When transitioning from a computer to the iPad there are still a few challenges that you will face along the way. Here are a few steps that may help you leave the personal computer era behind for good.

Switching from Computer to iPad

As the personal computing era draws closer and closer to an end, people are re-evaluating their computing needs and trying to get by with just a tablet. As a result, more and more are choosing to leave their personal computer behind in favor of what tablets like the iPad have to offer.

That does not mean that everything is perfect. There are still some challenges that could keep you going back to your old computer from time to time just to get things done. If you are looking to put off a computer upgrade a little longer, or leave your personal computer days behind you all together, then the following tips to get over some of those hurdles may be useful to you.

Browsing the internet

While the iPad may be considered a great way to surf the internet, there are still several sites that you simply cannot access. While the number of these sites is getting smaller and smaller, they are still out there. And if one of them happens to be a site that you go to regularly, then giving up your computer in favor of an iPad may not be an option.

Adobe Flash support – Among the most notable of sites that are iPad challenged are those that still rely onAdobe Flash. Keep in mind that with Flash, there is more to consider than just video. There are a growing number of ‘virtual’ browsers in the app store that can access sites that require the Flash plugin. Photon Flash Player for iPad ($4.99 iPad), VirtualBrowser for Firefox ($5.99 iPad) and Puffin Web Browser ($2.99 Universal) are a few such examples. Each of these products will connect your iPad to a browser in the cloud that is capable of running Flash sites. While by no means a perfect solution, it does work in a pinch, provided you have access to a fast enough internet connection.

Mobile-only sites – While not technically a limitation of the iPad, some sites go so far as to treat the iPad as a mobile device and present an alternate, often times lesser experience to mobile Safari. You may be able to turn this off by viewing the “full site” instead of the mobile site, but not all sites offer this switch. Neither Apple’s mobile Safari web browser, nor Google’s own Chrome browser for iOS, allow users to change what is known as their user-agent setting. Alternate browsers like Mercury (Free Universal), iCab ($1.99 Universal) andAtomic ($1.99 Universal) do allow users to change their user-agent setting. This is the piece of information that is sent to a website indicating the device type and browser being used by the user. By telling the website that you are a desktop computer rather than a mobile device, you can sometimes gain access to all of the features and functionality lacking in the mobile version of the site.

Preserving photos

Managing your entire photo library is still much easier when using a personal computer. If your primary or only device is the iPad, then you have to be a little more decisive on where and for how long you want to keep your photos.

Offloading photos – To offload photos from your digital cameras — assuming you still use a digital camera — to your iPad you can use Apple’s iPad Camera Connection Kit ($29.00 Apple Store) for older devices that still have a 30-pin connector, or either the Lightning to USB Camera Adapter ($29 Apple Store) or the Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader ($29 Apple Store) for newer devices. Newer cameras like the Canon S110 and the SX280 even support Wi-Fi access directly to devices like the iPad. With each of these options, the goal is to get your digital photos into the Camera Roll so you can manage them from your iPad.

Printing photos – One way to offload your photos from your iPad is to go old school and keep them in photo albums. If you prefer to pick you photos up personally you can send your selected prints to Walgreens (FreeiPad), CVS (Free iPad), or one of the many affiliates associated with LifePics (Free Universal). Otherwise you can have your printed photos shipped to you directly by using online services like Shutterfly (Free iPad),Snapfish (Free Universal), or PostalPix (Free iPhone). From $0.15 to about $0.35 per 4×6 print, each of these photo processing services have an app that the iPad can use to select and order prints just as easy if not easier than from your computer.

Long-term file storage

Let’s face it: at 128GB, even the top-of-the-line iPad is still just a glorified USB memory stick when it comes to the amount of storage it has. Many entry-level laptops are having similar storage limitations by utilizing smaller, but faster solid-state drives. So looking for external storage that accessible over the network is becoming more and more common.

