“PC Free” in iOS 5 Doesn’t Mean “Free from PCs” (or Macs)

There’s a new feature in iOS 5 that’s called “PC Free”.  While the definition is very specific, it conjures up a lot of images I would guess, specifically getting rid of the PC and Mac. So exactly what parts of the PC and Mac is it removing?

“PC Free” is about removing the PC for a few tasks that are frankly awful parts of the iOS experience and primarily administrative. Here is how it’s described on the iOS 5 landing page:


image“Independence for all iOS devices. With iOS 5, you no longer need a computer to own an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch. Activate and set up your device wirelessly, right out of the box. Download free iOS software updates directly on your device. Do more with your apps — like editing your photos or adding new email folders — on your device, without the need for a Mac or PC. And back up and restore your device automatically using iCloud”.

It sounds promising, the promise of getting rid of that nasty horrible PC or Mac. :-).  Can you really dump your Mac or Windows PC?

I asked a few people in my family and at work what they liked doing on their PC and didn’t do on their tablet.  Here’s why they said they couldn’t ditch their PC or Mac to (UPDATED):

  • Text chat with someone on Google Chat at the same time as you are looking at FaceBook.
  • Quickly create a somewhat complex spreadsheet or presentation.  You really need a mouse to do this productively and iOS doesn’t support mice with Keynote or Numbers.
  • Download a file from multiple web sites in the background as you do something in the foreground.  There are a few exceptions with some apps, but certainly cannot be done in the iOS browser.
  • Compress a big file and email it.  Zipping or Rarring a file, attaching it, then emailing it.
  • Watch 1080p video. iPad has “768P” display for lack of a better term.  Yes, a user can watch 1080P on the iPad 2 on an extra display like an HDTV.
  • Importing HD video into the iPad that wasn’t taken on an iPhone or another iPad.  I am not aware of HD source video that’s shot to iOS specs.  I’ve had to reconvert gobs of videos on my PC to play on the iPhone or iPad.
  • Storing all your pictures. I am talking the multiple gigabytes of years and years of pictures. Alternatively you can rent iCloud space.
  • Store your entire music collection beyond iPads storage.
  • Store lots of personal videos.
  • “Perfect” personal video you’ve downloaded or shot with a camcorder that’s shaky, dark, etc.  Things that software like VReveal can do.
  • Face tagging. You’ll need iPhoto, Picasa, or Windows Live Photo Gallery for this.
  • Display different content on one display and different display on another.  There are a few exceptions, very few.
  • Any web site that uses Flash for navigation, like my local Mexican restaurant.
  • Print. I know, iOS says it can print. Have you gotten it to reliably print?  I didn’t think so. You think people don’t need printers anymore?  Tell my teenagers science and English teacher that.

OK, so you get the point here.  PC Free means you don’t need a PC to do some very basic and fundamental things. If you do need to do something the very basics, you will still need a PC or Mac.

Published by

Patrick Moorhead

Patrick Moorhead was ranked the #1 technology industry analyst by Apollo Research for the U.S. and EMEA in May, 2013.. He is President and Principal Analyst of Moor Insights & Strategy, a high tech analyst firm focused on the ecosystem intersections of the phone, tablet, PC, TV, datacenter and cloud. Moorhead departed AMD in 2011 where he served as Corporate Vice President and Corporate Fellow in the strategy group. There, he developed long-term strategies for mobile computing devices and personal computers. In his 11 years at AMD he also led product management, business planning, product marketing, regional marketing, channel marketing, and corporate marketing. Moorhead worked at Compaq Computer Corp. during their run to the #1 market share leader position in personal computers. Moorhead also served as an executive at AltaVista E-commerce during their peak and pioneered cost per click e-commerce models.

12 thoughts on ““PC Free” in iOS 5 Doesn’t Mean “Free from PCs” (or Macs)”

  1. This is not what is meant by being PC free. Apple is talking about tethering an iPad to a desktop or notebook, not whether or not someone needs a notebook or desktop computer.

    1. R. is indeed correct. But also I should add that for the vast majority of people who are talked into buying a PC at Best Buy or wherever tablets do everything they need.

      I am not talking about people who read blogs like these who are probably sat at their computer for at least half the day, or people who do computing for a living.

      Booting up an iOS 5 from scratch, taking it out of the box and signing in, is a very easy experience and now you no longer have to have a computer to provision it makes it all the more useful.

  2. “Quickly create a spreadsheet or presentation. You really need a mouse for this and iOS doesn’t support them.”

    You obviously haven’t actually used iOS have you? Of course you can create spreadsheets and presentations without using a mouse. Apple’s own Number spreadsheet and Keynote apps are exemplars of the many iOS apps that do this.

    “Download a file in the background as you do something in the foreground.”

    iOS does support downloading of files in the background while using other apps. It is one of the 7 biggest features of iOS multi-tasking.

    “Compress a big file and email it.”

    Various apps do this automatically such as photos taken by the iPhone or iPad Camera even giving you the choice of level of compression.

    “Watch 1080p video.”

    Are you serious? This is one of the features of iOS 5 – full 1080p playback. Heck the iPhone 4S even records full 1080P video natively – do you think it is unable to play that video back? Sheesh.

