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The iPad as Laptop

Many of my favourite writers have been posting their thoughts on a fairly hot topic over the past few months: the iPad as laptop replacement. Shawn Blanc feels his new iPad has replaced his MacBook Air as his “laptop”, thanks to its size, weight, and superb battery life. Matt Gemmell has also made the iPad his main machine while he’s away from his desk. Even Andy Ihnatko, who initially loved the 11" MacBook Air, is switching to the iPad as his full-time mobile computer.

I’m in the same boat when it comes to my iPad 2 and 13" MacBook Pro: nine out of ten times that I head out of the door, it’s the tablet that’s in my bag.

I still use my MacBook on a daily basis because of the advanced nature of desktop apps and I tend to work faster when there’s a user-accessible file system around, but the difference is that it’s almost exclusively a machine I use at home. It’s still a very useful laptop, but it’s no longer being used for the reasons I purchased it for, nearly three years ago.

Part of that is because laptops aren’t really “laptops” any more, but desktop computer replacements. There has been a shift in the computer industry over the last few years, and the hierarchy is changing. Desktop computers, which were the visual stand-ins for the word “computer”, are now becoming niche products. Laptops, which used to be lower-powered versions of desktops, have become most people’s everyday machines (even for tasks like Photoshop and gaming). So for the iPad to outright replace the laptop right now is a tall order – especially considering the machine is really only three years old.

But there are many tasks that I now prefer to carry out on my iPad, and I wanted to detail a few of them here in this post:

Photo Editing

Thanks to iPhoto, I now have an app that I really enjoy using for touching up the pictures I take on my iPhone 4S (which is now my main camera). Photo Stream wirelessly transfers decently-sized (3 MP) versions of my pictures from my iPhone to my iPad, where I can then cull the crappy shots and send only the best edits back to my Mac for permanent storage. I may well invest in a Camera Kit to make this process even smoother.


It’s no surprise that the iPad makes a great writing machine. I’ve already written about my iOS writing workflow, so I’ll simply add that this is now the main way that I choose to work now. Apps like Blogsy, iA Writer, Byword, and Drafts are all good enough to make posting a joy on the iPad. It’s hard to describe the sense of satisfaction I get from being able to write hundreds or thousands of words in a session, using just a tablet and a Bluetooth keyboard (like the Writer Plus). I’d buy my iPad 2 all over again just to use it as a writing machine.

RSS and Instapaper

All of my RSS feeds and read-later articles are consumed on the iPad. Using the iPad while lounging in a chair or while reclined on the couch tends to put me in a different mindset, and I find I’m much more likely to read for longer periods by simply moving away from my desk (where my MacBook is stationed). For these purposes, Reeder and Instapaper are simply sublime, and have never left my home screen.

eBooks and Manga

I’ve never really bothered with eBooks on the Mac, but I used to read manga rather painstakingly in the browser. I now use iBooks and Manga Rock 2, and have done more reading in the last year with this iPad than in the four years before it. The epic 10 hour battery life really helps here.

So there you have it. The iPad still isn’t eliminating my need for a MacBook Pro as far as far as advanced computing is concerned, but it excels at enough of the tasks that I need to accomplish while I’m out and about that it has basically become my laptop.


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  • Johnny Tucats


  • Renkman

    Now that I finally have my first iPad, I’m testing the waters in this arena as well–so far, so good. But I have to admit, cutting the cord is harder than I expected, even though this is my eventual goal.

  • Sworkin

    iPad does not replace a laptop when you need a keyboard. iPad + keyboard replaces a laptop. Until there’s technology to make typing on glass possible, IPad will not really replace a laptop. You have only taken a laptop apart (screen and keyboard) and replaced the OS. I hope the day arrives when justbthe ipad replaces an Air, but it’s not there yet. 9 times out of 10, it’s not just he tablet that’s in your bag when u head out he door. Right?

  • Stan Kossen

    I’ve been on an extended three-month respite without my big-box MacPro and living in an apartment with no telephone nor WiFi. I have my second iPad, the new version, with a very limited simcard in it. I go to a cafe every day where I can access a slow DSL connection when I need extended access.

    My point, I have gotten along fairly well without my MacPro, although I must admit that I miss it.

    I installed a scanner program in the iPad, and when I need to print something I go to a nearby photoshop where I send them an email with a PDF or .JPG file attached and they print it out for me for only €0.10, probably cheaper than I could print it out on my HP printer that isn’t with me.

    I don’t have much difficulty using the virtual keyboard, but I did buy a Kensington bluetooth keyboard cover. Although it adds some weight to my iPad, it really protects the device well.

    I’m a fast typist, and at first I didn’t like the soft feel of the rubber keys on the Kensington keyboard. However, I am getting used to it, and I now can type normally.

    Something I really like is the combination of the keyboard and the ability to touch the screen for certain commands, such as corrections. To me, having both elements is fantastic. I wish that the next Mac Air would come out with a touch screen.


    Stan Kossen

  • Winski

    If your eyes still work, you’ll notice the IPAD IS NOT A LAPTOP !!!!!!!!