End users are frequently unsure whether their next portable computer should be a full-fledged laptop (say a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro) or a tablet (iPad or iPad Mini). The correct answer, ultimately, depends upon how the end user will use the machine.

iPads can replace MacBooks

As TechRepublic’s Seb Janacek noted a year ago, iPads can replace laptops. Secure cloud-based file sharing, enterprise-ready office productivity tools, encrypted VPN channels, remote connectivity, email and Internet access, and numerous other common business tasks and requirements have proven more than dependable on Apple iPads. That’s one of the reasons millions and millions have sold.

But there are also tablet aspects that prevent many users from doing without a laptop altogether and fully committing to living a tablet-only lifestyle. One common complaint is the iPad’s lack of a physical keyboard. While that truth is easily remedied via the use of a wireless, if cumbersome to carry, Bluetooth keyboard, carrying an additional peripheral is inconvenient. Users that consistently require a full-size keyboard should consider using a MacBook Air, instead.

In my experience, there are three additional elements that prevent fully cutting the connection to a MacBook Pro. If any of these three conditions are present, the user likely requires a laptop.

Three elements that warrant selecting a laptop

The first is storage. The largest iPad available currently only stores 128GB. If you work with images, videos, and other large files, an iPad won’t work as your only system. Users sometimes simply require access to hundreds of gigabytes or even terabytes of data.

The second element is performance. Let’s be realistic. While you can reasonably edit a family home vacation video on an iPad, the likelihood that you can turn out meticulously edited video for commercial broadcast on an iPad is low. Certainly, I know some producers have already produced entire films using only an iPad. That’s awesome, but the method won’t work for everyone, especially when so many businesses are dependent upon other video editing firms, suppliers, and partners to assist with prepping, staging, editing and rendering final product. A MacBook Pro, at a minimum, may be required.

The third consideration is ports. If you need to configure routers, for example, a baked-in wired Ethernet port (and ability to potentially dual-boot to a different operating system) comes in handy. iPads can’t really do that well.

Other demands

Any time you begin listing specific limitations (five factors requiring a desktop, two tasks requiring SSD, three elements that warrant purchasing a laptop versus a tablet, etc.), there are exceptions. Conversely, other conditions arise for others that preclude cutting the tether to a standard laptop in favor of a tablet. What might your reasons be? Weigh in by joining the discussion below.