So can the iPad truly replace a laptop? It all depends on what you use your laptop for. The iPad isn't going to replace a MacBook Pro anytime soon. But let's face it: there are plenty of tasks that we currently use laptops for (checking e-mail and Twitter, surfing the Web, looking up some actor on IMDB) that don't really tap the power of a laptop. These are the tasks the iPad is perfectly suited for. If you've considered buying a cheap laptop to keep around the family room in order to access the Internet, the iPad would fit the bill perfectly.
For me, the iPad excelled at tasks where I could lean back and read, watch, or listen. When I needed to lean forward, things got a little more complicated. The iWork applications are a little rough around the edges, but they're truly groundbreaking. I am amazed at the amount of functionality that has been crammed into each of those three apps. The three iWork apps seem good for the light editing and displaying files, but using them to create important business documents from scratch seems much more daunting.
In the hand, on the lap
One of the biggest challenges to using the iPad is simple logistics: Where do you put it, and can you see and touch the screen comfortably from there? The laptop has two separate planes, one of which sits on your lap (or a desk) and the other one faces toward you. The iPad has only the one plane, which makes things trickier. In some positions on a couch or in bed, I felt uncomfortable with the iPad, and had to keep shifting until I found ones that worked for me. For many people, an iPad case will be a must--not so much to protect the device, but to help you prop it up at the right angle so that you can use it comfortably. Reading with the iPad also seems to me to be more of a two-handed activity. Without a case, the iPad is heavy enough and slippery enough that I found it difficult to hold in one hand. With Apple's case, it was a lot easier to hold.
I didn't really like Apple's iPad case on first glance, but I have come to appreciate as a major improvement to iPad usability. A flood of other case manufacturers will undoubtedly follow--many of them useless, but many of them contributing mightily to iPad usability. I've never been a fan of iPhone cases, preferring to keep the device unadorned in my jeans pocket. But I suspect I will be singing a different tune when it comes to the iPad.
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