Why the iPad Is My New Laptop

My Mac setup used to consist of a Mac Pro and a MacBook Pro. When I realized that the laptop was plenty powerful to serve as my only computer I sold the Mac Pro on Craigslist, shedding a tear as I said goodbye to her jaw-dropping speeds, and have been a one-machine Mac user since.

That is, until recently.

I once again find myself using two computers. Except this time it’s my MacBook Air that serves as my “desktop” while my iPad is now my “laptop.” 1

And I’m not the only one. Within my circle of friends, I know several people who are also using their iPad as their portable computer. I even have a handful friends who have an iPad as their only computer.

It is not a sacrifice to use the iPad as a primary device. I wanted to take a look at some of the most compelling reasons to use an iPad as your portable, if not your only, computer.

  • Battery life: When I bought my original iPad back in 2010, people often asked me what the best thing about it was. My answer was always the battery.

    The iPad is like the Kindle in that two of its greatest features are its absurd battery life and its crisp display. The iPad gets 9 or more hours of battery life without breaking a sweat. And that’s with the display around 60% brightness while using LTE data.

    Thanks to its battery life, the iPad can pretty much work or play for as long as you can. How many times have you taken your laptop to work only to plug it in as soon as you got there? Or, when you go to a coffee shop, do you not look for a table near an outlet? I used to own two power adapters for my MacBook Pro — one for home and one for my office — so that I wouldn’t have to carry one with me during my commutes to and from work.

    The iPad’s battery obviates the need to think about when and where you can next plug your device in. You unplug it when you start your day, you (maybe) plug it back in when you go to bed, and you don’t have to think about it in between.

  • Size and weight: Akin to its great battery life, another fine feature of the iPad is how small and lightweight it is. You can easily slip the iPad into your bag, or carry it in a case, with virtually no regard. Even a MacBook Air is not so easily portable. And, the iPad is more rugged than a laptop. I don’t mind tossing my iPad over onto a couch cushion, or into the back seat of my car.

  • You don’t have to pull it out at airports: This advantage speaks for itself.

  • LTE: Having a device which is connected to the Internet no matter where you are is a huge advantage. It seems that nearly everything we do with our computers today needs an internet connection. Even when I’m doing something as simple as writing, I am working with files that are stored in the cloud, and so I need access to Dropbox and Simplenote to get at my current documents and to save whatever new work I’ve just written.

    Remember when the iPad was first introduced and everyone quipped that it was just a giant iPod touch? In some ways, an iPad with a cellular data connection is like a giant iPhone. In that it has instant access to services and information that you must have a data connection in order to get. I’ve been taking my iPad with me for errands when I’m driving around town. Times when I need maps or directions I can get faster data on a larger screen using the iPad. And, if I’m waiting somewhere, the iPad makes for a better reading or writing device than my iPhone.

  • Cost of device: The entry price for an iPad is $399 (a base-model, iPad 2). The entry price for a Mac is $999 (a base-model MacBook Air).

    Though I don’t have any data to support this assumption, but my guess is that most people who buy a Mac, buy just the Mac. Whereas those who buy an iPad also buy a Smart Cover and also (for those who intend to use the iPad as their portable (if not only) device) a Bluetooth keyboard and perhaps some sort of keyboard stand.

    Of course the pricing and configuration options are virtually endless. And, at the end of the day, a well-equipped iPad is not significantly less expensive than a basic MacBook Air. But, if anything, the perceived cost of an iPad is lower. And, for those who need only the bare necessities, an iPad truly is much cheaper than a laptop.

    Another advantage to the low cost of the iPad is the replacement cost. Once you own all the extras that go with your iPad, you only have to replace the device itself if yours breaks or when you upgrade.

  • Cost of apps: As of this writing, the average price of the top 100 paid iPad apps is $3.12. The average price of the top 100 paid Mac apps is $18.56.

    It’s not an exact apples-to-apples comparison to pit iPad apps against Mac apps. The latter are, generally, far more robust and feature rich. But there is something enticing about being able to buy a note-taking app or a game or a blogging app for a fraction of the price when buying it for you iPad. Especially when you may not need the robustness and additional features that the Mac versions have.

  • iCloud backup and restore: One of the greatest and yet most-unsung features of iCloud and iOS are the automatic, nightly backups of your data.

    If my iPad were to get catastrophically damaged right now, I wouldn’t lose a sliver of data. I could go to the Apple store, buy a new device, log in with my iCloud username, and restore from backup. Within a matter of hours I’d be right where I left off.

  • Utility and variety: The iPad, at its base functionality, is little more than a screen. Whatever you are using the device for — reading, writing, watching a movie — that is what the sort of device the iPad turns into. The oft-mentioned sentiment that the iPad becomes the app you have opened is true. And I think it is a feature of the device and of iOS.

    My computer is where I do so many different tasks. Many are personal, many are work related. I pay bills, I write, I work, I do research, I have work email and personal email, I organize and edit family pictures, and more. When I sit down at my computer, all of these tasks want to present themselves to me at the same time — I find that, for me, it takes a rigorous schedule and self-discipline to stay focused on only one task.

    The iPad, however, comes with a natural anti-distraction software: iOS itself. The iPad makes a great multi-use device because it doesn’t distract or beckon away from the task at hand.

There are, of course, many things which you cannot do on an iPad.

Two prime examples for me are my use of QuickBooks and InDesign. And then there are the things which can be done on an iPad or a laptop, but which are done more efficiently on the latter. Another personal example: email. I am much better at processing email with my laptop because of the many AppleScripts and keyboard shortcuts I use in order to file and act on my messages.

Which is why I could not get by with an iPad only. But I am comfortable traveling without my MacBook Air, and there are often times when I prefer to work from the smaller device rather than at the comfort of my Mac. The iPad is a compelling computer, and it is quickly maturing right before our eyes.


  1. People have asked me why I don’t replace my MacBook Air with an iMac. While it’s true that my Air spends most of its time docked to my Cinema Display, I don’t want it to be forever anchored at my desk. When I leave the house I usually take only the iPad. However, I don’t want that to be a requirement — I want to be able to take my MacBook Air with me whenever I want or need to.
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