Should You Buy an iPad Instead of a MacBook?

The iPad has been notoriously labeled an oversized iPod Touch by countless skeptics, reviewers and even owners since its first day on the market. Despite its high success rate, I still encounter people daily who don’t even understand why the iPad exists or who it’s targeted toward.

Today we’ll discuss why the iPad is flying off shelves, who should consider getting one and why it beats a MacBook for many consumers.

For Apple Fanboys Only?

The first snide remark posited by skeptics is that the iPad only exists for the hopeless Apple fanboy types with too much money on their hands. These legendary and resourceful individuals own every iPod ever made and couldn’t wait to add a shiny new iPad to their collection of MacBooks and Mac Pros.

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If Only Such A Button Existed

To be fair, this category does exist. I’m admittedly a complete Apple addict who drools over every new product launch even though I can’t actually afford to run out and grab it all on launch day (I’m still using a 2007 MacBook and a first generation iPod Touch!).

However, if you actually know a few typical Mac “power users” that already have a Mac Pro for home and a MacBook Pro for the road, you’ll notice that many of these people don’t even plan on buying an iPad in the near future.

The reason is that many professionals, such as graphic designers who live and breathe Photoshop, simply can’t use the iPad for much work activity and therefore are keen on sticking with the more powerful Apple products.

So if the primary target isn’t the professional who already owns ten grand in Apple equipment, who is the iPad for and how is this market different than the laptop market?

Why Not Just Get a MacBook?

Take a look at the specs on the latests MacBooks and MacBook Pros. 2-4GBs of RAM, hard drives with hundreds of gigs of storage, super fast processors; these are impressive machines.

This kind of power is absolutely necessary to run many of today’s popular Mac applications. The speed and versatility of Apple’s line of notebooks makes them perfect for college students and working professionals that spend a great deal of their day in front of a screen.

But what about everyone else? How many users out there do little more than browse the web (primarily Facebook) and check their email? Why does the typical person need Photoshop or even Microsoft Office? Your average soccer mom or manual labor worker isn’t exactly spending their Friday nights throwing PowerPoint parties.

The truth is, many people are drawn to the style and quality associated with Macs but really don’t need the $1,000+ machine that they end up with. This is especially true for people that already own a desktop computer and just want something to take with them on the road.

What Can the iPad Do?

If you’re not convinced, think about your parents or even your grandparents. What do they do on their computers that the iPad can’t accomplish just as well or better?

The iPad can browse the web (Flash excluded) and even provides a richer, more pleasant experience than a desktop computer in this arena. You can use Facebook and Twitter, send and receive email, plan your day, organize your contacts, play games, watch movies, create documents, read books, and do a million other things. In the near future this functionality is likely to extend to include photo/video creation and editing.

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The iPad is amazing for web content

The relevant question becomes not what the iPad can do, but what can’t it do? The Internet has become the quintessential piece of our computing lives and when a $499 device provides it in such a beautiful format, I can’t help but wonder how many non-professional computer users need anything more.

For those that do need more, the App Store fills almost every gap imaginable, often without the need to spend a single cent. Want to keep a database of all your random daily information? Try Evernote. Want to access the files on your desktop? Grab Dropbox. Want to create a custom planet and rule over an entire race of beings? Check out GodFinger. All of these are completely free apps that come as a bonus to simply owning the device.

Closing Thoughts

Though I would love to be able to end this post by saying that I can completely function on an iPad alone, it simply isn’t true. Even for structuring simple blog posts I often take web screenshots and then crop/resize/edit them in Photoshop, a task that could probably be done on an iPad but not in the seconds it takes me to do it on my laptop.

Further, as a designer and photographer, there are simply way too many processor and hard drive intensive tasks that I do on a daily basis to work from an iPad. However, Apple isn’t targeting me with the iPad, but rather everyone else. Interestingly enough, while many scratch their heads and wonder what niche of consumers the iPad satisfies, I can’t help but wonder if everything else will one day become the niche.

Designers, photographers, videographers, musicians, these are niches that need powerful workhorse machines. The iPad may not perfectly suit the needs for anyone of these categories, but perhaps it’s the perfect device for everyone else. Maybe the recent history of making computers faster and stronger will give way to an era of devices that are convenient, practical, fun and perhaps even a little “magical.”

