When the iPad came out in 2010, lines went around the block from the 5th Avenue Apple store in New York City. Everybody wanted a taste of Apple’s latest shiny toy, which promised to deliver the “most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device.”
Not me, however. In all fairness, I barely noticed the news — and even if I had, I’d have been less than impressed by the iPad’s price tag (a “cool” US$499). Back then I was in hardcore savings mode, preparing for a six-month trip later that year.
I had my first encounter with the new tablet during that trip, when a fellow traveler offered me hers in a hostel in Lilongwe, Malawi. She’d seen me freak out over an urgent need to check an online application, when the hostel had Wi-fi but no in-house computer (but free wi-fi). I fumbled with the thing for a few hours, but failed to get it working properly or compose a readable e-mail.
As iPads became more ubiquitous, and I had more opportunities to use them, my bafflement with the device didn’t stop. The screen was large enough to write comfortably, but the keyboard was no better than that on my iPhone, and slowed my typing to a crawl.
My eyes tired after reading on it for too long, and I found the camera pointless, given the size and bulkiness of the device. I kept wondering why my friends and coworkers, who already had a smartphone and (often) a laptop, would even consider performing any task in a device that made the experience significantly more frustrating.
Five years later, I can count on one hand the moments I’ve actually found any use for the iPad.
With every new version that comes out, the same question starts pounding in my head: what is the iPad offering that isn’t covered by other devices that are likely already owned by the user?
For Digital Nomads
As someone who works from the road, I usually travel with a laptop, smartphone and camera — the holy trinity of the digital nomad. Many also carry a Kindle or another kind of e-reader, maybe a video camera, and some external storage.
Laptops Still Reign as Work Tools
I find the iPad’s shortcoming most noticeable when using it as work tool — the priority of most digital nomads. Many working travelers have given the iPad a go as a replacement for a laptop, and most have arrived at the same conclusion:
It just makes simple working tasks more cumbersome.
If you are a blogger or a freelance writer and editor, typing in any of the word processing apps will be significantly slower than on a traditional keyboard. True, you can use a Bluetooth keyboard, but the experience is only slightly improved, if at all.
Any time I’ve used a Bluetooth keyboard, I’ve always ended up waiting for the tablet to catch up with me, which was even more frustrating than composing a typo-filled text with the on-screen keyboard. Apparently this problem isn’t specific to Apple tablets, as we discovered a while ago.
When editing, it seems surprisingly difficult for the for the tablet to know precisely where I’m tapping on the screen. The end result? More mistakes, and an even more drawn-out experience.
If you are a photographer, editing professional-quality images is next-to-impossible on an iPad. Easy tasks like crop or straighten are pretty straightforward, but anything more complicated is bound to at least steal more time than it would have in a laptop
A couple of apps, like SnapSeed, can help with brightness and saturation, as well as offering Instagram-worthy filters. More useful are Adobe’s mobile versions of popular editing services Lightroom and Photoshop, offer a little more power, but, as some reviewers have pointed out, they are more workflow companions than computer replacements.
Lightroom allows photographers to experiment with their images from their tablets wherever there is internet, since they link to Adobe’s subscription-only Creative Cloud — without the cloud service, the app is useless. It also lacks some key desktop options, such as local adjustments and curves, and has limited export functions.
Photoshop, on the other hand, has different versions — Express, Touch and Mix, each of them with a different set of options and editing power.
Touch is the one with the most functions, aiming to be a mobile version of Photoshop; Express is aimed mostly towards smartphones. Mix, which is the latest version, operates similarly to Lightroom mobile in the sense that works with Creative Cloud.
Mix offers limited options, and reportedly takes very long in performing them — which would make it hard to use in slower connections. Touch was described as a “full-editing photo app,” and it is the closest to its desktop counterpart.
However, reviewers pointed at the lack of functionality of some of its tools and the inconvenience of the screen size, which means the experience is, unsurprisingly, better on a laptop.
That brings me to my next point, where I simply have to ask you to…
Say No to iPad Photography
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: iPad photography needs to stop.
The device is too large and heavy to be held steady. It’s also too fragile, and there’s a terrifyingly-high chance of you dropping it. The screen is hard to view in direct sunlight, the camera is mediocre, and you just look plain stupid doing it.
