The iPad as pitched by Apple during the January keynote was a device that fit between your phone and a laptop – an iPhone and MacBook Pro if you’re asking Apple. It’s a third device that isn’t meant to cannibalize sales of either device but rather provide a more intimate experience with certain tasks your phone and laptop are both capable of doing. Realistically, the iPad isn’t capable of replacing your phone since it can’t do the only task that makes it a phone; the calling. On the other hand, the iPad can do much of what you demand from your laptop but through different means. Theoretically it’s capable of cannibalizing your need for a laptop but how does it actually stand up to some of the heavy lifting?
Obviously, the main detractor in scenario that replaces a laptop with an iPad is the lack of physical keyboard. While you can pair any Bluetooth keyboard or buy the keyboard dock from Apple, the point of the iPad is defeated and it no longer becomes a device where you can compute anywhere. To test its true laptop replacement-ability I’ve forgone a physical keyboard completely, typing strictly on the virtual keyboard. Like the iPhone, typing on a flat surface with no tactile feedback takes some getting used to but eventually I’ve become rather proficient. I’ll never become as speedy on the iPad’s screen as I am with an actual keyboard. Still, I can manage to pump out articles this size and not really think twice. A laptop would certainly be more desirable in this situation but if haven’t got one, the only other option is sitting at your desktop. Verdict: It works with a learning curve but doesn’t excel.
Managing email on the iPad is actually pretty fun. Granted I’m not flooded with hundreds of emails each day but replying and browsing is fast and the landscape mode makes things a whole lot easier to browse. Since we’re still running off iPhone OS 3.2 (which isn’t a huge deviation from 3.1.2), there’s no universal inbox and it’s still a pain to hit the ‘back’ button to switch inboxes. This won’t be fixed until the fall but it’s such a small gripe that doesn’t detract from the email app being a great use of the screen real estate. Verdict: It’s awesome and 4.0 will make it perfect.
Consuming your own content you would on your laptop or desktop is a mixed bag. If you’ve got your movies in the right file format (.m4v, .mp4, .mov) your media should play without problems but anything beyond those require conversion. Music from within the iPod app works as it would on any other device and will continue to play in the background after you’ve moved past the iPod app. Streaming apps like Pandora chain you in the app and will stop playing once you need to browse the web or check an email. It’s annoying and thankfully a fix is coming. The pictures app builds off what you’ll find on the iPhone. There’s no way to edit but you can pinch and swipe to your heart’s content. Verdict: Not nearly as easy as a laptop but holding the device any way you want (laying down, sitting up, reclining) is a major bonus.
Anything beyond word processing like photo or video editing doesn’t come standard on the iPad. If you can find an app chances are it won’t do everything you need, especially as well as Photoshop. If you’re looking for a device to edit your pictures, even resize them, the iPad isn’t it. I’ve yet to see an app that can edit video and even if it comes along, nothing can compare to iMovie or Final Cut or any Windows equivalent. I haven’t bought Numbers or Keynote and can’t imagine creating either on the iPad. Verdict: This is not a content creation device. After the shallow end of word processing, a laptop will be your lifesaver.
Apple insists the iPad is the best web browsing experience you’ll have on any device. The 9.7” screen makes websites readable at full scale with pinch-to-zoom as a luxury to block out anything other than what you’re concentrating on. Scrolling and pinching the page turns out to be a much more enjoyable way to consume the web than any desktop, laptop, or smartphone can provide. Switching tabs within the browser feels a bit clunky and slow and after two solid weeks of using it still has me hitting the bookmarks icon when I meant to hit the tabs icon and vice versa. User error or vague icon design and layout? Once in a while you’ll come across a Flash video that you can’t view or YouTube video that hasn’t finished its conversion to H.264 for iPhone/iPad playback. It’s annoying but it’s also happening less and less than it did even 6 months ago. Verdict: The experience itself is the best but there are still holes that need to be filled.
Ultimately, there’s no definitive way to answer the question. Depending on what you need from a portable device, the iPad may or may not be able to fill that gap. If you’re looking for a way to browse the web, check your email, consume your music/videos/pictures, and light word processing the iPad can take the place of a laptop. If you’re a heavy typist or photo editor, steer clear of the iPad as your only portable computer. Could the iPad fit into your life? If no, why not? Let us know in the comments.