While my older Macbook was being provisioned with a newer one, I worked for two days via an iPad 2 and a Bluetooth keyboard.
I was able to research and file stories. I downloaded an app simply called Desktop for 99 cents to allow me to split-screen with notes on the left and a writing area on the right. I couldn't get the text area to automatically email off my stories, so I had to copy and paste and open Gmail on the left panel, or in the regular browser screen, to file.
This process is not as secure, probably, as some large enterprises would want. I didn't access a VPN, of course, and there are limitations to using Web-based email over Exchange, which is my normal routine.
But I was able to work. I can see some advantages to having a lighter device to carry around to business meetings in other cities. A heavy backpack at CES is no fun at all, and every pound lost is a blessing to my back.
I've had a chance to play with many tablets in the past two years, from Galaxy Tabs of all sizes to the PlayBook and also iPads. The difference this time was trying to be serious and productive, and I found it could work.
I could never function by using the on-screen iPad keyboard, so having the Apple Bluetooth keyboard was invaluable. There are many alternatives, but this one has the keys at just the right size for my hands. Some keyboards are part of a case that holds the iPad, but those keyboards are just a tad too small for my hands. The separate Apple keyboard fits inside a number of small iPad cases along with the power cord as well.
For at least a year, I've seen many reporters and analysts use an iPad with various keyboards to file stories, getting either 3G or Wi-Fi access. I'm not sure people in my profession do the intense work that a laptop affords, but I could see using many tablets to fiddle with a spreadsheet or a slide presentation. I work at my home with my laptop and a larger monitor so that I can have two full screens, so I still have that as a fallback while not traveling.
I often hear just about everybody saying that tablets won't replace laptops, but my experience makes me wonder. It does help to have the clear image of Web sites and text that the iPad 2 offers after a long day of typing. The new iPad has four times the number of pixels and is even better, based on my side-by-side observations.
I'm pretty sure my employer would want me to buy my own third generation of the iPad were I to go that route, since I'm provisioned already with a nice Macbook. So ultimately, cost would matter to me if I were to try to get by with an iPad or other tablet with a separate keyboard.
But I bet there are many workers who could function well with a tablet, keyboard and accessories, and the cost would be far lower than a laptop and various features. Clearly, a tablet doesn't have many things that I'd probably miss longer term for trips, including many ports or a disc drive port. (Does anybody use DVDs or CDs anymore?)
Scot Finnie wondered in a recent column whether tablets are inevitable as PC replacements, and noted the need for good tablet keyboards. I'd say tablets can work for workers like me, at least in many situations.
From a purely ergonomic perpective, I had to put the wireless keyboard in my lap, so that my arms were in a more comfy position for long periods of typing. Also, I propped the tablet up for viewing with a magnetic cover folded back on itself. Some functions without a mouse require touching the screen, and that takes getting used to, of course. I found myself more than once mousing in an imaginary area south of the keyboard where my laptop has a touchpad, which was good for chuckle.
Maybe I'd long for more screen real estate after many days of working with a tablet, but it could work. Definitely, it could work.