The Increasingly Rare iPad Deal Killers

Jason Snell wrote an excellent piece today about how he uses his iPad for a lot of his work. The post references a recent quote from Microsoft’s Satya Nadella that implies the iPad is not a real computer and a recent iPad ad that makes its point nicely.

I’ve spent a lot of time writing and podcasting about the iPad as a potential laptop replacement. In the early days, I went iPad only while writing the book, iPad at Work. Back then it was rough. The hardware, operating system, and software were all in need of improvement. Things did, however, get better. iPad hardware these days benchmarks alongside currently shipping Macs very respectively.

iOS also is a lot more powerful than it used to be. Last year I gave my laptop to my daughter and used my iPad as a laptop for about six months before buying a replacement laptop. That was during iOS 10, and the reasons that I ultimately bought a laptop rested largely on the operating system. Before iOS 11, managing multiple files and email attachments felt masochistic. iOS 11 fixes that. Now with iOS 11 and the Files App, I’m able to manage files nearly as fast on iPad as I am on Mac. If I had 35 years experience using a tablet like I do the mouse and keyboard, I’d probably be just as fast. 

All that said I still find times where I need the laptop. The interesting bit for me is that while Apple has improved the hardware and the operating system, I’ve got some lingering problems with third-party software. 

Two such roadblocks that immediately come to mind are Microsoft Word and Googe Docs. I spend a lot of time in both these apps doing day-job legal work. In many ways, Microsoft Word on iPad is superior to its Mac counterpart, but it has one glaring omission, the inability to modify style preference. If I want to change a style format or line spacing, it’s simply not possible in Microsoft Word for iPad. I’ve used styles in Word forever. If you know what you are doing, they dramatically improve document editing and tricky legal paragraph numbering. Likewise, Google Docs has a change tracking feature that works fine on the Mac but has never been properly implemented on the iPad app. I’ve found ways around these problems, but they are workarounds and get in the way of productively using my iPad.

It didn’t hit me until reading Jason’s piece tonight, but with each step forward, the iPad’s limitations get narrower. The hardware and operating system problems are, for the most part, solved for me. Likewise, there are alternatives for my software problems. There are iPad word processors that support styles. Google’s passive-aggressive approach to the iPad leaves them ripe for disruption by some other company that wants to make a Google Docs-like experience for iPad without second-class iPad software. I’d honestly be surprised if these problems (along with two or three other on my particular list) don’t get solved in the next year. 

But getting back to the original point, if you are asking yourself whether or not the iPad is a “real” computer, the fact that I’ve got to go to Microsoft Word style formatting for distinction should tell you that the question was already answered a long time ago.