Ditch Your Mac. Live With Just an iPad

| Analysis

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.

Key Considerations

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.

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This last summer I updated to a 15” MacBook Pro (not Retina) I figure I can get about 5 years out of it. By 2017 I suspect that the iPad will have grown enough that this might be my last Mac.


I have a Mac Pro for content creation and an iPad for casual content consumption.  They two are mutually supportive but in no way could I get by with the iPad all alone.  It is severly compromised as a production tool for content creation.  It does not support the pro apps.  It has limited storage capacity.  It does not allow for running the occasional Windows app.  And finally, I would not trust the cloud to store my personal, critical and sensitive mission critical data.  So, the iPad is great as an accessory and for content consumption.  It is compromised for content creation and for local storage.


I tried it.  I really did.  And I finally had to get a MacBook Air.  Here’s why:

I was constantly tripped up by the iPad (really, iOS’s) lack of a filing system. I have to track and work on multiple projects at once, and I was constantly missing things because I couldn’t have a file system with folders for my projects, where documents and resources from different apps could live together in peace and harmony. Sandboxing meant that I often couldn’t get to the materials that I needed, and couldn’t organize them in a way that made sense to me.

I tried iCloud and solutions like DropBox, and they helped, but didn’t fix the problem.  Even with DropBox—which I love—it was much too cumbersome get documents in and especially out of the iPad.

I love my iPad, and it’s never far away from me.  I travel a lot for work, and I really wanted to not carry a laptop with me.  But the lack of a real workable file system was a constant problem.

Anyone else have a similar problem, or come up with a great solution I may have missed?


I hear you Larry. This is exactly why I would not consider switching to iOS as things stand. I need a file system, or something that is equally as powerful which has yet to be invented. The model where each app saves its data in its own little box is OK for casual use, but real content creating, and even more sophisticated content consumption requires being able to pass files and projects between applications. Ironically the fact that iOS hides the file system was supposed to make life easier, and I suppose it does for casual users, but it makes life much more difficult for people that want to develop work-flows, or share files with other computers, or organize their files in non-app-centric ways. If I was forced to make a switch along these lines, I suspect that an Android tablet or a MS Surface would be better able to fit the bill.


”..and some lovable curmudgeons..”

Who did you have in mind there, John?

John Martellaro

iJack:  Sssshhhh….


No file system no party.

I really don’t like that documents are tied to single apps in iOS and I have to circumvent this with “cheats” like dropbox or other services that I might not want to use due to their online component (not everything I work on I like to see on the net).

Also, if I have to write a lot and have to buy a keyboard, the whole “post PC touch experience” would feel.. diminished in my view. wink

Also to peruse my NAS I’d have to BUY an app to connect via SMB or AFP while in OsX it’s included. Too many stupid limitations for my use.

For the 90% of “users” out there it might be different.



Like many have said, I love the concept.  But until apple opens up the OS more, which I don’t see happening, or allows us to use external storage of some kind I think most serious computer users will be unable to switch fully to an iPad.  Users who check Facebook and send email only will have no problem.

Most of all I don’t think apple wants people to stop buying 2 and 3 thousand dollar laptops.  To make the iPad as useful as it could be, they would be in danger of losing all those big number sales.


” Users who check Facebook and send email only will have no problem…”

I have 2 problems with Mail on my iPad. 1. No support for addressing mail to a Group. (MailShot is the best workaround I’ve found) and 2. Very limited attachments. There’s no ability to attach files in a forward or reply.  Attachments for new messages are limited to photos/videos.

Unless of course I’m missing something - again.

Lee Dronick

“I have 2 problems with Mail on my iPad. 1. No support for addressing mail to a Group.”

A bulk email service, not a spam service, but a legitimate service, could fill that bill. At least until iOS’s voice lowers and Mail gets the features you want.

As to forwarding files other than photos and videos you can send a file from Pages. However, you need to start from there and choose Share from a menu, you can’t paper clip a file, as Andhaka says “no file system”.


I have to agree with everyone else on the lack of an open file system. It may be fine for a tablet used to display content; but it will never do on a tablet meant to create content. Apple would need to include a “power user” toggle to enable a Mac type file system and allow the iPad to access outside storage. If they don’t the iPad will certainly fall behind other platforms. That will especially be true in business environments.

John Martellaro

That file system thing is indeed important. At TMO, we need to be able to rename our graphics files & screen shots before we upload to the publishing system.  We’re still looking into how to do that on an iPad.


