The iPad’s cool, but it’s no substitute for a real laptop

Sections: Features, iPad, iPhone/iPod touch/iPad, Opinions and Editorials, Originals

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iPad20731.jpgI’m abidingly bemused by people who say they’re replacing their laptop with an iPad, being so evidently delighted and enthusiastic at the prospect. Do they really hate their computers that much? The iPad’s astonishingly astronomical sales figures indicate that an awful lot of people must be doing the laptop to tablet switch, but the “why” of it baffles me.

I’ve been using and loving Apple laptops as my main digital work platforms since 1996, and have been an iPad 2 owner for just going on eight weeks, but early days though it may be, I have to say the alleged iPad “magic” continues to elude me.

It’s a nice enough little machine, and it has some advantages; its easy portability and “handholdability” being obvious examples.

However, the iPad is lame and limited in most other contexts compared to a laptop. I can see how substituting a tablet for a laptop can be a justifiable compromise between functionality and logistics in a whole raft of mission-specific instances, but it’s still at best a trade-off. What puzzles me is why anyone would do it without there being some practical exigency making said trade-off worthwhile in the sense of serving an objective set of circumstances. Nevertheless, it’s evident that plenty of people are doing it and happy about it.

So perhaps Jason Hiner over at Znet is on to something with the observation that “Tablets Are For People Who Hate Computers,” and my cognitive dissonance is attributable to the fact that I really like my laptops and the power, versatility, and flexibility of the full-featured Mac OS. I certainly don’t hate my iPad. It’s a charming little device, albeit of limited and narrowly circumscribed usefulness, and a convenient ancillary accessory to a real computer. For example, it’s a decent tool for web-surfing, provided you don’t need to quickly and efficiently copy blocks of text or images, or want to watch a Flash video, and can live without keyboard shortcuts and advanced settings configurations. I have five web browsers installed on my iPad 2: Safari, iChromy, Opera Mini, Terra, and Mercury. I use them in roughly that order of frequency, and I find iChromy to most closely approximate the Mac OS browser experience, but it still falls vastly short. (By the Way, Safari will reportedly get real tabbed browsing in IOS 5, which may tip the balance in its favor.)

Email? The iPad is a pretty handy email checker as well, although I don’t especially like the bundled iOS version of Apple’s Mail app. One of the reasons I use a fleet of browsers is so I can keep multiple Gmail and Yahoo email accounts open and at the ready without the tedium and time-burning of having to log in and out.

However, for writing and answering email, not so much. If you’re going to write more than a few sentences, the iPad’s onscreen keyboard becomes a formidable roadblock to speed and efficiency.

As for longer-form text entry, what I just said about e-mail composition is amplified by several magnitudes. You can do it if you’re determined, but why would you if you have a perfectly good laptop or desktop PC available? Or, more to the point of this particular discussion, why would you willingly put yourself in a position where no Mac or PC was available at your home or office? Beats me. Yes, you can pair up an external keyboard via Bluetooth, but you’ll need some sort of stand for the iPad, which ends up being a lot more cumbersome than just using a laptop keyboard, and you’re still stuck with touchscreen pointing, clicking, dragging, etc., plus the iOS’s incredibly clumsy and lame text selection.

Image editing? Again, you can do it on an iPad, but why would you bother if there’s a Mac or PC alternative available?

I could go on and on with other examples. Don’t get me going on the lack of multitasking and no directory file system. You get the picture. The long and short of it is that the few things an iPad can do as well or better than a laptop are almost exclusively limited to portability and ergonomics logistics. For instance, the iPad is definitely a lot more comfortable than a laptop to use in bed or when lying on a sofa.

However, with small, powerful laptops like the new Core i5 11 inch MacBook Air available, even those advantages are becoming blurred, and with the higher–capacity 3G iPad, there isn’t even much price advantage. Maybe I’m just slow on the uptake, but I’m still not cognating what all the fuss is about. The iPad is clever technology, albeit overpriced for what it’s able to do.

But the “future of computing?” I profoundly hope not.

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  • JayPee

    I totally agree. My iMac is no 1.

  • David

    No, your viewoint is not the only way to experience computing. iPad is great for some, not for others. More ego centric reviews of tech. Please in the future see if you can have an imagination larger than your own life experience. For young children, for some with certain disabilities, different workflows…. Come on let's get beyond polarization in tech media.

  • Albert

    Getting your point, somehow is not quite there. If you would had organized your lines of thoughts before even typing anything on your computer, your idea would gotten across beyond people's computer screen. Hate to do so, yet David comments reflects my opinion in your style of approach of this article"Have imagination beyond your own experience". Very poorly researched. It would be better if taken with objective mind on the matter and had three full days only with an IPad to get that sense if the tablet could serve as a replacement. Next time spent hours with the product and compare the features that the laptop tries to do and the intend of a tablet–to differenciate them between "media consumption" and "consumer content creation". Were you trying to complete a deadline or what ! :(

  • linzc

    My iPad has absolutely replaced my laptop, but that doesn't mean I don't like computers. Having an ultra-portable, capable and relatively cheaper device to carry around has let me both do my regular travel much more comfortably, AND invest more in a honking big 27" iMac with BTO options maxed out. By all means prefer a laptop yourself but don't cast aspersions on those with different needs and a different approach.

  • Fluidic

    I'm a developer, so I can't do with out a desktop/laptop computer. But for my girlfriend she only uses her ipad1. She only does web surfing, email, Skype, and some keynote presentation. It works perfectly for that. I will agree that using the onscreen keyboard is a pain if you have to write around 1000 words. For a post like this, it is fine.

    Remember when pc first started to emerge, naysayers clamored that mainframes and mini computer would rule the enterprise. But companies found places for PCs and PC servers. The same will happen to tablets. Right now the tablet is an infant. Think what will be in 10 or even 5 years. If people always thought "no one would want a smaller, more personal computer," we would all be still using dumb terminals and 1 of five IBM mainframes.

    And yes this post was written on an iPad 2.

  • January

    I absolutely agree. My laptop is just plain easier to use for most things t I need a computer for. I think the iPad is overpriced for its capabilities. If you love it, great; but the "my iPad is better than your laptop/netbook/PC" argument just doesn't cut it for many of us.

  • William LeVan

    It depends who you are. Some people use the iPad to sit on the couch and do email or web browse. For some people it's all you need, but if you are reading this article chances are you don't fit that category.

  • Charles Moore

    Hi Albert;

    Not sure where your " Next time spent (sic) hours with the product " comment is coming from. As I noted in the column I've been using the iPad (and that means daily) for eight weeks now, and have tried doing many things with it.

    I'm not trying to cast aspersions on anyone's dissonant preference in computing platforms. I'm just puzzled.Different strokes for different folks, and everything would be hunky-dory were it not for Apple's full-court press to "iOSsify" OS X. It may be the post-PC era for Steve Jobs and Apple and legions of iPad/iPhone fans, but it's not for me, at least at this stage of iOS device development.