For the past seven months, my iPad (third-gen) has served as my laptop. This is quite a statement since it comes from a guy who carried his Macbook Pro around the world for five years.  At first, I thought my trial of the iPad as a road machine would be a short-lived relationship—initially a matter of curiosity to prove that it would not work. Now, I think I’m hitched for the long haul. Honestly though, it’s more like a ménage à trois because on the road and at home, I always have my iPad and I always have my 27″ iMac. In my case, this is not as crazy or as big of a hassle as it sounds.

Rather, it’s a comfortable relationship: I use the 27″ iMac as my desktop at home and on the road when I’m parked for the evening in a hotel or when I teach workshops. I’m totally addicted to the huge screen and ultra-fast SSD. Thanks to my frequent flyer status, I get a generous free baggage allowance. Since I’m checking a gear bag or two anyway, I might as well check my iMac. And, thanks to this Tenba aircase, it’s well protected from the ramp gorillas and inclement weather. [Click here to read more about my travels with my iMac and the Tenba aircase. BTW, I’ve done another 14 flights since that article was written.] For my many hours in the air (and those many hours sitting in airport terminals), I’m able to keep working via the iPad (a 64gb model with Verizon 4G LTE). About the only thing I don’t do on my iPad is image ingestion and processing—which is my choice, because the Photosmith app could keep me going if I wanted.

The ZAGGfolio Converts My iPad Into a Laptop

To give my iPad the tactile qualities of a laptop, I added the ZAGGfolio keyboard + case combo. It’s an ingenious design that creates a stand for the iPad and then allows it to hinge freely and fold flat in an instant. Consider this to be a big plus when the sumo wrestler in seat 3F suddenly reclines all the way back. Previously, when I travelled with my 17″ Macbook Pro, a reclined seat would typically mean that I’d have to do some yoga in order to see the screen or I’d have to stop working entirely. As you can see in the photo at the top, even on a normal size (aka: near-microscopic) tray-table, there is plenty of room for the iPad, keyboard, and a cold drink.

The ZAGG keyboard communicates with the iPad via Bluetooth so there are no cables to forget at home. Its lithium polymer battery holds a charge for a couple of months at a stretch (truly, a couple of months). The key pitch is a bit narrower (about 90% of my Apple wireless keyboard), but I can jump back and forth between the keyboards on my iMac and iPad without issue. The key response is very nice. I can type on my iPad as fast as I can on my iMac.

If style is important, then you won’t be disappointed with your options for the ZAGGfolio. The keyboard comes with black, silver, or white keys. The cover comes in seven colors. The most popular combos (like the black keys and the carbon fiber cover shown above) are pre-packaged as kits for $75 to $90. An ala carte combo, like my white keys and red cover, costs about $100. I think that this is a huge bargain for the functionality that it adds to the iPad.  (Click here to see the complete list of keyboard + case options.)

Four Key iOS Apps for the Road

Quickoffice Pro HD—allows me to open/create files that are compatible with Microsoft Word and Excel. Quickoffice integrates nicely with Dropbox, so my iPad can access files created on my iMac via the web.

Dropbox—I love Dropbox for so many reasons: it’s easy to install on many computers, it automatically updates new/changed files to those computers, it provides cloud-based storage in case my computers are damaged or lost.

Evernote—this is my favorite web-clipper app. I use it on my desktops and my mobile devices to save and access web content for offline viewing.

Dropkick—this task list operates seamlessly on all of my Mac OS and iOS devices. It’s great to brainstorm ideas and tasks at 35,000′ and have them sync up automatically to my other devices when I’m back on the ground.

Comparing the iPad to a Laptop

The Benefits of an iPad

  • small footprint = usable on coach class tray table
  • runs LA to NYC on a single charge
  • connects to the web almost anywhere via the built-in cellular modem — this connectivity alone is worthy of road warrior consideration. No external wireless cards to charge/ carry. Verizon 4G LTE is blazing fast.
  • provides 4G LTE internet access to my iMac via personal hotspot (helpful when hotels want to charge $$$ for slow access to the web)
  • touchscreen provides intuitive control and eliminates need for a mouse (all computers should be touchscreen, I think)
  • goes to sleep when ZAGGfolio closes (thanks to strategically placed magnet) and wakes instantly when opened
  • innovative iOS apps and cloud-based storage provide instant backup and data redundancy
  • seamless link between my desktop, iPhone, and iPad for address book, email, and calendar
  • screen can be used horizontally or vertically (slide the iPad out of the ZAGGfolio, turn it, and then rest it back in the keyboard slot)
  • Retina display is beautiful

The Shortcomings of an iPad (as a Laptop)

  • no direct means of connecting external harddrive (however the 500gb Seagate GoFlex Satellite can connect wirelessly, operates for 5 hours on batteries with 24 hour stand-by time)
  • small screen size (which is exactly why it works in a cramped airplane)
  • small pitch of keyboard will be troublesome for guys with huge fingers (not me)
  • iOS apps are not exact replacements for favorite photo programs (Lightroom, etc.)

