With the release of the 11in MacBook Air, the crossover between iPad and laptop is becoming greater. And once Lion is released in the middle of this year, with its new Launchpad, many of the interface differences between iOS and OS X will disappear. So, is it possible for the iPad to stay ahead of the pack and beat the MacBook Air at its own game and become the sub-notebook we all want?
The first, significant point of difference between the iPad and the MacBook Air is the keyboard. However, that’s pretty easy to work around. In our travels we’ve thrown an Apple Bluetooth keyboard into our luggage. The advantage of this is that you only need to carry the keyboard when you need it as it’s not attached.
If you’d prefer to keep the keyboard attached then the folks at Padacs have some solutions. The $109.95 Rubata keyboard case (www.padacs.com) combines a leather case with a Bluetooth keyboard. When you don’t need the keyboard, you can fold it away and use the touchscreen – that’s something the MacBook Air can’t do!
If the price tag is a little steep, the Toccata offers similar functionality for $20 less.
As the MacBook Air runs OS X, it has a fully functional file-system that makes it easy to connect USB drives and other storage. Although the iPad lacks the ability to hook up external storage, it can connect to networked volumes and access WebDAV storage systems. For that, you’ll need to spring for an app like GoodReader ($2.49) or PrintCentral for iPad ($12.99).
We looked at GoodReader a while ago but PrintCentral adds the ability to print to the iPad. Rather than adding a print option, it includes a file browser for accessing FTP, WebDAV, iDisk and other file-systems, web browser and email client. Once you open whatever it is you want to print, PrintCentral will scan your network for available printers and let you convert your pixels to ink.
Of course, in iOS 4.2 AirPrint integrates printing into many iPad apps, but PrintCentral makes it possible to integrate email, web and file management into a single port of call.
On the productivity side of things, MacBook Air owners can take advantage of iWork, iLife, Microsoft Office and a bunch of other interesting programs. We looked at graphical apps last month but when it comes to office productivity, the iPad has a far greater array of options than just about any other platform.
The $14.99 Quickoffice Connect lets you open and create documents and spreadsheets using Microsoft’s 2003 and 2007 formats. Sending and receiving documents from Quickoffice is dead easy as you can access its file store through a web browser.
Connectivity to networked file storage is straightforward. In particular we liked Quickoffice’s ability to work directly from online storage services like Dropbox. However, we did find that we needed to save our work manually or risk data loss.
Documents to Go Premium, by DataViz ($19.99), adds the capability to work with PowerPoint files. Connectivity to several online cloud services was available, including the ability to work with files in Google Docs.
The user interface is uncluttered – an important consideration on the iPad. Most menu commands and other features are accessible from an icon bar.
Although there’s no direct connection via web browser there’s a free desktop application that makes it easy to move files in and out of the iPad from your Mac.
Office2 HD ($9.99) keeps things fairly basic with support for Word and Excel files. There’s no network support, although it’s easy enough to get files in and out of the software using iTunes – something supported by all the office suites we tested.