iPad as Laptop Replacement


We are prepping an updated show looking at the iPad as a laptop/second Mac replacement. Those of you playing in this space, where does iPad delight/disappoint you?


I’m definitely in the “iPad as a laptop replacement” camp. It’s been about a year since I’ve used a laptop while traveling or even just while out and about.


I am delighted by the portability (even of the 12.9" iPad Pro). Compared to my 2012 Retina MacBook Pro it is just so much easier to tote around. The ability to use the Smart Keyboard Folio to switch between “laptop” and “tablet” modes is great. I am not someone who loves the laptop form factor, so the ability to take a break and use it as a tablet is fantastic.

I am delighted by many iOS apps. There are many that either don’t exist on the Mac, have feature parity with the Mac version, or are even better on iOS. A big shoutout to Omni, which has been killing it on iOS for quite a while now. iA Writer is excellent on the iPad, and has taken over from Bear and Ulysses for me. Similarly, the combination of the Apple Pencil 2 and the new version of GoodNotes is one I’m liking more and more.

Speaking of the Pencil, ever since I got the 2018 iPad Pro the Apple Pencil has become integral to more and more of the things I do on iOS. I’m not a graphic artist, but the convenience of having it right there on top of the display ready to go makes it useful for so many more things. Having a precision pointing device available is a huge advantage, even with things like text editing.

The Shortcuts app continues to be a delight. If you’d told me five years ago that iOS would be more easily automatable than macOS I would have scoffed, but these days it really is.

Other, more minor delights: The always-on cellular data connection is a huge benefit for me. Battery life is excellent. The design and fit and finish of the iPad Pro is just fantastic. Syncing is just a solved problem these days. Whether it’s iCloud, Dropbox, or good application specific sync services like OmniPresence, I can move seamlessly back and forth between my iPad and my Macs.


My number one disappointment would have to be a lack of external drive support. The ability to get files on and off the iPad when you don’t have internet connectivity is a big obstacle to completely replacing a laptop, even in this day and age.

Similarly, the situation with presentation remotes isn’t great. I don’t know whether to blame Apple, the remote manufacturers, or the software developers (which, with Keynote, is Apple again, though I’d also like something that works with PowerPoint), but it needs to get better for the iPad to reach it’s potential as a presentation device.

File management got 1000% better with the Files app in iOS 11, but it still has a long ways to go. Better support for naming files and creating folders in save dialogs, favorites that work, and the ability to see more than one folder at a time and drag stuff between them.

This last feature is something I’d like to see more of in general: the ability to have more than one instance of an app open at a time. We got a little of this with Safari in iOS 11, I’d like to see APIs that allow developers to support a similar feature in their own apps. It would be extremely useful to have two documents open side by side in iA Writer or have two spreadsheets open in Numbers or Excel.

Speaking of Safari, it needs to get better at handling “desktop browser only” websites.

I’d really like to see better keyboard shortcut support, both at the system level and the app level. At the system level, I’d like to be able to completely drive the multitasking interface without moving my hands off the keyboard, kick off Shortcuts with keyboard combinations, and use Type to Siri alongside the voice version. At the app level, a lot of this is on individual developers, but Apple could set a better example in some of their own apps.

While the Pencil has done a lot for the iPad, I think it still needs support for external pointing devices, at least for text editing.

Looking forward to the episode!


I’ve absolutely loved the versatility and increased portability of my iPad. I’m currently using the 11” iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard Folio and Apple Pencil, and I at this point I only use my laptop to upload my .mp3 file to an audio block in my podcast’s Squarespace site.

This kit has helped me achieve what I’ve always looked for in a mobile computing solution: power for editing hi-res photos, fluid video editing, intuitive audio editing (thanks to Ferrite), a small profile to have it on a tabletop covered in mics and podcast recording equipment, and the reliability of accessing my files through iCloud…all without the weight of my 15” MacBook Pro.

