Can the iPad replace desktop computing?

I’ve always managed to get a lot of use out of my iPad.

There are two main dilemmas around Apple’s tablet device (aside from price, etc) with one being “What would I use it for?” and the other being “It’s only good for consuming, not creating.”

My iPad has always been kept busy, but I would admit that it’s mostly for consumption. Watching TV, videos, listening to music, browsing the web, playing games, the usual kind of thing. I upgraded to the new iPad Air, and wanted to try it out and see how much of my day to day desktop activities it could replace.


Even better than the real thing

There were a few things that actually worked a lot better on the iPad. I’ve still not yet found a decent email client on the Mac. The best I’ve got is Airmail, which is useful but takes an absolute age to start up. The basic email client on the iPad just works, it’s easy to navigate around, and easy to process through the incoming messages. The only problem I had was knowing what the icons in the corner did, and I may have accidentally archived some emails without meaning to. Otherwise, using email is headache-free on the iPad, whereas it stresses me out on the desktop.

The other app that works better on iOS is Things. I’ve possibly tried every to-do app under the sun, and never had one stick. Things (stupid name) has come the closest, and with the app right there on the homepage of my iPad, it’s easy to open up the to-do list straight away. That’s where the other apps fail, they just get forgotten about in the background. Things for iOS, quick to start and easy to open, can be right there in your face when you need it to be.

Room for improvement

Other processes are not quite an improvement but aren’t that much harder either. Tweetbot have updated their app for the iPhone and it’s incredible. The iPad version has yet to be updated, but if it follows, that would probably make it my Twitter client of choice across all surfaces.

Admin for Sidepodcast is easy enough, writing posts, writing anything, is easy with a bluetooth keyboard. Using the onscreen keyboard is an absolute nightmare, so I avoid that wherever possible.

Things that aren’t compatible with iOS living at the moment include serious picture manipulation. The WordPress app allows for easy blogging, although is missing some key features like the Copy a Post template, and decent image placement tools. Getting an image is okay if you have the completed picture to start with. Just save to the photostream and then import. If you want to edit a photo, then there’s a lot missing. All the photo editing apps are stacked with filters and borders and other fun things to do and share. If you want to resize a picture to specific pixels, there are almost no options to do that.

Photoshop does it, but it’s a faff to achieve, and the resulting exported picture is lower quality than what you would get on a desktop. Power is obviously an issue, and something that will improve in the future, but for now, the device is just not right for image processing.

Small but powerful

We don’t have the tools to podcast via the tablet at the moment, but I was surprised at how conceivable it would be. With just a small gadget added on, you can plug the microphones in, record to Garageband and edit easily enough. Exporting is an issue, as is uploading to a server, although our Sidepodcast files are hosted on Soundcloud at the moment which would make life easier. You wouldn’t want to edit an hour long show on the iPad but for something like F1Minute, it could be very useful.

The issue that arises from that is, I can write an episode via any number of iOS text editors, and let’s say I could record as well. But I can’t see the text and the audio at the same time, which is quite important when you’re trying to squeeze your words into just a minute. The single-task element on the iPad can be very useful for some things, but it does take the edge off the productivity for other projects.

While I was working through the things the iPad does well and the things the Mac does better, I read this CNET post by Scott Stein which was essentially doing the same thing. Scott comes to the same conclusion as I did, and puts it better than I ever could:

I say no, you can’t replace a computer with an iPad, yet I know a lot of people who do and don’t look back. If I had to choose just one, I’d go with a MacBook Air. But, to tell the truth, I use my iPad far more on a daily basis than my laptop. The computer-as-a-tool is a security blanket and necessary piece of tech, but the iPad is the place where I’d rather be more often.

If you’re online and using cloud storage and don’t mind not having more-complex access to your files, maybe an iPad would work for you. I still think it’s a big compromise as your main computer, but it’s a phenomenal secondary computer.

11 thoughts on “Can the iPad replace desktop computing?

  1. hmmmm iPad air… *want*

    Thanks for this post Christine, interesting to know how the iPad really can make life easier!! (now i just have to convince my bank balance!)

  2. Shows you how far we have all come when people doing serious content production can get most of what they want done. I now only use my laptop for analytic spreadsheets, pretty much everything else gets done on an iPad.

    And yes … iPad Air … One day …

  3. What a coincidence! I tried the same experiment last week with a Galaxy Note 10.1. I had on a 1-day work trip and I didn’t want to carry the notebook with me. The conclusion was the same: very comfortable for consumption, not quite there for production. In particular, creating a PowerPoint presentation from zero was almost a nightmare…

    I don’t think the problem is one of power, a high-end tablet today has probably the computational power of a 2-3 years old netbook, and I can do a lot more with the latter. The problem is the dumbed-down “mobile” versions of the programs. As more and more people want to use the tablets to “create”, I hope that’ll change in the near future.

    One note though: the Note 10 series has a split-screen mode for several apps, and multitasking is not a problem there (except for the screen real state).

  4. one place the tablet excels, that desktops will never match is in a live situation. tablets have no fans with which to generate ambient noise and tapping on them is virtually silent. i dream of recording a live talk show using nothing but tablet devices. software is one limitation, lack of inputs and/or associated hardware is another.

  5. I don’t think the problem is one of power

    Maybe power is the wrong word. You’re right, the specs on my iPad surpass my rusty old Mac, but the same photo edited on the iPad and on the desktop came out at very different qualities. I assumed that was a resources thing, but maybe not?

  6. Re: silent – all well and good except for the webpages (mostly news ones) that insist on autoplay videos which override the silent setting of the iPad.

  7. Re: silent – all well and good except for the webpages (mostly news ones) that insist on autoplay videos which override the silent setting of the iPad.

    used to be impossible to autoplay videos on an ipad (“To prevent unsolicited downloads over cellular networks at the user’s expense, embedded media cannot be played automatically in Safari on iOS”), did something change? i haven’t kept up to date on that front.

  8. I don’t know how they do it but is one example that definitely does it. I’m less worried about the autoplay and more about the sound coming through – can be embarrassing in a quiet room (thankfully wasn’t me it happened to).

  9. that is interesting, will have to look into how they do it.

    you can ensure no sound comes out if you plug a 3.5mm jack in the headphone socket, if it was a major concern.

  10. I have set my iPad to have the Ringers and Alerts volume at zero, and manually turn the volume for video etc. down to zero after watching something. No surprises 🙂

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