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How the iPad’s parts can deliver more than a whole PC and why I cannot toss out my PC, just yet.

by Mark P. McDonald  |  September 17, 2011  |  2 Comments

I was working with a colleague this week and we were sitting across a conference room table. He had is MacAir out as we were working.  Me, I was working on my iPad 1.0, yes an iPad One, which is in a Gorilla mobile case from Joby and accompanied by an Apple wireless keyboard.  The discussion turned to how successful I had been at replacing my PC with an iPad with the right accessories.  When I mentioned that I had found the last piece of hardware when I picked up a 500GB wireless hard drive the conversation turned.

“Do you know what you have done?” he said with a smile on his face.  “You’ve just re-aggregated the PC.”  He pointed to his MacAir, “How is what you have re-assembled any different than what I have pre-assembled?  Isn’t it better and cheaper to buy the whole rather than the parts!”

He was right, in that I had basically reconstructed the different parts of a personal computer one component at a time.  I added accessories in an attempt to displace my PC by augmenting my iPad with accessories that duplicated the keyboard, hard drive and monitor stand.

I started to feel a little stupid, as it seemed that I had paid more and took on more complexity when there was a cleaner substitute with less cables and chargers.

But my colleague nipped that thought in the bud when he added,

“It easy to see how that could be sub-optimal, after all you have to carry all of those pieces. But it does allow you to use only exactly what you need.”

He was right again.  Its good to work with smart people.

The iPad, stand and keyboard combination works great for text-based work like email, etc.  If I was just watching a movie all I would need is the iPad.  Working with big files, then I pull out the wireless hard drive.

I do not have to carry the whole to get functionality — the pieces have the potential in combination to give me the capabilities of a PC, but the flexibility to excel at particular use cases like media, gaming, documents etc.

So the parts can be more than the whole. Great.

We then discussed how there were still a few things I needed a workstation for and how those things held back completely ditching my computer in favor of an augmented iPad.  While my augmentation had covered issues like typing, storage and usability, there were still a few areas missing.

What I need is a mouse/touch pad. I know I can touch the screen to do that and the screen as touchpad is great for most of the other apps, but when I am using the screen as a display when doing more PC like things its inconvenient to also use it as a touch pad.

PowerPoint.  It is the only app I have found that I want to use rather than using an iPad app.  Sure you can get Keynote for the iPad, but it is not as full function or as easy to use to create slides from scratch — particularly without a Mouse.  I never thought that I would need to carry a computer around just to create new tools for waging death by PowerPoint, but it is an important part of my job.

Managing my mail is another one.  Yes I have email connectivity and clients via the iPad, but there are a few functions in Outlook that you want to do like archive mail, etc. that you need a computer.  You could say the cloud would do that, but the cloud is not always available — 35,000 feet over Nebraska, so I still need a computer.  There are a few other corporate apps where I have similar issues, but I do not use as much.

So close, and while it does not make intuitive sense, disaggregating a computer into an augmented iPad actually extends the use cases that it can support, creating more value from more pieces.

Still for the love of a credible PowerPoint app that lets you create new material easily, a mouse and the administrative overhead of email and some other corporate apps I could be free of a laptop computer.

Unless I am missing something, please let me know if I am.

Finally, so what?

Well as others like Microsoft and Intel rush into the market with Win 8 and Ultra books, they may want to consider that while there is value in integration, there is also fit for purpose in dis-aggregation and re-aggregation — which is alter all the promise of modularity and innovation.

All the best my friends.

Category: innovation  personal-observation  technology  

Tags: apple  ipad  pc  personal-observation  technology  tools  

Mark P. McDonald
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on How the iPad’s parts can deliver more than a whole PC and why I cannot toss out my PC, just yet.

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