I’ve also historically preferred analogue note taking, but the size of this device allows me to journal/brainstorm/sketch/plan without looking for all my pens I’ve inevitably lost just before needing them most. My iPad is always there, always ready, and allows me to capture my thoughts in a way that allows me to preserve them in my digital archive.

I know folks struggle with the Files app, but I’ve never had an issue navigating it for my needs. Could it be better? For sure…but the convenience this iPad gives me outweighs that downside.



I have a 15" MacBook Pro vintage 2013 that is decked out nearly to the max as one might say. As of a few days ago, I have an iPad Pro 11". The new iPad is a significant improvement over the iPad Air 2 that I had up until then. Even after just a few days of using the new iPad, I already foresee a “technology shift” in how I manage some aspects of my workflow as I adapt to and adopt in the improvements in the iPad. That said, I am in the iPad as a supplement camp, and I will likely never be in the iPad only camp. Here are some of my thoughts.


  • The ability to stand off in a corner of a lecture room, write notes as if writing directly on paper, and project those notes in real time on a screen to the class through the desktop mac (or directly to the projector if it is smart enough).
  • The ability to write off-the-cuff notes and drawings by hand as if on paper, only better because changing pen colors is a simple click operation.
  • The ability to work coherently to take hand-written notes, make inputs to task scheduling apps, and review/markup PDF documents as though everything is “right there in front of you”.
  • The ability to store catalogues of content rather than carrying around books and read that content with comparable or even better clarity than the hard copy itself.


  • The lack of a uniform standard for app developers to provide a way for users to program meta-level operations around their apps, such as AppleScript provides on macOS.
  • The inability to access file-level content for app documents in a consistent manner across all apps.
  • (Now that we have in the Apple Pencil 2 + iPad Pro a pen input system that even Steve Jobs would likely be proud to own) … The lack of a standard to recognize hand-written strokes as ASCII text character input such as was once provided by Graffiti on PalmOS.

Why an iPad will Never Entirely Replace My MBP

  • Ergonomic keyboard input at touch-type input speeds (e.g. this reply is made on my desktop not on my iPad).
  • Multiple apps divided across multiple workspaces spread across a MBP + a second monitor.
  • Apps on the Mac that I absolutely must use that just will never be ported to the iPad.

Where my iPad will be Used More

  • Reading documents and news and the Web and email and … just reading content (instead of hard copy resources or my MBP).
  • Developing preliminary notes and drawings (instead of pen + paper).

Thanks for the notice to solicit input for the show.


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I’ve been iPad-only as my mobile computer since the original 12.9” iPad Pro (which I’m still rocking today, having opted out of upgrading), but my enthusiasm for the experience continues to fluctuate.

I think the advantages are well covered, so I’ll just mention the specific drawbacks that continue to frustrate me:

  • The inability to access external storage, as others have said, but more precisely: the inability to import photos directly into, say, Lightroom from an SD card that’s connected. I’ve written about the experience of being iPad-first as a photographer before on The Sweet Setup and it’s sad that such an obvious use case remains needlessly hobbled.
  • Podcasting from iOS is doable as far as recording, especially since I discovered the magical Sennheiser MK4 Digital which let me ditch the external interface and have a studio-grade plug & play solution that I can share between macOS and iOS. However…I would never edit a show on iOS. While apps like Ferrite are fine for cutting, I deeply miss my desktop plugins for doing any sort of processing. I want proper EQs, compressors, noise reduction tools, and the loudness measurement tools to ensure I’m producing quality output.
  • Much of my serious music composition work is flat-out impossible on iOS right now. Even if Logic existed on iOS, the sample libraries and synths I need couldn’t fit on an iPad’s storage and wouldn’t be accessible from an external drive the way they are for my desktop machine. Total non-starter, and a use-case I don’t expect to ever be able to replicate on iOS. That said, sketching and musical exploration is very fun on iOS, particularly with apps like Korg Gadget.
  • Affinity Designer has opened up the possibility of moving some of my design work to the iPad, but for the document and print setup stuff I sometimes do, I’m stuck on my desktop using InDesign or Affinity’s own Publisher beta. I really hope that makes its way to the iPad so I can cross this off the list.
  • A lot of our client sites are built on Squarespace, and I flat out can’t work on them reliably from the iPad, even using alternative browsers. This is particularly frustrating for client meetings where I’d love to bring my iPad but have to borrow a laptop because I can’t walk them through things or make changes with them. Similar problem for a design tool I use called Figma. This all boils down to iOS not having a true desktop-class browser.
  • Through no fault of Apple, iOS app developers are often slow to adopt new technologies, which means the iOS app capabilities often feel one or more steps behind their macOS counterparts at all times. Case in point: iA Writer on my Mac can seamlessly access the Dropbox folder that my blog pieces live in and edit them directly. On iOS, I can’t add that folder as a library location in iA Writer because the iOS Dropbox app doesn’t support open-in-place.

