How to ditch a laptop for the iPad

How to ditch a laptop for the iPad

Summary: Even though laptops are getting thin and light, some folks are determined to get rid of the laptop and go all in on the iPad. These guidelines will help determine if that's feasible for you.

TOPICS: Mobility, iPad, Laptops

Regular readers know I like using my iPad instead of a laptop whenever possible. I am regularly contacted by those wanting to get rid of the laptop and use an iPad as I do. Doing so is not for everyone, and these guidelines will help determine if the swap will work for you.

iPad Air and ZAGGkeys Cover keyboard
iPad Air and ZAGGkeys Cover keyboard (Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

Ditching the laptop means the iPad must be used for everything, and that likely includes work. Using an iPad for work complicates things, and it requires giving some thought to the switch.

Keep your eyes wide open

I'm always surprised when I'm contacted about swapping a laptop for the iPad, as it often seems those wanting to do so are almost determined to argue for doing so. When I respond to questions about it, many argue with me that it's perfect for them. That's not always the case.

Dropping the laptop altogether for the iPad means the tablet must handle everything you need to do.

Think about how you use the laptop, and about all the tasks you do using it. Dropping the laptop altogether for the iPad means the tablet must handle everything you need to do. There is no "it does almost everthing I need", as the laptop is going away.

See related: Best iPad Air keyboards (hands on): January 20149 best iPad keyboards (hands on): March 2013 | iPad Air: Best tablet ever made

Is tablet use alone going to fit all possible needs, or is a physical keyboard going to be needed occasionally? Some folks, myself included, have no problem using a keyboard with the iPad from time to time. Others want to also ditch the keyboard with the laptop and go all in on the iPad. If so, that might require some practice with the iPad to make sure the onscreen keyboard is good enough for text entry for all possible tasks.

No doubt some will say that if you're planning to use a keyboard with the iPad, then just keep the laptop. That overlooks the ability to use the iPad without the keyboard, and that's a big benefit over the older laptops usually involved in the iPad shuffle. Having used dozens of tablets of all kinds, the iPad Air is the best tablet ever made in this writer's opinion.

Step into my Office

Once you're sure the iPad can physically work, keyboard or not, the next big thing to consider is if Microsoft Office is a factor. Many I speak with need to use Office sometimes and at the time of publication it's not an option on the iPad.

See also: Microsoft Office: Enabling the iPad to do 'real work' Office for the iPad: It's all about the enterprise

There are office suite alternatives available for the iPad, and these may be good enough for those who don't work with complicated documents created with Office. Other app solutions can handle basic documents just fine, so the iPad may be able to handle them.

That may not be the case if your work consists of collaborating with others on such documents. Office handles teams working on documents much better than the alternative apps. While possible, you'll have fewer headaches and find the collaboration much easier using Office. The iPad isn't currently a good solution for this type of Office document work.

Microsoft is expected to soon release a version of Office for the iPad, so that might change. If this happens the way rumors indicate, the iPad will soon be a solid laptop replacement for the laptop.

It's all about the apps

So you've gone through the indicated process so far and you're ready to buy an iPad and pitch the laptop in the ditch. Before you pull out the credit card, one question that must be answered is really important.

Does your work require even one program that you use on the laptop that isn't available on the iPad? Even one that you seldom use, but when you need it you really need it. If so, the iPad won't work for you.

Recently a professional photographer approached me to get my take on his trading in the Macbook Pro for the iPad. He travels a lot for his work and really wanted to downsize to the iPad.

Discussing his needs, it didn't take long to determine his reliance on the Final Cut Pro app. He uses it for final editing of his creative work, and couldn't live without it. That killed the iPad for his use as FCP is only available for the Mac.

Based on this need, we determined downsizing from the MacBook Pro to the MacBook Air was the way to go.

The iPad doesn't stand alone

Replacing the laptop with the iPad is really about the tablet in most cases. The tablet space is exploding and there's no reason to overlook considering Android or Windows tablets.

Additional mobile coverage: It's a great time to be a mobile tech addict | 6 great mobile writing rigs | Tablets: Not mobile enough or productive enough for many professionals

There are lots of tablets on these platforms that are quite good, and it would be a mistake to overlook them. Android tablets have a lot of apps in the Play Store and it's usually possible to find good ones that rival those for the iPad.

