Is the iPad a Real Computer? Do its Users Deserve it?

The P.D. article of the week comes from Rene Ritchie at iMore. It’s all about the debate regarding the fitness of the iPad for some kinds of work. Is it a real computer, suitable to meet the needs of the modern user? Some people like to argue about that, it seems, and author Ritchie correctly points out that it’s a waste of time. Here’s the article.

Giving iPad fire to mere mortals: On myopia and elitism in computing

Author Ritchie opens with:

Why arguing about how someone else chooses to compute, be it on an iPad or PC, says more about you than it does them.

This phenomenon is a well-known, and it’s characterized by, as author Ritchie points out, myopia and elitism. He goes on to explain, as we know, that different users have different needs. Given the capabilities, say, of a modern iPad or a Windows PC or a Linux system, productive work can be done. It’s not really helpful for authors to bash products that they don’t favor and think that they’re providing helpful guidance.

For some people, an iPad is all they need. And that’s okay.

The Psychology

Author Ritchie makes a great case, and I recommend his work. However, I’d like to finish up here with some thoughts on the psychology of the situation. Namely, the false notion that a strident opinion about computing platforms is born of a deep understanding. The two don’t really mix.

In my experience, the most accomplished technical journalists are the ones who have both a broad and deep understanding of modern computing. That often comes from having worked for the government, military or a corporation for some time. When one is wise about the needs and experiences of modern and varied computer users, the tendency is to be more, not less, respectful of all modern platforms.

And while, as journalists, we all have our favorite platforms (mine is Mac), we have a choice when it comes to advising readers about whether our preference is so singular and enlightened that we can force it on others, especially in the name of page views.

Unfortunately, there is an influential notion that the supposed certainty of some technical facts entitles one to a bit of arrogance. It helps one feel important. But all of history shows that we’re all constantly learning and updating our knowledge. Realizing the vastness of what we don’t know ought to engender, instead, humility.

Apple knows full well that there are many people who need nothing more than an iPad or perhaps just an iPhone. The role of the technical journalist is to help everyone get the most from the platform that meets their needs best. That requires grace, professionalism, and broad experience. And  a dose of humility.

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W. Abdullah Brooks, MD


My new iPad Pro 10.5″ just arrived today, and, wow. Just wow.

And I’m comparing it to my iPad Pro 9.7″, which my son will now inherit.

Given that I use this as part of my workflow, I’m delighted with the upgrade.


For the record:

The iPad Pro is the perfect laptop for my work needs. A conventional laptop isn’t even worth considering.
So without considering various peoples’ various needs, this debate is, well, it’s interesting, actually, up to point where and individual thinks their situation is universal and not individual.

W. Abdullah Brooks, MD

@geoduck and @JohnK: I’ve avoided commenting on this line of discussion, but your final comment, geoduck, has moved me to go against perhaps my better judgement, primarily because I see this as a non-argument in which the participants are arguing about different things and talking past each other. In any argument, definitions are important, so let’s start there. Whatever the intent, what John K is describing, certainly in my profession, is not ‘work’ but ‘tasks’. For many professionals (I can’t speak for the specific ‘creatives’ John K references, but more on that below), work is specified by a Scope of… Read more »


John: This has been an interesting discussion. It seems however, to have decayed into a parallel of a debate I would hear when I was younger. Loggers, construction workers, carpenters, and such saying that they did real work, while accountants, and anyone who worked for the government did not. It was silly then and to be honest it is a bit silly now. You want to use a Mac to do your work fine. I use my iPad to do real work that I get paid for. Are there some things I can’t do with the iPad, sure. I know… Read more »

John Kheit

Laptop is heaven at those tasks relative to the comparable hell or outright impossibility the iPad would offer


programming, heavy word processing like large reports, technical documentation, books etc. also programming, heavy photoshop and illustration work, large presentations. All of those things are absolutely miserable experiences on an iPad I would put to you that your examples would apply to a MacBook as well. Yes coding is one area that there aren’t the tools, yet, for the iPad. But I don’t think you’d want to do a large report with graphics, edit 4K video, or do really large complex Photoshop work on a MacBook either. It just doesn’t have the processor, RAM, or HDD space. Not to mention… Read more »


Alright. That was a real question, btw. I figured a writer would know something I don’t about words.