Ultimately I’m still happier with an iPad as my mobile machine than a laptop, but sometimes the slow and unpredictable pace of progress is annoying. 9 years of iPad has led to tremendous strides in hardware, but the software side is less impressive.

Each year the list of frustrations grows shorter though! :slight_smile:


First there are lots of file management and other enhancements to the iPad that I’d appreciate. But none are dealbreakers. Currently, managing (light) WordPress sites and available text editors work.

I’d like to run MAMP on my iPad but again not a showstopper. (Two cliche limit reached)


MAMP is a solution stack composed of free and open-source software running with proprietary commercial software, to run dynamic web sites on computers running macOS or Windows. Wikipedia

I am sure I can come up with many things in both categories, but I choose to pick my top in each…

The best thing about the iPad for me is also the most obvious — its transformational form factor. Simply put, the iPad can shape itself to whatever task I have at hand. Whether I want to read the news in portrait, see more of a web page in landscape, write a paper, watch a show, or hand write in a notes app, the iPad has me covered. I love that I can be editing a photo one second, fully immersed in my task, then switch modes to write an e-mail to a close friend a moment later.

If I had to pick one thing that disappoints me, I think I’d lean toward the lack of universal web page support in Safari. Whether this is fixable by Apple, I’m not sure. Is it outdated or incomplete support by web developers? Or could Apple do something to help (e.g., keyboard/mouse support could help on complicated web pages)? But I bump against the iPad limitations more often in Safari than anywhere else.


I use my 2018 iPad Pro 12.9 as a laptop travel replacement to compliment my 27” inch home iMac where i do the bulk of any real work.


  • Lightweight
  • Celllular
  • Seemless transition between portrait mode for reading and landscape mode for working, writing and streaming shows.
  • Long battery life


  • You can NOT, in my view, do any real spreadsheet work on an iPad.
  • File management needs to improve.
  • Maybe this is my fault, but even simple pdf creation doesn’t seem as easy as on a Mac (though again may be my fault)

Given that 95% of the time i don’t need to do intense spreadsheet work on the road, i can get away with using what is otherwise an awesome device. And I love the move to the big iPad after an iPad lifetime with the 9.7 or 10.5 versions.

iPads aren’t suitable for sciencing, writing code, etc. so I doubt they’ll ever replace a laptop for me.
This is probably more a list of gripes, but I don’t have them for my laptop, so there you go :slight_smile:


A piece of aluminum and glass with access to the world.
Good for single-tasking and imposing focus.


Round-tripping files. Why can’t I just open a file and save it back?
Selecting text to be copied is a pain.
Can’t reliably create a pdf from other types of documents.
Side by side and slide over don’t work well.
Can’t select default apps for file types.
Pencil is kind of useless, as I don’t use it often, and when I’d like too, it’s always run down.

Starting a journal

3/10 8:33pm EDT (groan) selecting a word that iOS thinks is misspelled is virtually impossible - can’t position the carat within the word to select it, nor near either end.

