Can an iPad replace your laptop?

In Tech Consulting by Steve Wilkinson16 Comments


Photo: IMG_0712 by Jon Mountjoy.

That is a question I have been considering, not too long after the announcement of Apple’s new iPad product-line. Initially, I had been in the camp hoping the new tablet would be some kind of OSX device. While I would still love to see such a device, it is also apparent that one would sacrifice battery life even if it were considerably slower than my current laptop. Slower I could deal with, less battery life I can not. iPhone OS was clearly the way to go for a device of this size/weight.

First a bit of a review:

The iPad has some distinct advantages. First, it leads to much longer battery life. Apple is stating 10 hours of Web surfing or watching video. I’m guessing that if you’re doing less intensive stuff it will go considerably longer. However, 10 hours is enough for most people to be able to charge over-night and not have to worry about lugging a power-brick and cord (like laptop users must). That saves more weight.

Second, this thing is small and light:

  • Height: 9.56 inches (242.8 mm)
  • Width: 7.47 inches (189.7 mm)
  • Depth: 0.5 inch (13.4 mm)
  • Weight: 1.5 pounds (0.68 kg)

I probably don’t need to say much more about this. We all want to lug less weight around with us. My current laptop (2006 MacBook Pro) weighs in at like 6.7 pounds when I include the power-brick (that’s the smaller one now available,the original would push it over 7 pounds) and cord. Even if I add an external Bluetooth keyboard for the iPad (about 14 ounces), I’d still be under 2.5 pounds (which is still less than a MacBook Air).

Then there is stuff like instant on/off. You push the power button… it’s ready to go, push it again, it’s ready to be put away. Believe it or not, this makes a big difference when you’re on the go and want to just take down a quick note or look something up. Similar is not having to open it up and find a place to set it down. Imagine trying to look something up on your laptop while standing on a train or bus, hanging onto the bar with one hand. I can easily do this with my iPod Touch, and I’d guess I could with the iPad without too much more trouble. It would require some gymnastics with a laptop. But these things are also handy when in a more casual meeting where everyone doesn’t have the laptops out and setup, and then you need some info or to jot a note down. A laptop is much more hassle and disruptive to the flow of things. I also like having the ability to use a virtual keyboard or real one (and when I say real one, I’m not talking about an undersized one you’d find on a netbook). The touch interface is excellent for these situations as well.

There are a few downsides:

– CPU power – Obviously, it doesn’t have the computing power of a laptop.

– Interface – It doesn’t have all the connectors like USB and ethernet (though it has WiFi and optional cellular data).

– Storage – It doesn’t have the storage capacity of a laptop with a hard-drive.

– Camera – They left the web-cam off which would be nice for video-conferencing. (I’m going to guess the 2nd generation will, if you can wait that long.)

– Multi-tasking – It doesn’t have full OSX-like (or Windows-like) multi-tasking…. yet. But, even so, really think about what you need that for when doing mobile type stuff. I mainly want to have IM open while doing something else… it can do that. Or, listen to music while I work on other stuff… it can do that. Have a VoIP call open while I look something up… can’t do, yet. I’m hoping they will open up the multi-tasking a bit to allow this to happen, and I think Jobs has already alluded to their doing so. But, that isn’t a deal-killer for me.

Other reported downsides (or disappointments) and my responses:

– No hand-writing recognition – I just don’t get this one. I assume these people have never used it and just think it would be cool or useful. I suppose for a few it could, but to the rest… learn to type! There is no way a person could handwrite such that it could be recognized at a rate anywhere near what someone could type… even on a virtual keyboard, let alone a real one.

– lack of 4G – I guess this is valid, though I’m thinking of taking that external anyway with something like a MiFi or Overdrive unless the plan is VERY cheap (in Canada). I also don’t want a plan for each device, and with MiFi, I could use any device (as well as others with me) on one plan. I also save the additional cost of the 3G model then.

– lack of Flash – I don’t want to get into this one too much. There is a big political aspect to it, and I think Apple is trying to push web standards over stuff like Flash (which I agree with them on). However, there is also a very practical side. Flash sucks! Battery, but also in its instability.

But, can it replace a laptop?

First, I need to make it clear that for most people, this will be a ‘second computer’. It isn’t going to replace the OSX or Windows desktop, for example. I’m talking about laptops for mobile work here.

The real answer to this question is going to be different for everyone. If you need to do things like Photoshop, CAD, etc. while you’re mobile, than obviously not very likely (though there will undoubtedly be those kinds of apps eventually… but unlikely for serious work). I suspect, though, that most people will be able to cover the kinds of things they do with the iPad. What does a typical person do anyway? Check their calendar and make appointments, address book, surf, e-mail, instant message, maybe VoIP. They use word processing, take notes (in class or meetings), spreadsheet, and presentations. The iPad can do all these things. I know when I learned that it has video out, and the ability to present Keynote presentations, I was pretty sold!

