A Long Term Review Of Using The iPad As My Main Computer Around The World

I was replying to richtack with his 1 week review of using the iPad as his only computer, but got so overly excited and long winded I thought I should make it a separate topic to not pull away from his main discussion. I also thought it could be interesting to others!

I have used an iPad as my main device since 2013 when I worked on a ship in the South Pacific. I used it for my work there as a physician and photographer. At that time there were a few things I couldn’t do but I found work arounds for. I think it was the first iPad Air and I had a keyboard cover for it, no stylus or anything. The benefits were that it was very lightweight, and the power management was excellent and could be used with a regular portable battery if we had any issues with power on the ship or on the islands we were stopping at. When I got back to the United States later that year I replaced my aging MacBook Pro with a new one but found I wasn’t using it very often. If I needed to work on photos it was more intuitive to do selective edits on the iPad. When I needed to manage regular work I had easy access to word processors, email, spreadsheets, and PDF managers. I signed so many documents on my iPad, far easier than using a Mac. That’s the time when things were becoming easier to do on the iPad than the Mac.

In 2015 I upgraded to the first generation 12.9” iPad Pro and the Smart Keyboard and pencil made things even easier in a (relatively) lightweight package and a very reasonable screen size. Apps and services continued to get better.

It’s mid-2019 and I still have that same MacBook Pro. Every year my iPad use has increased until I found I wasn’t taking my Mac out except once every three months or so to run Time Machine and backup my iCloud Photo Library and documents folder. At the beginning of 2017 my girlfriend’s MacBook Air was stolen so I let her use my MacBook Pro and I didn’t see it again for over a year.

I have it back now and there are only three things I use it for: File management, backups (Time Machine and Backblaze), and scanning large volume documents with my 9 year old Scansnap Scanner.

As I’ve grown with the iPad the software has grown too. I remember how excited I was to have Lightroom mobile in 2014 and now we have Lightroom CC. The Microsoft suite of productivity apps is mature (though I have moved over to the ‘iWork’ apps due to their syncing and iCloud backup). IOS 11 was groundbreaking for iPad users because we essentially have a real file system (though it obviously requires many improvements). And we still have apps like Readle Documents that can fill in the gaps when needed. As my iPad is backed up to iCloud every time it’s plugged in and connected to WiFi the level of redundancy with Time Machine and Backblaze (the documents and photos are also synced up to my iPhone) is starting to seem unnecessary but I can’t let go of the idea of a physical backup. I use Readle Documents (and sometimes the Notes.app built in scanning feature) for small batch scanning. My jobs require me to manage a lot of documents (in many countries) and I never have a problem. Doing public health research in Haiti I used and shared spreadsheets and wrote reports on an iPad with no issue.

As you can tell I travel quite a lot for work and I would easily prefer to have an iPad with me because it’s basically a second iPhone if anything happens (I have always opted for the LTE version). If something happens to my iPad, I can do most things on my iPhone- my workflows remain unaffected. I’ve easily given lectures and presentations with an iPhone and a video dongle. My only complaint right now is that I have to carry lightning accessories and cables as well as USB C accessories and cables until the iPhone takes that final step towards the USB C singularity.

My aging MacBook Pro has been giving some warning signs. Two years ago I had to replace the logic board and hard drive and Apple gave me an affordable repair option but it’s staring to worry me and act up again. I’ve started planning for a possible replacement but get frustrated looking at the options. I hate the idea of having to replace it because I hardly use it. My 11” 2018 iPad Pro is honestly the best computer I’ve ever owned (yes I downsized and love it!). If there is something that doesn’t work (which is rare) I often find it’s a preference that I had versus any real functional problem and solve the issue relatively easily (and often with native Apple apps). And it’s replaced other devices in my home, like my Kindle (given the smaller size of the 11” vs the 12.9”), and the speakers are so good I don’t need a portable Bluetooth speaker anymore. With the new Apple Pencil all of those various types of Moleskines and other fancy notebooks I used to collect but never fill up got gathered up, scanned and recycled. No more loose notes all over the place. I use the pencil to plan everything: outlining papers, laying out gardens, organizing moves, sketching woodworking projects, working out cash flow, and even just rearranging furniture in my home. My MacBook Pro can’t do that!

If I did heavy video work (I do some without issue on the iPad) or worked with other kind of media like animation, programming, or 3D rendering the iPad would not be the right tool. But for my professional work that includes work as a physician and educator as well as photography it works perfectly for me.

When the time comes to replace my MacBook Pro I honestly believe I’ll be buying my last Mac (or “computer” of any kind for that matter) as the iPad will only continue to get better and it already does everything I need it to.


When you replace your MacBook Pro, could you possibly go the Air or 12” MacBook route?

If all you are doing is backups, you might save some money looking at Apple’s refurbished section. :man_shrugging:t2:

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I go all over the place trying to think what to do! I’ve considered everything from a Mac Mini (don’t want a desktop though- don’t want something sitting out all the time) to a new 15” MacBook Pro (since I get so many years out of them).