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  • Different form factor than a computer is a nice change of pace.
  • Typing on a magic keyboard with just the big piece of glass in front of you is nice for writing.
  • Reading books or documents
    Sitting and sketching out idea boxes or a mind map to help you think through something.

Not so good:

  • Friction for some tasks like how do I download a video from YouTube and stick it in Keynote. You might be able to do it, but I would have to figure out something that takes a few minutes on my Mac.
  • Getting stuck. I approve faculty contracts by logging into our online college system. The page never loads completely, no matter which browser, or requesting desktop site, etc. I have to go through Citrix (see “friction” above). These kinds of things worry me, I have to be able to do my whole job on the iPad if I want to leave my laptop behind.

What started my migration to Apple everything was the iPad. Maybe it was the iPod touch. Mainly the iPad Air that I bought in July 2012. I was using the iPad and a netbook computer running windows 7.

The netbook died, the iPad took on a bigger role. I’m on my third iPad with the current air 2 being 4 years old.

The limitations have already been addressed. I look at the Microsoft Surface tablet. It is touted as a two in one device. It is running Windows 10… which is ubiquitous in the PC world.

I was hoping when the iPad Pro was introduced that it would have taken some cues from Microsoft. If iOS and macOS were more aligned or offer the iPad Pro with macOS it would outdo the Surface Pro. It would quash the limitations listed above.

I am due to replace my iPad or get another. I’m thinking iPad Pro. I was at my Apple retailer and they had a used MacBook Air for same money as an iPad.

I’m a graphic designer for the most part of my career and shifted to UX Design recently since my RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) has gotten worse over the years. That means, it’s hard for me to do my job as a graphic designer as I used to and work longer hours.

When I got an iPad Pro 12.9 (2017 edition) with an Apple Pencil, I slowly started neglecting my personal MacBook Pro at home that I used for my personal projects and does most of the stuff on my iPad Pro. I only transfer to my Mac when I need to do some long-form typing otherwise, the iPad Pro is my first choice. I even did some of the design work first on the iPad Pro before transferring on the Mac to finish it off. The iPad pro gave me the freedom I need from RSI. I found my 2015 MacBook Pro aging and unused so I sold it so I can buy the latest iPad Pro 12.9 (2018) with the Apple iPad keyboard and new Apple Pencil. I upgraded with the latest iPad Pro because of the Apple Pencil charging feature. I always find myself having to charge my Apple Pencil when I needed it the most. Now it’s always charge and accessible.

What delights me:

• Lightweight and easy to carry. I also find this cheaper than my old set-up of buying a MacBook Pro and a Wacom tablet. I can just carry the iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil and work anywhere I want.

• I find it much more ergonomic to draw and annotate with the Apple Pencil than using a Wacom tablet.

• It lets me focus on work rather than multi-window set up on the Mac.

• Editing images, voice recording, and video is faster than on a Mac.

• Battery life is also superb. Pair it with a USB-C charger it charges faster and I can just plug it in with a power bank.

• The FaceID is a really big upgrade to the iPad Pro. I didn’t think it’s one of the biggest features that I would love with the new device.

• I love taking down notes writing down than type it down. This replaced a physical notebook for me.

What disappoints me

• The Files app really needs more feature. It’s hard to search for files. I really love how it organizes my files but doing a task such as renaming or moving files is a nuisance.

• No easy way to download files. I have to use a 3rd-party browser to do this.

• With so much power, mobile Safari is holding it back. Why can’t I use modern web apps? The iPad Pro would have been nice if I can work on Figma on Safari.

• no backlight keyboard on the Apple iPad keyboard.

• I wish the iOS 13 would let us use a secondary monitor for other apps rather than just for mirroring. Sometimes I need more screen space when working.

• Shortcuts is no Hazel. I wish I can just easily automate some task.

• Shocking news for me. I thought I can reliably work on websites on Squarespace with just my iPad Pro. I had to take home my work Mac to be able to reliably work on Squarespace. Posting is easy but not modifying your website.