Leave a comment below and tell us how many people you can think of in your own life that don’t really do much beyond browsing the web on their computers. Do you think the iPad would be a better solution for these consumers? Why or why not?


  • Daria

    Hello, thank you for your article. I read this site every day (and practise in my bad english too).:)
    I’m first year student and I ask my parents to buy me MacBook Pro 13″. I think it’s good machine for students, creative people, business people. It’s just comfortable and useful machine for all people.
    Nobody know when we will can buy iPads in Russia…

  • Bob D

    You seem to paint the iPad as a stripped down Macbook that is adequate for what most people need. It IS that, but it is a lot more. It actually has many advantages over a laptop.

    Size and weight, obviously.

    MUCH better battery life. My Macbook gets maybe three hours if I am actually doing anything more complicated than browsing the web, my iPad can get 10 hours easily (all 50 levels of Plants vs. Zombies on one battery charge with a lot of charge left over, 4 full length movies, etc.) The battery life is SO good that I use it as an instant on device, I just blank the screen, don’t power down or even turn off wifi or 3G, I know that it will last all day.

    Much easier to use operating system. There are many YouTube videos of young children using the iPad, The same applies to other technophobes of any ag.

    Much cheaper software. The iPad versions of products are FAR cheaper than the equivalent Mac/PC programs. One example for guitarists, the Peterson iStobosoft guitar tuner – $10 on iOS, $50-100 on OS X or Windows.

    Much greater variety of software, there are all sorts of niche products that simply don’t exist on laptops.

    Internet access from anywhere, if you have the 3G version of the iPad. On a laptop, you would have to carry a MiFi or similar device, which is more expensive (I still have the $30/month unlimited plan).

    Great note taker. I use Mental Note, which can take handwritten (finger or stylus), typed, or audio notes.

    I almost never carry my Macbook anymore. The iPad has so changed my attitude of what a portable device should be that I recently bought an iMac as a home machine, and I had assumed that I would only be buying laptops from now own.

    Also, you might be surprised at how good a content creation machine the iPad is. There are pretty good photo (PhotoGene, PhotoPal), audio (Multitrack DAW) and video (Reel Director) editing programs even now, and they will get better.

  • http://sharpwebsolutions.com Damon Sharp

    Bought an iPad for my wife for the exact same reason. She just checks emails, browses the web and plays and occasional movie/game. Perfect for her. At the time, I didn’t see myself ever using or owning one, but after playing with hers, I plan on buying one for my business when version two comes out. I read a lot of tech books in epub, and am really looking forward to the addition of the retina display. If they add a camera and a 128GB model, that would be great as well. I just can’t use if for my everyday web design and development work, so I still need a macbook pro.

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  • http://www.Twitter.com/tylorskory Tylor Skory

    I would never recommend buying it OVER a macbook. However, I have both and I absolutely love the combination. If I’m heading to a coffee shop for leisure, not work, I love grabbing my iPad and catching up on Twitter, Reading Articles, Watching videos, playing games… The list is endless.

    But as a web designer I would be completely lost without my Macbook. It is possible to get some work done on the iPad. I have written invoices in Pages, mocked up wireframes in “Mockups” and even drafted a blog post or two.

  • http://i.cbeninati.com C. A. Beninati

    The most-asked tech question that I have received in the last several months has been that very one: “Should I get a new Macbook Pro or an iPad?”. Most of the inquirers are attending university and none of them are into graphic or web design. My answer- 99.98% of the time is “get the iPad”.

    As Bob D mentioned, the battery is great and the OS is just too easy to use. You don’t have to wait for your laptop to power up when you’re in class, and the combination of a bluetooth keyboard with Pages on the iPad makes for a great portable note-taking, essay writing, report doing device!

    I can’t think of any complaints or regrets about their iPad purchases, and no reports of minimized productivity.

    In all, if grandma, 2-year old niece, college buddy, mom, and authors/designers alike can find the device useful, then by all means, let them have it!

