In an interview, Apple CEO Tim Cook said he no plans for developing an iPad that transforms into a laptop. But that certainly doesn’t keep many iPad users from using the device as a notebook computer. A friend of mine told me he actually prefers his iPad 3 over his laptop.
Due to the abundant productivity tools in the Mac App Store, and the various keyboard accessories for the iPad, the device can definitely be used as a laptop. However, you should be aware of the limitations you may encounter when using the iPad this way.
Generally, there are two types of keyboards for the iPad to choose from – a keyboard case for the iPad, or a regular, portable size keyboard such as the wireless one Apple sells.
With the keyboard case, it may be an hassle to install and remove your iPad from the case. And of course, a keyboard case makes it very difficult to use your iPad as an e-reader. However, a keyboard case is very useful if you intend to primarily use your iPad as a laptop or notebook computer, because you don’t have to keep the keyboard separate from your iPad. In addition, some keyboard cases include special keys designed to work with the iPad.
For example, the ZAGG Keys Mini (see above photo) includes special copy and paste keys not available on the regular Apple keyboard. It also includes a Home screen key to save you the trouble of clicking the Home button on the iPad in order to switch applications. And there is also the familiar Command-Z shortcut for undoing your last keystrokes, which you can’t do on the built-in iPad keyboard.
You will probably want to get a keyboard case that is near to the size of a regular keyboard as possible. I have read complaints about mini keyboards in which the keys are too small for users with large hands. If possible, try to physically test out a keyboard before purchasing it.
If you decide to go with the external keyboard, such as the Apple wireless keyboard, you’ll need to get some sort of stand or case to prop up your iPad while typing, such as the Logitech Tablet Keyboard setup. This will mean carrying at least two additional accessories for when you need to type. However, if you are mainly using your iPad in a home or office space, you can simply set up the standing keyboard for when you need it. A detached keyboard also means you can more easily keep using the iPad as an e-reader device because it is not locked in the case.
The Logitech k760 Wireless Solar Keyboard is another good choice for the iPad, as well as a desktop computer, in that it has dedicated keys for switching between Bluetooth devices. And the fact that it is solar powered means you don’t have to keep charging the batteries.
The iPad comes with default Mail, Contacts, and Calendar apps, but there are a few other programs you will want to make sure you have installed on your iPad especially if you want to use it as a laptop. I strongly suggest you use the storage service Dropbox for securing and storing all your external documents, such as PDFs and Word files.
As for text editor apps, there are dozens to choose from depending on your specific needs. If you are a Mac user, Apple’s iWork office suite includes Pages, Numbers, and Keynote (each $9.99), which are specifically designed for the iPad. All of these apps sync with the Mac desktop version of iWork. The apps also use Apple’s iCloud service to sync documents between your iOS and iPad devices, as well as your web-based iCloud account.
The most recent update of the Pages app includes the ability to sync and track changes between devices.
If you need to work with text documents between two or more devices, you will want to make sure you’re using an app that syncs between those devices. Start with my articles (here and here) on the various text editor apps available for the iPad. I prefer SimpleNote (Free) as a very simple text editor without all the bells and whistles. If you want to save all your text documents to Dropbox, check out Jeffry’s review of PlainText.
The iPad works really well also for reading and editing documents as you might read them on sheets of paper. For bloggers, the Blogsy app ($4.99) supports nearly all of the main blogging platforms including WordPress, Blogger, Posterous, and MovableType.
Also, don’t overlook the use of the built-in voice dictation feature of the iPad, or the more advanced Dragon Dictation voice-to-text app (Free). Voice dictation can reduce the amount of manual typing and endless backspacing, deleting, and correction of typos when using a keyboard.
The other apps you should consider include the iOS clipboard manager Pastebot ($4.99), and the default iOS Notes app. Also I suggest making use of the Keyboard Shortcuts feature on the iPad, which automatically types specified and regularly words and phrases (e.g., your name, email address, phone number) based on a combination of word shortcuts you assign.
Open Settings > General, and scroll down to Keyboard > Shortcuts. Tap the upper-right + button and add a phrase, name, or regularly used word, and then assign it a shortcut. Be sure to use a combination of letters that don’t make up the first few letters of a real word.)
Even better, the iOS version of TextExpander ($4.99) supports several different iOS text editors like SimpleNote.
You also may need an Airplay-supported wireless printer, or the mobile printing app, Printopia for the Mac which allows you to print documents from your iPad or iPhone. And for times when you need an extra monitor to work with your iPad, Air Display is a useful app.
As for working with photos on the iPad, check out Snapspeed (free) and the iOS version of iPhoto ($4.99).
The limitations for using the iPad as a laptop include the challenges of switching between apps, and the inability to have more than one app open at a time on the device. If you do a lot of cutting and pasting of text, the iPad lacks a built-in clipboard history manager. The Pastebot app referenced above is a good workaround, but it must be re-opened every ten minutes in order to capture the clippings you’re making on the device. This limitation is imposed by Apple.
The iPad also doesn’t quite have the speed for some tasks, such as photo editing; and you may experience challenges with blogging posts, and taking and cropping screenshots. These limitations primarily keep me from using my iPad as a laptop. But if you’re not a full-time writer or graphic designer, the iPad could very well fulfill most of your needs for notebook computing.
Let us know if and how much you use your iPad as a laptop computer. What other apps and accessories do you use in your workflow?