    “Importing video into the iPad that wasn’t taken on an iPhone or another iPad.”

    What?! I do this all the time. I have hundreds of movies, video clips etc on my iPad captured from other sources.

    “Storing all your pictures. I am talking the gigabytes of years and years of pictures”

    Huh? I have 8GB of photos on my 64GB iPad – I could put far more on there if I really wanted to.

    “Store your music collection beyond iPads storage.”

    Bloomin’ eck. You really haven’t been paying attention have you? Two words: iCloud MusicMatch.

    “Store lots of personal videos.”

    I have 24GB of videos on my 64GB iPad. That would class as “lots” in most people’s books.

    ““Perfect” personal video that’s shaky, dark, etc.”

    For goodness sake – haven’t you seen the vastly improved 8 megapixel camera on the iPhone 4S that features much better low light capabilities with flash and anti-shake tech using the built-in accelerometer. Excuse me if it’s not quite as good as a $50K Steadycam rig.

    “Display different content on one display and different display on another.”

    Keynote presenter mode, RealRacing2 HD are just two examples of apps that display different content on an external display.

    “Any web site that uses Flash for navigation, like my local Mexican restaurant.”

    Use the app which is far easier on an iPhone than a Flash-riddled site on a web browser.


    Please. Give me a break.

    Look, there are things one needs a PC for, but these aren’t them. You really scraped the bottom of the barrel for this article didn’t you?

    1. A couple things… first, thanks for the long comment. Even though we don’t entirely agree, that’s OK, because the dialogue is important.

      – I am a long-time Mac user and used iOS since the first day it was launched, so, yes, I am familiar with it. I currently have iPhone 4, iPod, iPod nano, iPad, ATV 1, ATV2, MBA and iMac. I know the limitations and upside of all the devices.
      – I do have iOS Keynote and Numbers and no, as you know, the iPad doesn’t support a mouse. Seriously, have you created a real presentation or spreadsheet in iOS?
      – Multitasking downloading is only in certain apps. Go to a website and try to download something in iOS. Try it. The file system and browser doesn’t support it. On a PC or Mac you can download anything from any site no restrictions.
      – 1080P video. It can play the file but cannot display it on the iPad or iPhone display. iPad’s at 1,024×768 and that’s a far cry from 1,920×1,280.
      – Files not converted or shot in the exact iOS video specifications have been or need to be converted on the PC or Mac before they’ll play. Please name one HD camcorder who’s video will play on an iOS device without conversion. I’ll buy it. For that matter cite one digital camera that takes video whose HD video will flawlessly import into the iPad. I’ll buy that, too.
      – I’m glad you don’t have a lot of pictures, videos, and music as you don’t have an issue. But if you did…… Let’s talk after you’ve been popping off all those 1080P vids on the iPhone 4s.
      – Yes, 4s has built in stabilization. I’m talking a downloaded file or one you’ve taken on a camcorder. You cannot take a shaky video someone has given you and “perfect” it. Nice try. 🙂
      – Multimon. Seriously, exceptions you’ve cited here. Clearly the exception. PC and Mac can show everything on anything.

      Thanks for the discussion and I look forward to the answers. 🙂

      1. Patrick, thanks for the clarifying reply. We will have to agree to disagree on many of these points. For example:

        Yes I have created both keynote presentations and numbers spreadsheets and long word processing/DTP docs from scratch using multi-touch and sometimes an external bluetooth keyboard for bulk text entry on my iPad 2.

        1080P video plays back displays fine scaled on the 1024×768 iPad screen, but if you plug in Apple’s HDMI video-out dongle, apps like RealRacing 2 HD display FULL 1920×1080 resolution full frame-rate video on an HDTV.

        With many web browsers such as iCab I can go to any website I want and download files no problems. Just because Mobile Safari may not do something, doesn’t mean the iPad can’t do it using one of the multitude of other iOS apps available.

        There are plenty of apps that will play video from all sorts of sources such as mkv, divx etc such as CineXplayer, ReMux MKV player etc without having to convert them first.

        If you do want to import video from an HD video camera directly into the iPad, then some options include the FlipHD camera which with the Apple camera-conection kit allows you to pull video straight into iMovie for iPad or one of the Sanyo Xacti range of HD video cameras which can be imported directly into the Vimeo app on the iPad etc.

        As I say, sure there are plenty of things that a PC can do that the iPad can’t, but my argument is the iPad is a lot more capable than you give it credit for.

  3. Your post seems pure BS when you say “I asked a few people…what they liked doing on their PC” and you say “Face tagging”… Really has one person told you “I miss a computer cause I cannot “face tag” on my tablet (they can on Facebook by the way)”.

    Or you really have a”Face Tagging” nut case among your friends 😀

    This led me to doubt the rest of the post or at least the relevance of your “test panel”.

  4. Not everyone needs a PC. Most people do not write articles or do scientific calculations. Most people are like my parents and without the need to use phones or tablets with a linked PC they rather use their phone or tablet.

    The PC won’t disappear and many will be used, but their supremacy will end as sure as day follows night.

  5. Read Apple’s pc-free description above and then tell me how to get the latest episode of my subscibed tv show from itunes store without my pc and itunes ??

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