  • janice

    iPad isn’t a replacement its an additional device. I think of a laptop or desktop as serious computing and the iPad as fun computing

  • Masaba

    Excuse my english as wel. I guess the question is misleading.
    Indeed it does not represent an alternative. It is a new, previously unknown, device that performs beautifully in what it does. I started reading news, blogs and feeds. I evolved to editing text and working with it. I follow my mails on the fly, I have even removed feed reader software from my MBP and iMac. You can see a movie or your favourite series though I still prefer a larger screen. I’m giving my presentations with keynote more and more frequently. With my reference manager coming soon to the app store, I guess it will also help with article writing. I bought it because it promised to deliver, and the battery life, as pointed out, is awsome. If you travel or move a lot not needing the power of the MBP, it is surely the machine you did not know you needed. I’m still in the phase “how did I manage before”, I guess also beautifully, but I move more freely now and never missed my laptop when it was not by my side.

  • http://members.sibeliusmusic.com/johncannon John Cannon

    I am 75 years old and live in a retirement community. The interest shown in my iPad by other residents is overwhelmingly positive and several friends have bought one. Of course, I have an iMac, an iPod – and a MacBook for creating original music compositions. But my iPad stores all my music and 52 of 198 videos I have created of events in our community that I record to DVDs. I should have purchased the 64GB WiFi model as downloading “Alice in Wonderland” is straining resources! I highly recommend Sennheiser’s Bluetooth MM 100 wireless headphones which pair easily with the iPad.

    Cheers!
    John. http://www.twinlakescomm.org. (Burlington, North Carolina)

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      75 years old and busting out original music and video compositions on your iMac, MacBook and iPad? Well done sir, well done indeed.

  • Alessandro

    as a iphone and macbook owner i don’t feel the necessity to buy an ipad…but…it is so so so beautiful and fun to use that maybe i will consider it after the version 2 is released. to check email and browse the web is it THE device, with a video camera and a microphone (maybe included in the earphones if it isn’t already) this will be perfect! i will suggest it to my parents, who usually only browse internet and watch youtube videos..yep that’s what i’ll do..hope the newer version comes before christmas!
    ps. 10 hours of battery also watching a movie?i doubt about it

  • Terence

    My daughter’s HP laptop is falling apart (literally), and I have no intention of getting another PC again, so I to have been debating wether to get her an Ipad (no moving parts is a plus) or a macbook. All she does is browse the internet, watch movies, play music, write some papers, etc.

    The drawbacks I see if this is to be used in lieu of a laptop, is no USB port to backup with Time Machine, and no ability to print (currently). I do admit liking the $500 vs. $1,000 though.

  • http://i.cbeninati.com C. A. Beninati

    I forgot to mention earlier how incredibly useful the iPad is for travel as well. In-flight or on the road, it’s great! (Just remember to secure the iPad safely to the steering wheel before driving- it’s no good to have a 9.7″ touchscreen sliding around on those corners!)

    As for the battery, I’ve gotten more than 10 hours including video playback!

    • Brandon

      I love it, iPad on the steering wheel!

  • http://girishkolari.blogspot.com/ Girish Kolari

    I love iPad just for its ease of use — sit in front of TV watching your favorite program – use iPad just like your traditional book with a pencil in your hand.

    For any heavy users iPad is not the solution for now — since there is always dependency between different applications and hardwares. May be things can change when all dependencies are moved to your cloud space.

    Going for iPad over MacBook is all about what kind of user you are — definitely not for computer freaks.

    Girish Kolari
    http://in.linkedin.com/in/girishkolari/

  • Lee

    Good article, but wrong about photography. There are some serious apps that work really well in photo editing. I have 3 drawing and 4 photography apps on my iPad. I spent less than $20.00. There are things I can do on the iPad that I can’t do in Aperature 3. In fact, I only use my iPad for all my photo editing. It is truely amazing! And saves hundreds of dollars.

    This is a serious device for professionals. I use it at work constantly. My wife accuses me of having an iPad tumor. She’s right.

    • http://productiveuseoftheipad.blogspot.com/ Mats Beem

      What iPad apps for Photo editing are you using Lee, the ones I have found don’t do high res (at 12 MP), which is a prerequisite for me…

  • http://brandontoone.com Brandon

    Do you need to have a desktop or laptop to sync the iPad to? Or can the iPad truly be the only device my parents have?

  • http://tsunshinelove.com T. S. Love

    The no printing thing sounds like kind of a drag. Is there a way to get data between the iPad and a desktop machine other than email?

