The odds are your next PC will be an iPad

A curious trend: People are asking whether an iPad could be their next computer instead of a Windows 8 PC

I'm a big fan of the iPad, for both personal enjoyment and work use. Though I can do a lot with it, I still need a PC (in my case, a Mac) for heavy-duty jobs or simply to command multiple screens as I multitask and move data among apps and services. So I was surprised this last week by how many people asked me if an iPad could be their next PC, as they contemplated not adopting Windows 8 when their current (usually Windows 7) PCs got too old.

No one was asking about replacing a PC with an iPad right now; these people were thinking a few years out. Nonetheless, they were investigating the iPad and iOS -- not OS X (which could replace Windows today in many situations). A few also inquired about Android, a platform that finally seems to be maturing.

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Also last week, I noticed in a national retail chain's back-to-school Sunday circular a curious photo for a student desktop setup: Instead of the usual monitor or laptop, the desk had just an iPad and a digital photo frame on it.

These are all anecdotes, but they suggest that people are making the post-PC mental leap, that computing in the future will not be a new version of the entrenched, 25-plus-year-old Windows PCs and Macs. Instead, it will be iOS or Android. That's profound, especially as I didn't hear the question, "Should I consider a Mac instead?"

Why iOS? The extreme popularity of the iPad is surely one reason. But it's the most logical alternative platform for the post-PC era, at least given the current state of it and its main competitors: Android and Windows RT, the Metro-only version of Windows for ARM-based tablets.

iOS has many of the capabilities of a traditional PC: You can print from it, you can use an external keyboard and monitor, you can tap into online storage, and you have the everyday apps already available, such as email and browser. In some industries, such as music, the iPad is already a mainstay computer for everything but pro-level mixing. For broad office use, iOS has several office suites available (iWork, Quickoffice, Documents to Go, and Office2HD), and the latest version of Office2HD fills in a major hole in iPad editing: It supports revisions tracking in Office files.

In other words, many day-to-day bases are already covered in the platform, and the ones that are missing (for example, external pointing device support, scalable display on larger monitors, and mail filtering) are not technically difficult. Given that iOS and OS X are based on the same core and Apple regularly migrates capabilties from one to the other, it's a matter of time -- and increased hardware capabilities -- before Apple could imbue the iPad with some of these PC features, should it want to.

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