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When Apple introduced the iPod in 2001 it was clear that the iPod was destined to be a mobile extension of your music library. As time went on Apple continued to add multimedia capabilities to it including TV shows, movies and more. For the most part it still makes sense that you would use a computer to manage your media library and only sync the content you want onto your iPod. I guess it also still makes sense that you would do the same for an iPhone. However, do we really need a computer to use an iPad?


The woman who tried to buy an iPad

By now most of you have heard the story about the woman who is disabled and on a fixed income, who saved up her money to buy an iPad as her "first computer", only to be turned down because she wanted to pay with cash. I'm not here to get into that debate right now about how paranoid Apple is about someone potentially buying several iPads just to sell re-sale them. So they restrict your method of payment and quantities as a deterrent. Nope, i'm not here to talk about that at all. 🙂 The one thing that I haven't seen anyone mention is what if she was allowed to buy it? Then what? She gets home with the iPad she saved up for month after month only to take it out of the box and not be able to use it. That's right. When you take an iPad out of the box and turn it on you can't do ANYTHING until you connect it to a modern day computer running iTunes to set it up. The question in 2010 is Why?


What reason does the iPad "need" a computer?

Don't get me wrong. I know the benefits of having a computer to sync your existing content over to an iPad. My question revolves more around a potential market that Apple is missing/ignoring. In Apple's defense the iPad was never billed as a computer. It was never billed as the ONLY device you'll need and it was always positioned as a device that would fit in between your computer and your smartphone. So Apple has no obligation to make it work any other way. 

After getting my first iPad I quickly realized that "this would be perfect for my mother-in-law". She is retired and has a very old PC. She only does web and email for probably 99% of the time with the occasional spreadsheet and game. However, even if I gave her an iPad, her computer doesn't meet the minimum specs to even set the iPad up.


Other missing "Apple" technologies

Let's say that I was to get "mom" and iPad and set it up on one of my computers. She would then be able to take it home and use it. Each time she visits we could do a sync, do updates and back it up. So far so good. However, what if she wants to use an Apple AirPort Base Station or Printer. Apple doesn't yet make an AirPort Setup Utility or provide native Bonjour printing services for the iPad (or iPhone). So again, someone who only wants an iPad and an AirPort to get online with would still need a computer to do the setup. Sure there are Apps that print and Apple/Steve has said that "printing" is coming to the iPad, but I would bet $100 that you'll still need a computer to set it all up. The weird thing is that once you "activate" an iPad you can pretty much live on it without syncing to a computer (barring the backup concern). You can buy and download Apps right too it. Same goes for media such as songs, TV shows, audiobooks, ebooks, movies, and podcasts. You can configure your email accounts and Safari bookmarks right on the device. So since Apple seems to let you do just about everything on the iPad itself, what's the computer for? Even as far as Backup goes, couldn't there be a MobileMe iPad backup/restore service? Better yet, how about a Time Machine to Time Capsule iPad backup?



At the end of the day I would dare guess that this is all about cannibalization and that Apple wants the iPad to be a success, but not at the expense of the Mac line. It's already currently outselling Macs and I would bet that probably doesn't make the Mac team to happy from a revenue perspective. I would also bet (no I don't have a gambling problem 🙂 ) that many of these iPad sales are in fact going to people that already have a Mac or PC desktop and the iPad is going to be their second device INSTEAD of a laptop. On the one hand that's great because some of these buyers may have wanted a laptop all along, but just didn't want to spend $999 on a MacBook. So Apple's not really losing out. On the other hand, it may have caused some buyers to rethink the MacBook purchase and they got iPad's instead. It's just a shame when "business" gets in the way of progress. I got the first 16GB WiFi iPad for testing and review purposes. All along I planed on and ordered the 64GB WiFi+3G model. So when my new one arrived, my wife had already claimed the 16GB WiFi model. Keep in mind that she has a 27" iMac and a MacBook Air. So why did she want an iPad? To REPLACE the MacBook Air! For what she does, the iPad is perfect as a second device and she hasn't touched the Air since! So yes, Apple does have a legitimate cannibalization concern and if the iPad worked 100% without a computer I could see a percentage of buyers walking in and buying one as a replacement or upgrade from an older "computer" and not looking back.


