My Hardware Upgrade Quandary – MacBook, iPad, Or Both? – The ‘Book Mystique

This year, 2013, is one of deliberation for me about system upgrades. My late 2008 aluminum MacBook is about to tie the knot on its 4th year of absolutely dependable service, and my iPad 2 will be two in June, with tablet years turning out to be something like dog years. My wife, whose daily driver is still a 2003 vintage 1.33 GHz 17-inch PowerBook G4, also needs something a bit newer, as support for OS X 10.5 Leopard compatible browsers is getting spotty on the Interweb.

The MacBook and iPad are both still functioning flawlessly,and I’m pretty certain I could squeeze another year out of them both, although in the MacBook’s case not without a hard drive upgrade from the nearly packed-out 160 GB OEM unit.

And my wife would find the iPad 2 a substantial performance boost from the old PowerBook if I move up to an iPad 4th-gen., although I haven’t convinced her that tablet computing is the way to go.

Aside from the maxed out HDD, the old MacBook is still doing everything I need it to do performance-wise, and I’m also pondering whether to swap in a larger capacity HDD and some more memory, and go for that additional year or even perhaps longer. Other World Computing will sell me a 320 GB Western Digital Scorpio Blue HDD for $55.97, and an 8 GB RAM upgrade (I currently have 4 GB installed and it’s not quite enough) for another $61.79, for a total of $117.76 plus shipping and taxes, which makes for a pretty reasonable upgrade that would double both component capacities. In some ways it should be a no-brainer. My hesitations in going that route so are mainly two.

First, the 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook made the cut for support by OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, but I’m not optimistic that it will for OS 10.9 Lynx. The scuttlebutt is that Lynx will require a 2010 or newer Mac, so do I really want to spend probably in excess of $150.00 upgrading a soon to be obsolete machine?

Secondly, I’m pretty certain that 2013 will be the last roundup for the late 2008 form factor non-Retina MacBook Pros, and with an eye to future-proofing there’s a case to be made for picking up one of the ultimate revision units while the getting is good.

Why not a MacBook Air or A Retina MacBook Pro? Well, the iPad has the portability aspect pretty well covered, I can get a Retina display more cheaply in an iPad, and what I consider a reasonable amount of data storage capacity (320 GB or greater) is absurdly expensive in SSDs. I also find having an internal optical drive convenient, and likewise the broader range of built-in connectivity provided by the old-school machines. And I’m not enchanted by the non-upgradability and difficulty of service and repair with the ultra-slim newer designs.

A still not totally-resolved aspect to the hardware upgrade question is that I’m finding myself using the iPad more and more, with my Macs left to handle stuff that the iPad doesn’t do well (still regrettably quite a lot). The ability to serve as a laptop surrogate was what I had hoped for back in 2011 when I bought the iPad. That wasn’t immediately appreciated, and I found the limitations of the iOS immensely frustrating, but I’ve learned to work around them to a considerable degree with the passage of time plus trial and error.

It does make me almost wish I was a Windows user, as I see a machine like the Microsoft Surface Pro as potentially being a single-device solution for pretty much all my computer platform needs, and for a lot less money than buying both an iPad and a MacBook. The downside of that solution would be, however, that the specification attributes that make the Surface Pro a better laptop substitute also tend to make it a lousy tablet — it’s relatively heavy and expensive, and has lousy battery life compared with the iPad, and while it is essentially a minimalist PC UltraBook masquerading in a tablet form factor, it’s less capable and less satisfactory as a laptop (for example comparatively poor keyboard and trackpad) than a MacBook Air.

An irony, I guess, is that although I appreciate the good, wholesome functional virtue and versatility a MacBook offers in comparison to the much more limited and compromised iPad, I’m still finding myself more excited by the prospect of a new iPad than a new MacBook Pro. I love the Mac; I’m addicted to the iPad. A big reason why is that I’m composing this column right now leaning back in a comfortable rocking chair beside a cozy fire in one of our wood stoves, rather than sitting bolt upright in a task chair in my much colder office. The past two weeks here have been relentlessly cold and stormy, and I’ve never appreciated the iPad’s portability more. But that still doesn’t mean I’m a happy camper in the iOS.

In his Monday Note column last week, entitled “iPad Pro: The Missing Workflow,” Jean Louis Gasseé — former senior Apple executive and founder of Be Inc. — analyzes the iPad’s deficiencies as a production tool, and eloquently makes a case for an “iPad Pro” capable of supporting real, desktop operating system interface features.

Gasseé notes that while the new 128 GB iPad is becoming popularly known as the “iPad Pro,” simply doubling the maximum available storage capacity doesn’t come close to qualifying Apple’s tablet as a satisfactory production platform for professional and power users.

Gasseé thinks tablets actually do represent the future of personal computing, but in the meantime when he scrutinizes the iPad as a Pro platform, he sees that at its present stage of development, the device is a long way yet from realizing its professional potential.

Gasseé, who apparently finds himself in a similar dynamic as an iPad user as I do, observes from that when one attempts to get real work done on an iPad, things quickly get complicated, and frustration quickly builds.

“Once I start writing,” he says, “I want to look through the research material I’ve compiled. On a Mac, I simply open an Evernote window, side-by-side with my Pages document: select, drag, drop. I take some partial screenshots, annotate graphics, convert images to the .png format used to put the Monday Note on the Web….”

However, on the iPad these basic editing operations are complicated and cumbersome compared to using a Mac or Windows PC. You can’t open multiple windows, since the iOS rigidly imposes a ‘one thing at a time’ interface model. You can’t select/drag/drop from one open window to another (something I do a great deal of when working on my Macs). Instead one is obliged to keep switching back and forth between or among applications using the clipboard and application switcher (to my knowledge there are no Clipboard cache options available for the iOS that would allow access to multiple recent Clipboard content entries — another feature I use intensively in OS X). At least the iOS does support recording keyboard shortcut triggered text macros, which helps some,and things improved significantly.

Gasseé notes that things get even worse when it comes to graphics, since on the iPad, one can’t take a partial screenshot. The only options are to either snap a full screenshot by simultaneously pressing the Home and Sleep buttons, or you can tap on a picture in Safari and save it -the whole image of course. In either case, the image ends up in the iOS Photos app, where I personally just give up and email it to my Mac where I do any necessary processing before posting – all facilitated by OS X’s blessed access to the file system, a key. productivity element not available on the iPad.

Annotations? Nope. Control over the image file format? Nope. Gasseé also points out that there is no iPad equivalent to OS X’s superb Preview app. And that if one stores a Preview document in iCloud there’s no way to open it on the iPad. He laments that iCloud doesn’t match the slickness, simplicity, and convenience of Dropbox or even Microsoft’s Skydrive, adding: (“One wonders: Is the absence of a Dropbox-like general documents folder in iCloud a matter of technology or theology?”) Good question. I just don’t bother with iCloud for a whole raft of reasons, but I love Dropbox.

So if, as previously noted, a Surface Pro type machine is not really an ideal solution, what would be? I would like to see Apple fix the iOS by addressing the main shortcomings that make it a compromised production tool, without introducing another set of shortcomings that would inhere in building a full, OS X tablet with an Intel Core i processor. I’m anything but an industrial design engineer, but think the most or all of the deficiencies outlined by Mr. Gasseé and in my own comments here, could be satisfactorily addressed in the iOS and iPad hardware specifications – a true iPad Pro if you will. Now that would be a machine to get really excited about!

In the meantime, I’ll probably end up soldiering on with both an iPad and a MacBook, trying to justify the expense of upgrading both this year and/or to decide which to upgrade first.

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