How to replace your old computer with a new iPad

29 Comments

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.

29 Comments

Joseph Aland

Seems like all these software recommendations would add up to a sizable chunk of change quickly. There’s the price of the tablet, plus the price of all of this software to do things that any PC would be able to do with bundled software or freeware. The author says he’s not trying to convince anyone to convert to a tablet. Fair enough, but he’s certainly painting a grim and costly picture.

The fact that PCs aren’t selling as well is not all that telling. For a long time, PCs were the only device available that would accomplish numerous tasks, such as watching downloaded movies and listening to audio. But over the years other devices emerged that could also fulfill these tasks, and they are simply taking their place in the market. There are still tasks which cannot be accomplished or accomplished well apart from a good old fashioned PC or laptop. And ever after tablets become versatile enough to handle all of these, there will still be those consumers who prefer the convenience, not to mention the storage capacity, of a laptop. Tablets will take their place within that market, perhaps even dominate it for a while, but I doubt they will ever displace the competition completely.

Mike Cutmore

Android, & Windows do have lots of advantages over iOS. Bigger screens, higher pixel density screens. Widgets. Lockscreen options. More versatile cameras. Integrated sharing options throughout the OS. True Multitasking.

We respect iOS as a fine OS that does many things really well, some even better than Android.  It is no threat to a decision to get a Windows phone & tablet or Android to believe there’s good things about iOS. We don’t really understand irrational hatred of other OS’s among any OS community.

James

Ok, the article is a semi-editorial regarding iPad transitioning & consequent mobility from a laptop/desktop.
Not another ‘Apple is better than Android’ debate. Overall, people on their bootleg Android machinery are so fast with their scrambled, Android-centric offense it’s nauseating…
Like your little Android toy? Then go read an article about Androids. Maybe you can find a ‘how-to’ write up selling the merits of using one as a paperweight or drink coaster.

Brian Batch

I rather enjoyed this article. I would like to read a followup, suggesting other one-for-one software alternatives between OSX and iOS (for example, photo/video editing, desktop publishing, utlities, etc.). I have recently decided to give my MacBook a rest and now exclusively use my iPad mini with an external keyboard for my computing needs. I’ve offloaded all of my important files to various cloud services and have true portability in a computer with the iPad.

HJones

If I only have an iPad, can I create a network at home? Isn’t this one thing that relies on a regular PC?

Geoffrey Goetz

Actually I have used my iPad to create a shared internet connection. I accessed the internet from both my iPad and my MacBook Pro. My iPad can be a personal wifi hotspot connecting to the internet over AT&Ts LTE network. The connection speed was actually pretty good. And for $50 I got 5GB per month (no contract, no renewal required).

http://support.apple.com/kb/ht4517

Beyond that, you can use your iPad to set up a home network using Apple’s $99 Airport Express and the free Airport Utility from the App Store. Most broadband home internet solutions now come with a wifi router, so that may not even be necessary. No PC is required to access the internet.

James Torguson

Cool!

As long as you willing to abandon the millions of MAC/PC apps you can still use your Ipad to browse the net and look at pictures. All you have to do is trust all of your files to cloud.

Hey, I own an iPad. I like iPads.

I do NOT like iFanboys. Not because they are bad people just because they assume that we are all as STUPID as they are!

Mike Cutmore

If you can write up or show notes, open a bunch of tabs, choose the best links, then copy them into a spreadsheet, it’s a simple task, but on many tablets it is simply far too painful to achieve. Switching from a browser with a lot of tabs open to another app can make one app fall out of memory so all the tabs will refresh in the browser, or you can be kicked out of a spreadsheet, again and again. Listening to audio from a tabbed webpage should not be discontinued if you switch tabs or decide to browse other applications or option screens. It should be easily possible to jump back & forth between a browser with a bunch of tabs open & also be able to copy/paste multiple links or text without issue. Apps should not fall out of memory. This is what we were easily able to do on a computer. It is full multitasking. We suddenly realise we cannot do that on our ‘tablet’ after all, so we have to go to our ‘real computer’ to be able to achieve it! We end up with a half-baked & extremely frustrating experience. Finger swiping between screens that are too small to be able to offer us any significant real estate to achieve basic functionality & capabilities just contributes to many of these extreme annoyances.