Oh by the way

Apple did reverse their "no cash" policy and they gave Diana Campbell an iPad for her trouble. A nice happy ending, but I wonder if they also activated it for her and then how does she now continue to update/back it up it if is her only computer?


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15 Responses to Why does the iPad require a computer?

  1. Jim Nichols says:

    My brother gave his wife an iPad for Mother’s Day, their Mac isn’t running Leopard (yet). Luckily they activated in the Apple Store for him. She has been using it without syncing to a computer yet.

    This is good news as my parents have an older iMac and are thinking about getting an iPad over a new iMac.

  2. […] rest is here: Why does the iPad require a computer? | MacNews linkscolor = "000000"; highlightscolor = "888888"; backgroundcolor = "FFFFFF"; channel = […]

  3. Constable Odo says:

    It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Apple doesn’t want to cannibalize it’s own line of products. All the products that Apple makes seems to be perfectly orchestrated as to not overlap in certain ways. That’s why cheapsters absolutely hate Apple computers. They suspect they are being cheated and they may be right. They can go to any PC vendor and get all features on practically every model. Not so with Apple. You’d have to sit down and carefully go over each model to see what Apple has excluded and you’ll need at least two computers to get all the features you’d want. I don’t care because I can afford two or three computers. Apple is running a business and they’re very good at it. They’re only dealing with a certain class of consumers that are happily willing to pay for multiple devices.

    What’s funny is that PC vendors were willing to have their whole laptop lineup to be cannibalized by their netbooks by providing everything else on netbooks except high-end processors. That’s a very poor business model and it also tricks consumers into thinking they’re getting a bargain when they’re not. They’re only getting substandard laptops.

    iTunes will always be an integral part of Apple’s mobile devices, so I believe a larger computer will always be necessary to sync mobile devices. Another good move by Apple to protect themselves. Apple $300 in 2010 for sure.

  4. Jameskatt says:

    The iPad requires a computer because it is not a computer. It is a computing appliance.

    Steve Jobs years ago described the digital lifestyle. The computer is the hub of that lifestyle. And everything else is a satellite.

    The iPad is a satellite to the hub computer.

    If you want a fuller computing experience then get a real computer. Get a Mac.

    As a satellite, the iPad is perfect.

  5. S says:

    Hey Terrie,

    How much is your wife selling her old MacBook Air for since she doesn’t use it anymore? I’ll buy…. : )

  6. winc06 says:

    This occurred to me. I also have people that have avoided computers, either because they were too difficult or too expensive. To not provide an activation/sync with the new free MobilMe is to throw away that market while encouraging current Mac customers to replace an old Mac laptop with an iPad. Makes no sense to me at all.

  7. Andrew says:

    I believe that in the fairly near future, most homes will not have desktop PC’s or even laptop PC’s, they will have home media servers capable of delivering content, backups and updates to devices such as the iPads or iPods owned by everyone in the family. Such media servers will of course be able to display their content on a large-scale display device that can be viewed by everyone in the household, which we currently know as a TV.

    I also believe that currently, the biggest obstacle to all this connectivity is that a PC has a keyboard and a TV has a remote. When the iPad can input data, sources and keyboard searches into the widescreen TV display, that obstacle will be overcome.

  8. […] to that the strange necessity to plug in an iPad or iPhone at all into a computer to make it work and we can see that Apple has some work to do in catching up to the Joneses in […]

  9. Brett says:

    I don’t think the reason the iPad is a peripheral to a computer is because Apple fears cannibalization. Ask yourself what Apple would have to do to make the iPad truly function effectively without a computer.

    1) It would have to be capable of managing the user’s home Wi-fi router. This would require an utility app for each brand of router, and more importantly, the addition of an Ethernet hardware port. And fresh out of the box, if the user didn’t already have working Wi-fi in the house, how could a third party router utility be downloaded to the iPad? I suppose that Apple could preinstall an Airport Utility, and only claim to support their own routers out of the box.

