Laptop Replacement

In review after review, the drumbeat for the iPad Pro is all about whether or not it can replace your laptop. Tim Cook did not help matters with some of his recent comments. While this is not a part of the marketing push for the device, it seems to be the only thing tech reviewers care about. It is as if to say, if the iPad can't replace your laptop, it is not worth your while. Can the iPad Pro replace your laptop? And does that narrative even make any sense? Let's find out:

Laptop Replacement

Before there was talk of a laptop replacement, we had similar hype for desktop replacements. Can you guess what those were? Laptops, that's what. Years ago, the same crowd talking about laptop replacements were eager to elevate the laptop as a desktop replacement. How did that work out?

It seems to me that desktops are still being made and sold to consumers and businesses. While it is true that desktop sales have slowed, all PC sales have slowed. It is also true that a lot of people who used to purchase desktops now purchase laptops. For many people, the laptop is the only computing form-factor they will consider. Does that mean that the laptop is a desktop replacement?

Now, we have something new in the market that is being touted as a laptop replacement. While the iPad Pro is indeed a new thing in the market, the iPad has been around since 2010. In mid-2012, Business Insider found that 46% of iPad users regarded their iPad as their primary computing device. In other words, for about half, the iPad had already replaced both laptop and desktop. Given that fact, what does iPad Pro as laptop replacement even mean in 2015?

The Right Tool for the Job

Anyone looking for a laptop replacement should ask themselves the following question: Is there something wrong with your laptop? What is it about the laptop that you are hoping to replace? You don't need to have a good answer. But you should have some kind of answer. It seems to me that what you really want is the right tool for the job. Here are some reasons why a laptop might not be that tool:

  • Laptops are ergonomic nightmares

  • Your laptop is not powerful enough

  • Your screen is too small for what you do

  • You prefer using a mobile OS as opposed to a desktop OS

  • Your laptop is too heavy

  • You want most of what the laptop can do. But you don't want to carry a separate iPad

It is not that these are not good reasons to want to replace a laptop. It is just that doing so with an iPad Pro simply does not do anything to help you. Turn an iPad into a laptop and it is still and ergonomic nightmare. Put the iPad on a stand while you type on a separate keyboard, and it is no longer very mobile.

If your laptop is not powerful or big enough, you don't improve the situation with an iPad Pro, unless you have an 11"or 12". At best, though, power will be a wash.

The bottom three reasons come closer to something actionable. If you are one of the millions who tends to get more done, or just enjoys using iOS as opposed to OS X or Windows, an iPad Pro is an excellent replacement.

An iPad Pro with a Smart Keyboard will be lighter than any of the 13"Mac offerings. Whether the weight savings is significant enough to make this move is entirely up to you. My carry bag weight matters to me quite a lot. Your mileage may vary.

The last reason is probably the one that most easily justifies your decision to replace your laptop. If you are one of the many people who doesn't have to have everything a laptop has to offer, and you want to also carry an iPad, replacing your laptop with a powerful iPad Pro starts to make a lot of sense.

This is the case with me. But there is also one more geeky thing: A laptop is a portable analog of a desktop. With a little tweaking, it can do everything your desktop can do. It is the same OS, the same apps, the same user experience, only portable.

The iPad is something completely different. It was built for touch input. It's apps are lightweight and nimble. There is a good chance the screen on the iPad Pro is worlds better than the one on your laptop. And it might even get better battery life. The iPad is a completely different animal from a laptop. If you want a different experience than the one you already have in your home office, that is a good reason to replace your laptop.

Complimenting the Laptop

I don't think the iPad Pro is a good compliment to a laptop. If you would like an iPad experience along with a laptop, I recommend the iPad mini. It is small enough to fit in some pants pockets. It is highly mobile, and can be whipped out for casual content consumption without production when you need a quick break.

The bigger iPads demand more. They are more of a production to carry, and more of a production to take out and use while you are on the go. The iPad Pro wants to be paired to a keyboard. The Logitech keyboard is heavy and bulky. The Apple Smart Keyboard is thin and light enough, but fiddly.

Both keyboards have their strong points. But if yourwant to use the iPad Pro as just a casual tablet, you either have to deal with the external keyboard, or remove it from the keyboard and, well, deal with the keyboard. A mini has no such encumbrance.

There is also the matter of overkill. The mini is an excellent consumption device. The iPad Pro wants to be used for much more than that. The Pro wants to do most of what you put your laptop away for in the first place. It is like carrying a work laptop and a personal laptop. That's not wrong if that's what you want to do. But it is not the most natural thing to do. If you are carrying an iPad Pro and all that makes it great, you are probably not going to want to also carry a laptop.

Edge Cases Vs. the Fat Middle

So who should replace their laptop with something that is most definitely not a laptop? Frankly, I am under the impression that most people already have more technology than they can possibly use. When the only options for sale were powerful workstations, many people had them. But it was overkill. They moved to the less powerful desktops. But that was still too much for what they really did.

Down they went to the laptop. That made a lot more sense to a lot more people. In principal, it was the same as the desktop, but less powerful, and a lot easier to manage. But the laptop is still too much, especially since they have become a lot more powerful. People have pushed back by moving the lion's share of their day to day tasks to the smartphone. For these people, the iPad Pro is not a laptop killer; the smartphone is. For them, the iPad Pro is not a step down from the laptop. It is a step up from the smartphone.

Many will find the iPad Pro a much better fit for how they would rather use a computer. For them, iOS and Android have already replaced a traditional computer. But the pundits who talk about laptop replacements are the kind of people who can never seriously consider it. That is because the iPad Pro does not have some of the features they need for their very specific jobs.

They need a machine that can handle multiple audio inputs and outputs, three or more apps onscreen at the same time, one or two extra monitors, and desktop software like code compilers and Hollywood level movie production and photo manipulation. They have the software they know, and the workflow that works best for them. No matter how powerful the iPad is, it will not replace their laptop until it becomes a laptop.

A Microsoft Surface is not a laptop replacement. It is just a laptop. It is not replacing anything because it is exactly what is being replaced. The iPad Pro is something different. Will it replace your laptop? If you find yourself using mobile operating systems 90% of the time, it probably already has.

David Johnson