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iPad, schmipad, give me a MacBook Air on the road


This morning Erica asked me to take a look at a post she had written about how well the iPad works as a laptop replacement. Although I agree with many of the points she makes in the post, I have to vehemently disagree with the entire idea that an iPad can be a true laptop replacement in times of need.

On another vacation last week (yeah, I know it seems like I'm always on vacation), I found myself really wishing for a MacBook Air or even my old white plastic MacBook so I could get some real work done (yeah, I know I shouldn't work on vacation). Here are my counterpoints to Erica's points, and yes, we're still friends.

Getting Back To Your Mac: Sure, LogMeIn Ignition and iTeleport are great, and I have them on my iPad. But I try to use them as sparingly as possible and never to do work on my office iMac. Why? Most of the time, I find that even on a fast network, the scrolling required to move around the 27" screen on the iMac is ridiculously slow.

Trying to type into our content management system here at TUAW over a screen sharing connection is an exercise in frustration; it's slow and there's a lag between typing and seeing the text appear on the screen (and the system doesn't support direct editing in Mobile Safari). My only use for either of these apps is for supporting users when I'm on the road or for administering a "headless" server.

Entertain Me: OK, I'll concede this one to Erica. As far as I'm concerned, the iPad takes it hands-down as a mobile entertainment device. If it's movies, music, books, or games that you're looking at, the iPad beats the heck out of the MacBooks. On the other hand, there's no Steam for iPad, so the games that haven't been ported to iOS must be played on a Mac.

Coordinate My Files: I love Dropbox probably more than Erica does, but the lack of a standard way of having iPad apps save or open files from Dropbox really cripples that capability right now. While I was on my trip, I was spending an hour or two a day working on my NaNoWriMo 2010 novel to make progress on completing it before November 30. The original document was written in Microsoft Word (don't ask -- I write most of my books and other documents in that tool because of force of habit), and neither Documents to Go nor QuickOffice Connect seemed to do the job for me on the iPad. What did I do? Open the Word document in Pages for iPad after pulling it from my Dropbox. Pages for iPad is excellent for this type of writing, but it doesn't allow me to auto-save the documents back to Dropbox.

Until Apple either supports Dropbox ( and MobileMe don't cut it for me) or Microsoft creates Office for iPad and gives it Dropbox support, I think the coordination of files is severely crippled. Sure, Dropbox, Elements, and PlainText (as well as other apps) are lovely for writing text files, but I want a real word processor. And don't forget, Erica -- people do things other than just pump out text. Spreadsheets, presentations and the like can be shared easily with Dropbox, but until there are real apps that work just like the big boys (Excel, PowerPoint, Keynote and Numbers) and support opening and saving in Dropbox, a laptop is still going to be the best way to do real work anywhere.

Getting The Work Done: Here, my argument is the same as above. Sure, there are a lot of apps that do some of the things I need to do while I'm out and about, but I often find that it takes an awkward combination of several apps on the iPad to do the same work that I can do in one app on my Mac. There's no damned way that I'm going to be able to type as quickly and accurately on my iPad's virtual keyboard as I can with a real keyboard, which is why I took my Apple Wireless Keyboard on the trip with me. If I have to carry an iPad and keyboard with me, why don't I just carry a MacBook Air around? The iPad and keyboard weigh in at a total of 2.21 lbs. The 11" MacBook Air? 2.3 lbs. There's not that much of a portability advantage there, folks! How about those combo iPad cases / keyboards? The ZAGGmate keyboard case brings the weight of the iPad / keyboard combo to 2.3 lbs. (Granted, all of these combinations will be cheaper than a MacBook Air.)

Erica says that she wishes the Office-compatible apps for iPad would include reviewing tools. Maybe that will happen someday soon, but until then, running Microsoft Office or Pages on a MacBook Air is going to give you all of the tools you need with none of the extra weight.

Sure, for some people work might consist of plain text, emails, and web browsing, and for those folks, the iPad is probably perfect. For others, even a MacBook Air might not be enough, and something like a 17" MacBook Pro is the most portable solution -- I'm thinking of folks who need to run Apple's Pro apps or Adobe Creative Suite 5.

Staying In Touch: Yep, I use a phone, IRC, and chat clients. When I'm eating lunch, I love to use my iPad to keep chatting with my fellow TUAW bloggers. But when it comes to communications, the iPad still doesn't beat the MacBook. With Skype on a Mac, I can now (using the Skype 5 beta) video conference with a number of colleagues. Can't do that on an iPad, although it might be added in the next iteration of the device if a front-facing camera and FaceTime are added, and if FaceTime can start handling more than one call at a time. Those are both very big ifs.

How about some of the conferencing tools that are useful when doing real work? GoToMeeting has an iPad client, but you can't host meetings, nor can you attend webinars on the iPad version. And LogMeIn's awesome new Join.Me service? Nothing yet on iPad. [Fuze Box has a pretty solid iPad client that does allow you to host meetings, and the next version will also support multiparty, multi-platform video with Fuze Presence; their demo clip is here. –Ed.]

Don't get me wrong -- I love my iPad, but I just don't find it to be as useful as a MacBook at this point. It's great for a lot of things I need to do for work; following RSS feeds, looking at breaking stories, answering and sending emails. But when it comes down to really getting work done on the road, I currently rely on a MacBook. To get that extra added flavor of portability that the iPad brings to the game, I'm seriously thinking about trading in the old MacBook on an 11" MacBook Air. Now that's the way to get work done when you're away from the office.

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