In an earlier post on this site, I wrote about my office desk setup. In that post, I talked briefly about using my iPad Air as an attached device to my Mac Mini. However, the iPad is not used as a secondary (or in my case, tertiary) monitor. Rather, it is connected to the Mac using Apple’s Universal Control feature to allow me to easily access information which is only available on IOS devices.
Away from the Office
But what about when I’m away from my desk. How do I use my iPad?
A little over a year ago, I faced a dilemma. My old 2014 MacBook had outlived its useful life and could no longer be updated with the latest version of Apple’s operating system1. I considered a new MacBook Pro, a new MacBook Air, or – somewhat unconventionally, I believed – an iPad as my primary remote computing device.
At one time in my life, I traveled much more than I do now and the MacBook was really a principal operating device for my work, whether as a teacher, writer, or photographer. However, lately I am focused on photography and mostly needed a device that I could use for editing and captioning photos on the road.
Secondarily, I also read a lot and occasionally watch videos. While watching videos on a MacBook is certainly feasible, it’s far less suited as a reading device.
With those considerations in mind, I went with the 5th Generation iPad Air, and I have not been disappointed. I can easily connect an Apple Magic Keyboard2 to the iPad for captioning photos and for writing social media posts. I can also use a mouse3 but the real star for editing is the Apple Pencil. It makes photo editing with Lightroom Mobile on the iPad a breeze4.
The Drawbacks of this Plan
I will be the first to agree that this solution isn’t for everyone. While Apple has made some great strides in improving the IOS experience, particularly for iPadOS, it still isn’t as powerful as a MacBook.
Specifically, there are many apps which run under MacOS but for which there is no IOS counterpart. In other cases, there is an IOS version but it is not as powerful as the MacOS version5. While this issue does not outweigh the convenience of a smaller and lighter package of an iPad vs. a MacBook for me, the same might not be true for everyone.
But You Said You Use Two iPads
One drawback I discovered of the iPad Air is that, at 11 inches diagonally, it’s actually a little more unwieldy for reading than I anticipated. This ‘drawback’ wasn’t enough for me to abandon the idea of the iPad Air being my primary away-from-the-office device by any means. But it was a consideration.
So one day about a month ago, about 17 months after I made the switch to the iPad Air, I pulled out my 4th generation iPad Mini. I had actually shelved it when I bought the iPad Air, thinking I would never have a use for it. While it was also considered ‘obsolete’ by Apple and thus no longer eligible for the current operating system, and didn’t have many of the features of a new model, it was definitely lighter.
So I resurrected it, primary as a reading device for my Kindle Books. While I was immediately happy with the lighter device as a reader, it also became apparent that it ‘would be nice’ to be able to have greater functionality in those cases where I might only have my iPad mini with me. For example, I often like to read in a restaurant if I’m out for lunch by myself. The mini is the device I choose for that purpose, but what if I think of a social media post while I’m reading. I don’t necessarily want to bring my larger iPad around for ‘just in case’ but the older iPad Mini just wasn’t up to some tasks. In particular, I could not easily load photos from my camera onto the older mini, although it’s an easy task with the newer devices because of USB-C support.
However, I couldn’t justify in my own mind the cost of a current generation iPad Mini 6 for the intended use. I had recently purchased an iPad Mini 6 as a gift for my wife. At the time, it was on sale at 20% off on Amazon, although I would have paid full price in that case since she had a definite need for a new iPad. My ‘need’ was somewhat less.
The internet was alive with speculation about the release in the coming months of an iPad Mini 7, which would reportedly have several upgraded features over the model 6. However, I wasn’t concerned about the model differences for my usage. I began thinking about the possibility that I might be able to pick up a model 6 for a reduced price once the model 7 was released. I could ‘get by’ with my old mini as it was.
Then, out of the blue last week, I got a notice from Amazon that they were having another 20% off sale on the iPad Mini 6. That made the price more palatable and, after a brief discussion with my wife and her blessing, I ordered the mini 6.
After only a week, I’m happy with the choice. The iPad Air provides the size factor for remote photo editing and captioning, while the iPad Mini is an excellent reader. But the payoff is that I can do the same functions with either device, maybe not as easily or efficiently on one as the other, but they are equally capable. My keyboard, mouse, and external camera card reader work equally as well on the new iPad Mini as on the Air, and I can still use the Air as a reader if that’s what I have available.
My Go Bag
So how do I transport my devices? I still had a couple of bags that I had previously used for my MacBook but they were really too large for even the iPad Air. I knew I wanted to be able to have my keyboard and mouse readily available, as well as a portable charger for those ‘oops’ moments when I use more power than I anticipated. But I didn’t want to carry a ‘messenger’ type bag that was far larger than I needed.
I initially purchased a nice leather satchel for the purpose but it wasn’t quite right. The iPad Air was a little tight and the keyboard stuck out of the bag. Additionally, it really didn’t protect the contents from dirts of other elements very well. One trip to Lake Michigan with the accompanying beach sand, which got into my bag, convinced me that I needed something better.
I ultimately settled on the TomToc Daily Shoulder Bag. The medium size is designed to carry the iPad Air 5 or the iPad Pro 11″. It is a Cordura nylon cross-body bag which has several compartments for accessories and is water and dust resistant. It also easily accommodates my Apple keyboard, mouse, camera connection accessories and a portable charger. And it is flexible enough that I can carry either or both of my iPads with ease.
It has proven to be an excellent bag for travel or even for everyday carry (EDC).
What are your thoughts on this approach? Have you considered an iPad as a replacement for a laptop computer or do you feel the iPad isn’t quite ready for this yet?
Let me know in the comments below.
- I actually still have my old 2014 MacBook. Even though it can no longer be updated, it still works well as a device to access the internet, so it has become a ‘family’ general use device.
- The photo shows the iPad sitting on a desk using only its cover for support. I also have a stand which will hold it up higher for a better view – shown in the photo above of my desk setup – but it doesn’t reasonably fit in my bag.
- Although I’m usually an ‘all Apple’ person, in this case, I had a spare Logitech bluetooth mouse available, which is far cheaper than the Apple Magic Mouse. So that’s reserved for my iPad.
- I had my first test of using the iPad Air as a photo editing platform during a Christmas trip in 2022. The result bore out my expectation that, for my uses, the iPad was a better choice than a MacBook. There are still some things that have to be done on a MacOS computer, but nothing that’s urgent during a trip. (See the next footnote for more on this)
- This is an issue that I confront. The IOS version of my photo editing app, Lightroom, is not as full-featured as the MacOS version. However, the two versions do exchange photo files relatively seamlessly, so I can live with my mobile workflow being a step down from what I’ve been used to with a Mac or MacBook. Additionally, I’m aware that Adobe is continuing to improve the mobile (IOS) version of Lightroom.