In for an iPad, out with a MacBook Air

The iPad 2. Who isn’t talking about it? When Apple announced an update to its hugely successful tablet I can’t deny getting excited. The iPad 1 was nice, but it wasn’t quite right for me. After testing it at home I found it slightly too bulky and, like many, wasn’t willing to invest in a first generation product. There is no denying that surfing on the iPad is second to none. It just feels right, as if the internet with all her content was made to be touched.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just scroll through any news item on an iPad or swipe through Boston.com’s The Big Picture. You will be sold.

When the iPad 2 was announced I decided I would buy one to compliment my four year old MacBook, which has a broken screen. At the moment I need to be in my office if I want to surf the internet. No quick cinema time look ups, no idle browsing when TV gets boring. No separation between work and play.

So two nights ago I set my alarm to wake up at 1am, the time at which online sales went live on Apple’s website. The plan was to order one should I not be able to get one in store. After several failed attempts (Apple’s website couldn’t take the strain, even at 1am) I managed to order a Black 32GB iPad. It was the middle of the night and I was feeling woozy.

Morning came and I made my way into Cardiff. At 11am the queue already stretched to 30 people. I spoke to one or two guys asking how long they’d been there and whether they thought it would be ok if I were to come back several hours later. After all, it was a whole 6 hours before launch. They were in the queue already so naturally thought it was wise I joined the back and waited. It was at that very moment something clicked. After several weeks of being caught up in the hullabaloo, I decided the iPad was not for me.

I’ve been a Mac user / Apple fan since, well, before my first iBook in 1999. Over the years I have witnessed Apple fanaticism reaching almost ridiculous heights. We now have a culture where any new product, even a new mouse, requires bouncer-guarded lines outside Apple Stores worldwide. Even my mum admitted on Friday “I’ve read so much about the iPad I feel like I need one. I need to join that line.” I have never lined up for anything in my life, certainly not for 6 hours. The giant PR machine surrounding Apple had never gotten to me before, it wasn’t going to start now.

So what actually clicked? I suddenly realised I didn’t have an iPad yesterday, nor the week before, or the week before that. Living without an iPad before my online order arrives wouldn’t kill me. In fact, staying in a line for 6 hours may finish me off sooner. But it wasn’t just that. I realised an iPad would be a waste of money for me.

My main setup problem at the moment is I don’t have a laptop. I’m an occasional traveller (few weeks here and there at house in Italy, ~ 3 x 4 day breaks visiting friends) but I do need a machine I can work on when away from my desk. I don’t use particularly powerful tools, Safari, TextMate, Espresso. I am also a stickler for portability after nearly destroying my back lugging my Macbook to university for four years.

The MacBook Air fits the bill exactly. It isn’t much bigger than an iPad, I can use it for the internet around the house, returning to my older Macbook + 24″ for work. The times I’m abroad and have to work, I can. I store everything on Dropbox so there’s never that painful syncing process akin to the iPad. The MacBook Air on one hand is a handy, ultra-portable suitable for low-power tasks, perhaps making it more of an iPad big brother than a totally different device. Where it does show its maturity is when you have to do some work on it, you have the full range of Mac OS applications you are used to and a keyboard you are comfortable using.

It just wasn’t logical for me to go the iPad route only to have to buy another laptop at some point down the road. I felt buying an iPad would probably be underused in several months time when I have to upgrade my MacBook.

Most importantly the MacBook Air 11″ doesn’t cost the earth. In fact, I ordered a refurb in store for £739 inc. VAT. As a business purchase, I’m only paying £615 ex. VAT compared to the £400 ex. VAT I was going to spend on an iPad 32GB. What’s more, should this old MacBook ever die, I can now consider an iMac rather than always having to opt for MacBooks.

There are iPad 2s still available to buy in Cardiff today. Go get one if you it’s right for you.

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