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  • Simon C

    In response to article title – No.

    iPad IS NOT a stand alone device. It still needs a ‘primary’ machine to sync to. iPhone is the same. It actually is good for “epic fail in the making” when your overseas and you need to restore your device and your primary machine happens to be a few thousand kilometres away. This has happened to me and its really poor. My iPhone did not recognise the foreign SIM card I put into it – so the iPhone had a sad and wanted to be restored. Being Australian, I bought my iPhone outright – so ever time I do a restore I need the internet because my iphone stops and thinks “I should be networked locked but I’m not, did I just get hacked? where is my phone call to apple HQ?”. $50 phones do not have this problem. It’s magical :(

    “…when all dependencies are moved to your cloud space.” is the day I throw my iPad in the bin. I’m with Stallman (www.gnu.org/philosophy/who-does-that-server-really-serve.html), if my compute cycles are not done locally, I refuse to use said product. Dropbox is a security risk. Which is why I am really glad iOS4 brought Local Notification to the table. Push Notifications are like telling an untrusted 3rd party to remind you of something important. NOONE in their right minds asks the hobo in the street to look after their little black book – the internet is the same. The internet is probably worse – Google is like a crack dealer of information.

    So – *SHOULD* you buy an iPad instead of a Macbook – No. Can you? Yes. Would it result in data loss? Probably.

  • BizarreRod

    well, i agree with you at the point that there are people who don’t need a macbook because they want a device just for checking email, but i’d prefer as an alternative an non-apple laptop, or even a 10″ netbook, which can be largely cheaper than an ipad and have the same functions (and even some more)… anyway this is not a subject Ivery related to me, for i would never buy a laptop-replacing device with a screen smaller than 13″, nor one which can’t run photoshop…

  • andrew

    Kudos to John at the retirement home. Maxing out all his
    Macs.

    Printing – I think MacWorld did a tip with a very ez to follow walkthru on how to link your iPad to DropBox so you can print
    anything by dropping it in the Print folder you have created in Dropbox.

    I “convinced” my 60 yo wife that we also needed an iPad. Now I can’t get it out of her hands !

  • Mike

    I dont completely agree with this article. Altough the iPad is indeed focussed on “everyone else” (as I am a designer myself), it does not contain itself in the same category. Even though I do see it as a device for low level creation, you can’t do powerful things on it (like the article stated). But, it is a device that can “assist” professional users or content creators.

    Like for photography, you can sync photos (and video) to the ipad without the need of a mac or pc, you can demonstrate different kinds of media (even interactive) to clients of other people. Think of pdf, notes, articles, webpages, video, photos etc.

    I’ve already seen multiple uses of the Microsoft Surface for instance. This device is literally a “showcase” device. It displays regular media(photos, videos, reviews, shops) that can be consumed though phones, pcs, macs or other devices with an added layer of user interactivity on this new device. It cant produce content(besides fingerpainting), only displays it.

    That is where the iPad stands. Altough it is certainly comparable to the MacBook or any other laptop for that matter, it also adds a new layer of usability for the same target group as the MacBook. If I have to show my clients my creations, I’d rather use my iPad than MacBook or iMac.

  • Mats Beem

    Many people don’t seem to realize that you can’t replace a laptop by an iPad if you don’t have a desktop as well…. not because you can’t do everything, not even because you need more processor power, because some people don’t. The point is, to use an iPad you need iTunes on a computer, not being your iPad. You need to synchronize with something… Otherwise, the iPad only needs some extra software to make it the one device quite a lot of people would be satisfied with….

    However, taking your example of cropping/resizing/editing web screenshots: that can be done in seconds on an iPad… I do it all the time… rather using PhotoPad than Photoshop Express on the iPad… interestingly enough, cropping is actually faster than in iPhoto or Aperture on a MacBook Pro 2.4 Ghz with 4 GB of memory

  • http://www.salfricosimages.net Salfrico

    I have a MacPro for my heavy duty work. I do Graphic Design, Photography and Video Editing. I do not yet own an iPad but definitely intend to as I see it more as a means to easily display all my work, and website, and do off the chain presentations to clients in the various fields. If am doing a quick weekend or over night trip, the iPad would be super fabulous and light weight to travel with.

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  • Dan Kurten

    Everyone needs a desktop or laptop, an iPad is just an extra. If you can afford, get it. But don’t expect it to replace anything. Sure it isn’t revolutionary as the iPhone that putted the iPod and a phone together but maybe someday all the books, newspapers and magazines will be read through this kind of devices.

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