Is It or Isn’t It?


Apple, after reporting stellar results, became the leading worldwide client PC vendor in Q4 2011. Apple shipped over 15 million iPads and five million Macs, representing 17% of the total 120 million client PCs shipped globally in Q4.

A personal computer (PC) is any general-purpose computer whose size, capabilities, and original sales price make it useful for individuals, and which is intended to be operated directly by an end-user with no intervening computer operator.

a microcomputer designed for individual use, as by a person in an office or at home or school, for such applications as word processing, data management, financial analysis, or computer games.

I consider the iPad a PC because, in my view, a PC (Personal Computer) is just that: a personal computing device.

In my Big Sky view, the PC is best understood as a bundled trajectory of technologies, of which the iPad is a significant plot point in the development of mobile computing. That is to say, I view iPads in the same vein as laptops, believing that for 98 percent of the world, the iPad is equivalent to a laptop, in terms of intended uses. When we fast forward 15 years, I expect that today’s laptop will seem most antiquated to us, having been replaced by tablet-based experiences. I do not think the home PC will feel quite so antiquated.

Although the tablet doesn’t look like a PC or act like a PC in the simplest sense, it is a PC. From its functionality to its design, there is simply no reason people should look at the iPad and think it can’t hold up against desktops, notebooks and netbooks.

I think it’s possible to use an iPad as one’s primary device for professional-level content creation. Actually, scratch that. I’m positive it’s possible—because I’ve been doing it for the past three months, and I’ve been having a really good time.

The iPad was the first computer built to meet you on your terms. It brings the last 35 years of digital technology into the physical world in a way so natural, not only do grandmas and toddlers get it, but so do kittens and lizards.

When Apple released the iPad, I would argue that it actually released the first, truly personal, computer.

So if you are excluding the iPad from the personal computer category, does that mean there is some checklist of requirements for a device to be a PC? Does it need a keyboard, or perhaps a trackpad or a mouse, or does it just have to be able to install any application you want (without the approval of a gatekeeper such as Apple)? All of these ‘requirements’ are completely arbitrary — with no practical reason as to why they are required to be on a PC.

Look, tablets are PCs, get over it.

It’s replacing people’s needs for traditional computing environments in the home and office, and people are buying it in record numbers.

All you need to know about the “is the iPad a PC?” argument: are people buying them instead of traditional PCs? Sure looks like it.


The way technology is headed in the future, calling the iPad a PC will set precedence that will only lead to even more confusion and misinformation. […] Let’s stop classifying the iPad as a PC, it only serves to confuse people.

I agree with Moorhead, it’s time to stop the madness. If tablets are classed as PCs then why not smartphones? Or smartfridges? Or digital watches?

People are using tablets for e-reading, Web surfing, and movie viewing. And—at least for now, at least if you focus on real-world usage patterns—I say Canalys is wrong to count tablets as PCs.

But are We Asking the Wrong Question?

I can’t help but think that asking if the iPad is a PC or not is to ask the wrong question.

Shouldn’t the question be: are consumers buying iPads and other tablets instead of traditional personal computers?

I suppose that the answer to that question would also answer if the iPad is a PC or not, but focusing on the latter seems to be missing the point.

To re-quote MG Siegler:

All you need to know about the “is the iPad a PC?” argument: are people buying them instead of traditional PCs? Sure looks like it.

That is exactly the point. There will come a time when the majority of consumers who are in the market for a new personal computer will consider (and buy) an iPad or other tablet rather than a laptop or desktop computer. And when that time comes, the debate about the iPad being a PC or not will be over.

The market will decide that the iPad is a PC by buying them instead of laptops and desktops.

It seems that those arguing against the iPad being called a PC are really trying to make their own point that, for them, an iPad could not replace their PC. When they say the iPad is not a PC what they mean is that either: (a) there’s no way I would or could give up my PC and use an iPad instead; or (b) the iPad is not yet a PC, but it probably will be soon.

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The reason this discussion about “if the iPad is a PC or not” is interesting is because the iPad is already proving to be disruptive to the PC market.

Horace Dediu writes:

The impact of the iPad is not specific to any single vendor (Apple included). It competes for time and purchase decisions across all computing alternatives and though many times it’s additive, it is also substitutive and will become increasingly so.

Backing away from the minutia of what the true definition is of a PC, we see that millions of people are buying iPads and using them for all sorts of purposes. And why shouldn’t they? The iPad is relatively inexpensive, it is fun, it has incredible battery life, it is extremely lightweight and portable, you don’t have to get it out of your bag for airport security, and it does most all the same basic tasks your laptop or desktop can do.

The fact that: (a) such a young device could be such a smashing success; and that (b) it could disrupt the decades-old PC market, are both interesting topics for discussion. And that discussion is manifesting itself as: “is the iPad a PC or not?”

It’s fascinating that such a small and inexpensive tablet device actually has a shot at replacing someone’s large and expensive desktop computer. But what else is fascinating is that the device and the market are less than 2 years old and people are already starting to make that transition.

For millions of people, an iPad is a perfectly good replacement for their laptop or desktop. They just don’t know it yet.

Is It or Isn’t It?