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iPad still cool, but Air wins for me

I've written a couple of posts about my iPad.  This will probably be my last post about it, because, unfortunately, it hasn't turned out as well as I would have liked.  And there's a much better, existent solution, which I've now adopted - the Macbook Air.

Over the past few months, I've struggled to find ways to take advantage of my iPad for productivity.  Struggled is the right word.  Not because the iPad is somehow bad or insufficient.  Rather, because it just doesn't fit my needs.

The iPad is, as others have noted, primarily for content consumption.  There's all manner of apps for finding and using information.  Whether it's playing games, or online books and newspapers, or reading blogs, or finding great recipes, or viewing MRI images, or buying things on eBay, or any of a hundred other things - the iPad is wonderful.  It's light; it lasts forever on a charge; now with iOS 4.2, it does fast task-switching and supports folders.  And it's oh-so cool.

On the consumption side, I really enjoy the iPad, and think it's quite brilliant.

The problem is that I'm not about consumption, but rather about content creation.  Whether it's saving links to interesting sites and blogs, or writing my own blog entries, or uploading photos, or just managing my research notes and articles, I use computers to create things.  I'm not passing judgment on content consumers; the only reason I have so much content to create is that content I consume is stimulating that creativity.  But, for me, consumption is useless except that it helps me create.  So a device that can't do both isn't going to help me much.

And I've found the iPad is rather weak on the creation side.  I know I've written to the contrary, but I thought I'd find more apps that would help than I actually did.  And let's face it, these days it's all about software.  Thanks to the Web, Java, Javascript, Perl, and other programming platforms, it's quite easy to write software that will run well on any platform.  This makes the platform irrelevant.

Or mostly so.  The iPad suffers the curse of iOS, which is a good and robust operating system for mobile devices, but the iPad could be so much more than "just" an iPod Touch on steroids.  Unfortunately, many Web-based apps still consider the iPad as a small device rather than a real computer.  And Apple's decision to not support Flash on iOS doesn't help.  I know what their thinking is, and in principle I agree with it.  HTML5 seems to be the way of the future, in that HTML5 is an integrated solution, whereas Flash is always going to be an add on.  There's an interesting post in ReadWriteWeb that suggests the race is still on.  And while Flash has a huge installed base, HTML is the heart and soul of the Web; all previous versions of HTML were adopted rather quickly, and I don't see HTML5 being any different in that regard.  Still, today, the problem remains, no Flash support in iOS is game-limiting for content creators like me.

Sure, I can create documents in Word-compatible format and sync them to Google Docs or Dropbox or any number of other services.  But I still can't pull those documents into, say, most blogging platforms because the rich text editing features of services like WordPress don't work on the iPad.  And I hate the notion of adding all the formatting tags myself.

I can read news and blogs very well on the iPad.  Indeed, many of the feed-based reading apps (like GoodReader, Pulse, and Reeder) are among the best apps I've seen.  And G-Whizz works around the limitations of iOS to give you the full desktop version of Google Reader (albeit with some occasional weird behaviour) as well as access to most every other Google service.  But there are still some things I can't do.  Like finding a good link and adding it quickly to Diigo, the bookmarking service I use.  Which is something I do a lot.

The lobotomized version of Safari on the iPad is also rather limited compared to the desktop version, and even more so compared to Chrome or Firefox - neither of which run on iOS.  Something I often do is tag, or bookmark, or save, or whatever certain web sites I run across.  Can't do that with iOS's browser.

So while things are still possible, and there's always the hope that things will improve in the future, I really need to get things done now.  Put another way, the iPad doesn't hit the right balance of function and form that I need.

Enter the Macbook Air.  It's unnervingly thin and light, and packs a truck-load of flash memory in place of a hard-drive.  The small ones weigh about as much as an iPad.  It doesn't have a touch screen, but it's large trackpad does support the same multi-touch interface as iOS.  It doesn't last as long on a charge as an iPad, but it does last longer than a regular laptop. (It's rated at between five and seven hours, which I've found to be a pretty accurate measure.)  It needs a regular, laptop-sized charger, which is a dead-weight to lug around when I've travelling, but because it lasts so much longer on a charge, I don't have to worry about bringing the charger with me everywhere.

And the Air runs full Mac OS X.  Indeed, I've even installed the dreaded Microsoft Office on it, and it runs just fine (well, as fine as any MS product runs...).  With full OS X, I can run all the apps I run on any other of my computers.  I have total compatibility, and the interface is exactly what I'm used to.  I can blog, and surf, and tag, and bookmark, and edit, and link everything.

All in a package just as wide, slightly longer, and only a smidge thicker than the iPad.  Sure, it costs more than an iPad, but you do get what you pay for.  And what I've paid for is a frighteningly light and powerful computer.

So in the end, if you're looking for a simple, light, long-lasting device that will do exactly everything that a larger, more expensive, and heavier laptop will do, I would urge you to take a very close look at the Macbook Air.

(In case you're wondering, I've regifted the iPad for my wife.)

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