For me, computers are primarily writing and communications tools. When I bought my iPad 2 in June, 2011, I hoped that it would prove to be a usable substitute for a laptop, at least for relatively light-duty computing tasks. I was more curious than under any illusion. The boilerplate on iPad was that it’s an excellent content consumption device, but content creation tool? Not so much.
Now, with two and a half years’ iPadding under my belt, I’ve determined that the preponderance of critical opinion was correct. The iPad is great for Web surfing and media consumption, it’s tolerable for email (except for account management), but it’s mediocre to miserable for the sort of production work I do with computers. It’s definitely not a comprehensive, standalone laptop substitute answer for me. On the other hand, I’ve been seduced by the easy tote-ability enabling me to do stuff virtually anywhere in the house (or, for that matter, out of the house where there’s WiFi access). I would now find that tough to give up.
So in spite of myself, I’ve ended up doing a lot of production work on the iPad anyway. The tablet is superior for Web browsing, but frustrating and inefficient for text related tasks. Its inability to display multiple windows simultaneously and its lack of access to a file directory are constant irritants, rendering some tasks—such as uploading images to ftp servers and posting engines—impractical.
Some folks profess to like the iPad’s restrictive quality of forcing you to focus on one app at a time, but I don’t. Aside from the ergonomics, it’s always a treat to get back on the MacBook as a workstation with an external keyboard and mouse.
So, with hardware upgrades for both my iPad and anchor Mac needed, I’ve been pondering whether to try an 11-inch MacBook Air as a potential one-machine-to-do-it-all replacement for both devices.
The new iPad Air is now “desktop powerful” with its 64-bit A7 system on chip, but it shares most of its predecessors’ deficiencies as a production platform, which iOS 7 did little or nothing to address. My old iPad was slicker and quicker with iOS 6, and I would probably downgrade if that was an option.
The new MacBook Air, on the other hand, is an omnicapable workhorse that matches its larger 13-inch sibling in power and most features (less the SDCArd slot) and lets users like me keep multiple projects and tasks on the go simultaneously, switching back and forth among them while they’re in dynamic progress. That’s the way I prefer to roll, especially when working from notes and collected research materials. It also comes close to matching the iPad in nominal battery charge life claimed by Apple (or exceeds it with the 13-inch Haswell MacBook Air).
Normally, on the Mac, I’ll have the document or documents containing project notes and research resources open in one window, and my working draft in another, switching back and forth frequently, and multiple projects on the go in separate desktop Spaces. Windows don’t even have to be in the same application. This is not possible on the iPad, where everything is full–screen, and you can only have one app running at a time (the notion of iPad “multitasking” being a myth for the most part). I’m obliged to keep switching back and forth between at least a couple of open documents in two different text apps, plus a browser, as well as contending with the miserable iOS text selection, cut, copy, and paste modalities. There is just no way that a touch-based menu can ever be as slick, precise, and efficient as a mouse, touchpad, or my personal fave for speed and comfort: a rollerbar.
On the other hand, a MacBook, even a diminutive MacBook Air, is still more bulky and clumsy as a portable device than any laptop with a clamshell lid, so I’m wondering if I might not find it a compromise less appealing than sticking with a laptop + tablet strategy. And if I ended up using the MacBook Air with external input devices, which I inevitably would, I’d might as well go with a larger laptop and a new iPad Air, using both machines for the things they do best. Maybe sometime the iPad really will become a viable laptop surrogate, but it’s not there yet.