    2) It would have to have built-in printing capability. This requires drivers (and also a USB port, unless only wireless printing will be supported). There would need to be an app for managing print drivers. It wouldn’t make sense to consume storage with a pre-installation of every possible printer driver.

    3) It would have to have an archival solution. Most people will eventually accumulate larger collections of media and documents than will be practical to reside on an affordable device with sold state memory. Apple will need to create an iTunes-like app for managing what subset of content resides on the tablet, as well as providing for external storage (a remotely-managed hard-disc device and/or cloud service)

    4) It would have to be capable of downloading and installing software and firmware updates. Firmware upgrades are an especially difficult problem, as a device, once corrupted, can no longer update itself.

    There are probably other issues I haven’t though of as well.

    Working all this out could take a year or more. I do think think Apple will eventually solve these problems and sell iPads as stand-alone devices. And for every person who buys an iPad instead of a Mac, there will be several more ditching Windows to spend their money on a iPad. But most importantly, there will be sales to people who would never consider buying a conventional computer (regardless of brand).

    In fact, to truly fulfill Apple’s charter of “computers for the rest of us”, they will have to make the iPad standalone.

  10. Jim Stead says:

    Ever hear of “1.0”?

    This won’t be the last version of ipad or its os. You can expect more capability as time goes on, this being one obvious addition. A feature deferred is not a feature ignored.

  11. Agreed! Even before the iPad was released, I called for Apple to “Free the iPad” and make it independent of connection to a computer.

    Now, I find I rarely bother to sync to iTunes unless I must. The iPad is the perfect standalone device for the millions who don’t really want or need the functionality of a full-fledged desktop or laptop system.

  12. Joanne says:

    I considered the iPad as a replacement for/supplement to a dying PC laptop. As cool as the iPad is, I quickly decided I needed another full-fledged laptop. So I bought my first MacBook. I couldn’t be happier.

    That’s not to say I won’t buy an iPad someday to supplement my MacBook — especially if future iPads have the capacity to stand alone.

  13. Jim H says:

    Oh, I guess that the GooPad will NOT require that you use a computer? Well, it will have to have a wireless link. Okay, over 3G. You have to get apps, you have to back up, how do you do it? By standing in a Starbucks? By going to a phone store? What? I guess you could use a browser over 3G, or better, 4G. And then…

    Apple uses the computer because it has iTunes. You can begin your use of the iPad by plugging in and getting all your apps and all your settings, your addresses, your mail — in a few minutes, you’ve got everything.

    I’m sorry for the lady whose cash wasn’t taken. But yes, people could come in and buy bundles of iPads with cash, and that’s not too cool when it’s in short supply already. The world customer would likely pay more for this gray market product, and people here couldn’t get any? Imagine the bad press they would have had with that? So they set maximum numbers you could purchase from the very beginning, and putting it on credit cards meant that, at least, you had to have multiple buyers acting in concert rather than one guy going from store to store to buy them out.

    When you have a popular new product that millions want, and it’s more popular than you can manage for a while, you have to be fair. But the bad publicity made them drop the policy. It was nearly time for the world launch anyway.

  14. Teddie says:

    Sorry, but I am also very confused by this. apple very clearly state the following on their website, which indicates the iPad should have more features than a tablet or net book pc, so why the heck can it not be my iTunes hub?:

    Apple – iPad – See the web, email, and photos like never before.
    The iPad. With a revolutionary, 9.7 inch touch screen, and amazing new apps, it does things no tablet PC, netbook, or e-reader could. Starts at $499. – United States – Cached – Similar

  15. S says:

    So is the iPad more like a giant iPod and not like a mini laptop? Can anyone tell me who has used one how fast it is surfing the web? Do you have to get the expensive one to get the speed? I wanted one for Christmas but maybe I should just stick to iMacs. Plus, I would like to know if anyone has one if they can tell me if my videos on my website work? I have 2 on the home page and they are flash but from .mov files. My site is Please, someone let me know. I only have one friend who owns one and it’s been months since she told me she would check and I can only reach her thru Facebook…argh.