Putting the iPad to Work With Your Camera

I recently read The iPad for Photographers and recommend it if you want to survey options for using the iPad to ingest and process images. No, the iPad won’t completely replace a Macbook Pro in this regard. But, if you’re travelling super-light and willing to limit what you do in the field (perhaps to just image ingestion into the GoFlex and flagging for later export into Lightroom), it will be worthy of your consideration.

Also, to expand its utility, Tether Tools sells the Wallee iPad case and brackets to mount the iPad to your tripod or stand.

There is much to learn about using the iPad in the field. So, if you are a road warrior or a location shooter (still or motion) and you have a favorite bit of gear or an app that makes your iPad indespensible, please share the info as a comment!


12 Responses to Yes, My iPad Is My Laptop

  1. Mel Snyder says:

    Bravo for this article! I also have been running with an iPad 3 (wi-fi) with the Zaggfolio since March, and I completely agree with all your observations. Here are a few points:

    1. I use LogMeIn Ignition to operate my MacBook Pro and my Thinkpad T61p while on the road with only my iPad/Zaggfolio. While the remote operation with the simulated cursor isn’t perfect, I mainly transfer files from the hard drives there.

    2. I find DocsToGo’s Word emulation superior to that of QuickOffice.

    3. For a super photopro like you, my recommendations for photo editing on the iPad are probably inadequate, but I shoot both RAW stills and videos with a Nikon D7000, and find Photogene for the stills and Pinnacle for the videos to do good desktop emulations.

    4. The Peregrine browser does a great job of letting you go to sites with flash.

    The iPad/Zaggfolio is so vastly superior to the Microsoft Surface concept. Forget the operating system – there’s no way the kickstand and keyboard cover would work on an economy-class center-seat tray table.

    Again, thanks for this great article – glad Zite picked it up!

    Mel Snyder

  2. Kirk Deese says:

    Syl, I don’t own this yet but I’m considering it t solve the problem you mentioned about connecting an external HD:
    Cloud FTP by HyperShop – similar wireles connection to the drive you mentioned, but works (theoretically) with ay USB storage. Might be worth a look.

  3. Jim Hoffman says:

    I’ve been thinking about doing this, too, for a number of reasons, but I’m a Windows/Linux guy, so I’ve been a bit hesitant to make the leap, due to concerns regarding sync and so on.

    Also? An alternate solution for a larger external drive might be getting an IOmega NAS system. They have an iOS app that works like Dropbox, except it connects to your own, private “cloud” (ie. the NAS server). Not quite as portable as an external harddrive, but, theoretically, if you setup their “personal cloud” option, you should be able to access it anywhere you can get to the internet. Theoretically. I haven’t actually done it myself.

  4. Rob Davidson says:

    Have you seen CamRanger yet? I combination hardware device and app that allows full control of your camera, live view and viewing of your captures, all wirelessly on your ipad!!
    My new fav tool.. amazing when the cameras mounted overhead on a studio stand, or tucked into a tight corner for an interior shot!
    Check it out at:


    • Kirk Deese says:

      I was just going to mention the same app! I second what Rob says – saw this recently and for wireless control of your camera with remote viewing – even focus control – this thing is amazing!

  5. Syl Arena says:

    Why not a Macbook Air? I received this question by email. Here are my thoughts.

    There are times for me when the tablet form factor is very handy. I pulled my iPad out of the ZAGGfolio last night and read in bed for an hour. This morning, I’m cruising my email and replying via the tablet’s touch screen. Also, the cellular modem has become a must have for me. I took my iPad to my son’s soccer game last night and was able to get some work done as he warmed up for the game, so I did not mind getting there an hour early. I love the idea of the Air. However, for me, it would not be a satisfactory replacement for either my iPad or iMac.

    • If you have an iPhone 4, 4S or 5 you can use your iPhone as your WiFi hot spot for your other devices, including your non-cellular iPads. The advantage to using your iPhone for your WiFi hot spot is that you don’t have to pay for a separate data plan for your iPad. Plus, the non-cellular iPads are $130 less expensive up front.

  6. Leonardo says:

    I’m not sure how a solution like a Goflex Satellite can be useful for a photographer on the road, since it doesn’t allow you to UPLOAD anything from the ipad? Yeah it’ll put entertainment in your pocket, but where do you store you gigabytes of RAW images taken? Is the 64GB ipad built-in flash enough?

    • Jim Hoffman says:

      Well, I think that was the point Syl was making in the article. There isn’t a way, currently, to connect the two and that’s one of the problems with going this way completely.

      In my regular job, though, I’m always asked to find ways around the shortcomings of devices like that, so I’m pretty confident that there is a way around it. Of course, it may not be straight-forward or easy. Again, one of the draw-backs of going with the iPad as a laptop “replacement”.

  7. I stopped using my MacBook when I got my first iPad two days after they were released and have not looked back. Thanks to apps like Dropbox, Evernote, Pages, Numbers and LogMeIn I can do I can do anything I did on my laptop.

  8. John Zana says:

    Since my iPad I never used my MBP ever again. I switched to the same set up, iMac and iPad. This is the ultimate in comfort. I just pack iMac back in box when i travel. I never fly, just drive and then hook up at the hotel. It is like taking my tv with me too.

    iPad for everything else. Laptops are so yesterday and they never match iMac’s power.

    Great article

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