Just don’t. If your rationale is that your photography skills don’t warrant investing in a professional camera, then get a point-and-shoot. Or just pull out your smartphone: it will yield similar results.
Maybe even better, in fact — the newest models of Apple’s mobile devices both include iSight cameras, but whereas the iPad Pro has a 8-megapixel sensor, the iPhone 6s sports a 12-inch megapixel version.
The Flip Side
Of course, there are two sides to any story, and for every skeptic we have a fan. We’ve run a couple of stories on people who would never dream of leaving their iPad at home, whether on a trip to Africa or even as a working tool. I have met frequent travelers who carry a smartphone, MacBook and iPad all at once, and say the tablet is the device they use most.
However, I would argue that these travelers would have had a much better experience with a different device. A phone would have been much easier to conceal in the event of roaming into an unsafe area, be it in Africa or another part of the world.
In the case of digital nomads who work primarily on iPads, a MacBook Air would solve all problems in terms of writing, adding links and editing photographs, all while offering Flash Player and larger storage — without adding that much more bulk than an iPad Pro.
In the case of the travelers who carry the iPad as an addition to their smartphone and laptop, I am willing to bet that should their iPad be left behind they would not actually miss it — their other devices would cover the tablet’s functions, and then some.
One of the few instances where I can see the point of carrying an iPad while working from the road is if your other mobile devices run on Android. In this case, the iPad could give you access to iOS-only apps, such as FaceTime. Let’s face it, though, that’s not a common scenario.
For Regular Travelers
For those who are traveling without trying to work, my suggestion would be to pack a smartphone, camera and e-reader. Most travelers carry a combination of these devices, and they cover almost any needs that arise during a vacation.
Too Expensive and Fragile
iPads don’t make the best travel companions: they are harder to carry than a phone, and flashy enough to attract unwanted attention. They’re also pretty fragile, and iPad sleeves don’t protect the devices as well as most smartphone covers.
Travel isn’t easy on your gear, especially technology. Whereas digital nomads may have learned (maybe the hard way) to take extra care of their technology, I’d advise regular travelers to just not bring anything particularly valuable and breakable with them. The iPad sites right near the top of that list.
The e-Reader Wars: Kindle vs. iPad
Many people have fully embraced the e-book trend, foregoing the weight of paper copies. iPads can certainly be used as e-readers (my mom does it all the time).
However, if you are planning to use an iPad mainly for reading, I’d suggest you look into the Kindle options instead. These are dedicated for e-book use, with features focused specifically on enhancing the reading experience.
Amazon’s latest version, the Kindle Voyage, brags about being “crafted for readers”. It has a a 6-inch screen, adaptive front light to adjust to day or night, and several weeks of battery life, all for a touch under $200. The Paperwhite is even cheaper, offering many of the same features for $120.
The iPad Pro — Apple’s latest model — has a larger screen at 12.9-inch and offers an ambient light sensor, but has a mere a 10-hour battery life and is a much heavier device. The price tag: $799. Smaller, less powerful iPad models start at $399.
The Flip Side
In all honesty, if there is a market that could benefit from an iPad, it would be travelers that don’t work from the road, and are serious readers… but only if they don’t already own a smartphone or e-reader. In that case, an iPad could kill those two birds in one stone.
For everyone else, though, the combination of smartphone, e-reader and (optional) camera offers far better results for any travel-related task.
Avoiding Redundancy: What I Would Invest in Instead
An iPad is, pretty much, a bigger iPhone. If you are already own a laptop and a smartphone (especially if they are Apple-based), an iPad will offer you nothing new — except a hole in your bank account, and a big, heavy gadget to find space for in your bag and try not to break.
My advice? Direct your hard-earned money towards another device that offers the same functionality as an iPad, but with added benefits.
If you work from the road, get a MacBook Air: the 11’ model is only a little bigger than an iPad Air and, at 2.38 lb, not much heavier. The same applies to the 13″ Air vs the iPad Pro. Either way, your eyes, fingers and sanity will thank you.
If you are a regular traveler, invest in an iPhone 6s Plus: the 5.5-inch screen is a good size for any needs you might have in your trip — checking e-mail, browsing Google Maps, FaceTime, even reading a guidebook — and is much easier to carry and conceal.
Whichever you decide, you will not be disappointed. Apple devices make excellent travel companions — the iPad just happens to not be the best one there is.
Do you own an iPad? Would you travel with one?