Apple's iPad: Is it a computer?

It seems obvious that the upcoming Apple iPad is a computer, but many people -- both Apple supporters and haters -- seem to feel passionately that it's not a computer. So what is it? Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a "computer" as "a programmable, usually electronic device, that can store, retrieve, and process data." That certainly matches the description of the iPad, the iPhone, and other smartphones, as well as video game consoles, and programmable Hewlett-Packard pocket calculators that came out in the 1970s. But some seem to get worked up denying that it's a computer. That's true of both the device's defenders and detractors. Blogger Richard Lord, for example, writes: The iPad is not a computer:

My considered opinion: the iPad is a revolutionary device, because it’s not a computer. The iPad isn’t for writing, it’s for reading. It’s not for making films, its for watching films. It’s not for developing software, it’s for using software. The iPad is a consumer device. What makes the iPad revolutionary is its single-minded focus on media consumption.

Kate MacKenzie doesn't say the iPad is not a computer. But she does call it a "computing appliance," proclaiming: "The Mac Is Dead. Long Live Apple's iPad Appliance":

Both the iPhone and iPad are computing appliances; powerful, easy to use, inexpensive, and available to a rapidly growing customer base -- those of us who just want to do things with our apps, and not be beholden to whatÕs inside. The iPad represents a computing toaster; no, a computing kitchen full of tools, but each easier to use than anything available on a Mac (or, a Windows PC). Those Mac and PC users with many years of computing experience will decry the iPad as being a toy, not suitable for real work, not even really a computer. The rest of us will simply use it, again, and again, and often in situations where a Mac once ruled. We will download apps, play games, communicate with one another, and leave the past behind.

Also, consider the comments on my tongue-in-cheek post last week, "How to get an iPad before they go on sale." "Cymru Plaid" says:

For most people, computer means PC - it runs a real operating system, you can connect peripherals to it, etc. This isn't a PC. It's just a huge iPod... Unless you think the iPod is a computer. In which case you're a blasted idiot.

Cymru's opinion is pretty popular, many people believe the iPad is not a computer. But they're wrong. Of course, the iPad is a computer, as is the iPhone and iPod, even the iPod Nano. They store, retrieve and processes data, in the form of music and videos. They're electronic. And they're programmable -- even the iPod Nano gets occasional updates from Apple. The iPad is a computer. It appears to be a very simple, easy to use, and relatively inflexible computer, compared with a Mac, Windows, or Linux PC. But it's still a computer. Arguing otherwise is silly.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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