The iPad is a great device. It's new, it's intuitive, it's beautiful, it's a great app platform and I liked using it – yet I could not justify keeping it. What I needed was something else.
Let me quickly describe my computer needs. I travel four to five days per week, mostly by airplane. My work computer is a clunky Windows laptop that resembles a medieval book in usability and a cheap toy in build quality. Privately, I'm a Mac power user, a mobile internet addict and I exhibit an unusual impatience with technology.
As far as traveling goes the iPad should have been my ideal companion. Doing what my iPhone can't or shouldn't, it was meant to be my entertainment and communications device for evenings at a hotel, free time at an airport or for those in-between moments. It had a place in my man bag and promised reading and email connectivity at any given time and place.
Over time, however, I have realized that there are several asymmetries between the iPad's features and my needs:
- Typing. This is the biggest one. I don't need my eyes to type, and I'm a rather fast typist. If typing takes too long, I get impatient. The iPad's on-screen keyboard was the biggest impediment to my replying to emails, blogging, and idea flow.
- Email workflow. For years I have used a simple approach to email: Skim unread, flag all that need a reply, use a smart folder to find all flagged messages. Contrary to the advice from the wise, I therefore keep most of my read mail in my inbox. iOS breaks that workflow by not supporting flagged messages. Workarounds suck.
- Angle. The iPad is just a tad to heavy to hold it for longer without resting it on something. Even that is uncomfortable sometimes when the rest is not my own lap or a convenient desk, mostly because of the angle. The right angle for reading (45°?) makes resting the iPad hard. Without a stand, I won't do it for long. With one, I'm mostly chained to a desk. That has dampened my reading experience with the iPad, in addition to my disappointment with iBooks and Amazon Kindle for their lack of quality, selection and lower prices than printed books.
- Speed. Don't get me wrong, the iPad feels speedy considering that it has currently only 256 MB of RAM. But there is speedy and speedy, and I like the latter.
- Productivity. I use keyboard shortcuts, quick input panels, application launchers, tools like TextExpander, customized AppleScripts via Fastscripts and bash scripts on a regular basis, and on a Mac I have at least 7 applications running and in the dock when the computer is in idle. All of that, of course, is not something the iPad is built for.
In short, what I need from the iPad it was never meant to give. And except for reading, most of what I want from an iPad I can already do on my iPhone – albeit less pleasantly.
Therefore, while acknowledging the iPad as a great device for most people, I sold mine. Only to order the "iPad Pro": the newly-introduced MacBook Air 11". It is roughly the same size and weight, but features the full (and by full I mean the "Oh-my-God-yes!") OS X experience.
Now that I have my hands on such a next-generation laptop, I'm very happy about my decision. While my general experience with the MacBook Air 11" is stuff for another story, my main worries about the iPad-MBA switch were:
- Battery. The iPad's battery is nothing but great. I don't think I came close to 50% in a week's use. The MacBook Air is different; time will tell whether its battery capacity will be enough for the MBA to be useful while traveling.
- Instant 3G connectivity. It's so easy to get used to instant-on, both in terms of waking up a mobile device and getting internet connectivity. Most places I travel there is no WiFi, and I rely heavily on 3G data. It's impossible to have the same connectivity effect with the MacBook Air as with the iPad. However, even though an error in the current Apple carrier settings prevent this with my configuration, I think I can speed the process up by using the iPhone as my gateway. With tethering and Bluetooth switched on connecting to the internet should cost me little more time than pressing a hot key.
All in all, time will tell whether the MacBook Air 11" is what works best for me and if it can substitute an iPad. It seems, however, that it can do something else at home: It might supplant my MacBook Pro 13" with ease. Stay tuned.
Update June 2012:
I bought an iPad 3 when it was released. The main reason was that the iPad is at the forefront of digital technology these days, and I felt like I was missing out.
Except for speed and email workflow (iOS 5 supports flags), all my points against the iPad still hold true. The Smart Cover has improved the angle issue, but it's far from perfect. Typing speed and comfort can be improved with one of the iPad keyboards, but it's only an improvement to anyone who doesn't own a 11" MacBook Air.
I'm still torn about the iPad. Having accepted it as a luxury device with a confined usage scenario makes it easier to justify the possession. However, if I were to go travelling for longer and had to decide between one or the other, I think I'd still take the MBA 11" with me.
Update March 2013:
I sold my iPad 3 again. I'll probably buy an iPad mini once it has a Retina screen, but I do fine without an iPad at the moment.