Is the Apple iPad a Suitable Laptop Replacement for Business?

Can you leave the laptop behind and use a tablet device as your primary work tool?

Is the Apple iPad a Suitable Laptop Replacement for Business?

The term “Laptop Replacement” has been bandied about quite a lot over the last couple of years.  Basically, can you leave the laptop behind and use a tablet device as your primary work tool?  In this article, we will be focusing on the Apple iPad for a few reasons.  Microsoft Surface Tablets still run Windows 10 and I’m not sure there’s an equivalent Android device (I’ll wait for the Android defenders on that one!). For purposes of clarity, this article was written on a 3rd Generation iPad Pro with a 12.9-inch screen and the Smart Keyboard folio.

Connectivity/Storage
The iPad comes with WiFi as standard but if you want cellular connectivity then you need to buy the appropriate model which can increase the base cost by around £150.  The iPad will also support a wired connection with an appropriate USB-C adapter, but that would seem to defeat the object of this device.  In terms of storage, this varies on the model you buy, the base model comes with 128GB of onboard storage but models with up to 1TB are available (the 1TB costs £500 more than the 128GB version).  It’s important to remember that apps tend to be more streamlined than their more bloated Windows compatriots; I’ve found it would take a lot of apps to fill 128GB.  Recent improvements mean you can also connect a USB drive and use files from that device but the onboard storage cannot be expanded.  Since the iPad OS branched from iOS to iPadOS, we’ve seen a lot of improvements in its file management and other areas this is now much easier to manage than before.

VPN
Most of the common VPN software solutions has a macOS equivalent (such as Cisco AnyConnect) but they may need some tweaking and fiddling to get working but this depends on your overall VPN solution – such as config files, certificates, etc; getting these config files onto the iPad is a lot simpler than before – you can copy them from a USB Drive (remember you only have one USB-C port) or email them to yourself.

Office Apps
Microsoft publishes official versions of their most popular office apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) – these are chargeable but can be bought with Microsoft 365 plan.  It’s important to remember that these are cut down versions and elements of the interface still send me to Google to figure out how to do something.  Compatibility seems pretty good and I’ve been able to open every file I’ve tried.  I’ve not tried to run any macros or similar but the VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) environment is not available on these versions.  Excel can be fiddly with a touchscreen, especially if you don’t have the magic keyboard with a mouse pad (you can connect a Bluetooth mouse).

Other Apps
The range of apps is astonishing – if you use some kind of web service there is an excellent chance there is a corresponding app.  The Microsoft Remote Desktop app is incredibly good and even without a mouse is very usable. Other apps like Termius (SSH) and RealVNC are similarly very good for use in my world.  Conversely, there are other office apps available such as Apple’s own suite which might suit your needs depending on what you are trying to achieve.

Usability
The iPad has a great battery life and will probably outlive your laptop and only requires a plugin charger and cable and not the brick you are probably more used to carrying around.  The iPad with a keyboard attached weighs just over 1kg, my main work laptop (a Lenovo Thinkpad T14) weighs in at 1.5kg, and that is plus Power Supply.

Summing Up
OK, the big elephant in the room is the price.  The base iPad Pro is £969 for the 12.9-inch model (or £769 for the 11 inch) and then the magic keyboard (the one with the mouse pad) is another £350 so you are looking at £1000 at a minimum and you could get a great laptop for that same cost.  As a mobile tool, it’s amazing, startup time, app speed is all faster than my Intel Core i7 laptop running Windows 10.  For support, the aforementioned RDP is almost a reason to buy as I know people who’ve done effective server support from their iPhones (including our on-call IT support engineers!).  There’s also a wide range of graphical apps (including Adobe and Affinity versions of their respective apps).  The lack of ports (there is one USB-C, or two if you buy the Magic Keyboard but only one of them can be used for expansion purposes, the other for charging).  If you already have iPhones then you can use the same MDM (mobile device management) solution to manage your iPads.

iPads do have their place in the work environment, but you might need to find a specific use case – as good as my iPad is, I still have to open my laptop to accomplish some tasks.

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