Traditional cloud-based storage – One of the great new features that cloud-based storage products have all started offering is the ability to automatically offload your photos from your iOS device into their storage service. DropBox, Amazon Cloud Drive and Google+ all offer such features. The problem is that this eats into your total free space. With an average of not much more than 16GB of free storage to start off with, prices between $0.05 and $0.10 per gigabyte per month for additional online storage can get expensive when you start talking in terabytes not gigabytes. One terabyte of online storage can cost you anywhere from $600 to $1,000 per year. Owning a one-terabyte hard drive outright costs you one-tenth that amount.

Personal cloud-based storage – The more cost-effective alternative is to create a cloud-based storage solution at home. The makers of Drobo have created a home based network storage product called Transporter that can be accessed over the internet. With it you can add a hard drive to your home network and access your files on your iPad from virtually anywhere. Other personal cloud storage products like the Western Digital My CloudLaCie CloudBoxD-Link ShareCenterSeagate Central and Polkast on ZyXEL also exist and offer similar features. This can help drive your storage costs down to a onetime price of just $0.03 to $0.08 per gigabyte. Once in place you can transfer all of your files off of your personal computer and start accessing them remotely.

Accessing and viewing files

Each of the traditional and personal cloud storage options above do have apps that allow the iPad to access files stored on your home network or remotely over the internet. There are other options, however, that can bring a combination of services into view from a single app’s perspective.

File managers – One of my go-to apps when it comes to file access has always been GoodReader ($4.99 iPad). With it I can view files from a variety of different online storage products, transfer files from one place to another, upload and download files to and from my device. Other alternatives like Documents by Readdle (Free Universal) and iFiles ($3.99 Universal) also exist. All three are very capable at accessing and managing your files and any one them will become a necessary utility as you leave your personal computing days behind you.

Personal media library – In addition to photos, AmazonGoogle and Apple all have products in place to store your personally owned media library online. If you would rather store and access your media library from your home-based cloud system, you can. nPlayer ($4.99 Universal) has become one of the better apps for accessing media files over your home network. With it you can choose which media file or files from your personal library you want to download and playback when you are not attached to the network.

  1. Printers?

    1. There are quite a few AirPrint capable printers. I have personally switched from HP to Epson printers and tend to get the cheapest all-in-one model I can get. I really liked the Epson Stylus NX430 Small-in-One, but it is no longer in production. When discounted or on sale, the cost of a new printer comes close to the price I use to pay just to replace the ink.

    2. Printopia works like a dream if you have a Mac around.

  2. This article overlooks an important point: Do you use your “old computer” for content consumption or creation?

    I use tablets for consumption, but always use an “old computer” when I create software, documents, graphics, music, or presentations.

  3. Why?

    Any advantages to be had with a iPad can be had with a Windows Baytrail tablet that will allow both highly mobile and touch interface while giving you access to desktop applications. Heck, even a Android tablet will allow mouse connection when that interface is a better match for usage, esp. when remoting into full computer systems.

    1. Yes, the problems and solutions one will face when attempting to switch from a personal computer to a tablet are iPad specific in this article. Each tablet platform will have their own unique challenges as one tries to accomplish similar tasks.

      The good news across the board is that the gap between what a personal computer can do and what a tablet can do, from the perspective of a casual personal computer user, is closing. And as more and more people are successful at making the transition for what they need to do most, fewer and fewer sites will require a personal computer to access them.

  4. Many of the difficulties you cite, especially regarding web browsing and storage, aren’t TABLET problems so much as they are APPLE problems. I have no problems with Flash content, nor with viewing the full HTML versions of websites when using my ANDROID tablets. Also, many Android tablets accept USB and/or SD flash memory for long-term local storage of large files.

    So, if you want a smooth transition to tablet computing, forget iPads and get yourself an Android tablet. Oh, and as others have already mentioned, while tablets (of any brand) are great for consumption of media, they can’t replace a real computer, with more power under the hood and a real keyboard, for content creation.

  5. One thing the iPad generation leaves out is writing. I am a pro writer and blogger and I need my MacBook Air for such things. Mac apps like Scrivener for my novel and the full usability of WordPress for my blog are not something I can give up for a little more portability. I think iPad (and all tablets) are mainly for casual consumption and not for actual content creation.