What I recommend is that you start making a list of things you do while you’re mobile, and especially note things you ever find yourself doing that you wouldn’t be able to do on the iPad, or things which would be difficult to do on it. Maybe rank them as to how important it is, or if it was something you think you’d seldom have to do or have to do a lot. This way you can make a clear decision when it is released. You may well find some show-stopper, but I have not yet.

The iPad also has some other benefits, even around home. Have you ever tried to use a laptop while laying in bed? This thing will allows me to read books or surf the Web in very relaxed locations a laptop just won’t. A laptop isn’t that nice at the park or a beach… though it will remain to be seen how the screen does in those environments (that might be the one big Kindle advantage for e-books). This is really geeky, but I was thinking it would even fit into our recipe holder on the kitchen counter… try that with a laptop!

I also think it would be nice for families that currently have more than one computer. You could have a desktop with multiple accounts for the heavy-lifting, and then iPads (which are cheaper than laptops) for individual use so desktop-time isn’t always being fought over.

Ultimately, it might be harder to decide what to do with your iPhone or iPod Touch than your laptop. I think I would still need to take my iPod touch along, as the iPad won’t make a good iPod in a lot of ways. It won’t just fit into my pocket and be easily accessible for my music playing like the iPod is. I take my iPod to the grocery store, for example, and the iPad would be just too much for that. But, it also seems a bit silly and redundant to have both.

  • j nelson

    The iPad has a use for photographers. It would provide a quick, hirez look at photos. 64mb of main is probably too small for a pro photographer taking lots of photos but photos could be mailed to a server or cloud as a backup. The benefit over a laptop is the 10hr battery, size and weight. I’m getting an iPad for my non-tech wife for ebooks, and yes, recipes, though I’m certain she will enjoy Hulu and some other websites and I wouldn’t dismiss the appeal of iWorks. I think Apple has a winner.

  • @ j nelson –

    Great point for photographers. Yes, I think it will be quite popular for that. The little screens on the cameras just don’t cut it for checking the work. The iPad screen will be better for this than most laptops or desktops the majority of people have with the IPS, LED-backlight display.

    Re: 64 GB being too small… I agree, however a pro photographer is probably going to also be constrained by a typical laptop or netbook storage as well. They probably just shoot a number of cards and then just use the iPad (or laptop) as a viewer until they get the photos back to the office and onto big drive or RAID storage.

    The battery life and instant-on/off are probably the biggest points for me, along with the size/weight a close second. Hulu might be an issue with the lack of Flash (are they going to HTML5 or some other method?)

    Re: Flash in general… I’d recommend just installing ClickToFlash on her Safari for a while and see how much she really runs into Flash content and wants to see it. Then she can decide if she would be too annoyed by that (having to go to the desktop to view Flash heavy sites) to make the iPad worth it. I think this situation will eventually resolve itself, but for heavy users of Flash based sites, that might be a deal-breaker currently. I’ve installed ClickToFlash a few weeks ago, and I find I don’t run across Flash content that I NEED to see often enough that it will bug me.

    • Ilyes

      HP Slate Wins again. Ipad is just a total waste of money below are important feutares it don’t have. Why I will wait for HP Slate in JUNE 2010: 1. No multitasking. 2. No USB port. 3. Minimal memory. 4. No slot for memory card. 5. No camera for video conferencing.6. No HDMI. 7. Cropped, shrunken, and de-funned videos.8. Runs only apps approved by Apple, not the ones you may want 9. NO FLASH (90% Web Browsers uses Flash watch Hulu, Youtube, Google Video and many more )

      • This was probably a spam post, but I found it kind of funny, so I approved it (without the link).
        re: #1) It depends on what you mean by multitasking. I think the iPad has a type of multitasking that best balances battery life and performance with usability. Desktop like multitasking would kill the top benefits of a tablet… battery life and performance on minimal hardware (needed for said battery life).

        re: #2) USB is rather irrelevant, as the tablet would have to be a boat-anchor to include a standard full-sized one. If it isn’t full-sized, then you have to carry and adapter. At that point, it doesn’t matter too much if you need some other adapter or one of Apple’s. It’s never been an issue for me, and I’ve never heard it as a complaint from real iPad users.

        re: #3) Minimal memory to do what? I’ve been fine with the memory in my iPad 2.

        re: #4) Mostly irrelevant. You can add one via adapter and much happens via the cloud or wifi these days.

        re: #5) This must be an old spam comment still floating around. iPad, past the first model, has cameras.

        re: #6) Mostly irrelevant. You can get adapters if you are OK with a cable hanging off a mobile device (which I’m not), or use AirPlay to stream content wirelessly (which is my preference).

        re: #7) I’m not sure what this is talking about.

        re: #8) What ones would I want?

        re: #9) Well, it’s interesting how accurate Jobs was, isn’t it??? 🙂 Flash is simply, for most people, a non-issue. Since Adobe killed it off on mobile platforms officially, the writing is really on the wall. Flash is legacy and soon to be no more.