Both are great suggestions- I think everyone who spends a lot of time on an iPad considers a 12” MacBook- how can you not with that lovely simple and lightweight design! It’s too bad they’re not updating them anymore so that’s keeping me from considering it (or the non-touchbar 13” MacBook Pro which also hasn’t been updated).

Your other suggestion is definitely on track though- I’m strongly considering the new MacBook Air! I like the idea of having physical function and escape keys with the benefit of the T2 chip and the Touch ID. I also like that it’s made out of recycled aluminum from iPads. I’d probably bump up the RAM and I’d definitely put the hard drive up. As you point out it could easily handle all of the basic tasks I would need it for! In addition it’s well designed, compact, and lightweight (even the power brick is compact!). And I’m sure they’re showing up refurbished by now.

I predict I’ll go one of two ways: either the MacBook Air on the practical and affordable end, or a base model 15” MBP which I tend to get 5+ years out of every time due to the extra speed making them functional (read- not super laggy) for longer. I’m on 5.5 years for my current MacBook Pro. That being said, your suggestion of the MacBook Air is currently the leader by far and I’m probably only even considering a MacBook Pro because that’s just what I’m so used to.

I think the ultimate Mac for me at this point in my technological life would likely be a MacBook Air that runs on the same ARM processors as the iPad Pro- that simple efficiency would result in an affordable Mac that would be functional for many years like the more expensive 15” MBP option. That would also keep my iPad from blowing the MacBook Air out of the water processor and graphics-wise as is the case now. I’d love to see Face ID as well so all of my devices work the same. But now we’re entering into speculative technologies!

I’ve used the MacBook Pro since my very first Mac- (back then it was a “PowerBook”) and this is the first time I’m considering not getting one. How times have changed!

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I started with a white MacBook, then a Pro, then went to an Air because of the lightweight design and the fact it could almost anything I needed. I sold my Air about a year ago, now I’m iPad/iPhone only. It’s a 2017 9.7” non pro to boot! Works great! May upgrade to 11” pro in a year or two if the software advances to my liking. Good luck on your MacBook buying adventure! My vote is for an Air! :wink:

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Aaron -

This is such a great write-up, thanks for sharing.

In reading it a 2nd time, something interesting stood out. You have an iPad with LTE. I have an iPad that is WiFi only. I wonder if i was an LTE’er as well if i would have a different opinion. Most of the time i’m using the ipad for “work” is at a coffee shop, or some place with WiFi, but i do have to tether (either the ipad or the macbook) fairly often. If i never had to tether, that could be a real bonus over the MBP.

Food for thought!

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Once you work from your iPad with LTE in an Uber, your life will never be the same. :open_mouth:


Agreed! It’s a magic experience!


Thank you!

The LTE on the iPad is one of those 10 dollars a month expenses I’ve never regretted (that’s what Verizon charges me monthly to let the iPad tap into my cellular data plan). I’m always looking to cut monthly recurring charges and this is one I would never consider cutting!

It makes the iPad so much more useful and expands your ‘out of the house’ work environment. Not only is it a convenience it’s a life saver sometimes too. I’ve pulled over at a rest area after getting a call from a hospital I was going to work at that they needed a last minute document signed so I could work when I got there- I was able to download the form from email and sign it in minutes.

It’s also great because your devices stay in sync at all times. You don’t have to wait for everything to load for your Messages, Notes, documents, and files to agree. You can pick up right where you left off on your iPhone.

I’m currently moving cross country and am on the road and have had multiple instances where WiFi was either unavailable, very poor quality, or completely insecure. I never even worry about it- I just use the LTE! I’m about to move into a new apartment and don’t need to be in an urgent rush to set up the internet provider since I know I can do everything except download big files or stream video indefinitely (I don’t have unlimited data plan- I think it’s somewhere around 16 GB a month).

Tethering is certainly an option if the extra cost of the cellular version and monthly fee aren’t an option but it provides that friction point that makes it often too much trouble. It’s also a big drain on your iPhone. And as far as I remember the iPad and Mac treat it like being part of a WiFi connection so it’s behavior is not as data thirty as cellular model.

I think the LTE versions of the iPads make them truly magical- definitely consider it for your next model!

I know this post is over 3 years old but it really struck a chord with me. I am in exactly the same situation but my travel is aircraft based not sea (although it was previously).

My MacBook Air is 2018 and my IPad Pro 11 -2018. I cant justify upgrading the IPP or the MacBook from a functionality perpsepective but “new toy” syndrome beckons me. Similar, I think about going IPP only. We have an IMac about to be updated (7yrs old now) which just serves as my wife’s photo library. My MacBook Air gets used about once every three months for: clunky websites, APFS set up for new external drives, and thats it. So no need for it really. But the siren sound of a new IPP and new MacBook Air call…Damned Apple…if I could get rid of my phone and live with an IPP and Apple Watch, I’d be a happy man. However, the phone is still a necessity unfortunately ie iCloud files access, and the fact it is almost compulsory for most services now.

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