Software

iPad vs laptop: Can Apple's tablet be your office computer?

Apple's iPad has lots to offer the average consumer - but what about the average office worker?

Keyboards are to journalists what coal-picks are to miners - an essential tool of our daily work. We use our keyboards to email our contacts, unearth facts and create articles. We type therefore we are.

Parting a journalist from their physical keyboard is therefore ill-advised, to say the least - and yet Apple's iPad tablet suggests it's possible for people to get by with a touchscreen alone.

So can I really trade in my laptop and work just as productively on an iPad? Or will a virtual keyboard turn my working day into a world of pain?

There's only one way to find out: I decided to put it to the test, swapping my main work PC for an iPad.

iPad vs laptop

My ye olde laptop vs Apple's iPad: any resemblance is purely superficial...
(Photo credit: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com)

So how did it go?

Email

Getting Microsoft Exchange email on the iPad is straightforward provided you have all your login details to hand and know the server address and domain name.

The iPad's email app is very easy to use, with a two-pane view in landscape mode and a stripped down feature set.

However, Apple's email focus appears to be on simplifying the whole experience - with more attention paid to graphical flourishes, such as making emails resemble paper notes when marking multiple mails for deletion - rather than on offering sophisticated features for users who need to sort through a lot of mail.

The email app is missing lots of office-friendly functions such as the ability to flag important emails or sort mails by size, for example - essential for managing my limited inbox storage.

The email program also lacks the option to attach files to emails - a notable omission. Apparently, there are third-party apps that do exist to add additional attachment functionality, or you can opt for the more simple copy-and-paste option and stick text and images directly into the body of the email.

You'll also find your work emails bear the suffix: 'Sent from my iPad' - something you may or may not want to declare by default.

Email on the iPad

The iPad's stripped-down email experience
(Screenshot: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com)

And what of typing the emails themselves?

Composing emails using an iPad is less fiddly than on a touchscreen handset such as the iPhone, owing to its generously proportioned virtual keyboard (see below).

However, the layout of the virtual keyboard is a bugbear, with the various characters spread across three screens, the first of which is mostly reserved for Qwerty letters. To access less-popular characters, users will be continually cycling through to the second or third screen - apostrophes, for instance, are on screen two. A minor annoyance perhaps but one that certainly slows me down.

While scrolling using a flick of the finger is marginally faster than using a mouse or touchpad, the resulting productivity gain is alas minimal.

VPN

My next move is to get the iPad on the VPN so I can access our content management system (CMS).

I start with a pre-emptive IM to tech support which points me in the direction of the in-house wiki and a 'how to guide' for VPN access via iPhones. Our resident IT support guru is reasonably confident this will do the trick.

VPN configuration on iPad

Configuring the VPN on the iPad
(Screenshot: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com)

He's right: after delving into the iPad's settings - and remembering to not just save the settings but also turn the VPN on - I'm good to go...

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