Apple's iPad is an outstanding tool. A few years ago, I replaced carrying a laptop in the field with a first-generation iPad. Later, I purchased an iPad mini. However, last month, I made a fateful decision. I surrendered my iPad.
While my iPad replaced carrying a laptop in the field, I still required a laptop at home and in the office for completing more complex and intensive tasks. To be fair to the iPad, which excels at fulfilling a surprising range of challenges, let me describe the tasks warranting retaining a laptop:
- Accessing a Windows-based professional services automation platform, for which I use Windows 8.1 within a VMware Fusion virtual machine
- Diagramming networks using Microsoft Visio, again within the Windows virtual machine
- Forecasting financial performance and reviewing banking information using Windows-based financial management software
- Building comprehensive assessment reports, complete with original graphics, spreadsheet-based charts, and sophisticated formatting that adjust on the fly as sections are added, deleted, and moved to different locations within the document
- Preparing project schedules and estimates, for which multiple monitors are required if the process is to be completed efficiently
- Editing photos and videos, managing approximately 1 TB of files
- Entering large amounts of text rapidly, which requires a full-size keyboard on a device possessing a larger display (that's right, Apple makes an iPad with a complete keyboard — it's called a MacBook Air)
How many devices does a user really require?
Thanks to Apple's iCloud, I found the challenge of maintaining data synchronization across multiple devices fairly unencumbering. In other words, using three devices (an iPhone, an iPad, and a MacBook Pro) worked. What didn't work for me was having to carry and maintain battery charges on three devices. When my son began agitating for his own iPad, I thought "Why not just give him mine?"
I have an iPhone. Using the smartphone, I can send/receive email from most anywhere, access most every application I could on my iPad mini, and review schedules and record notes as before. The real tradeoff, of course, was losing the iPad's larger display. But I decided the luxury of having to maintain (including patch and update applications and operating systems) on only two devices was worth the compromise. And the iPhone, so far, has served all my mobile needs well. While I often use the Apple laptop to create lengthy notes, build complex reports, and perform other more heavy input-demanding tasks, the iPhone has proven to be a capable substitute for viewing and even editing such files in the field. Based on the continuing need to complete such tasks as described above, I don't foresee a time when a tablet will entirely replace a desktop or laptop computer.
While I know some individuals who use an iPad for telephony services, I'm not yet ready to carry the larger form-factor iPad everywhere I go, such as to a NASCAR race, a The National concert, or an NFL game. Even if Apple integrated native iPhone-like telephony services within an iPad mini, being realistic, I wouldn't be willing to carry the larger device everywhere I go, which is — essentially — a modern necessity with a smartphone.
Therefore, I feel we're all going to be stuck requiring at least two devices for the foreseeable future: a mobile solution and a more permanent mothership computer, if you will. What do you think? How do you best manage business computing needs when working in the office, from home, and while traveling, since it's important to remain connected to the office, email, clients, bosses, coworkers, and calendars? Share your experience and opinion in the discussion thread below.
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.