Innovation

Can the iPad Pro really replace the PC?

Apple thinks so. However, the enterprise tablet is still mostly functioning as a second or third device.

Image: Sarah Tew/CNET

At Apple's March 21 event, CEO Tim Cook introduced a new riff on the iPad Pro. While the original tablet, launched in September 2015, was touted for its giant 12.7-inch screen, the next addition to the line was smaller, coming in at 9.7 inches.

Cook told the audience that, out in the wild, there are about 600 million PCs more than 5 years old, and the iPad Pro is coming for them.

So, can the iPad Pro really replace PCs?

"The short answer is no; the iPad pro is not a PC replacement," said Forrester's Thomas Husson.

There are tablets out in the wild being used every day, but a September report from Forrester Research showed that in many cases, those tablets were employee-owned, instead of large purchases from a company; tablets sprang up in functions where hadn't used laptops previously, like mobile point of sale; and that still, "today's tablets haven't taken on the workloads associated with laptops for common work tasks."

There are a few reasons why. For one, peripherals have been an issue. Forrester felt as though the iPad Pro effectively solved the keyboard problem. Though, the iPad doesn't have mouse support.

Another key problem Forrester identified is that many enterprise applications are not iOS enabled.

By and large, tablets remain a secondary or tertiary device. And that can be a problem in itself. Andrew Garver of Gartner wrote in September, "Businesses do not want to buy more than one primary computing device for their end users. Thus, iPads are at a disadvantage for becoming the sole device."

That sentiment was echoed by Raza Haider, executive director of Dell's commercial PC product group, who came out strong against the idea that the iPad Pro can replace the PC, on several fronts.

"If I can get two devices in a bag, it is a magic number. It's a phone and a PC. Until you're replacing one of those two devices, you'll never have a successful device," he said.

SEE: Apple products favored by 84% in the enterprise (Tech Pro Research)

Chris Fleck, vice president of emerging solutions at Citrix, is a good example of how some are embracing the iPad Pro, even if it's not a total replacement for a PC.

For the past several months, he's been blogging about his experiences relying heavily on the iPad Pro. Fleck is enthusiastic about the device. It lets him leave his laptop at his desk as he goes to meetings or walks around the office. At night, his laptop stays at the office. Sometimes, he takes the Pro on business trips as his primary computing device.

In his job, most of the time, he needs email, PowerPoint, Excel, and a handful of Citrix's own business apps. The device is light, and even with a case, he can carry it around with one finger.

Mobility is one of the chief reasons that Kevin McMahon, director of marketing at West Unified Communications Services thinks tablets have staying power in the workforce.

"Often, laptops are still moored to a desktop, tethered by cable to displays, keyboards, whereas iPad Pros tend to be used without cable connection, making it much simpler to grab and take it to a meeting down the hall or across town," he said.

Still, the iPad Pro is a third device and it has its limitations for Fleck. If he's going away for an extended period of time, he'll bring his laptop. He uses Citrix software to set up a virtual desktop, and that allows him extra functionality. There are other functions that prohibit Fleck from totally relying on his iPad Pro, for example, GoToMeeting works within the virtual desktop, but not with the webcam, and it can't do screen sharing in iOS. Is it a mission-critical piece of software? Sort of. At the very least, it's just enough to warrant him defaulting back to the laptop.

Then there's the matter of peripherals.

"The thing that makes it really useful is having a mouse," he said. Fleck uses Citrix software in order to use a mouse with any Windows app, through the desktop, or as individual apps—the lack of mouse support is an issue for many, and one that ZDNEt editor Larry Dignan recently wrote about.

A Tech Pro Research report from June 2015 showed that, in general, Apple devices are favored by 84% of respondents in the enterprise. Employees and executives are requesting Apple products, though those products tend to be the less expensive devices, like iPhones. Still, the report said those can be gateways to pricier products.

To be sure, the question at hand of whether an iPad can replace a PC is broad. PCs are used in myriad jobs. Some of them quite obviously cannot be replaced. For example, a computer programmer might laugh you out of his or her cubicle at the very thought.

We tweeted the question out to our readers and got such responses as "not even in a nightmare" and "LOL never." One reader tweeted: "For 1-2 day air travel trips yes. But still need specific full featured apps for daily workload."

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About Erin Carson

Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.

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