iPad vs. MacBook Air shootout

A friend of mine is in the process of deciding between an iPad and a MacBook Air. Here are my three cents on the matter!

One of her concerns was that she couldn’t work on documents on the iPad…

Although it is not the iPad’s forte, one will be able to manipulate documents in the iPad, it just won’t be as easy, or the same, as on a computer. You’ll have the ability to open, read, edit, and create new docs, but it will not be in the native word application you are used to on your computer. There will be a “good” mobile application to do it, you’ll be able to type, make comments, and create documents, but the keyboard will be touch-screen (unless you buy the external keyboard for the iPad!). The touchscreen keyboard will be a biger version of the iPhone’s keyboard. So, it will not be as functional as a word processing machine as a computer.

Let’s compare specs (note, “depth” on the iPad is to be contrasted with “height” on the Air):

iPad specs: $729 (wi-fi + 3G, 32GB — minimum reasonable specs, in my opinion), or $829 (wi-fi + 3G, 64GB)

Height:  9.56 inches (242.8 mm)

Width:  7.47 inches (189.7 mm)

Depth:  0.5 inch (13.4 mm)

Weight:  1.6 pounds (0.73 kg) Wi-Fi + 3G model

MacBook Air specs: $1,499 (1.86 GHz base model)

Height:  0.16-0.76 inch (0.4-1.94 cm)

Width:  12.8 inches (32.5 cm)

Depth:  8.94 inches (22.7 cm)

Weight:  3.0 pounds (1.36 kg)

Physical comparison: the MacBook Air is a bit bigger in form factor (11 x 9 inches) as compared to the iPad (7.5 x 9.5 inches), and the Air weighs in at roughly twice as much (3 lbs) as opposed to the iPad at 1.6 lbs.

Functionally, the two are quite different. The Air is a computer, the iPad something less than a computer. This is not to say that the Air trumps all — the iPad comes with connectivity that that Air does not. Out of the box, the iPad gives you Wifi and 3G connectivity (assuming you get the iPad 3G, which it would be silly not to), so you are connected on the road, when you’ll be using it most (probably). The Air requires either a Wifi connection, ethernet connection, or a USB broadband mobile connection (which will run roughly $60/month, plus taxes, and is yet another thing to deal with, subscribe to, set up, etc.) in order to connect to the internet, browse, check email, etc.

The Air is a real computer, with a real keyboard, and it can run the same applications you use every day on your other computer(s). The iPad runs applications similar to those on the iPhone—mini-applications, light applications—although it will have added word processing functionality that the iPhone does not (yet?) have. Apple is designing a new word-processing suite to be able to deal with documents of all types on the iPad. It is a serious question, however, how native they will feel, how seamlessly they will integrate/sync with desktop versions, and how easy the touch-screen keyboard will be to use. That said, the $69 iPad Keyboard (external, a “real” keyboard) will presumably alleviate the keyboard problems, except for the fact that you have another piece of equipment to carry with you.

So, it’s a weighing of functionality, price, size, and feel. I suggest that you get both in your hands at an Apple store before jumping on one, unless it’s absolutely clear which is right for you. If you like the connectivity, think you will use the iPad as an e-reader (to read the NYT?), and to do some emailing and document creation/editing on the road (but not all that that much), then the iPad is probably the one. If it’s road-warrior computing you’re planning on doing, typing a lot, then the Air is probably your best bet.

That’s my take for the moment! Until we get real world reviews from users who are using the word-processing functionality on the iPad, we won’t really know how feasible the iPad is as a mobile work horse for document-manipulation. I’m convinced it’ll be good enough for browsing, reading websites, reading books, and doing simple email (though long typing will be troublesome without the external add-on keyboard I bet, just as it is on the iPhone, but requiring larger pecking motions!).