As the iPad has evolved and grown more capable, it becomes possible to think about ditching your Mac (or PC) and living solely with an iPad. Here are some of the considerations, techniques and apps to help you decide if that's something you can do ... now or very soon.
The first thing to think about is what you may have been doing on a Mac (or PC) that isn't yet supported on an iPad. Of course, that situation changes virtually every week as the iPad slowly moves from being a content consumption device to a much more capable content creation and management device.
A good initial approach is to take stock of your activities, keeping in mind that there are some things you may only do occasionally. For example, if you've been preparing your Income Tax with, say, TurboTax on a Mac, you couldn't do that in 2012 with an iPad. But the situation even there is changing, and Intuit has announced Turbo Tax for the iPad coming in January 2013.
If you've been using Microsoft Office and depend on, say, MS Word, that's a consideration. While there are rumors of MS Office for iPad, it hasn't happend yet. In terms of compatibility, there are iPad apps writing tools, like UX Write, can read MS Word files, but if you are, for example, a book author and need the full capabilities of MS Word for manuscript preparation, then living in an iPad 100 percent of the time isn't an option. Yet.
However, in some cases, you may be able to figure out how to use certain authoring tools to get most of the way there, depending on your publishing workflow and technical requirements. For example, Storyist is on the iPad -- which can export to RTF. Also, Apple's iWork apps (Pages, Numbers and Keynote), which have decent MS Office compatibility, may be all you need to prepare documents, spreadsheets and presentations on an iPad.
Banking is coming along on the iPad. Only a short time ago, one would have needed a Mac to do personal finance and banking, but the availability of iBank Mobile and MoneyWiz for the iPad may change that for you.
Many school districts are using software that is accessible to teachers and students via an iPad. Teachers can assign homework and manage grades. Students can submit homework and see their grades. If you happen to be on one of those school districts, you may be able to get along with just an iPad, and that's something to check on. But you'll also have to take into account content creation. Can you as a teacher or student build the content, research papers, music, art, etc that's required on the iPad? And it's not just the creation process, but moving that content around.
Of course, while many legacy apps that were on the Mac are coming to the iPad, they may not be quite as comfortable to use without a Bluetooth keyboard. For example, tax preparation or novel writing. In the above cases, one might be more comfortable with such a physical keyboard -- perhaps something like the Brydge or the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard/Cover. Or just a plain desktop keyboard.
Apple sells a handsome Bluetooth keyboard that can complement an iPad.
In general, however, if there are some high end types of activities that are more professionally oriented, some research will be necessary to understand whether an iPad can do the job. For example, Photoshop is a powerful desktop (or notebook application), but Photoshop touch for the iPad may do what you need it to do.
Amateur or Professional?
As you might suspect, from the above discussion, there may well be be some technical requirements that professionals have that only allows them to supplement their work with an iPad and not completely abandon, say, a MacBook Pro.
For example, if you run a small business, a personal finance app may not be sufficient for invoicing, accounts receivable etc. A Mac connected to an all-in-one printer may still be essential. However, the introduction of Freshbooks, working in the cloud, starts to change all that.
Publishing houses with specific kinds of workflows will be slow to move away from traditional PCs and Macs.
On the other hand, for many average customers, the very reason they've embraced the iPad is because it supports everything they want to do: check email, listen to music, watch movies, browse the Internet, shop, conduct a FaceTime session with friends and relatives, read news, read a good book and play games.
If that's the case, then an immediate move to living full-time in an iPad is very doable. But there is one more important consideration, even for the casual consumer.
IPad Mini. Image credit: Apple
What About My Stuff?!
First, without a PC or Mac, it has not been possible in the past to back up your iPad. With the introduction of iOS 6, customers now have the option to back up to Apple's iCloud. So, for example, if the iPad is lost or stolen, a new iPad can be completely restored from iCloud. That eliminates one more reason to have a Mac as the iPad's mothership.
Another important consideration for those who've been using a Mac or PC for many years is the accumulation of a vast library of photos, documents, drawings, emails, etc -- and the apps that can view or edit them. It could easily be hundreds of gigabytes.
The emerging availability of broadband access to all kinds of cloud services, Drobox, Microsoft's SkyDrive, Apple's iCloud, and Amazon's cloud services mean that it may be possible, in some cases, to move all that legacy data to cloud storage. Of course, that entails some security risk and the likelihood that you'll have to pay to access your own data. That's the trade-off.
Even so, cloud services aren't going away, and as we develop more trust in their reliability, it may be possible for users without too many terabytes of personal data to move most of their personal files into the a cloud, dispensing with in-home storage and backup responsibilities.
The projected sales of tablets in 2013 is just under 200 million tablets of all kinds. That kind of momentum virtually guarantees that the business opportunities and energy in tablet development means that new apps, support mechanisms, peripherals, and interoperability solutions will emerge in the Post-PC era. And who would bet that there will never be iPads with larger displays? That would make it easier to do certain tasks, perhaps with multiple windows.
Some Apple iPad users will be able to transition right away to a tablet-only plus iCloud existence. Others may be able to follow soon after as the iPad ecosystem grows richer. Except for a very few, developers and publishing houses, to name a few, (and some lovable curmudgeons) the era of the iPad-only existence is a distinct, looming reality.
As the new year arrives, if this is where you think you may be headed, it's probably a good idea, with some of the above considerations in mind, to take stock of your Mac and PC activities to see what tasks may be taken on by a tablet. A checklist of all your activities, workflows, files, file types, OS X apps, and activities on the Mac will help that process.
And, finally, The Mac Observer, will also help you keep track of all the new announcements of iPad apps coming along that come to bear on this Post-PC era. We're in a classic transition phase now, but it probably won't last long as we think (or hope) it will.
Trashcan via Shutterstock and additional art by Bryan Chaffin.