Mullings on iPad as computer/laptop replacement

I’ve been reading so many articles since the announcement of the new iPad Pros–as I’m sure many of you have–on this issue of whether an iPad is a computer or whether it can replace one. The debate has raged probably since the first Retina iPad. I wanted to solicit your thoughts on something I’ve been struggling with on this issue.

Two things stand out in my mind. There is the question of “can an iPad replace your laptop,” then there is the question of “can an iPad be your sole computer.” Most articles that talk about iPad replacing the laptop seem mainly debating the second question–mostly without expressly stating so. I think there is no question that if you have a separate machine, an iPad can easily replace your laptop–or serve as your laptop.

The more interesting question to address, then, is whether the iPad can be one’s sole computer. Nobody can credibly argue that it cannot be with respect to at least some categories of users. But for pro-level, tech savvy users, can iPad satisfy all of our computing needs? If not will it ever be able to and what will it take to get there?

Many of us, myself included, care deeply about this question. What I’m struggling with is why do we feel this way? Why do we feel so invested in iPad? When a computer is just a tool to accomplish our work, why do we care whether the tool is a desktop, a laptop, an iPad, or an iPhone? Why does it matter?

Should an iPad be able to be your sole computing device be able to accomplish everything you need to do on a computer? Why?

I’m not asking to be negative, but because I myself long for the day when I can do absolutely everything I need to do on my iPad without need to go to another computer to get everything done.

I like macOS a lot. I like my 15" MacBook Pro a lot, and the weight does not bother me when I travel with it. Still, I mostly use it like a desktop these days, docked in my home office and connected to a 27" display. I prefer my iPad and would like to be able to do all my work on my iPad. And, I don’t want a dumbed-down set of tools that cripple the pro-level, A class work that I do. I push my machines hard and I want computing devices that keep up with me, so I’m not looking to sacrifice powerful tools just so I can have this cool slab of glass to play with.

Certainly, you cannot answer for my personal reasons, but perhaps you have some insight into the general topic: why do we feel vested in the success of iPad as a stand-alone, completely independent computer, that can replace (if we wish) all the other computers in our lives and perform at the highest levels?

The corollary question might be, why does such a large swath of the tech press seem so vested in tearing down the iPad and pronouncing its failure as a “computer” replacement?

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Because in today’s environment, negative news sells faster and travels further?

I like my computers (MacBook, iPads, iPhone) but I like my paycheck better. For me that’s the priority. I can’t earn a living using an iPad only. Thus, easy decision: I won’t replace my MacBook just yet, and I don’t care what reviewers say.


Yes. This is a logical/pragmatic analysis. The computer performs a function—enables us to earn our livings—so we need to use the tool or combination of tools that allow it. I think for some people that is enough. It’s a perfectly proper approach.

My focus is on the question of why so many of us want the iPad to be “THE” tool that allows us to do all our work and earn our paychecks.

Personally, I’m moving towards the desktop Mac + iPad setup, but I think most of my reasons for doing so also apply to the iPad only scenario.

  • The iPad has capabilities that the Mac does not (Pencil support, cell connection, better battery life, FaceID, a superior form factor for use away from a desk, etc.)
  • The costs of maintaining two mobile computing platforms are high, both monetarily and in terms of hauling a second device around.
  • If I’m only going to maintain one mobile computing device, it will be an iPad (see bullet #1).

For folks who are considering going solely to an ipad, just strike out “mobile” from the above.


Because shiny, popular things are more attractive? It’s not rational, but it’s sexy.

Yes. I think this is insightful. The combination of having all the unique functionality of the iPad that you mention + all the functions of the traditional computer is the ideal scenario when coupled with the fact it’s preferable, if possible, to avoid having to maintain multiple computing platforms.

It could be, but I think it’s more than that.

I totally agree with @ChrisUpchurch
For the past few years I’ve moved from ipad + macbook + imac to iPad + mac mini
And so far I find it is the best setup I can possibly imagine.