What delights me:

  • The form factor
  • Taking notes with the pencil
  • Being able to easily view my shared PDFs and documents/books on Acrobat Document Cloud
  • Battery Life
  • Portability
  • Lots of amazing apps
  • Being able to use reference materials while lecturing and showing presentations on my MacBook

What disappoints me:

  • iOS file management is nothing but frustrating in every way
  • Most corporate websites I’ve tried refuse to work on mobile Safari (including Blackboard which is the most used web app in my workflow)
  • I cannot use professional-grade applications like IDEs for development, Adobe Illustrator, and Final Cut/Logic Pro for audio and video
  • Web browsing is unpleasant in general even on sites that work, most sites haven’t been built for touch
  • Editing in Keynote and Numbers is frustrating and clumsy and much more time consuming than on a desktop
  • Selecting text is much slower than with a trackpad
  • I cannot access external drives or even USB pen drives
  • The keyboard case looks ridiculous, like an old Windows foldable laptop
  • Excel and Word are both missing essential features

In general, the hardware is amazing but iOS is not up to par with MacOS in many ways.


The iPad is very important to me as I use the iPad for work every day, and only use a macbook/imac when I am at home or when I need to do some really file intensive stuff.

I don’t do video or photo editing, coding or any other file intensive stuff usually, so for me the lack of external storage (with tethering and icloud / dropbox) is a non-issue. Even if it were available, there’s really nothing I would use that for. iCloud works perfectly for me.

To me the iPad is the perfect tool to do my job as it keeps me fully focussed and extremely flexible, and there’s nothing more I really need.


  • Fast
  • Focussed, one (max 2) apps on screen
  • Perfect screen
  • LONG battery life
  • Pencil support (could not live without it)
  • App eco system + the professionalism of the app developers making the apps a joy to use (f.e. omnifocus / scriptable / DT to go)
  • Shortcuts app (though iOS automation could be improved a lot)
  • Portability


  • Spreadsheet work is not all that good, but that is a software not iPad issue imo.
  • File management on device could be a bit better
  • iOS feels a bit long in the tooth on the iPad. It’s perfect on the phone, on the iPad however…

Once I sat down to think about it, there’s lots I would like to see happen on iOS but, including those described, really only very few disappointments.

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More about using the iPad Pro as a replacement for a second desktop than as a laptop replacement, but potentially relevant:

I want to add some thoughts here, without repeating the issues that have been raised already or the ones I’ve raised in the past, which I link below for convenience.

I want to gush about the iPad without being too gushy: I think this computer is amazing. I have so much fun using it and it does so many things perfectly it’s really wonderful. This is especially true for someone who started programming computers on an Apple IIC as a second grader and who has gotten to enjoy watching how computers have evolved.

I’ve tried cases to a jury with nothing but an iPad. I take depositions with my notes and documents only on an iPad. I have my entire trial notebook for every case on my iPad. I once did three hours of work on my iPad sitting in an Uber from L.A. to San Diego and back. I didn’t even bring a charger.

That’s just for work. My whole life is accessible to me no matter where I am because of iPad.

Tell me, please, that the promise of this device is not absolutely awe inspiring?

On the “how do we improve” iPad side of the equation, there is much to be done. Rather than repeat what I and so many of my friends here have identified. I wanted to try to organize my concerns into broad themes.

The overarching one for me is that I should be able to take a task from start to finish on an iPad without needing any other computer. This cannot be done right now because the OS has too many restrictions/limitations and because many third-party app developers are not investing in making fully functional iPad apps. I’ve experienced the promise of iPad using the few third-party apps that I have that are professional grade. This theme covers things like e-mail processing, file management/browsing, and even having a desktop-class web browser.

