The iPad isn’t a PC — but it’s trying hard to behave like one

Written on:March 7, 2012
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The photo journal feature of the new iPhoto for iPad.

If you have an iPad already, you probably use it for checking e-mail or browsing the Web, Twitter or Facebook, using apps, reading an e-book or even putting together presentations. But on Wednesday, Apple took great care to show you how you can be doing even more with this new category of mobile device — especially things you might have done previously on a PC.

In its third iteration of the iPad, Apple upgraded the hardware mostly in ways imperceptible to the naked eye, with the very notable exception of the bright and crisp new Retina screen. But beyond talk of tightly packed pixels, 4G speeds and quad-core graphics, what defined this presentation was the emphasis on the software for the iPad, and how that software enables the iPad to be “the poster child for the post-PC world,” as CEO Tim Cook put it several times.

To help you think of the iPad first before a PC, for more than just reading a book or browsing the Web, Apple brought apps from the Mac and specifically adapted them to a touch interface. IPhoto for iPad now lets owners do easy photo editing without a mouse. The photo journal feature lets you make a quick travel diary with a few taps, and iMovie lets you create those same glossy trailers from home videos like the ones you can already do on your Mac — with just a few taps and swipes. GarageBand for iPad got some additional more features, including the ability to have four people collaborate on a song at once. (The iWork apps that were already there also got some upgrades to make them more Retina display-worthy Wednesday.)

This message was also evident in the companies chosen to demonstrate their apps on stage. In addition to the predictable choice of game makers, Apple notably picked Autodesk, which made its name in desktop CAD software, to show off a new line-drawing app they’re working on called Sketchbook Ink. It’s not their first iPad app, but Apple used the company’s current and future products to drive home the level of professional work you can do on the iPad.

After ticking off the new features of the iLife apps, SVP of Marketing Phil Schiller reminded us of this when he said pointedly, “Don’t let anyone ever tell you you can’t create on an iPad.” That’s a line very much meant for the naysayers who have, from the beginning, said the iPad is “a consumption device” rather than a tool for creation, the latter being how we think of PCs traditionally. While the iPad hasn’t changed that much since 2010 in terms of hardware — it’s still the same basic size and design — it is far more of a creation tool today, thanks to the types of apps that have become available for the iPad in the last year or so.

We can go back and forth about whether the iPad is a PC in the traditional sense or not. I say it’s not — it’s a different device with some of the same internal components and a different case use. And there are still things you just can’t or won’t do on an iPad. It’s getting old now, but Steve Jobs’ analogy of cars and trucks still holds up the best: the iPad is closer to a car that does most but not all of the things a truck or a PC can do. Yes, they are similar, but cars offer something just different enough.

Now that it’s pretty clear the iPad is here to stay, Apple is courting the people who have yet to make the transition. They’re conceding the minor point that it’s not a PC per se, but showing us more and more that you can use iPad to do almost all the things you may have done on your laptop.

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