Ars Technica has an interesting article pondering whether the iPad can be considered a Personal Computer or not (The iPad is a Personal Computer—true or false?).  This is something I have considered, in the year or so since I became an iPad owner.

My own personal view is that iOS devices such as my iPod Touch and iPad occupy a space somewhere between an appliance and a computer.  I’m used to being able to do what I want with my computers: something that reaches the heights with my various machines running Linux (two laptops and a desktop running Ubuntu 11.04, and a Mythbuntu system).  Even my most recent acquisition, a MacBook Pro laptop, falls into this category.  Despite the surface gloss, it’s a Unix-like OS at heart.  The GUI may be remarkably limited in configuration possibilities, but I’ve still set up Perl scripts, done limited Bash scripting and negotiated aspects of networking, particularly for my backup system.  Significantly, I can install what I want, where I want, and put files where I want them.

How different that is from iOS.  Applications selected from a tightly organised (and some might say censored) list.  Application install in some space in the filesystem, and the files associated with an application go in that application’s defined filesystem space.  In fact it doesn’t seem terribly easy to see the filesystem space!

If anything demonstrates why I don’t consider the iPad a computer it would be any one of those restrictions.  If the iPad was a proper personal computer, I would be able to install Flash on it.

For me, the iPad remains a gadget, something that’s a huge pleasure to use.  But it’s not a personal computer, for there’s no way it can replace any of my computers, be they running OS X, GNU/Linux or Windows.  It does come close.  I routinely use my iPad for quite a lot of things:

  • – email/calendar access
  • – navigating my music collection
  • – remote access of computers by VNC
  • – limited wordprocessing
  • – reading pdfs
  • – reading e-books (though it isn’t as good as a Kindle)
  • – web browsing (except for those sites using Flash)
  • – simple games
  • – watching TV (either from apps such as BBC iPlayer or from  my Mythbuntu box) and videos
  • – Twitter, Facebook and the like

Much as I’ve tried several Office packages, none really come close to using a notebook or desktop PC, even when using a Bluetooth keyboard to speed text entry.