The second theme is that doing things on an iPad should be as efficient or more efficient than working on a macOS computer. There are lots of things that are already so much better to do on an iPad. But there are plenty of things that take 20 steps on iOS but can be done in three on macOs. What we need are the powerful utilities and efficient workflows we have on the mac. We need Hazel. We need better Siri Shortcuts that are more fully integrated–I agree with John Siracusa’s analysis about scripting from his guest appearance on The Automators – https://talk.automators.fm/t/automators-18-terminal-automation-with-john-siracusa/4186?u=ipersuade. We need things like mission control and spaces for when we connect to an external display or two. We need more robust and reliable text selection and simple things–problems that have been solved on desktop for decades.

I’m not one of the people critical of multi-tasking on iPad or on the absence of the mouse. I hope a mouse never comes. I want the smart engineers at Apple to find a more appropriate way to solve the type of problem a mouse solves on a desktop/laptop in an iPad-specific way. As far as multitasking, I would love things like tabbed views/split view and multiple instances of apps (I’d like to be able to have different pairs of apps that I could switch between). But-generally speaking–the combination of spit view and slide over enable me to get my work done without challenge.

The third theme is freeing up the iPad to be a “complete” computer. You should be able to do everything on device. That includes having a compiler so you can develop software for the device on the device. As it stands, iPad is just like an Arduino board. You need to plug it into another machine to build the software. Until that changes, I think iPad will always be limited.

In a single sentence: iPad is great, but it needs to be unshackled.

THV Prior Posts


As many have said already, where things start to fall apart is when it comes to the swapping data back and forth between apps. For me, a few of the problems / solutions would be:

Paste & Match Style - I am constantly taking data from emails, or flight confirmations and having to paste them into spreadsheets as well as paste them again later into itineraries. It is incredible frustrating when you paste in a confirmation number and it ends up being different font, size, color etc etc. I do realize there are work arounds (share sheet export, and I even made a shortcut to process text and spit it back to the clipboard in the format that I want, but it is an extra step and hassle that is better to be avoided. Better solution would be something like how pop-clip does it on MacOS or just have the ability to shortcut key it to paste and match, or even have the touch pop up give you the option to Paste and match style

Pinning Apps to their Task Manager Screen - I would love to be able to pin apps in place in the task manager screen. This would keep them in place when I return to that screen rather than them getting moved further and further away as I open other apps.

Built in Native TextExpander use - While iOS does have it’s own version, it is a far cry from the TextExpander app. While you can use the TextExpander keyboard, you cannot use it with an external keyboard. If they can let 1Password get as native as it has become, surely this is possible too.

File Downloads should be easier. Yes there are workarounds, but it just doesn’t need to be as complicated. While I may be in the minority, I cannot stand the files app. I am firmly entrenched in the dropbox world. While files is getting better, it is just not even close when doing anything more than just the basics

That’s a few for now

I completely agree with this. I’ve tried mightily to use the TextExpander keyboard, but frankly, it’s horrible. I only use it if I absolutely have to. And, as you pointed out, you can’t use it with an external keyboard anyway. I’m grateful that OmniFocus, OmniOutliner, and Drafts have hooks into TextExpander, that helps.

Chris, I don’t do many presentations but the few I’ve done I use the iPhone with Keynote installed as the remote and it has worked very well for me.

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IPad Pro 10.6” with Apple Smart Keyboard and Pencil.
I really can use it for nearly everything that I used to do with my 2013 MBP Retina 15”.
The biggest obstacle to making it a complete replacement? Better photo editing (although I use Photos, I prefer using DxO Optics Pro and On1), and external storage/management.
For everything else, I’m just as happy with iPad as with Mac, and in many cases, even happier. Netflix, Amazon Video, and Comcast/Xfinity are much better via their dedicated apps than via the Mac’s browser interface.
Google Docs (used a lot at work) are the caboose on the train… :frowning:
Keyboard shortcuts are a must for me, and I wish Apple would add a keyboard shortcut to invoke Control Center, etc.
But it’s so closed to replacing my Mac that if I get a Mac at all to replace the aging laptop, it may be a new Mini or iMac to stay upstairs in the office, while the iPad takes over for the laptop.