How about trying to have any personal stuff on an iPad? Wait you can’t. Anyone who grabs it will be able to see/edit virtually everything on that device. Live ID integration into the Windows 8.1 OS is a modern OS feature. It’s not about Multitasking. It’s about having your Skype conversation on the screen while you do what you need to do. It’s about having a music player visible while you are still able to read a news article. Windows 8.1 multitasking is in a different league. iOS is now almost 10 years old & is based on 30 year old concepts. But this is technology. It is consumerism. It is not a religion. iOS is not only a single task (immersive) one at a time device, it’s also a single user device. This is what DOS was back in the day. This is what Windows 3.1 ‘was’. Single task & single user too.

In iOS, multitasking, if it exists at all, involves double-clicking the Home button, swiping in the tray to find the other app, waiting for it to (re)load fully, locating the app view necessary to copy, double-clicking the Home button, finding the previous app in the tray and waiting for it to (re)load fully to paste the previously copied material. That’s just one operation between two apps. Composing a patient review for a doctor or creating a presentation for a student can easily involve many such operations among multiple apps.

Indeed, among the major post-iOS mobile platforms like Android, Metro and BlackBerry, iOS is the most cumbersome and slowest at inter-app navigation and task completion. There have been a few mitigating advances: gestural swipes, faster processors and more memory certainly help but the inter-app task sharing problem is becoming increasingly more acute. Unfortunately, solving iOS’s multitasking problem in general involves many other considerations, including introduction of UX complexity and thus considerable user re-education, to say nothing of major architectural OS changes.

In many ways with multitasking, we are only limited by the very form factor that brought convenience in the first place. So it can be best to start with a bigger screen. Android now has basic (split screen) multi-tasking, at least between apps that are coded to specifically to support it. For real multitasking though we need to have Windows RT or Windows 8.1 where even in the tablet form factor you can do everything. The only compromise is screen size & where you use the device. Train table, lap, in our hand, on the meal tray. Who cares, we can fit the keyboard where we can. We can plug into our big screen monitor & use it in the home or office & have everything on the one device & or in the cloud. We only have to maintain one computer that does everything, without compromise when it is simply adapted to its use scenario.

HughD

Chrome for the iPad allows you to request the desktop site instead of the mobile version.

Global X

Thank you Michael and Geoffrey. You are 100% right –there is now an app to manage your Airport Extreme base straight from an iPad or an iPhone. I just downloaded it and started playing with it. It’s awesome!

Brian

I love my iPad and am using more for content creation, not just consumption. I have encounter some things that I hope Apple will address in future iOS updates.

1. Being able to attach files other than photos to emails within the Mail app. Yes, you can do this from within other apps, but for example, if you are replying to an inbound email you can’t. I wonder if this was a limitation imposed by Scott Forrestal, but with him now long gone I hope this is addressed.

2. Uploading files to websites besides photos. I’m currently looking for work, and discovered that I could not upload my resume to a company’s website via Safari. I got around this with the third party iCab browser, but it’s still a multiple-step process. I hope Apple will address this soon.

3. A true file manager akin to the Finder. This would be a big and fundamental architectural change to iOS, so I would not expect this to come soon. I have found myself frustrated having to store files inside the app that created it, and today, our use of the iPad is more broad than that. I use a third party app called File Manger as well as Dropbox to address this, but it could be more elegant. I can only hope that Apple either creates a finder, or opens APIs to developers to make file management easier and more flexible.

4. Printing APIs. I’ve corresponded with the support team at Evernote about making the web clipping process more elegant in iOS. They explained that they are somewhat handcuffed by API limitations, and until Apple opens some of these, getting properly formatted web clippings from an iPad will be problematic. I would also love to see being able to clip web articles in Safari on my iPad and send them directly to Evernote without my Mac having to be awake.

5. Importing RAW files from my DSLR to my iPad. I know RAW files are huge. I get that. But I wish that I could save from my DSLR to my iPad while traveling. The alternatives are somewhat of a kludge.

We don’t live in a perfect world. And users always will be ahead of developers in how they use their devices. I can only hope that Apple is at work on adding this functionality to future versions of iOS and new generations of the iPad. It’s an incredible device. Perhaps Steve Jobs originally envisioned it as a consumption device, but we users are a fickle bunch. Broadening its capabilities in response to how we use the iPad will make a great device even more valuable.

Global X

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.

Michael Cheung

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

Geoffrey Goetz

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).

Ed Hassinger

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”

Geoffrey Goetz

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.

Chris

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,.

Kamel Ismail

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.

Tom O

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.

Mike | HomelessOnWheels

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.

Rann Xeroxx

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.

Geoffrey Goetz

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.

Murray Judy

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.

Geoffrey Goetz

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.

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