Since the original iPad, people have been viewing the iPad as a laptop replacement. I have always viewed those people as being more than a little touched. As weird as it makes me feel inside, I am about to join the ranks of the touched. The iPad Air is the first iPad that I believe is a credible replacement for a laptop computer. 

Keys to a laptop

Let's start with the elephant in the room. These days, one of the biggest differences between a laptop and a tablet is the presence of an attached keyboard. If the product ships with a detachable keyboard, it is considered a hybrid. Microsoft believes that it's Surface line of products should sometimes be considered laptops because of the presence of an optional keyboard. 

This is a bogus and contrived definition. One might argue that the real measure of a laptop is the foldable hinge. The Surface does not have that. Microsoft would counter argue that a real laptop has a real, desktop operating system that can have two or more apps side by side. So goes the back and forth. I have given a lot of thought to this subject, and have concluded that what makes a laptop a laptop is how it is used, not the ultimate form factor. 

For some people,a laptop is a desktop computer that can be easily carried about, and use on a lap or tabletop. Ironically, there are many laptops that are awkward, if not impossible to use in the lap. Though the Surface has no traditional hinge, and remains difficult to use in the lap, Microsoft insists on classifying it as a laptop, at least, some of the time. The fact that the iPad does not come standard with a keyboard does not disqualify it from being a laptop. Interestingly, the Surface line does not come with a keyboard, either. Like iPad keyboards, it has to be purchased separately. 

 New dimensions

What size is a laptop? What shape? What input method must it accommodate? I don't know, either. Since before I was in high school, I was a touch typist. I learned on a manual type writer. Everything I know about inputting data into a computing device is informed by that early training. Am I to be a slave to that training? Is the industry? Is a thing only a laptop when it conforms to our childhood expectations and muscle memory? I think not!

Even without an external keyboard, the iPad Air is a credible, typing machine. As you may have guessed, this entire article has been written on the Air while I am at a coffee shop. I am using the onscreen keyboard that is a part of the operating system. I am typing at a significant fraction of the speed I would be typing if on my iMac at home. By significant fraction, I mean upwards of 90%. Except for review purposes, this might just be the first iPad I own that I do not pair with an external keyboard. I find the screen and software to be just that good. As a jaded, professional writer, that's saying quite a lot. 

I do find the 10" form factor to be a tad small for my tastes. I am very much looking forward to an even bigger iPad, expected next year. The current iPad is firmly in the netbook size category. That said, I find it a lot easier to type on the glass of the Air, than any netbook keyboard from the past. Somehow, Apple has taken the smaller size and made it more functional. Though I like having a bit more room to work, I am not functionally constrained by the smaller dimensions of the iPad Air. 

Apps for laps

When the laptop was first introduced, it was intended to be the closest thing you could get to your desktop in your lap. Even so, it was a long time before we started talking about desktop replacements. We understood that there would be some compromises and trade offs. We gave up quite a bit of power and functionality for the convenience of being able to do certain tasks on the go. 

One of the great equalizers was the well made app, designed for the device you happen to be using. Today's internet was designed for a 20" monitor attached to a PC. It was not designed to run at all, let alone, well, on a 10" screen, or smaller. The web browsing experience on an iPad with mobile Safari, is better than many web experiences on small form laptops. That is because the web on mobile Safari is an experience that was made for the device. 

When applications are made, specifically, for the devices on which they will be used, the experience of doing that task is almost always improved. For the iPad, there are a half a million apps designed for use on that device. There are no applications designed, specifically, for your particular PC. That is why the iPad makes an exceptional laptop. Almost every app you use on the iPad was made for laptop use with the screen size and resources of your iPad in mind. 

The way you do the things you do

Ultimately, laptop means nothing. Like so many things, it is little more than a marketing term that has come to mean whatever we need it to mean. Originally, laptops were small computers that could be ported about and used in the lap. When they became desktop replacements, we didn't deny them that status because they didn't look like desktops. They were desktop replacements because we could buy one instead of a desktop, and not be functionally disadvantaged. 

By the same criteria the iPad Air is a laptop replacement. It does not need to look or act like a traditional laptop to replace a traditional laptop in function. Function is the key. I am not a programmer. I will never write code on my iPad, nor my iMac, for that matter. Being without that functionality on my iPad does not leave me at a functional disadvantage. There are many things your desktop computer cannot do. Learn what Big Iron means, to get my point. Trust me, you don't have it. That does not mean that you do not have a real, desktop computer. The iPad is a real laptop. 

Obviously, I can do long form writing on this thing. I can also make spreadsheets and presentation slides. Is that productive enough? I can create music, movies, and edit photos. That is already more than most people do on a desktop. Naturally, Facebook, Twitter, and instant messaging are covered. What exactly is it you were doing with your laptop?

Without blush or hesitation, I can boldly declare that the iPad has moved into the category of laptop replacement. 

David Johnson 

AuthorDavid Johnson