more days of use, I have to say I am not missing Flash and find the browser to be fantastic.

You can buy apps, music, and movies directly on the iPad, but having a Mac or PC makes it much easier to manage these things while also allowing your to edit movies and photos to get them onto your iPad. There is limited space on the iPad so you are limited by how many apps, music, and movies you can load up on it so storage capacity is a limitation. Cloud solutions may work for storage, but editing and media creation is not available on the iPad.

I think there is potential to move the iPad further into the category as a netbook replacement with firmware updates and accessories and tomorrow's OS 4.0 announcement may reveal some of that to us.

One thing that disappointed me when I first turned on my iPad was that you needed to connect to iTunes to do ANYTHING at all with it. I suppose someone like my mother-in-law could get it started up with help at the Apple Store and one of their computers, but it is designed to sync to a PC or Mac. Also, there are no over-the-air (OTA) updates for the iPad so she would not be able to update it without connecting to a PC or Mac. Hmm, I guess the iPad never will be able to be used as a stand alone device or computer replacement.

Will it succeed as a companion device?

I went into my iPad purchase knowing it was not going to replace my MacBook Pro, but I did think it would be possible to replace my MSI Wind netbook. I don't think it will even do that at this time so a cheap desktop with an iPad may be the best solution for most people. I do think it is a very good companion device with the awesome photo experience, apps like MLB At Bat, Netflix, and The Elements, fun gaming device (you have to try Plants vs. Zombies), good ebook reader with Kindle, Kobo, and Olive Tree Bible Reader, enjoyable newspaper and magazine reader, and social media device. I really do not understand why there is no Facebook application yet though and think that should have been on there at launch.

Apple reported that they sold about 300,000 iPads on the first day. That is actually a good number for an expensive luxury item in today's economy. I think it will see growing adoption as people evaluate what they do with their computer and the Internet and get a chance to see more commercials and people with the device in hand. I do not think it will be as widely adopted as the iPhone since the price is quite high and people still need to justify a need for it.

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