What can the iPad do and is it a replacement for a Mac laptop?

As expected, Apple announced their first tablet computer in January. They call it the iPad. What is the iPad able to do and how is it innovative compared to PC tablets?

The iPad is a new class of device at least for Mac users. It’s a tablet computer, and it fits somewhere in between a smartphone and a laptop. PC manufacturers have made tablets for over a half dozen years. These tablets typically required users to use a stylus or an on-screen keyboard for input and never sold well since they cost as much or more than a comparable laptop. The iPad differs from these PC tablets in two obvious ways. The iPad is a touch-input device and it costs less than a Mac laptop. The price range for iPads is $499 to $829 depending upon features and storage capacity. One primarily uses finger gestures and an on-screen keyboard to control the iPad.

The iPad is a versatile device that could replace a laptop for some users. This initial model’s strengths are in entertainment. It’s oriented towards consuming data not producing data.┬áIt’s capable of letting you listen to music, view photos and watch movies like an iPod and read books like a Kindle. It also has the ability to send and receive email messages and view web pages like an iPhone or a laptop. It also lets you view web sites and access your email. To increase typing speeds one can buy a special full-size external keyboard or use an external bluetooth keyboard. For a thorough description of what the iPad can and can not do, please refer to this MacInTouch article.

There are some important limitations and omissions based on the information that Apple has currently released about the iPad. While it will let you view and compose email messages, it’s unclear if you’ll be able to edit attachments. Apple has not indicated that it will be able to print. Curiously, it does not include a camera though it seems likely that this will be added in the future.

The iPad’s ability to handle Word and Excel documents is unclear. Not surprisingly Microsoft has not had time to develop versions of Word and Excel for the iPad. Apple has announced special iPad versions of Pages and Numbers, but their versatility remains to be seen. It’s unknown if they’ll be able to open and edit Word and Excel files. [Update Sept 2014: Microsoft has released versions of Word, Excel, and Powerpoint for the iPad. Users need an Office 365 subscription to edit documents.]

Over the coming years the iPad will evolve and eventually could become a suitable replacement for a laptop for business users if these shortcomings are addressed. Currently, however, it only seems that it’ll replace a laptop for more casual users whose primary uses for a laptop are personal email, viewing web pages and handling music, photos and movies.