I think, at the core of the experience, there is a delight in the interaction with the glass. There really is a magical feeling that this simple form of glass, impossibly thin, is a window. I’ll never forget the first time I saw the swipe to unlock on the original iPhone. That direct finger on glass interaction is something that never gets old. iOS for iPad, with all of the gestures, is just a delight to use. And with iOS 11 and 12, the swiping into multitasking, the multitouch drag and drop, etc, it all adds up to an experience I just don’t get on a Mac.

Add to this the added power of the last few years, more memory and faster processors and the experience gets better. I was greatly impressed when I switched from the iPad 3 to the Air 2 and still have the Air 2. It’s performance is still fantastic. Now on the 2018 12.9” Pro and it’s all even better. It’s the little things too. The satisfying click of the Pencil snapping into place and charging. Always there, always charged. The new Keyboard Folio is a huge improvement over the previous design allowing me to type in my lap with the same confidence of a laptop but with two benefits: iOS and the tablet form factor. In a second I can go from a laptop form factor to just a tablet with no keyboard in the way. I can have both form factors as needed.

The mix of iOS and touch is something I really prefer now. I still have a Mac Mini which serves as my file/media server and the occasional InDesign project. But that’s it. I only use when I have to and only about 10% of my computing is there. It still has a use. 8 years ago the Mac was my preferred computer. It’s what I’d been using since 1993. But the first iPad began to change that.

A few other notes. Built in LTE is fantastic in my situation because I’m in a rural area with satellite internet. It works but it always seems a little slow for standard browsing or uploading via FTP. Tethering is okay but often takes 2 to 3 tries to connect and then can disconnect. With the iPad LTE I never have to think about it. It’s just connected and it’s a fast connection.

The last bit I’d mention that has really solidified in the past couple years is the sense that there is no maintenance and that all my files, all my everything is always in sync. My books, my documents, my bookmarks, my browser history, all of I it. iCloud has become a first class experience and while many talk about how the Files app is lacking, I find it is excellent for my needs. I have no problem managing 12+ client websites with Files+Textastic+Affinity apps. I create new sites with this set-up. I design and deliver documents of all kinds: annual reports, posters, postcards, newsletters, etc. All with iPad and with no trouble keeping track of different projects/clients.

The simplicity of the modern iPad/iOS experience is often overlooked. I can back-up to iCloud automatically or if I want to get old school I can back-up to my local Mac via the network. But I really don’t have to be preoccupied with hardware failure or software glitches. I’m not saying it’s perfect but that problems have been few and far between. I can’t say the same about the Mac. I expect I’ll keep a Mac around for a long time but really, it’s now just a utility tool I must have for file serving and a few odds and ends.


I think the desire by some to use an iPad full-time is far beyond this. The iPad is powerful, in an ultra-portable design. The iPad offers always-on networking with LTE, more predictable battery life than some notebooks.

iOS eschews or obscures much of the complexity found in desktop opertaing systems. The app ecosystem is broader than macOS and Windows combined. It’s more secure than those OSes as well.

There are plenty of people who can get all their work done, in some cases faster, on an iPad than on a Mac or PC. That’s not the case for me quite yet with my particular workflow, but that isn’t a universal. Just becuase the iPad caopable of becoming your or my primary computer doesn’t mean it’s an irrational choice for everyone.


I think for me the iPad is special because it combines a lot of things (most of which have already been pointed out). Things like complete portability (which, to me, includes LTE), multiple form factors (portait/landscape, keyboard/no keyboard, pencil/no pencil, etc), vibrant app ecosystem, and ease of backup/recovery. I know the Mac has gotten a lot better on that last point, but it still doesn’t come close to iOS for ease of setting up a device.

