Is the iPad a viable alternative to the MacBook?

Firstly, in the interests of full disclosure, I’ve become some what of an Apple ‘fan boy’ over the last few years. In my growing stable of all things Apple I can now count two iPhones (technically one belongs to work), Apple TV and a MacBook Pro. So it will come as no surprise that when I decided to look for an ultra-light laptop, it quickly came down to a choice between the MacBook Air and the iPad.

Having done some browsing, I started to favour the idea of going for the iPad as it appeared to cover most of what I required. One key factor was the availability of iPad versions of the main business software I normally use on my Mac; Pages, Numbers and Keynote. So I decided to throw caution to the wind and headed down to my local Apple Store and purchased a 16GB iPad. The sales guy seemed a bit unfamiliar with some of its features and also gave me the impression (at first) that the iPad would come with the business apps preloaded.

After turning on my new shiny iPad for the first time, one of the things that immediately struck me was the video playback function. Also the way it handles purchased video content from the iTunes store was mostly smooth, apart from a few impulse purchases which somehow ended up in ‘no man’s land’, neither in iTunes or the iPod area. This was quickly fixed by syncing with the Mac, but slightly annoying on the road. Nevertheless, going back and trying to watch a video on my iPhone (which I’d previously thought was more than adequate) now pales in comparison.

However, as you may remember, the main intention of getting a light weight device was to enable me to carry on working while on the road. Unfortunately my experience here wasn’t quite as positive as my video watching! Whilst it’s easy to use, in terms of text input, some of the applications take some serious getting used to. For example, with Numbers it took some time to discover all of the functions – all of which were very different from its desktop big brother (give example here?).

Furthermore, native applications are limited (there isn’t even a calculator, and Apple never includes “To Do” applications) which lowers the iPad’s “out of the box” usefulness. When you do buy apps that are “full function”, some important business features (such as track changes in word processing) are still not available. I also found the need to invest in a Bluetooth keyboard as it enabled me to use the less cluttered full screen view and improved the functionality of most apps.

As large web browser, book reader, or portable media player the iPad gets my thumbs up. However, as a full functioning business tool, the iPad has been less fulfilling and not, for me at least, a viable alternative to a laptop. In summary, the iPad should be seen as a unique device, as many app developers are doing, rather than a replacement for any other device.