  • j nelson


    Re: HULU on the iPad – check the following…

    I think Apple is bringing the iPad to market at a low price to speed up adoption. Apple doesn’t make its money on the front end with the iPad hardware – it makes it on the back end being the media gatekeeper, the retailer (iTunes just had its 10 billionth song downloaded). If the iPad sells well enough I think we will see media producers adapt to the iPad – not the other way around. Lack of Flash may be a non-issue.

  • @ j nelson –

    I certainly agree… I think the ball is on Apple’s court on the Flash issue. In the end, it will matter more to web site owners that their clients using iPads (iPhone, iPod Touch, etc.) can view their sites than their determination to continue to use Flash (which isn’t really meant for that kind of job anyway). I agree with Jobs in pushing this politically. I was just pointing out that until that happens, some users are going to not be happy without Flash, so it would be good to kind of do a test run to see.

  • j nelson

    Hi Steve,

    The Flash tap-dance is starting.

    If you haven’t seen it already you might check…

    Its clear that companies like Conde Naste want access to the iPad market.

    Between Jobs and Adobe there is a lot of weight being thrown around. It almost makes you wonder if this is getting personal.

  • @ j nelson –

    Yes, I think there is going to be a lot of ‘political’ type maneuvering on this one… and yes, I do think it is personal to some extent. The thing is though, I have to agree with Apple on this one. Flash really is a pretty horrible implementation, especially on anything but Windows… and it is being improperly used as a universal container for video.

  • j nelson


    The following quote from the Virgin article caught my attention.

    “Simhambhatla reckoned Virgin’s young site wasn’t getting enough use out of Flash to justify its presence while the software was “too heavy” to load, consuming more than 40 per cent of the end-users’ CPU to load and run a page – bad news in the era of high expectations and short attention spans. Nobody could say with any certainty why Flash was so slow.”

    Job’s, in his iPad presentation, left no doubt that Apple considers itself a portable devices company. A prominent features of portable devices is their use of lower powered CPU’s. If Jobs is right that the future belongs to portable devices then Flash is a dinosaur with an iPad asteroid headed at it. As Simhambhatla states in the article “This year is going to be the year of the mobile [for Virgin].”

    Bloated, inefficient software need not apply.

  • Yes, that has been my experience with Flash. Often, 40% seems low to me. I see more like 50-70% of BOTH CPUs with most Flash video (and that’s just the typical YouTube type stuff, not HD or anything). Of course then there is security concern and the instability it often causes. I absolutely agree that Flash is a dinosaur.

    As for the argument about apps people are making (that Apple doesn’t want Flash to compete with the App Store)… that is just silly. Can you think of a Flash app off the top of your head? I can’t. I’m sure I’ve used one in the past, somewhere, but I can think of one. That was actually the intended use of Flash, but instead, people started using it as simply a universal video container (which it is horrible at).

    I do think Jobs taking this stand on Flash will cause some pain for some, but overall, it is a good longer-term move.

  • J Nelson
  • One could argue that Adobe had to support the standards in their web development tools… but yea, I think when even M$ starts to head towards standards, the writing is on the wall.

    The most telling quote though:
    “There has been much discussion around whether or not HTML5 and CSS3 will make it easier for designers to reach new devices… We think it will.”

  • J Nelson

    I heard a news report that 50,000 iPads were ordered in the first two hours after Apple started taking orders Friday.

    That’s a bunch of money.

  • J Nelson

    Another reason to avoid Flash.

    Cnet reports that online advertisements have been compromised with malware. The malware is loaded when the computer loads the advertisement and requires no action or response from the user.

    “JS:Prontexi,” which Avast researcher Jiri Sejtko said is a Trojan in script form that targets the Windows operating system, looks for vulnerabilities in Adobe Reader and Acrobat, Java, QuickTime, and Flash and launches fake antivirus warnings.

    I glad its limited to Windows – for now at least.

  • Yoko Lagueux

    So will the iPad be the king of the publishing industry, No, I personally don’t think so. Not by itself, but it’s a building block in the bridge to a digital future for newspapers and magazines. Their products look awesome on the iPad along with the Wall Street Journal app is amazing, but the public might just accept that it’s ok to pay for apps, even as they shy away from website subscriptions.