Living without a computer is something I haven’t done in a very long time. But two weeks ago, my MacBook had an encounter with a cup of coffee that did not go well.
This put me at a crossroads: Should I pay $250 to fix it? Plunk down $80 for a physical keyboard for my iPad? Forget the whole thing and get a new MacBook? Or make the iPad the only portable computing device in the house (possibly paired with an iMac)? Needless to say, this was going to take some thought.
This unfortunate event has brought the iPad into serious focus. Many articles have been written about the feasibility of using the tablet as a laptop replacement, just to see how well it does or doesn’t do. In my case, I’ve had no choice in the matter for the last seven days, so this is truly a review of what it’s like to rely solely on the device for a period of time (with no possible way for me to cheat and sneak off to do something on the computer).
So then, can it replace a laptop? Um, no. At least not if it is the only computer in the house. The main issue is the keyboard. I have been typing for longer than I can remember, and have had to relearn how to do it with everyday life on the iPad. Quick hits and short little searches have been completely fine, but using this has forced me to hunt and peck the entire keyboard with only my index and middle fingers.
Given the tablet is a touch-enabled device, there’s no way to rest the fingers on the keys when not engaged, as you would on a hardware keyboard. The iPad is a multitouch device, meaning of course that if you touch it anywhere, it will activate or input something.
While the onscreen keyboard seems spacious (especially next to its cousin, the iPhone), it’s not quite the same size and layout we’ve grown accustomed to with standard computer QWERTY keyboards. Do you see that key next to the “L” on the hardware QWERTY? That’s the colon/semi-colon key, and the pinky usually rests or taps on it. But on the iPad, that key is a “return” button. That’s just one of several layout changes.
It has taken a few days, but I can almost type without looking at the keyboard now. However, from my completely unscientific observation, I’d guess I’m five to six times faster with a physical QWERTY. If I were committed to sticking to the iPad as a text input device long-term, I’d definitely invest in a keyboard dock or bluetooth keyboard (available from Apple for $69) or this soon-to-be-released ClamCase, which basically makes the iPad look like a laptop clone.
Keyboard aside, the other problem is iOS4. I’ve become so used to doing more than one thing at a time on my iPhone, that using the iPad seems very dull. No Pandora in the background! If I want to listen to tunes while drafting a novel (or just responding to emails), I am limited to the music on the iPad itself. I can honestly say I can’t wait for the iOS4 update. In my opinion, it will dynamically change this tablet even more than it changed the iPhone.
Another area of productivity (or not, depending on how you use it) is the web. And for this, the iPad shines. In reference to this device, Steve Jobs once talked about holding the internet in your hands. He was absolutely correct. In fact, even when my computer was fully functional, I still preferred the iPad over my MacBook for browsing. Watching YouTube and reading articles are just better experiences on the iPad, simply because of the touch interface. Navigation is easy, and you can make things exactly the size of your choice with some easy pinching and zooming. But the biggest downside here, and it’s no secret to anyone, is the lack of Adobe Flash support. Running into a Flash-based website has me sighing, waiting for the day that HTML5 is more widespread.
I don’t know about you, but there are many users who don’t sync their devices very often, and I’m one of them. Thankfully, we can update our apps over the air. So then, why can’t we do multimedia syncing and software updates this way? Being able to do it directly on the tablet via cloud syncing â€” instead of having to connect it to a computer â€” would truly help make the iPad self-sufficient and make it more viable as a stand-alone device. So Apple, you took a step in the right direction with iDisk cloud streaming for music and files. Now let’s get that cloud-based iTunes syncing going, k? It would surely help the cause.
Not that there aren’t other issues. There’s no ability to plug in a printer or USB support for peripherals of any kind, which are more reasons why this doesn’t quite work as a laptop replacement. (Note: If you have a wifi-enabled printer or one otherwise connected to your network, then it is possible with apps like Print n Share. Thing is, when you’re some place like the office, the old-fashioned “plug and play” may be all you’ve got.)
While there are a lot of great things about the tablet â€” like simple recipe look-ups and watching movies in bed, which are fantastic â€” it just isn’t sufficient in place of a full-fledged computer or even a netbook. It’s so close to being reasonably functional as a true computing device, at least for moderate users, but it’s not quite there. Maybe someday through software (or in a future version of the iPad with more hardware connectivity options), it could evolve into something more.
As for me, until I make a decision on what to do (I’m open to suggestions, by the way), I’ll have to keep pushing this pretty pony of a machine into the workhorse of the house for now.