How to ditch a laptop for the iPad

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.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor

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.

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