Laptop Free Since 2010 / by Erin Wade

As we stand on the cusp of a new Apple announcement PC Magazine's Eric Grevstad steps up to tell us Why the iPad 3 Won't Replace Your Laptop.

He offers several paragraphs in support of his case, but for me the answer is much simpler:

The iPad 3 won't replace my laptop because it was replaced by the original iPad in the spring of 2010.

In early April of 2010 I spent my time in hell (standing in line at Best Buy) to bring home an iPad on day one. My intention out the gate was to replace the MacBook I'd been hauling around for work since late 2006.

A month in I chronicled my experience. With the iPad 3 set to be announced on March 7th, it seems a good time to follow-up on that original review, and discuss what some others are saying about their experience using an iPad for work.

Essentially, in that original review I was very happy with the device. It was smaller, lighter, and had phenomenally better battery life than my MacBook, enabling me to forego carrying power cables along with me. In addition to document management and editing options, it was a feature-added experience, with reading and video options that exceeded the capabilities of my laptop.

But, as with anything, it was not perfect. The first version of Pages made some truly odd decisions with respect to the editing tools:


the formatting tools are only available in portrait orientation, making it very cumbersome to format as you write, which is my common practice (to italicize as you go you must stop typing, orient the device to portrait mode to get the toolbar to show, select the word in question, tap the appropriate tool button on the screen re-orient to landscape, and return to typing)...


...And with respect to document management:


There has been quite a bit written by actual reviewers about the issues with file handling in iWork, so I will only summarize here: In essence, it's a pain in the ass to get your files on to and off of the device.


The oddity in the editing tools layout was addressed fairly quickly with updates to Pages. The document management issue has been much slower to resolve. Changes to the DropBox application for iOS have made it easier to move documents around, but extra steps are still required, and these involve either routing through iTunes, emailing documents to yourself and then uploading to the Dropbox app, or using a third party solution like Dropdav to go directly from iWork to Dropbox. These solutions are effective, but still a bit fiddly. I'm pleased to note it appears this issue will finally be completely resolved with the transition to Mountain Lion.

I wrote that original review a month after getting the iPad. Within another month or so I'd completely mothballed my MacBook and subsequently sold it to a colleague. To be clear: My work tools now consist of an iPad, an iPhone, and a new 27” iMac. There are no laptops in my kit.

It seems unlikely that I am alone in this, and yet there are people like Grevstad who continue to struggle with the iPad:


That’s because, for all the talk about whether the iPad 3 will have a quad-core processor or a retina display or a VW Beetle bud vase, we already know one thing about it: It won’t be a laptop. And we know, if we’re honest, that the iPad is no substitute for a laptop. Never will be. Isn’t supposed to be.


This is something that can even affect Apple-Centric folks. Dan Moren, in his recent three-part series at Macworld, comes to the following conclusion:


Is the iPad ready to be your only computer? It’s not quite ready to be mine, but I doubt that’ll be the case forever.


I've spent some time trying to understand why these authors have had experiences that vary so much from mine. Ultimately, I think they may be having a Turkey Bacon Problem (TBP).

The TBP comes into play when one tries to plug a new, distinctly different item into the same role that a different item once played. Turkey Bacon in the place of real bacon aside your scrambled eggs; Fat-free sour cream on your baked potato; Boca burgers in place of a Quarter Pounder. Anyone who has tried these things has had the experience of them paling as they attempt to fill the role of their predecessors - it's just not the same. Honestly - show me a man who says he enjoys fat-free sour cream, and I'll show you a person who is lying to you... And to himself.

If you approach the iPad as if it's supposed to be exactly the same thing as a laptop you are bound to be disappointed.

But although fat-free sour cream (which is truly an abomination) has no place in nature, the iPad actually calls into question the paradigm that a laptop forces upon us. Despite the name they are not comfortable (nor especially safe) to use in the lap. When I see them in use in coffee shops and the like, I rarely see them in a lap. Usually the laptop user is tethered to a table and, when not - when actually using the devices atop their thighs - people rarely look comfortable.

I notice these things from my position in the comfortable chair at Starbucks. My comfortable chair in which I sit, working on my iPad.

I don't use my iPad as my only computer, as Daniel Moren suggests. Rather, it's the mobile extension for my desktop system - which is always how I used a laptop as well. The reality of this, though, is that I spend the overwhelming majority of my work time on the iPad, as I am mostly away from my main desk. But when I am away from my desk I find that the iPad can easily meld to my environment, the type of work I am doing, and the environment I am in. It's very comfortable to write with the iPad in my lap in landscape orientation while sitting in a comfy armchair, for example, and I prefer to write presentations on the iPad, since I tend to pace as I think my way through how the presentation will go. And, since the iPad can easily move with me - from desktop to pacing to comfy chair - I find myself able to work longer, in a wider variety of settings, with less fatigue.

And note - none of this work involves the use of an external keyboard of any sort. It is the heart of overgeneralization to assert that the only way anyone writes on the iPad is using a separate keyboard. I'm sure there are those who prefer that approach. Others - like myself - tried hauling around the extra keyboard at first, but then found it - despite Grevstad's protestations to the contrary - to be as effective to learn to use the on-screen keyboard. In fact, portions of this post were written on my iPad, and those that weren't were written on my iPhone while I was waiting for my iPad to render the video from my daughter's gymnastics meet.

And this is the rub: these folks talk about trying to replace their laptops but really seem to be trying to replace desktop replacement machines. Perhaps this is why Grevstad appears to be afraid someone is going to come and take his laptop away from him.

Unfortunately, in expressing this fear he comes across as a nonagenarian talking about the dawn of the horseless carriage:


Meanwhile, people who contend that the tablet is destined to replace the laptop tend to overlook a couple of things: Laptops have been around, and proven themselves in the portable productivity marketplace, for decades, and they've continuously evolved and gotten better.


Insert ”automobile" for "tablet", "carriage” for "laptop" and "transportation industry" for "portable productivity marketplace" and you'll see what I mean.

It's okay, Eric - I'm sure Dell will continue to produce low quality laptops for you until they finally descend into bankruptcy.

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