Likewise here:
• I don’t use Logic Studio often, but when I need it, my MBP is barely enough.
• Let me manage my files and folders on my own, thanks.
• Entrusting my data to the cloud leaves me uneasy. I consider my rotating system of external hard drive clones, plus Time Machine for hour-by-hour updates, indispensable.



I don’t have an iPad (yet), but can’t imagine, in any way, how one could replace my iMac. Even putting aside the professional use of my iMac (website and graphic design), for content consumption I can’t imagine going without the screen size for watching TV shows and movies from iTunes. An iPad might be great for portability, but I can’t imagine watching The Avengers or Serenity on it compared to my iMac.

Lee Dronick

“I can’t imagine going without the screen size for watching TV shows and movies from iTunes. An iPad might be great for portability, but I can’t imagine watching The Avengers or Serenity on it compared to my iMac.”

At the distance I hold, or rest, my iPad the perceived size of its screen is the same as my iMac’s at distance it sits on the desk from me. Both devices have their strengths and weaknesses. Sound from my iMac’s speaker is better than from the iPad, unless I am wearing headphones or earbuds.



I sit pretty close to my iMac, and when I watch movies or TV shows I sit close enough that I see little else. I also wear good-quality earbuds so the experience is pretty immersive. (The iMac is also in an armoire, which helps.) Not sure an iPad could match that experience, though I’d still love to have one!



Some great points here and in the comments. Just a quick thought or two.

First, for most casual users, I would argue that the pieces are already in place to make the switch. I have now, successfully, taken my iPad as my working tool on business meetings where, thanks to iCloud and SugarSync (and DropBox - but less so than SugarSync for mission-critical files that are being updated in realtime), I can access files that are not on my iPad via WiFi (if overseas) or cellular (if in the USA or the UK - not Europe-wide yet). What I cannot yet do is serious data analysis with a programme like Stata (minor functions can be done even on Numbers or with the scientific calculator). I think, before Stata can be ported to the iPad, the processing power (both CPU and GPU) will need to be substantially augmented. We’re not there yet, but one can feel it coming.

Second, and this might be better addressed to your other article about tablet customers being duped (http://www.macobserver.com/tmo/article/are-tablet-customers-being-duped-can-apple-do-anything) but I’m on a roll here, I think the iPad’s substantial ecosystem of apps and support services, no less than is capability, will increasingly differentiate it from other tablets that are not truly in the same market, such as the Kindle Fire, as users, particularly professionals, progressively transfer a greater proportion of their work to the iPad, particularly when travelling. There are true advantages to doing so, battery power being one that should not be underestimated. I cannot tell you how many conference rooms I have been in where we need to use our computers, but there are insufficient sockets to power up throughout the day; or where the WiFi is dodgy to non-existent and cellular is the only internet access. The iPad comes into its own under these conditions, and shines brilliantly. I can run video conference calls and otherwise communicate with colleagues worldwide, compose, put together presentations, download published articles, manipulate PDFs, review manuscripts for journals or from colleagues - in a word most activities I would do on my MBP when not doing data analysis or writing manuscripts de novo. Very few tablets can support all of these activities, and frankly, are not designed to. My colleagues, some of whom have Kindles, have taken notice. I have yet to have a single one tell me that they want a tablet other than an iPad. If anything, their only questions is ‘Full sized or mini?’, and not ‘iOS or Android’ - unless they are in a low income country where the iPad is not available.

Regarding screen size for watching content, I believe this is easily addressed with Airplay. I have used my HDTV as a workscreen when using my iPad more than once when working with files where I need more screen real estate. I see this feature become only more refined over time, permitting live interaction between colleagues over the internet (likely on an Apple TV).

In any case, I suggest that for many uses, and users, the future is effectively upon us.

Lee Dronick

“Regarding screen size for watching content, I believe this is easily addressed with Airplay. I have used my HDTV as a workscreen when using my iPad more than once when working with files where I need more screen real estate. I see this feature become only more refined over time, permitting live interaction between colleagues over the internet (likely on an Apple TV).”

I was thinking more in the portability arena. I almost always take my iPad when accompanying my wife on shopping trips. I will get a cup of coffee, find a spot to sit, and then read or watch movies on my iPad. “Take your time Honey.”


iOS is not a true multitasking OS. So kind of lame to dump your far superior Mac Book.

John Martellaro

someinternetdude: Of course iOS *is* a true multi-tasking OS, derived from OS X, and based on BSD UNIX and the Mach kernel. That’s how you can play music or download app updates while doing something else. But the multitasking options for developers are purposely limited. That’s so that, for starters, when a phone call comes in, your iPhone will actually ring instead of having to wait for some app to release the CPU.

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