I have found the iPad to be one of the best purchases I have ever made. It's usefulness has gone beyond anything that I could have imagined, and continues to get better as applications that are produced for the iPad get better. But could it really replace a full powered laptop or notebook computer? Does that little piece of glass have what it takes? My answer, based on my experience, has been yes. But let me explain how I have come to that conclusion.
When I purchased the iPad, I bought it for three tasks: mobile video for long periods of time (like on a flight), bigger screen for reading ebooks, and writing while on the go (literally while sitting on the bus). These were tasks I found awkward with a laptop, and found that my iPod or iPhone was not up to the task.
First, for mobile video. Sure, my iPod could do this, but I wanted something that I could use to share with my kids. With the large screen of the iPad, I can sit back with the kids and watch videos, for up to 10 hours. Ideal for along driving trips or plane flights, this worked well. Sure, I could get adapters for the laptop, but it's clamshell design was not the best for watching video. Not as convenient as holding it in your hand.
I never liked reading ebooks on either the desktop or a laptop. The controls were awkward to use, the laptop too heavy to hold, and the battery life was not up to a long period of reading. No, I needed something with a better battery that was light enough to hold while standing and not get in the way. My iPhone works great, but the screen is really small and having a larger screen is very handy when reading PDF files. As anyone who has used a standard Kindle and then got the larger one would tell you, the increased screen real estate does make a difference.
While a physical keyboard for writing is great, I wanted something that would be more mobile than a clamshell computer. The flat nature of the iPad makes it ideal, as well as the wide screen size for typing with more than a couple fingers (or thumbs). What's more, there are full word processor apps that are available for the iPad, as well as very spartan versions that are perfect for writing articles and novels.
So then I started to think, if it can do these three things that justify (if only barely) purchasing an iPad, what would it need to do in order to justify using it as a replacement for a full powered laptop? So, I started going through all the applications that I have on my computer, just to see what it is that separates the laptop from the iPad when in use. What I found was fascinating, and a little surprising. I found that a lot of the apps I already had could replace to a certain degree the applications I have on my computer. Here is what I came up with:
Games: This was a no-brainer, as the iPad and Apple's App Store is at least 25% games. But what about those specific games that everyone is playing? If you are looking for a specific game, then you may be out of luck (no Starcraft 2 or World of Warcraft here), but you can get similar games, so the overall experience is not lost.
Word Processing/Publishing: I've already mentioned that word processing on the iPad is a great way to get things done. Recently I purchased iA Writer, and I love it. I also have Pages, which is phenomenal for creating layouts for my text. I also have Index Card to organize my storylines, PlainText for taking notes (also works decently for writing novels), and Documents 2. I even have SpeakPad for text to speech, in case I want to hear the text I'm writing.
Text Editing: Different than word processing, text editing allows for writing stuff like code. Often times I'll be sitting on the bus, and I may want to just bust out some code really quick. Believe it or not, that can be done on the iPad. Tools like Markup for iPad make it possible.
Pictures: The iPad has a ton of picture editors, though I like Photoshop Express for making quick edits to pictures I've already taken, I also have various sketch apps for releasing more creative ideas beyond a photo.
Communication: Along with iPad's Mail, I can use a number of other tools like Skype, Twitter through Tweetdeck, FacePad for the rare occasions I want to check out Facebook, or even Pocket Metaverse to chat with my buddies in Second Life. And, because of the nature of the iPad, these apps are less distracting than on a desktop or laptop.
Project Management: There are a number of project management tools for the iPad, but I'm currently looking at Trac Viewer, and Trac as an open source online project management tool. It's supported by my hosting service, so I thought I would give it a try.
So that's just off the cuff. There are some other applications that I don't have and can't to this point, but over all, the iPad makes a great replacement for a laptop for general use. So much so that I gave up my laptop and got a desktop instead.