There aren't as many apps in the Microsoft Store for Windows 8, but is might be possible to find those that are needed. Those who've determined they will definitely need a keyboard to use with the iPad may find the hybrid computers for Windows to be just the ticket.

These are pretty good tablets with the screen detached from the keyboard but when the tablet is docked with the keyboard they are decent laptops.

Don't force it

Those who meet all the criteria detailed here will discover the joys of working everywhere with just the thin, light iPad. It is very nice to be able to carry a small gear bag with just the iPad inside, even with a keyboard. I've been doing this for years, even carrying just the iPad in a keyboard case on trips.

Related: Key to using a tablet for work: Don't force it

That said, due to my coverage of all types of mobile devices, including laptops, and the fact I like notebook computers, I haven't totally ditched them for the iPad rig. While I could if I desired, I'll keep at least one laptop around.

Some I communicate with about doing the iPad/laptop shuffle are insistent they can do it. That's great if so, but don't force it. If your analysis of the guidelines detailed here comes up with even one area that might be a problem, then don't do it. Don't drop the laptop just because it will be cool to use just the iPad. Be true to yourself and do what works.

Very few can abandon the laptop and go with just the iPad. That's why I have never advocated anyone do that. I realize I am in the small group that can use the iPad alone. That's not the case for most.

Topics: Mobility, iPad, Laptops

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  • Thanks but no thanks...

    You were honest enough to declate early on that this is not for the majority, but for the select few who can really attempt it. So why the article in the first place? Why the pitch? It's just like saying only few people can stomach a certain kind of dish, and then go on and on about the same dish when it's clearly not for general consumption.
    • Not a pitch at all

      In fact the whole article was aimed at pointing out it's not for many. The article plainly stated it was for the ones who wanted to do it. Again, hardly a pitch to do it.
      • Salesmenship?

        James, I imagine you would make a poor salesman. "Lets trade your car for a nice bicycle. Its lighter and thinner". Or maybe, "Get rid of your lawnmower, here is a pair of scissor instead."

        But seriously, you don't trade a real computer for a tablet. You just use both.
        Sean Foley
        • Again, read the article

          You cannot actually read the article and determine that I am promoting ditching the laptop for a tablet. It states repeatedly that it's not for the many, and the whole article gives guidelines that help people determine why it won't work for them.
    • I like edge material

      So, I have several recipes people gave me for food that most people don't like - but some of us do. And I'm glad they made the recipes public. And I do several things (like run dozens of monitors with a couple desktops, 3 laptops, plus several tablets including an iPad and a win8 smart phone. I would never *switch* to the iPad, but I'm glad people reported on MY edge cases, so I'm glad he's reporting on someone else's edge case. If all we did was what the majority did, then no one would have reported on anything other than desktop computers. Laptops, and the later tablets and phones, would never have become common because even their basic use mwre all edge cases at one point in time.
  • Wake Up, James ...

    I hate to be the one to tell you, but not only are there alternatives to the iPad, Apple no longer even have the majority of the market.

    You really need to know when to get generic.

    And yes, I use a Nexus - but I'd STILL be miffed if you assumed THAT was the only one. Because it isn't.
    • You didn't read the article

      Especially the section dedicated to that.
    • Read the entire article

      Honestly, it's right there. The article is broken up into 4 sections. The third section, "The iPad doesn't stand alone" is about exactly that--non-iPad tablets.

      I'm not even a fan of Apple products (only i-device I have is an old, used iPod Nano) and I managed to read the whole thing, go figure.
    • My mistake--it's 5 sections

      And the alternatives-to-iPad-section is the fourth one.
  • Did it

    When my laptop battery was on its last leg a couple of months ago, I started looking at the possibility of replacing it with my iPad 2. Note that I wasn't using the laptop for much - mostly web browsing, e-mails etc while having a coffee before going to work. Basically, the laptop was severely underused. But at the same time, the iPad 2 wasn't a good replacement: Typing more than a sentence or two with the onscreen keyboard? Shoot me.

