Santa’s Conundrum; MacBook Air or iPad? – The ‘Book Mystique

Apple is offering gift-wrapped MacBook Airs for Christmas delivery with at least a $999 build-to-order purchase, with a December 18 deadline. That would surely be a memorable Christmas gift, one I would be delighted to find under the tree on Dec. 25 (hint).

However, it’s a certainty that a lot more iPads than MacBooks will emerge from Santa’s sack this Christmas, with the new iPad mini likely to be the volume-leader.

Personally, the new 4th-generation iPad is the model that appeals (hint redux) and for whatever reason, I don’t find myself compellingly drawn to the mini the way some folks are. That’s fine. Different strokes, as they say. Not that I would turn a mini down if one were offered. However, there’s probably an element of “been there, done that” for me, being as I’ve been using a similarly-specced iPad 2 for the past 18 months. I upgrade systems seldom enough that I like to realize a substantial performance gain when I do.

Not that the iPad 2 is any slouch, and in practical terms I need a new laptop more than I do a tablet upgrade at this time, even though the iPad is getting more and more hours these days and my MacBook commensurately fewer. That’s not entirely attributable to the iPad’s easy portability and flexibility of where one uses it, although those factors do play a role.

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MacWorld’s Jason Snell posted an essay last week about how he enjoys writing on the iPad even though he can type much faster on a Mac or PC with a keyboard. He notes that during a bout of illness two decades ago that had him stuck on his back for two weeks with only a pen and paper to write with, he was intrigued to note that the writing process felt appreciably different from typing, finding that he would more carefully consider every sentence and every word choice simply because he couldn’t just delete it and rephrase easily. Snell says the result was some of the best writing he’d done up to that time, although upon recovering he immediately went back to the keyboard.

Flash forward some 20 years, and Snell finds himself on the road with only an iPad and a deadline looming, discovering while on the plane, tapping against the iPad’s onscreen keyboard, he found himself reminded of his experience with writing longhand many years ago; and that while he can type on an iPad much faster than He can write with pen on paper, it’s nowhere as fast as his speed on a MacBook keyboard. He says that using the the iPad slowed him down and got him to think about what he was writing in a way that using his trusty MacBook Air never would.

I’ve noted similar results from composing on the iPad, although with some substantial differences. First, I’ve found myself liking the iPad’s virtual keyboard a lot more than I ever thought I would. I still like a good, freestanding keyboard better, but not enough better that I ever bother connecting a Bluetooth ‘board even when I’m working in a location where that would be minimal hassle. The untetheredness and spontaneity of the virtual ‘board trumps a real ‘board’s speed and precision.

I’m not as fast as the 120 words per minute that Jason Snell says he can manage on a conventional ‘board — more like 50 or 60 wpm for me on a good day. Also due to chronic fibromyalgia and polyneuritis I’ve struggled with for the past 15 years, I’ve never really switched away from longhand composition, although I work either way on occasion. Often I will rough out a draft longhand and then enter it on the Mac using dictation software. I find that longhand is the mode I feel most comfortable composing in, and straight dictation without a longhand draft the least comfortable, although I even do some of that from time to time.

However, I find composing on the iPad’s virtual keyboard a happy medium of sorts, and faster than longhand plus dictation, while still providing the more thoughtful pace that Snell observes, theorizing that he suspects he’s not only taking more time to choose his words on the ‘Pad, but actually using different parts of his brain when he writes that way, so not only does the actual act of writing feel different, but the end result feels different to him as well.

Presuming that others are experiencing writing on iPads similarly to Snell and myself, it’s another explanation for the tablet’s phenomenal popularity.

Prolific IT Web pundit Tim Bajarin, who writes for an eclectic variety of publications, says the iPad has displaced about 80 percent of what would’ve previously been laptop usage for him. For me I would estimate that it’s more like 60/40 MacBook/iPad, but that’s still enough for me to have held off upgrading my laptop system for at least a year longer than I otherwise would’ve.

With more and more folks (reportedly in the neighborhood of 100 million so far, which is mind-boggling) having embraced the iPad, plus however many have opted for other-brand tablets, and a sizable proportion drawing the conclusion that their old laptop or desktop is perfectly adequate for residual tasks that still require a full-featured PC, the result has been something of a “sales cliff” for traditional PC makers and vendors, especially in the Windows world where nearly 40 percent of users are still running ancient Windows XP as their operating system.

Apple’s MacBook sales have been less-affected, but are beginning to suffer as well. Tablets are where the real commercial action is these days.

That said, the MacBook Air is still a siren enchantress, and given the choice of either a 64 GB MacBook Air for $999 or a top-of-the-line 64 GB iPad 4 with LTE/4G, I would be inclined to opt for the Air from a value perspective. On the other hand, 4G is of little use to me where I live, so with the WiFi 64 GB iPad selling for $699, the price differential begins to make it a more difficult value equation.

Neither would be my first choice, with the $1,199 13-inch MacBook Air definitely packing in $200 worth of extra value, provided that 11-inch Air’s physical size isn’t its marquee attraction. For that extra 200 bucks up front outlay, you get twice the SSD storage capacity, the bigger, higher-res. display, a 100 MHz faster processor, an SD Card slot, and two hours more claimed battery life (7 hr. vs. 5). No-brainer in my estimation, provided you can scrape up the extra capital. And if you can’t the 11-inch MacBook Air is no penalty box, especially when compared to a high-end iPad.

Speaking of battery life, it is one aspect you do want to consider in deciding between an 11-inch MacBook Air and an iPad, since the tablet will go nearly twice as long between recharges.

However, for me, the old-school non-Retina MacBook Pro still appeals for its power, comprehensive feature-set, and more versatile connectivity at the same price as the base 13-inch Air. It’s great to have plenty of choices, at least for now.

Merry Christmas

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