The iPad has been, in its own way, probably my favorite computing device ever since it came out: a sheet of paper that magically displays whatever you want it to. I’ve been on an iPad Air 2 for three years now; so it’s a reasonable time to think about buying a new one, and this year’s models looked really good!

Good enough to to think about them as a laptop replacement: the chip in it is more powerful than the chip in the laptop that I’m typing this on, and that laptop is way overpowered for how I use it. And I have both an iMac and a Macbook Pro at home; there were reasons why I ended up with that setup, but those reasons are mostly historical, and going forward either a Macbook Pro plus a monitor or else an iMac plus some sort of auxiliary device that can ssh or remote desktop into the iMac makes a lot more sense.


A lot of what I use the laptop for is stuff that I could already do as well or better on an iPad: reading blog posts, reading e-mail, etc. If I were doing serious programming at home on a regular basis, then that would be a reason to keep around a reasonably powerful laptop as my primary home device, but I don’t program at home all that often; I certainly want a machine available for times when I do that, but that’s one of the reasons why the iMac is there. But I do write blog posts; and I’m not in the habit of doing that on an iPad.

The thing is, though, I suspect that there are many ways in which I would prefer to write blog posts on an iPad: that’s a situation where I just want a sheet of paper to type in, and the iPad is great at being a sheet of paper! I’m writing this in a Byword window floating in the middle of an empty desktop (I hide all other apps while writing); having Byword fill up an iPad-sized screen sounds great.


So I brought along my iPad and a keyboard when I was on a recent trip; I used the iPad to write one blog post. (I used the iOS version of Byword, which I also turn out to rather like.) And there were a lot of things that I liked about that setup: in particular, the visual ergonomics were great. I also used the iPad for some other stuff that I normally use my laptop for, e.g. keeping the list of books I’m reading up to date (which involves sshing into a remote Linux server); the iPad was fine for that, and what problems I had were, I think, mostly problems with the keyboard I was using and/or the ssh client, they seemed eminently solvable.

The one issue I had was that I far prefer to use my iPad in portrait mode, and in particular portrait feels like a much better fit for writing than landscape: I don’t want to have to move my eyes much from side to side, whereas being able to see more lines at once seems like a fine idea. (There’s a reason why books are presented in portrait mode, after all!) And the keyboard that I was using felt noticeably more top-heavy in portrait mode than in landscape mode. And that was while I was using it at a table; but, when I’m at home, I type sitting in a chair in the den, hanging out with my family. That keyboard would have been really annoying to use in that situation.

That keyboard was one that I’d bought with a previous iPad model, so it wasn’t even a good fit for the iPad Air 2, and of course keyboard technology has changed over the years. So I did some poking around, to see if there were iPad keyboards that are actually stable in a lap, and to see if any of them are stable in portrait position. It looks like there are some that might work in my lap in landscape mode (including Apple’s keyboard case for their most recent iPad Pros); a few of the options (e.g. the Studio Neat Canopy) might be usable in portrait, but I sure couldn’t count on it. (I e-mailed the Studio Neat folks, their answer was maybe?) And so it’s easy to envision the iPad switch from something that’s my favorite computing device to something that I like less than a laptop because it doesn’t feel solid while I’m typing on it.


At which point I realized that I was being ridiculous. I don’t actually have a problem here that I’m solving: yes, I suspect that there’s a mythical future computing device that I would prefer for my evening at-home use over this laptop, but this laptop is just fine, in fact it’s considerable better than just fine! And yeah, the new iPads look great, they have amazing CPUs and their Apple Pencil support is a big step forward in this generation; but I don’t need a better CPU, and I don’t draw or do anything else that would make an Apple Pencil at all useful for me. I can imagine wanting to learn how to draw at some point in the future, but that time is not now.

And, also: the iPad Air 2 is a pretty great device as well! My first two iPads were the original model and the iPad 3; I really enjoyed both of them, but I was also quite ready to replace both of them when better models came around, they were noticeably slow and a little heavier than I would have liked. Whereas I don’t feel that way at all with the iPad Air 2, despite its age; every once in a while (when reading comics or PDFs), I wish that the screen were slightly larger, so that’s a real plus for the latest models, but that’s about the only concrete way in which I see the latest models making a real difference for me. And that’s definitely not a difference that’s worth a thousand dollars.


So, ultimately: I’m just getting pulled along by gadget lust, the desire for the latest shiny thing. And I shouldn’t let that blind me to the fact that I really like my current iPad and I actually also quite like my current laptop; I should just continue to enjoy using them!

And yeah, at some point my laptop and iPad break; and I’ll probably use that as an excuse to try out the iPad-for-work lifestyle. And, who knows, maybe one of these portrait-in-my-lap solutions will work; or, if not maybe Apple’s latest attempt will be good, or Brydge will continue to improve, and I’ll continue to type in landscape mode. And maybe I’ll even decide to start drawing or something?

But no need to rush out and buy the latest shiny gadget, even if I think it’s a quite good shiny gadget.

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