Can You Swap Your Laptop With an iPad?

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Tired of lugging your laptop on business trips? Imagine leaving your clunky laptop at home and getting virtually all of your work done on a slim iPad. Yes, it's possible. But you'll need adept planning, as well as some hardware, cloud services, and special apps.

With mobile apps becoming more sophisticated and cloud services making storage and data access as easy as finding an Internet connection, the iPad is proving to be a real laptop stand-in. In fact, the iPad's dramatic rise in the enterprise has some people wondering whether or not Apple's game-changing device can actually replace laptops in the future.

Let's not get carried away: Serious knowledge workers still need feature-rich apps powered by Herculean laptops unhindered by cloud computing bottlenecks. So if you work with apps that process large amounts of data or require swapping large amounts of cache data, you probably should stop reading this article.

For the rest of us, though, we really can get our work done on an iPad, at least temporarily. There are ways to get around the limitations of the iPad. "Work under the assumption that whatever you want to do, you can do it on the iPad," says Andy Ihnatko, Chicago Sun-Times tech columnist and book author, speaking at Macworld 2011 conference this week.

Much of the following advice comes from Ihnatko's session on soloing with the iPad. Here are a few tips on how to swap the laptop with an iPad:

1. Get the Right Hardware

For starters, you'll need a good carrying case for your iPad that supports various working conditions. The case should be slim and lightweight in order to maintain the sleek profile of the iPad, otherwise bring your darn laptop.

It's very important that the case turns into a stand for the iPad and offers a range of viewing angles. Many cases have only a single viewing angle, so you might run into a problem when the lighting in the room casts a glare on the screen and you can't adjust to another angle. A single angle also might not work well on, say, an airplane table when the person in front of you tilts back his chair.

Ihnatko recommends the Scosche foldIO ($49), which has multiple angles including one that optimizes typing on the virtual keyboard.

That brings us to another must-have piece of hardware: a physical keyboard. Truth is, most people can type faster and more accurately on a physical keyboard than a virtual one. If you need to create content while on the road -- more than just a long e-mail or note -- you'll want a physical keyboard.

Some cases have built-in physical keyboards, but they're often smaller to fit the width of the case. Don't constrain yourself, says Ihnatko, and get a Apple Wireless Keyboard ($69) that is the same size as the MacBook keyboard. The Apple Wireless Keyboard, which runs on 2AA batteries, isn't connected to the iPad or a case, so you can adjust the distance and angle to the iPad screen.

But the Apple Wireless Keyboard has three strikes against it. First, you can't type on the keyboard while it is in your lap because you'll be holding up the iPad, too. In this scenario, you'll have to use the virtual keyboard. Another strike is that the Apple Wireless Keyboard doesn't come with a protective carrying case.

Finally, the keyboard's "on" button often gets pushed accidentally while in a backpack or briefcase, which, in turn, signals the iPad to fire up. You don't want to arrive at your destination only to find that the iPad was on and the battery drained. In order to get around this problem, Ihnatko suggests turning off Bluetooth on the iPad when travelling.

Other hardware options, depending on your needs: Apple Camera Connection Kit ($29) for downloading images and voice recordings, and the Apple VGA Display Adapter ($29) for presentations.

Next page: Moving data on and off the iPad--and getting the right apps

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