Can an iPad replace a MacBook? Maybe. As the old saying goes: “An iPad can replace a laptop for some of the people all of the time, for all of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.” At least not yet. Despite Apple’s push into iOS content creation, with apps such as Pages, iPhoto and GarageBand, there will still be times when only a Mac is up to the task.
However, while we continue to witness tablets’ gradual but steady eclipsing of laptops, there’s another far more intriguing question to ponder: Are iPads already better than MacBooks for many tasks? The answer is a resounding yes.
In my case, I prefer my iPad over my MacBook Air for almost any task that does not demand that I be seated at a desk. Such tasks include Google searches, checking movie showtimes, checking weather and stocks, going over my calendar schedule, reading my Twitter feed (and posting new tweets), finding a location with Maps, reading the online versions of newspapers and magazines, playing Angry Birds, watching movies and TV shows (especially Netflix and HBO Go), and a good deal more. Given that I have the luxury of also having a desktop Mac Pro, if forced to chose between giving up my MacBook Air or my iPad, the choice would be simple: So long MacBook!
How iPad owners (like myself) are increasingly depending on the tablet is only the beginning of how iPads are reshaping our world. The rest of the story extends into how iPads are infiltrating school, work and public environments. The iPad’s user interface, with its clean small thin no-keyboard design and intuitive touchscreen input, makes it ideal for a variety of tasks where a laptop, even a MacBook Air, would never make the cut. The result is a cultural shift so dramatic that it will wind up influencing almost every aspect of our lives. It’s already well underway.
You can see an early trickle with the report that airlines are using iPads in place of the printed cockpit manuals. MacBooks (or other laptops) were never — and would never be — considered as an option here.
Why? To see the answer, you need only put yourself in the cramped space of a jetliner cockpit. On the one hand, with an iPad, you are comfortably holding a lightweight device, about the size of a piece of paper, while you tap the screen to bring up a library of all the manuals you need. One more tap and you’re reading any chosen manual, scrolling through the pages with a flick of a finger.
In contrast, with a laptop, you start with a bulkier, heavier device that you must flip open to reveal a keyboard and display — taking up even more space as a result. The keyboard mostly just gets in the way, as it is unwanted and unneeded for the required task. Even with OS X’s best efforts, you still have to deal with the Finder at times, navigating to where you need to go. It feels like what it is: a computer that has your manuals on it somewhere.
Back with iPads, enterprise-loaded devices could be configured so that the cockpit manuals are just about the only thing you can access. The iPad feels like a device customized for the task at hand. A world of difference.
In the same way, restaurants are increasingly using iPads as a substitute for printed menus, even allowing customers at a table to place orders, largely eliminating the need for a waiter. A recent article in The New York Times makes clear just how far and how fast this cultural shift is occurring in still other areas:
Macy’s is testing cosmetics stations where tablets offer reviews and tips. At C. Wonder, shoppers use a touchpad to personalize the lighting and music in dressing rooms…Nordstrom [has] introduced an app [that customers use] while shopping at Nordstrom rather than approach the sales staff. Nordstrom has added Wi-Fi to almost all its stores, in part so its app will work fast, and is testing charging stations and clusters of iPads and computers. Samsung [has been] considering adding iPads that offer live video chat with a Samsung salesperson at stores like Best Buy.
While some may lament the loss of human interaction (and possibly jobs) that this shift may engender, I doubt such concerns will slow down the locomotive.
Meanwhile, at corporate headquarters, executives are increasingly bringing iPads, rather than laptops, to business meetings. This is just one of the ways in which businesses are embracing iPads; you’ll find more examples on Apple’s website.
As for education, Apple held a media event in January showing off its latest iBook technology for creating and using iPads as textbooks. A New York Times article describes how schools are bring iPads into the classroom, from elementary to high schools.
We are hardly at the end of this iPad transition. If anything, the adoption of iPads in public, school and business environments is accelerating. A few years from now, it will be hard to go anywhere without bumping into an iPad (or other tablet). By then, the question will no longer be: Can an iPad replace a MacBook? Rather, it may well be: Is it time to put MacBooks on the endangered species list?