A missive on why the iPad is not a real computer

I’ve seen it around social media and some news sites. Hell, maybe you’ve seen it too: People that sing the praises of the iPad as this “real computer” and wondering why people need conventional computers anymore. For some people who don’t ask a lot of their computers, maybe it could work? But for most of us, I feel, the iPad is far away from what a real computer can do, even with some basic tasks. It can be used to create, yeah, but I also still vehemently feel that 80% of people would be better off on a traditional computer.

I’ve got two cases of my own where the iPad seriously falls short, one of them a fresh one that inspired me to write this.

For reference: I’m on an iPad Air 5.

Document Handling and Printing

This was something I had high hopes for mostly because it just seemed like the iPad would absolutely kill it here. There was a document I needed to fill out AND sign, and I have an Apple Pencil 2 in tow! Should be perfect for this! And…it kinda, almost was.

I got the PDF up in front of me in Safari, markdown tools all up and ready to go. For the first bit of the form, it was easy, just tap, keyboard pops up, type the info, move onto the next field. Unfortunately, as the form dragged on, I couldn’t get the keyboard to come up consistently. That got real annoying real fast. And some of the checkboxes wouldn’t register. But eventually! I got to the magical part where I bust out the Pencil and sign this document as if it were paper.

That was pretty cool.

Now came the time to print. My printer’s an old and reliable Brother HL-2170W, cranking away in the garage for many years and never breaking a sweat. Love it to pieces. And I only bought it for $5 at a thrift store. Lovely thing.

Unfortunately, upon smacking the print button in the menu on the form, the iPad balked because it couldn’t find any AirPrint printers. Oh, right. iOS is stupid and it only wants to print to AirPrint things because Apple’s gonna Apple, can’t support network printers in iOS, can we? Sigh. Thankfully Brother has an app for that, so I open the app and of course due to iOS limitations it can’t open the file directly. Sigh.

So I back out to Files, find where the PDF is saved in all of its marked up glory, opt to open it in Brother’s app (through the share sheet) and print. That worked!

…kind of. Whenever I share the document with the iOS share panel to another app, it strips out all the data I entered and sends a blank form. So the form printed perfectly, but had none of my information on it. 

Are you kidding me, Apple? If this is a security thing, that’s a funny joke but now your security BS is actively getting in the way of me using the iPad as a “real” computer.

I can already hear the Apple faithful telling me to throw out my perfectly good printer because if it doesn’t support AirPlay, it’s useless! Eh, screw that noise. I’ll just stick the PDF on my network share, move it to my MacBook (or Windows PC) and do the thing iOS can’t seemingly do on its lonesome. 


A minor nitpick, but a valid one: It’s absolutely asinine how–if you’re like me and don’t do streaming–the only way to add music to the iPad is by plugging it into a real computer and using iTunes/Music.app. Or buying from the iTunes Store.

Can’t grab a new song off a network share, can’t just pop into Files and tell the iPad to “Open this in Music”. Nope. Utterly ridiculous. And I know the Apple faithful, in their constant quest to defend their company, will say that I should be subscribed to Apple Music anyway so this isn’t a problem. (Despite me having already tried Apple Music and having a horrible time with it.)

What perplexes me about this is Books works the way Music should. I can download a random PDF right off the internet, and open it in Books! At which point the book is actually added to my library and I can read it as if it were a native book bought off the store! That’s the way the Music app should work.

Books demonstrates that Apple gets it but I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple just told you to quit complaining and pony up for Apple Music.

Sometimes it works…

I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least say that Apple has come a long way in this respect, though. What’s kinda cool is in modern versions of iOS I can actually, say, browse Macintosh Garden on my iPhone, download an app from my iPhone and push it onto my NAS where my vintage Macs can access it, all without having to involve a real computer or dust off one of my bridge machines.

Apple allowing that shows they have some idea that they need to open things the hell up before the iPad really can be considered a “real” computer, they just need to keep going with it if they’re going to keep selling the iPad as this awesome thing that can replace a laptop for most people. 

For some, it might, but it doesn’t take a lot to start falling outside of iOS’ limits and getting infuriated with how iOS effectively neuters otherwise VERY powerful hardware in the iPad’s case.

Hopefully iOS 16 brings some good news on this front, because the iPad really needs to be unleashed. And allowed to live up to its true potential.