iPad as Laptop Replacement

My primary computer is a 13″ MacBook Pro, but over the last year or so I’ve gone back & forth experimenting with a 12.9″ iPad Pro to see if it’s feasible to use as my primary computer. Prior to iOS 11 I thought the iPad had major gaps to fill before it was a legitimate laptop replacement, but iOS 11 (and a number of other app updates) made a compelling enough case that I spent the last three weeks using only my iPad Pro.

The iPad Pro is much, much closer now to being a feasible laptop replacement for many users.

I love the iPad’s portability. Even though I like the size & weight of the MacBook Pro and don’t feel it’s too big or bulky in any way, there’s something great about how easy it is to carry the iPad wherever I’m going.

I don’t love the iPad’s lap instability. My least favorite user experience with any tablet or convertible computer (like Microsoft Surface) is sitting in a chair, on a couch, or in bed and trying to enter content on the keyboard with it perched on my lap. While a laptop is bottom-heavy with a thin & light display on top & therefore stable on an uneven surface, a tablet is top-heavy with a thin & light keyboard on bottom & is very unstable on uneven surfaces. I find I can’t really focus while working with the iPad on my lap, because part of my attention is always on keeping the device balanced & stable, which isn’t a problem when using my laptop.

I love the iPad’s touchscreen. It’s really inexcusable that Apple doesn’t offer a touchscreen laptop. I love using the touchscreen to scroll web pages, emails, documents, etc. I love using the touchscreen to click checkboxes and radio buttons, to select text, and to pinch to zoom in or out. It’s more intuitive and faster than using a mouse or trackpad for the same actions. Apple needs to offer a touchscreen MacBook.

I don’t love the screen angles. When the iPad is on a desk and using the Smart Keyboard, it only sits at one angle. Too often I’ve found that angle creates glare on the screen from overhead lights, so I often have to use other objects (my phone, a pad of Post-It notes, a rock) to wedge behind the screen to make the angle more upright and remove that glare.

I love the iPad’s Apple Pencil. Apple Pencil works great, and iOS apps have come a long way in the last year to much more comprehensively work with the Pencil. It’s great to open Evernote and draw or sketch notes about an idea or to annotate a PDF or Word document & send that digital file to a colleague. It’s one of my favorite uses for the iPad, and I really wish I could do it on a MacBook.

I don’t love the iPad’s app-centricity. My least favorite feature of the iPad is how my primary software experience is iOS apps instead of desktop apps & the browser. It just feels limiting. Safari on iOS doesn’t work as well with LastPass (my password manager) as it does on Mac OS, and there’s no LastPass integration with iOS apps at all as far as I can tell. Sites like LinkedIn prompt you to use the app if you access it on Safari in iOS, but in the app I could find how to do some things like write a user recommendation or change my profile background image. The Skype for Business iOS app works great for video chats, but if I switch focus to look at another app (email, Evernote, OmniFocus, etc.) during my conversation, my video feed turns off which is distracting for the person I’m talking with.

I love the iPad’s multitasking. This is the biggest enhancement in iOS 11, and I really like it. I find myself using the hover-over mode and full side-by-side apps often, and it works really well. My biggest wish list item in this area is to be able to have multiple windows from a single app in multitasking (two different web sites, emails, Word docs, etc.).

I don’t love the iPad’s file management. iOS 11 has huge improvements in file management on the iPad, in iCloud, and in 3rd party services like OneDrive for Business & DropBox (the services I use for work files and personal files). However, when creating a presentation in Keynote for iOS it seems the only file storage option is local to the iPad (and therefore not backed up) or on iCloud. When I move a Keynote file to OneDrive for Business, I then can’t open that file in Keynote; instead I have to copy it back to Keynote, then move the updated version back to OneDrive after I’m finished. It’s an unacceptably clunky & error-prone workflow.

The big iOS 11 enhancements and a huge number of small app improvements have really improved iPad’s feasibility as a laptop replacement over the last year. Previously I didn’t make it more than a couple days without hitting big roadblocks, and this time I made it three weeks (partly due to finding some workarounds to address previous frustrations, but largely due to the improvements Apple & other app providers have made in the last year).

It’s still not there yet as a full laptop replacement for me, but it’s much closer than it was a year ago.


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