Can an iPad be your only computer? I'll find out

Join me for a little experiment: I've got a business trip coming up, and during that time I plan to use the iPad as my only computer. Is that practical? I think it is.

Most of what I use computers for are things the iPad is quite capable of. I write, I browse the Web, I email, I use Twitter and Facebook, I watch the occasional video.

Here's what I'll have in my toolkit, in addition to the iPad itself and its charging cord:

The Apple Wireless Keyboard: The iPad's screen keyboard is fine for a paragraph, but if you're going to do any serious writing, you need a hardware keyboard.

I will give a good workout to my favorite iPad apps. I will use one or two more that weren't available when that article went up just three short days ago, such as Simplenote, which will be available in the App Store any day now. I will use these iPhone apps which are ugly but useful on the iPad. And I will also use my iPad tips and tricks.

I may find myself using the iPad to give a presentation. I'll pick up a $29 VGA Adapter and the Keynote iPad app to allow me to connect the iPad to a projector for displaying presentations.

There are some things I don't expect to be able to do, and other things which will be impractical. I don't expect to use Skype and instant messaging. I'm on Skype and instant message all day in my home office, but I don't expect to be able to do that from the road. The apps are available, but the iPad doesn't support multitasking so I won't be able to run those apps in the background.

I won't be able to visit Second Life, the service has no graphical client for the iPad. On the other hand, if I want to, I'll be able to use Pocket Metaverse software to message with my Second Life friends and listen to audio in-world.

I won't be able to edit audio files for my podcast, Copper Robot. On the other hand, I can listen to the recordings and take notes for the write-ups, and that's most of the work. I can make note of sections that need cleaning up, and do that work when I get back to my desk.

I expect to be as productive on the iPad as I would be with a full-scale notebook. I know a PR guy for whom a netbook is his only computer, and I figure the iPad plus keyboard is basically a netbook. If he can do it, so can I. The lack of multitasking and smaller display of the iPad will be offset by increased focus; on a Mac or PC, it's easier to be distracted by Twitter, email, or IM than on a single-tasking, small-screen device like the iPad.

Just in case, I'm bringing a thumb drive containing all my work files. And I've made sure the client I'm visiting has a PC that I can use in case the great iPad experiment fails. Because I am not an idiot.

By the way, this is not a stunt. I don't have a notebook computer, and I'm trying to postpone buying one for as long as possible. I expect I will buy one soon enough, especially now that new MacBooks are available, but every week I put off the purchase is another week I'm hanging onto my money.

Mitch Wagner is a freelance technology journalist and social media consultant. Follow him on Twitter: @MitchWagner.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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