Valley of the iPad (Part 1)


I want to love the iPad. I really do. It’s the best tablet money can buy: a beautiful, functional slab of brilliance. I even used one (iPad 2) instead of a laptop for 6 months. Then I upgraded to an iPhone 5, and shortly thereafter bought a MacBook Air (13-in).

Here’s how my attention is split between the devices I own these days, (in a completely inadvertent homage to Yellow Submarine):

What happened? I still firmly believe that the iPad is extremely capable as a content creation device. And it’s certainly one of the best content consumption devices available.

The problem is this: it does hardly anything quite as well as one of the two devices on either side of it.

There are some things you just can’t realistically accomplish with an iPad, like most kinds of Graphic Design, for example. Fair enough. But when it comes to things that the iPad does well, it still falls in the awkward valley between iPhone and MacBook.

If I’m writing, I’m probably doing one of two things: quickly noting down ideas that I can flesh out later, or sitting down standing up for a while to batter out something longer. The iPhone is great for the former: it’s always to hand, so I never lose an idea (especially using Drafts, which is another story). The MacBook is ideal for the latter. The iPad… well, the iPad doesn’t fit in my pocket, and if you’ve tried writing on an iPad you’ll know the peculiar frustration of switching between typing on an external keyboard1 to trying to precisely tap on the screen to switch to Safari to research something or copy a link. As for adding images to whatever you’re writing? Forget about it, I tried everything to make this easy. I mean I really, really tried. It’s still awkward as hell.

If we want to watch a movie, we probably want to do that on our big TV in front of the sofa. Sure, very occasionally I’ll AirPlay from the iPad to the screen if for some reason the content is on the iPad and not available on the Apple TV. Most of the time that’s not necessary.

Reading books is something I do almost exclusively electronically these days. I used to have a fairly large paper library, but I had to leave that behind me over the course of several emigrations. It’s just easier to hold the iPhone when I’m reading. It weighs less, and I only need one hand to hold it. If I’m taking notes on a book, I need the MacBook, where I can have both nvALT and the book open at once.

These are just a few examples — most of my other use cases follow the same pattern. When I get to the point that the iPhone just won’t work for what I want to do, it’s time to switch to the MacBook. When I have to travel light, the iPhone is the obvious choice.I’ve wondered if an iPad mini would be a more useful middle ground between the two extremes, but I doubt it.

The iPad has been pushed by its talented brethren into the awkward valley between portability and function.

There are some things that the iPad excels at, above all others, which I cover in Part 2.


  1. Of course you’re using an external keyboard, what are you, an animal?