Walt Mossberg is wrong, the iPad is lousy on working vacations

Noah Kravitz
 from  Oakland, CA
| September 29, 2010

Caveat emptor: Everyone's needs, styles, and finger-based dexterity is different. Your mileage - and touch typing WPM - may vary. By the end of this article you might think I'm a raving lunatic. And so on.

Last week I went away without my laptop. I took an iPad and two smartphones with me instead. My trip was much more of a vacation than a working vacation, but I did wind up reading a bunch of work-related stuff, writing a few work Emails and taking one business call. When I got back to the office this past Monday, I came across an article Walt Mossberg had written last week for his All Things Digital outpost of the Wall Street Journal. 

Walt and I did the same thing! We both went on a trip and left our laptops behind! He got to go to Paris, but I got to go to the Pacific Northwest, so I wasn't jealous about that. I was just jealous that he'd beaten me to the punch in writing about how an iPad wasn't really a viable laptop replacement for any sort of travel that might, just maybe involve the need to get some work done.

Then I read Uncle Walt's article. Oh no! He got it all wrong! Seems Walt really misunderstood the basic flaw with Apple's "Magical and revolutionary product": Typing on an iPad sucks. SUCKS. It's awful. To effectively type on the thing I realized I'd have to develop a third physical typing style to fit the device's awkardly-sized onscreen keyboard. And I'm not gonna do it. My hands know how to type on a computer keyboard and my thumbs have adapted to smartphone QWERTYs both physical and virtual. That's enough for me, thanks, especially considering - did I mention? - how badly iPad typing sucks.

Lucky for me I didn't really, really have to do much typing while away from my laptop. So instead of fretting about the iPad's physical dimensions that render it too narrow for touch typing and too wide for two-thumb pecking, I pretty much just put the thing away and used my smartphone to sate my digital cravings (primarily lots of Yelp!ing for food and drink and lots of photo/video taking) for the rest of the trip.

iPad's a great device for consuming. But it's lousy if you want to create anything text-based, unless you've got an external keyboard with you. Flipping through photos on a train, watching video while crammed into a lousy Coach seat on the plane, playing some Fruit Ninja or Scrabble in the back seat of the car? iPad, please! Most anything else, including dealing with Websites that involve typing more than, say, nine characters into a text field? I'll take the smartphone option, thanks.

And while iPad's smaller, thinner, and lighter than a laptop dimensions give it a leg up when it comes to saving space and weight in your luggage, let's look at reality for a second: How much bigger and heavier than a laptop is an iPad, really? Humor me and think about real-world size here, not specs on a sheet.

The folks who needn't worry about iPad's lack of keyboard prowess or computing power are actually the ones likely to benefit the least from its diminutive dimensions. Average Joe and his family lug a ton of needless junk on vacation: I packed at least three shirts and an extra pair of jeans that I never wore on last week's trip. So while taking the Pad instead of the laptop saved me some space, technically, getting a grip on what clothes (and other junk) I actually use on vacation - and what I really should leave at home - would have done me and my bags a lot more good. Multiply my one guy, one small suitcase and a smaller carry-on travel style by a family of four in a minivan and the practical difference between a tablet and a laptop becomes even more negligible.

On the other hand, the Road Warrior who travels for a living likely has the Art of Packing down pat. Or at least I hope she does. She knows what to take on a trip and what to leave behind, what clothes and toiletries and carry-on items are worth packing and carrying and repacking again and what will do no more than weigh down those bags that get carried from home to car to airport to hotel and back again. 

So she could benefit from the size and weight savings of a tablet computer, even if we're talking an inch or two and a pound or two at most. Thing is, the Road Warrior is also the one who needs to get stuff done on the go. And our world hasn't yet evolved to a text-free zone of getting things done. Which means typing. Which means the keyboard is important. And you already know how I feel about typing on iPad.

Which means I can't really see a Road Warrior who's ready to sacrifice a decent typing experience - work experience, really - in order to leave the laptop behind.

Unless she's savvy and has a Bluetooth keyboard waiting for her and her iPad at the hotel on the other side of the trip.

Or, unless she's really savvy and already made C-level at her company. In which case she really just needs a device for reading blogs and memos and reviewing a few documents each day before delegating communications out to other folks. In that case an iPad or other tablet is perfect. Especially since it's become so trendy to tuck one under your arm in case the paparazzi catch you en route to a high profile deal signing.

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