April 15, 2010 - Phil Hodgen

Will the iPad replace my MacBook?

Inspired by Steve Rubel’s week with an iPad test, I have decided to give the iPad a run as my primary computing device.

For me, the question is travel. Will the iPad replace my MacBook? I hope to God it does, if only to save myself some back strain.

I have some good test opportunities. Today was the first test — a day trip to San Francisco. Pathetic Apple person that I am, this meant my briefcase had a MacBook (and all the wires and stuff), an iPad, my spare Verizon phone (to compensate for the execrable ATT coverage), and of course an iPhone in my pocket. Some paper, a few pens, extra this and that. Heavy.

I have an Apple bluetooth keyboard for the iPad but didn’t take that. I also have the Incase Travel Kit Plus but didn’t use it this trip. I have the feeling, though, that the travel case with the iPad and a small notebook (I use Indonesian math notebooks that I bought recently in Jakarta).

Here are the results of my daytrip with an iPad.

You cannot believe how fabulous it is to live with an instant-on device.

One person had an iPad out in the waiting area for the @southwest flight from Burbank to Oakland. She was reading the New York Times (sheesh). I futzed around on Twitter on my iPhone, didn’t pull out the iPad. I still feel a little cheesy about, y’know, whipping it out.

While sitting at the gate and checking Twitter, I came across a Tweet by @davetaylor reporting his experience with trying to use Keynote on the iPad. It wasn’t pretty. As the first comment says, in fact, Dave’s experience was suck-tacular. Note to self: don’t bother buying the iPad Keynote app until Apple pulls its corporate finger out.

I didn’t use the iPad out on the flight north. I don’t do client work on a plane. Anyone can look over my shoulder and read the screen or the paper I am working on. The iPad screen seems less private to me than the MacBook. Instead I read through a printout of @davemcclure’s (Yeah I used a Twitter handle and hyperlinked it to his blog; so sue me) Startup Metrics for Pirates.

My first opportunity to use the iPad was at a coffee shop prior to my first appointment in San Francisco.  Point Number 1: no wifi in this place. Point Number 2: I have the wifi-only iPad. Point Number 3: my prior skepticism about 3G was immediately obliterated by this experience. Folks, you’re going to want/need/get 3G.

You might get the 3G-enabled iPad, or you might get a Mifi from Sprint or Verizon. Or (God Help Us All) AT&T might pull its corporate finger out and enable tethering with the iPhone. As much as I love T-Mobile (and I still have two lines with them in self-defense because of AT&T’s dreadful coverage at my house) they’re not in the game for mobile broadband. Whatever. Choose your datapipe. You will want 3G. (This conclusion was reinforced at the Oakland Airport. They have free wifi there but it is slow and driven by advertising. I gave up on the iPad and used my iPhone’s data for email and other work.)

I didn’t need the iPad during the meetings I had in San Francisco. Meetings are for people talking, not people playing with gadgets.

Observation. The MacBook is really heavy.

I sat in a Starbucks and typed up the first version of this post in Pages on the iPad. Landscape mode, typing on the glass. Horrible. I’ll get better no doubt. But writing stuff this way is basically good for brain dumps only. You really can’t compose a decent write-up. Or I can’t, anyway. I also consigned myself to ignoring the typos that I caused. I will be using the bluetooth keyboard. The Incase case I bought has a little plastic stand for the iPad; I’ll see how this works.

The Pages app for the iPad has very limited features. No ability to add hyperlinks, for example. Think of it like a simple text editor and you’ll be happy because the two or three pieces of Teh Shiney will make you giddy with joy. Thin of Pages on the iPad as a serious word processor and you’ll only see the problems. You will be grumpy. Let’s not have that, OK? Glass half full, etc.

Getting the first draft of this out of Pages on the iPad and onto my blog took a lot of work. You can’t get here from there. File sync from the iPad to anywhere is a steaming pile of . . . . Oh, look! Butterflies! If Apple has ADD, it manifested itself right here.

I tried “select all” and “copy” from Pages then attempting to paste the text into the WordPress app on the iPad. Nope. Couldn’t make the WordPress app invoke the “paste” function. Same thing in Safari. I logged into the WordPress control panel of my blog and attempted to paste the copied text there. Nope. So I just pasted the text into an email to myself. Sent the email. Popped open the MacBook, copied the text from the email, and pasted it into the Most Glorious of All Mac Programs, MarsEdit. MarsEdit makes me happy.

On the flight home I watched Monty Python episodes on the iPad. The iPad, she was made for Moments Like These. Vastly superior to my flight to Asia, watching Monty Python on my iPhone. But watching Monty Python is hardly emblematic of hard-charging capitalism. Right, Michael Ellis?

So far, in summary:

  • I didn’t fire up the MacBook at all. I could have left it at home.
  • The iPad hardware is fabulous.
  • For my purposes, the business productivity software is horrible. Pages is barely usable for raw data input, and will be better with a proper keyboard. I won’t even buy Keynote. Numbers? I will wait.
  • The iWork software will improve.
  • I will get mobile broadband. Either I will buy a 3G iPad or I’ll buy data from anyone else but AT&T.

I’m headed to Saudi Arabia next week–Riyadh and Jeddah. If you’re in either city and want to meet, please shoot me an email, hit me on Twitter at @philiphodgen, or SMS me at +1-626-437-2500.

Watch for follow-up posts for serious travel with the iPad. I will take my MacBook but attempt to stay with the iPad as much as possible.

And @danielpunkass, the world is yearning for MarsEdit on the iPad.