Laptop or iPad?

A friend e-mailed me asking for advice on a replacement for an ageing laptop, used for web browsing, e-mailing, and writing some simple documents. My friend wanted to know whether an iPad could be a suitable replacement, or whether another laptop would be a better bet.

Some way into the e-mailed answer, I decided to change it into this blog post, as I don’t think that it’s an unusual question and this answer might help someone else. For clarity, this is only about the iPad - my friend already knows what can be done with a laptop.

Web browsing

This is brilliant on the iPad - probably better than on a laptop. It really is amazing to be able to interact so directly with the content, rather than going via a mouse.

The only real downside is that you can’t access some or all features of websites that rely on Adobe Flash. While the number of websites in this category is fast diminishing, the fact is that they do still remain. This is noticeable (to me anyway) in the following categories:

  1. Restaurant websites - it’s surprisingly annoying to know that you could look at that menu if only it was done in HTML. Martha & Vincent and Farsyde in Ilkley are particularly in-my-face examples of this.
  2. Moshi Monsters, which my children sometimes like to play.
  3. Web based mini-games. These don’t impinge upon me at all, but I know that some people really love them.

This last category is amply replaced by the App Store which has thousands of games of this type, that give you something to do for 2 minutes in between other things and are free (meaning ad-supported) or 69p.

Writing

The iPad has an on-screen keyboard that many people have become very fast at using. However, I still find it a challenge to write anything longer than a couple of paragraphs with it. So you might consider buying a bluetooth keyboard, such as the Logitech Ultra Thin Keyboard Cover which I find to be a fantastic physical keyboard for those times when I want to use the iPad to write something a little longer. Another alternative, perhaps better if you only ever intend to write in one place is the full size Apple Wireless Keyboard - British

The application that you should buy for writing your documents is Pages. This is part of Apple’s iWork suite. Pages is a great word processor, and can export documents as PDF or in Microsoft Word format. It’s not just good for more standard documents, but has great layout capabilities for newsletters and the like. iWork also has Numbers and Keynote, which are a spreadsheet and presentation application respectively. All three are top quality apps and relatively inexpensive.

You can’t currently get Microsoft Office for the iPad, so if you regularly have to deal with complex spreadsheets with VBA macros embedded in them, then the iPad won’t be suitable.

Printing

One area that can be more difficult with an iPad is printing.

It’s very easy if you get a printer that supports AirPrint printing. This type of printer is connected to your network at home (via WiFi or by an Ethernet cable, depending on the printer), and you can print straight from your iPad over the network.

A more complicated variation of this can be employed if there is a PC or Mac in the house with a printer connected. You can get software for the computer that will pretend to be an AirPrint printer, but which will then go ahead and print the received file on the computer’s own printer. The computer will need to be on for this to work, and it can be a little fiddly to set up.

I don’t know of any way to directly connect a printer to an iPad and print on it.

Security

If you get a PC, you’ll need antivirus and firewall subscriptions, and you’ll need to keep it all up to date. In spite of this, you still might suffer from a virus or other malware outbreak which you may never even spot.

No doubt somebody will be cross with me for saying this, but the risk of malware on an iPad is relatively tiny. The iPad wins this category hands down. Apple’s curated app store makes it hard for “bad” apps to get through. No platform is entirely secure, but you’ll get a lot more security for a lot less effort on the iPad, compared to a PC.

…and more!

So far, this discussion has only just touched upon some my favourite things about the iPad.

One such thing is the App Store. Once you have your iPad, you can buy apps for a couple of pounds that enable you to use it to make music and art, to read newspapers and magazines, to access Facebook and Twitter, to make a video call with FaceTime or Skype, to create and edit pictures and movies, to play games alone or with other people, to entertain and educate your children. I am constantly amazed at the things people create with iPads. For many examples, look at the iPad Creative blog.

Another great thing about the iPad is that it turns on instantly, with no boot-up or wake-up time. This facilitates any amount of casual usage. You wouldn’t boot up a laptop to find out who an actor in a TV show is, but you can pick up an iPad (which is probably on the sofa near to you) and find out in just a few seconds.

Summary

I hope this goes some way towards explaining the pros and cons of an iPad for the core things that you want to do, as well as some of the more surprising things that would be able to do with one once you have it. Having written all this, I think that my advice is to get the iPad, unless there are limitations above that you just can’t live with.

Of course, this begs the question of which iPad to go for - with both the iPad 2 and “the new iPad” available, and the variations of storage space and 3G networking. That’s a different blog post, though for another evening.