A tale of two iPads

— 7:00 AM on August 9, 2012

About six weeks ago, I managed to sell my MacBook Air three days after the new MacBook Air models were released and one day before Best Buy dropped the price on my generation of MBA to less than what I sold mine for. That is, I got lucky. I was also lucky enough to find two iPad 3s on eBay that weren't selling at or above Apple's own price. So, I promptly acquired a 32 GB for my lovely wife and a 64 GB version for myself. Huzzah.

Since both iPads were intended to replace laptops (my MBA and my wife's late-2006 C2D MacBook Pro), I also bought a couple Bluetooth keyboards (exceedingly used Zagg models for $10 a pop) and cases that allowed rotating between portrait and landscape. And a pack of 3-for-a-buck styli off Amazon. And a pony.

Let's start with my experience.

In theory, setting up a new iPad should involve restoring a previous iDevice backup to it, setting up your account info, and going on your merry and/or disgruntled way. Sometimes, so I've read, this actually happens. But, if the Avogadro's number of posts on Apple's support forums is to be believed, most folks have issues. Like folders disappearing and spewing their contents all over the Springboard. Apps that had been deleted from a device being reinstalled on the new one. The oleophobic screen coating suddenly causing leprosy. The list goes on. The only true solution is to suck it up and put everything back the way you like it. Not exactly a Shakespearean tragedy, but something you'd think Apple could fix. Although they may claim it's just a naturally occurring molding line.

Once setup was complete, I promptly jailbroke my iPad. I did so in order to use BTstack Mouse, which allows me to pair my Magic Mouse with the iPad. Why would I want to do this? Well, aside from avoiding the aforementioned leprosy, I also wanted the ability to use LogMeIn to access my Hackintosh without having to use touch gestures. And it's often handier to have a pointing device when writing on the iPad with the Bluetooth keyboard than trying to touch menus and whatnot. The subtle joy of sticking it to the Anti-Mouse Man is included at no extra charge. Mouse pairing and usage went splendidly, so no complaints there. Sorry to disappoint.

To really replace my MacBook Air, I needed to be able to edit Word docs and Final Draft files. The latter proved a remarkably easy problem to solve with Scripts Pro. This $7.99 app gives me all the functionality I need to edit files from Final Draft 8. Some of its UI bits aren't as fluid as FD, but for eight bucks, I won't complain. Especially when Final Draft charges $19.99 for an app just to read their files. Silly English-speaking kniggits.

Finding an adequate Word substitute proved to be a bit more trying. I read as many reviews as I could find and finally opted to plunk down $7.99 for Office2 HD. It turned out to be an imperfect option. While it does import and edit docs with tables (I use tables to format... oh, never mind), it also does odd things like make random numbered paragraphs. Also, most of my documents use Times as their main font. iOS does not support Times; it has Times New Roman. Which should be six of one, half a dozen of the other. But instead of simply converting my font to Times New Roman, Office2 HD changes it to, I assume, Arial (it leaves the font name blank in the font menu). Which jacks with formatting even more. And since I don't use Times for the entire document, simply selecting all and changing the font isn't an option. It's not a complete dealbreaker, but it was annoying enough to rekindle my search.

I decided to try CloudOn's crazy-whack solution of using a touch-enabled and tweaked version of Office that's literally running on a Windows box somewhere out in the boonies. (And wouldn't The Boonies be a better name than The Cloud? Yes, it would.) Like Office2 HD, it has Dropbox integration (along with Box) for easy document management. But since it's a bona fide copy of Office running on a desktop machine somewhere, I have no font or formatting issues. I do wish it didn't auto save, but that's a small complaint. My only excuse for buying Office2 HD instead of trying the (for now, at least) free CloudOn is that, at the time, I was suffering from an acute case of cranial flatulence.

And so, for my specific needs, the iPad has proven to be adequate in replacing my MacBook Air. That's before giving it points for its tablet functionality, which is not exactly a steaming pile.

And now, my wife's experience.

For the last three years, my wife has used a first-generation Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro. She's not a technophile of any stripe, and she generally used the machine for email and web browsing. Both of which you can do quite well on the iPad. Setting up her email proved to be a bit of a Sisyphean task, however. Since the dawn of my true, non-BBS-messages email usage (circa 1991), I have used POP3 instead of IMAP. Neither protocol is perfect, or close to perfect, or even barely above aggravating, but switching to IMAP at this point would be, for my own accounts, more trouble than it's worth. I know this because I've tried and given up three times.

My wife, however, is not as heavy an email user as I am. Since I wanted her iPhone and iPad to be in sync with emails, I decided to switch her to IMAP. And since I didn't want her emails to be simply floating about on the server, prime for accidental deletion into a nether region even the TARDIS couldn't reach, I set up an account for her on my Hackintosh. The Hack would file everything into appropriate IMAP folders, which would sync to her iDevices along with getting backed up on my Time Machine and CrashPlan accounts. Yes, you may cue the Anal Retentive Chef now.

Needless to say, this was an overly complex solution to a problem only I thought existed. It took a week of tweaking rules and adjusting spam filters on both the Hack and server side to get everything kosher. Please do not replicate my setup. I have taken the road less traveled, and more stupid, for you. Embrace it.

My wife then went about using her iPad for roughly six weeks, including nearly four weeks on the road visiting her family. It was nice. It was nifty. But it turned out that little bit of functionality inherent in her MacBook Pro—like the Finder, a more robust Mail app and physical media—made a huge difference in her user experience. It was, in her estimation, not worth the hassle or, more importantly, the cost of using the iPad over her perfectly capable laptop—or instead of her iPhone. And so, in a reversal of what I thought might occur, I've decided to keep my iPad while my wife has gone back to her nearly six-year-old heat-brick of a laptop.

I can't blame her. While I am using my iPad to replace a MacBook Air, it's not replacing my primary computer. And if I had to do much more than edit docs in my line of work, I think I'd be back looking for another Air. The iPad is dang handy and can be contorted and pushed to be more productive than you might think. But, in the end, Mr. Dickens was right: it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Or, as Herr Damage warned me, "Dude, that ain't no laptop." I'm paraphrasing.



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