    1. Try editorial

  6. I’ve not used my macbook for 2 years now. My iPad is able to complete my work with ease, in fact sometimes it’s easier than laptop or desktop. The business plans I’ve worked for as a BP freelancer to generate my income are all done using my iPad. My clients and their bankers are very much satisfied with the outcome. Thank you Steve and Apple for such a great product.

  7. Thanks for your discussion. I’m about to embark on a trip to an Asian country where I’ll be living but with frequent trips within the country & so looking hard at the possibility of leaving the lap-top behind in favour of just using a tablet to save weight/complexity.

    I have both Mac/iPad & PC (Linux)/Google Nexus devices here to evaluate. I have to say the Android devices are more flexible. Its doable with an iPad if you can accept its limitations but its a whole lot easier with Android. The easiest & cheapest still seems to be a small lap-top + external drive backup.

    Using cloud as your data source/backup to overcome the very limited storage on tablets might be fine at home but travelling you need an external drive locally. Trying to basckup videos over hotel/coffee shop WiFi is just horrible.

    Best technical solution : Nexus 10 + one if those portable WiFi drives.
    Cheapest but heavier : Existing Laptop + external USB drive.
    Money no object : MacBook Air + WiFi drive.

    Due to the lack of inter app communication on iOS & consequent silo’ing of data within apps I rule out iPad for more than casual use but of course YMMV,.

  8. Can the iPad rip my DVDs for streaming throughout the house?
    Can the iPad record my over the TV shows?
    Can the iPad use my huge legacy mechanical keyboard that I love?
    Can the iPad play my huge selection of Steam games with my 360 controller?
    Can the iPad let me watch a movie while surfing the web, each on a different screen?
    Can the iPad let me download videos, document and files to a 1TB hard drive and be backed up nightly?
    Can the iPad run the full versions of Quicken, TurboTax, Visual Studio, OneNote and all the Office products I use?

    Let me know when those things happen, so I can “leave my PC behind for good”

    1. First of all, I am not trying to win you over, I do get your point. You have quite a setup that will never be 100% portable over to the iPad directly. However…

      Some of the personal cloud computing devices recommended in the article are capable of performing many of the tasks you mention. Streaming movies, downloading shows, storing large files, etc. Most of these network devices are the equivalent of small scale Linux servers. This is not a case of the iPad replacing a personal computer, rather a network appliance doing what your personal computer can do. Such devices may server as enablers for switching form personal computers to tablets. Search Amazon for the “NSA325v2″ if you are interested.

      There are also quite a few multi-platform games to play on the iPad (not specifically all of the titles in your previously purchased Steam collection), and movie libraries are moving to the cloud (iTunes, Amazon, UltraViolet and the like). Also many cable providers now have the means of managing your DVR remotely, and even playing back your DVRed shows from your iPad. Not a solution for cord cutters, but cable companies are at least adding convince features to will people back.

      As for the legacy keyboard, you may be able to use the USB adapter mentioned above. Many have been successful at using wired keyboards on their iPads in such a manner. Otherwise you could try something like the Bluetooth Keyboard Adapter from Handheld Scientific.

  9. Geoffrey, great article, very helpful. There is no doubt we are almost at a point where a personal computer isn’t necessary if you keep a tablet at home.

    But as Ed mentioned (see above comment), we aren’t quite there yet. One thing that surprised me most when I was about to sell my MacBook Air (which I haven’t used in ages), was that you can’t service an Airport Express base from an iPad. You need to use the Airport Utility app on your Mac to restart or update it.

    This is a bit odd, and I assume Apple will fix that soon –actually, there may already be a hack somewhere. But in the meantime, I am keeping my old MB-A just to manage my wifi network.

    1. Michael Cheung Sunday, February 9, 2014

      There is an Airport Utility app on the App Store for iPad and iPhone use now. Independent of OSX devices.

    2. I manage my wireless network on my iPad at home.

    3. I did recently update/configure my latest model Airport Express from the Airport Utility on my iPad. It cannot however update older Airport Express devices. In fact, you cannot even use the Airport Utility on OS X Mavericks to update the original Airport Express. I had to use an old version of the Airport Utility on Windows XP from within a Parallels VM to do that (did not want to install/run an older version of OS X).

  10. Surface Pro


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