How iPad 3 can fulfil Apple's 'post-PC device' promise
14th Mar 2011 | 11:30
Can an iPad really replace your desktop PC or laptop?
A revolution is happening in the consumer technology world - the PC is slowly, but inexorably, being replaced by the tablet.
It doesn't seem to be a question of if a tablet can replace a conventional computer, but rather how long it'll be before PCs are in the minority in both the home and workplace.
The battle for the home computer started off as a war between Mac, Windows and Linux, then it became all about browsers (anyone remember Netscape?) but now it's between which mobile OS is going to win out when the dust finally settles.
And while Apple may have stuffed it up royally the first time around and let Microsoft steal all the glory, it now looks like it's been playing the long game after all, and this time round its holding all the cards.
At the recent launch of the iPad 2, you'd have had to have been half asleep not to notice that Steve Jobs kept referring to the iPad, and other competing tablets, as post-PC devices.
And while we're not in complete agreement with his Steveness quite yet (at the moment you still need to connect your new iPad to a PC or a Mac before you can do anything with it, for example) you'd need to have had your head in a box Se7en-style for the last year to not realise what an impact the iPad has had on the PC industry.
The momentum in the market is certainly with tablets at the moment. Apple sold 15 million iPads in 2010, making it one of the most successful consumer technology launches ever, and certainly not bad for a device that nobody was sure they actually needed when it launched.
At the launch of the iPad 2 in March this year Apple claimed it had secured 90% of the tablet market in 2010, although that is expected to drop dramatically this year as tablets from HP, Samsung, RIM and others emerge. Tablets we're especially excited about are the Motorola Xoom, Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the HP TouchPad.
Of course, all this "post-PC device" talk is just Apple doing what it does best: defining a conversation that is already taking place and adding a bit of spin to make it seem like it thought of the idea first. It's developers that first realised what was happening; after all they only need to compare their revenues from mobile apps to desktop apps to see where the future of computing is headed.
"The last 30 years belonged to desktop computers with keyboards and mice. The next 30 years will belong to the tablet form factor and our fingertips," Craig Hockenberry of the IconFactory, developers of Twitterific, one of the iPad's leading Twitter clients, tells TechRadar.
It's hard to deny that Apple has got a hell of a head start, and the iPad 2 put is even further ahead. Interest in iPad 2 is far outstripping rival tablets in Google search terms, and our own TechRadar poll predicts massive iPad 2 sales for Apple.
Strangely, for a company that has a history of offering premium products at a premium price, Apple is actually the one to beat when it comes to value in the tablet market. Competitors are finding it hard to compete with Apple's huge corporate buying power on prices for screens, memory and processors, making it almost impossible for them to match the iPad on price.
Then there's the development community who, despite grumbles over Apple's often bizarre app approval process, have all brought into iOS hook line and sinker, mainly because iPhone and iPad owners seem happy to part with money for apps. There are currently over 65,000 apps specifically designed for the iPad - many more than there are for other platforms.
But if the iPad 2 isn't quite a post-PC device yet, Apple's little word-pay with the phrase has certainly got everybody thinking: what exactly needs to happen with the next iPad to turn it into a device that could actually replace a PC?
In one sense, absolutely nothing, it could simply be a matter of time: "Apple doesn't need to do anything with the next version of the iPad: the revolution has already begun", comments Hockenberry.
Freelance iPhone, iPad and OS X developer Matt Gemmell takes the long view: "I think we're still at the beginning of the 'tablet' era in the sense that people are still coming to terms with what these devices can offer, but the limitations are in our own perception and preconceptions, rather than intrinsic to the hardware form-factor or the touch-screen interaction method. App after app, month after month, proves that point."
He's right - if you think about it there's nothing inherently unsuitable about tablets for all the tasks you'd want to do on a PC. Apple's recent releases of the video editing app iMovie and the music making and recording app GarageBand demonstrate this. Both apps enable you to do 'proper' work in them - the sort of thing you'd normally expect to have to use a PC for.
What the iPad 3 needs
So what more would iPad 3 have to do to help people finally drop the PC habit? First of all, wireless syncing. The thing that keeps your tablet tethered to your PC at the moment is the need to connect it to sync, and back-up your data, but in the always-on world there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to live entirely in the cloud, backing up and storing all your data wirelessly.
The next thing Apple needs to add is a USB port, and the ability to use it to plug in a DVD drive/hard drive/printer and have it 'just work'. While you hardly ever really need to use the CD/DVD drive on your laptop any more, you still can't really live without it - there will always been moments when you need to use one, even if it's not very often.
You can already connect Bluetooth keyboards to your tablet, and with iPad 2 Apple provided the welcome ability to mirror the display thanks to a rather expensive cable, but we'd love somebody to invent a wireless display.
We're half way there already with Apple's AirPlay system for streaming music and movies to your TV or a monitor plugged into an Apple TV. How about taking that next step and streaming the Home screen and apps? Then the iPad 3 could become the computer you take anywhere and just connect to whatever display/keyboard/peripheral you have in your home/office when you arrive.
Until we get that little lot, we don't think you can truly call the iPad a post-PC device, but even if the iPad 2 isn't currently quite as post-PC as Apple would like you to believe, it's still the tablet to beat.
Oli Christie, CEO of Neon Play, the company behind Paper Glider, the 10 millionth app downloaded from the App Store, has it right when he comments: "Whether it will replace the desktop PC in the short term is debatable, but it's all-consuming coolness for reading books, watching movies, playing games and everything else the App Store offers makes it the must-have accessory for 2011."
Liked this? Then check out iPad 3: 10 things we want to see
Sign up for TechRadar's free Weird Week in Tech newsletter
Get the oddest tech stories of the week, plus the most popular news and reviews delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up at http://www.techradar.com/register