John Kheit

And yet there is a high degree of overlap in that venne diagram


I am all pretense. But isn’t pretend and pretense different in definition?

John Kheit

The pretense is all you man



Great. Reading is dead. -_-

As for the rest, me getting annoyed takes no effort and means nothing. But keep pretending otherwise if it makes you feel better. I mean, you can’t win the discussion on real work so I figure you need some sort of victory.

John Kheit

Geoff: Real word processors have line numbers. Paragraph numbers. You can’t even use pages to submit a patent application, far from taxing word processor work. Also, they have cross references. Thanks also for picking on word processing and not ither things like development. And even when you can technically do some of the things I say, perhaps in the future, the iPad ui is awful for getting real work done. Like surgery with mittens. Maybe you can do it, but no one wants. I’m glad I got all your panties ina bunch, you know why they’re bunch, because you can… Read more »

W. Abdullah Brooks, MD

John: The ‘iPad is/is not a computer’ is not a real debate, neither is it a controversy; it’s been settled de facto by adoption and use case for jobs that used to be the sole domain of the PC. Moreover, it has assumed a dominant role for some tasks that were only relatively recently available on the PC but for which the iPad is simply better suited; I would include video teleconferencing in that category, as the iPad allows me to continue moving and working while conferencing, rather than sitting stationary with either my laptop or a desktop. I could… Read more »

Lee Dronick

I can’t move a ton of gravel with my Prius. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a “real” car.

I can’t do that with my pickup truck, not in one load, about 4 though 5 would be more realistic. You would need dozens of trips in your Prius.

Anyway as Geoduck said, define “heavy lifting” and “serious” work. A computer best suited for heavy and serious video work would be overkill for someone in real estate or something that doesn’t need to move tons of gravel in one trip.


Of course it’s a real computer. For those that use portables I don’t see why it couldn’t suffice. For others, the screen size is a big issue, as are the input methods. Attaching it to a larger screen would help, but the way I work (constant shifting between apps and tabs, many trips to the clip board, extensive use of spotlight etc.), if it required touch, my arms would get very tired. Also, after you pair it with a screen, a keyboard, and input devices, you pretty much have yourself a Mac! 😉 My beef is that the people at… Read more »


John K: You seem to be haggling over whether an iPad can do “heavy lifting” and “serious” creative work, but you haven’t defined what that means. This is a severe weakness in your argument. Can I write on my iPad? Yes. Can I draw and do graphics on my iPad? Yes. Can I edit video and audio on my iPad? Yes. Sure, as Geoff256 said I won’t be editing a Marvel movie with one but so what? I can’t move a ton of gravel with my Prius. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a “real” car. For more and more people… Read more »


Go ahead, tell me what “real word processors” have that programs on the iPad lack. I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with something. I’m sure you.l be able to tell me why famous authors can use DOS programs to make some of the best novels of our time while somehow “huge reports” require a big and heavy word program. You’re also right about the illustration work. It isn’t like Jim Lee used an iPad Pro to quickly sketch up Batman or anything. Disney artists didn’t use it or anything. Look, coward was the wrong thing to say. You’re… Read more »

John Kheit

No Jeff, the cowards way out is to join a bandwagon and not think about things too much. Just because the iPad isn’t good for heavy lifting and serious creative work, doesn’t mean it’s not useful for someone that doesn’t do work like that. Most executives read email and don’t do too much heavy lifting. Grandparents are not exactly heavy on creating big PowerPoint or keynote presentations. So it’s a perfectly reasonable machine for masses of people who will not be taxing the device with any real hard work. Developers? Filmmakers? People making really huge reports that need a real… Read more »


The better way to get the news is from a variety of sources. You should no more assume that what is written by traditional print journalism or spoken in broadcast journalism is true than what is read on the net. All news journalists and consumers are prejudiced. Many simply get the news from sources that align with their prejudice.


The proper answer to “Is the iPad a “real” computer?” is “Yes, next question.”
I remember people who said “real” cars had to have a V8 engine.
Those people were also idiots.