That being said, I’m not all iPad yet. I still have an iMac and I foresee having a Mac for many years to come. This is due to a couple things, but primarily it is because of backup/storage and development. I like to dabble in programming and that’s easier on the Mac, especially in Swift. Also, I like having all my pictures and files on a computer that then gets backed up. I don’t want to solely rely on iCloud syncing.


I’m moving into this area as well. My work provides an iMac for my use, and I rarely (at least for now) need to take work home with me that requires a Mac, not even my MBP. iPad Pro (1st gen) is more than sufficient for what I need to get done at home or when traveling.

Currently thinking about upgrading to iPad Pro, but am going to give it another month to really iron out any kinks I may experience, if any, with things like Shortcuts, improving processes and routines, etc.

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I agree, and I think if the filing system becomes a bit more “Mac-like” it’s going to really light a fire in the debate further.

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OK, I was being flippant, but I actually do believe a significant portion of the market purchases hardware upgrades not because they understand the upgrade provides a benefit, such as what you described, but because it’s new. I don’t disagree with any of the objective reasons you and others here outlined for owning an iPad, or for preferring an iPad or a MacBook for one’s work. I just think consumers have a very hard time being honest about their motivation for buying the latest and greatest because it’s hard to admit “I want it, because I want it”. And Apple and others are very adept at understanding that psychology. It drives our consumer economy.

So, yes, the new iPads are terrific, have lots of technical advantages, under the covers the OS is better than ever and can get greater. But I bet the majority of the projected 9.7 million iPads to be sold in 4Q2018 will be bought simply because they’re new. (No doubt, I’ll also fall for the lure of newness and get a new iPad this year, too LOL. I’m a consumer. That’s what we do.)

So what’s interesting is I bet most are NOT because they are new. I think you are correct if you had said something along the lines of “most tech enthusiasts” or “most people on this forum”. However, I suspect (still a guess, I have no actual data) most people buy an iPad when they need it and keep it for a while. I think we often conflate what most of the market does with what people like us would do.

Great comments, thus far. I just saw this great article from Cult of Mac that I think is germane to our discussion here and thought you might enjoy reading it, if you haven’t seen it: Are Mac users jealous of the iPad Pro? [Opinion]. Enjoy.

I find myself preferring the iPad over my MacBook Pro for portability, always connected LTE, focus, amazing apps, and ‘joy of use,’ but there are still a few pieces of software that just don’t work really well on the iPad. I may get boo’d out of here, but I’d also love a trackpad. Spreadsheets just kind of need track pads IMO.

Here is my take on trackpads and nice. I think the problem they solve, but I don’t think the only way to solve it is with a trackpad. I would rather avoid having to have another peripheral. But having an ability to precisely select and manipulate text, numbers, spreadsheet cells, etc. is important for many of us. I find myself using the soft keyboard trackpad on my iPhone a lot, mainly to position my cursor. I don’t use it as frequently on my iPad because I use the Smart Keyboard more. I don’t know what the trackpad solution would be, but I hope the problem can be solved without adding another peripheral.

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This is very true. A mouse works too. As the seniors around here will remember, the reason Microsoft Windows succeeded was mainly due to Excel. Spreadsheets are designed and optimized for use with a mouse or track pad.

I find external pointing devices usually afford a higher degree of precision than touch only. Guess this is one of the reasons I love the Apple Pencil.

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Ah that old “power user” issue. My take is one persons power user is another persons average user. It really depends on what aspects of “power user” you particularly need.

For me I use an iPad for a lot, my only real sticking point is I can not compile code, so still need a Mac. Other than that an iPad covers most other bases, for me anyway. yes there are things that cause friction but sometimes that’s the fun.

iPads feel like Macs (or Windows) did back in the day when most problems had yet to be solved, and you could still have hours of fun bending the machine to your will and finding ingenious work arounds to the limitations. In time I guess that will pass and the iPad will mature and become sort of boring but incredibly productive the way the Mac has.

Until then if you want to bring the joy back into fiddling with your computer an iPad with shortcuts, scriptable etc still has that for me at least.