Field Testing the iPad: Can It Be Used as a Laptop Replacement?

26Oct10

I’ve run into yet another round of hard drive issues. I’m pretty sure my hardware’s lifespan, rather than being measured in time until its processor can no longer compete, etc. can be entirely measured by the inevitable race between expanding content and the hard drive that content fills. Given, like most students, I use a laptop, this probably explains my impressive collection of external hard drives, each an attempt to resolve the storage problems of that generation’s Powerbook/Mac Book Pro.

The problem becomes, as I purchase those kind of external solutions, my laptop becomes less and less functional when not leashed to a desk. Right now, for example, while on the road I cannot access any of the music or movies I’ve downloaded from iTunes – there simply isn’t enough room on my MBP for that much media, and the moment I disconnect my external drive, its gone. Which leaves me feeling tempted by towers like the Mac Pro, hearing the siren song of “Internal Drive Bays” and “Expansion Slots”. I remember my last tower (a Power Tower Pro by the late, great PowerComputing) with fondness, and consider going back to the desktop set. After all, for someone whose programming style can be summed up as “throw more computing power at it”, desktops offer a good deal more bang for the buck, even with the Apple premium.

But I still *want* a portable machine. Checking email on the road, access to my library of journal articles, and yes, the occasional game while I wait for a connecting flight or the next conference session. Enter the iPad.

I’ve been using, and enjoying, my iPad since it was released, but I haven’t yet really run it through its paces. Now the question becomes: is the iPad enough that I no longer need a laptop. No, it won’t duplicate all its functions (there will never, ever be an iOS version of SAS, you can quote more). But how often do I use those functions? I’ve hammered out a project in SAS while sitting in a hotel room…once, in four years in graduate school, and that was a failure of timing more than anything else. So no, it won’t be everything, but will it be enough?

The Test: For one month, my iPad will be my primary portable device. Unless its critical, the MBP stays on my desk, doing its best impression of a desktop. Now is a good time to be running the test. iOS 4.2 is coming out, meaning iPad users will be able to multitask. November has a good mix of travel (the holidays), work (holy crap its November!) and academics (I’m presenting at this year’s American Public Health Association conference). A decent all around test.

The Setup: An Apple iPad with 64 gigs of storage and both WiFi and 3G connectivity. The stand of your choice (mine is one that looks a bit like a switchblade when folded up). And in my case, since I can’t type something this long on the on-screen keyboard, an external BlueTooth or Dockable keyboard. In my case, since the Apple Keyboard Dock won’t let you put the iPad into landscape mode (something I rather like for spreadsheets), I went with the Apple Bluetooth wireless keyboard, the same one that gets used for their Macs. I’ve dropped it on the floor of the DC Metro already, so the power button is…dubious…but so far, it appears to work.

Stay tuned, I’ll be posting my thoughts about the experiment all month.

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