    I had run into a review of the ClamCase Pro keyboard last year, so I did some research on that one (and a few other highly-rated keyboards). Finally decided to go ahead and bought one. It's *almost* like having a small laptop (it's still a tablet, with the limitations - or I should say differences - of a tablet OS). But it gets the job done. Now I have one less device to keep charged (the keyboard needs to be charged occasionally, but I've had it for 6 weeks and I have yet to recharge it), one less device to maintain. I donated the laptop to a local technology charity.
    • Well...

      My guess is that if you like comfort, speed, screen real estate, and other basic computing commodities, you will, like I have, return to the beauty of having it all in one machine. Yes, a laptop.
      Woned B. Fooldagan
  • How to ditch a laptop for the iPad

    I wouldn't do it myself but I like how you did state that its not for everyone. Best advice is in this article is the don't force it. I can't tell you how many times I've seen people trying to force the tablet to do work and it just makes the user more inefficient.
  • It seems to me...

    In the final analysis, you have to add a 'real' keyboard to a tablet to make it useful as a primary work device. Adding a mouse as a pointer is, I believe, also a requirement to eliminate the frustration of trying to point at content that your finger doesn't find too well.

    With all that added stuff, it seems that having an ultrabook, most of them with MUCH larger storage and more ports, would be preferable to the compromise one has using a tablet, IMHO.
    • Totally Agree!

      What you end up with is a "workaround" device.
    • And this is why...

      ...Windows hybrids and 2:1s are far better solutions than trying to make a iOS or even a Android tablet into a productivity device.
      Rann Xeroxx
      • Why

        Why exactly is a widows tablet better?
        if you are going to fall back on the old tired excuse of being able to use MS Office, I haven't found anything excel does that can't be reproduced on numbers, same for word and Pages. Learn to expand your horizons, there are other viable (and in some cases better) options.
        E Conner
        • Lack of connectivity

          I need to have a paper document I received in the mail, scanned, OCRed and saved as a PDF that I need to print out (need to keep the original unedited for archival purposes), fill out the form and sign, then scan the resulting document back as a PDF and then send it by email along with an accompanying document that resides on a network drive to a 3rd party...not possible with the iPad. The iPad print capabilities are limited...There is no USB to connect to the scanner (although, if you have a bluetooth scanner, you may be able to use that...but how many have that lying around) And no, a photo doesn't work because it needs to be an editable PDF document. Can't get to the accompanying document because the iPad cannot connect to the network drives. Sure, there is the cloud, but these are top secret documents that cannot be trusted to cloud provider storage...
          This is standard work that is performed every day in the security and government arena...the iPad is an extremely limiting device for work use! But, hey! it makes you look good while you're *NOT* doing any work!
        • depends how you use it

          Nothing is better.

          You can't say A is better than B.

          It all depends how you use the computer day to day. What is good for you may not be for someone else. Some people have to have a Windows machine everyday. They must be able to plug in a scanner or a printer to a usb port and just get it done. No cloud or complicated set ups. For them a surface or another Windows tablet or ultra Thin laptop would do.

          I sit in front of a cheap crap desktop at work. I don't need that. So an iPad could be my only computer.

          I just need to edit or create simple word documents. Excel to fill in grades twice a year and for me personally simple graphic design.

          Other than that, email, YouTube, the basics.

          So an iPad is ideal for me.
    • There is truth in what you say...

      However, the thin keyboard covers for the Microsoft tablets, especially the type cover, work as a protective cover for the screen, a full keyboard and mouse - less number pad. So, it is possible to get all of that extra stuff in a small profile that is useful, lightweight and removable. I use a Surface 2 like this and it works very well. I could never get rid of my main PC, but I use the Surface to RDP into my real work machines as well as to do stuff offline when not in the office.
      • I'm not a fanboy

        Slackware rules! Anyway, for me, I get away with a tablet (nexus) because I can RDP into a desktop/TS and do "real" work, and I have a BT kb/mouse for trips. I rarely need to, though.

        I've set a few people up with Surface Pros, though, and they love them. Especially when their required application loads with no problem, and they can VPN into the network.