There shouldn't be much doubt that this is the year of the Tablet PC. I'm not just talking about the iPad 2, the second-generation iPad Apple released back in April of this year, but of the touch tablet in general. Many of the tablet makers, Apple included, would like you to believe that a tablet could replace your next computer purchase. Yes, for some a tablet PC might be all that you need, even for those who think they need a full laptop. Depending on what you need a computer for will determine whether or not you should buy an iPad 2 or a MacBook (Air or Pro).
So why does the iPad dominate? It's the Apps. The iPad 2 is actually a very capable PC. Right out of the package it has an excellent web browser, email client, calendar, contact, notes, Google Maps, YouTube player, iTunes, and the App Store. It makes a great photo viewer and is also a full iPod playing your music and video library. Of course you don't have to stop there. There are hundreds of thousands of Apps to choose from. Productivity, games, utilities, books, finance, medical, news, reference, travel, sports - the list goes on.
This is where the iPad really dominates. Yes, the Android has started to catch up, but then since the Android Market Place is 'open', there have been tons of reports on the amount of 'bad' things found there. Spyware, Malware (malicious software), or just plain virus infections. The one good, and sometime bad thing about Apple's App Store is that all Apps must be approved by Apple. The other good and bad thing is that you can only buy Apps from Apple for the iPad. This means that each and every App is checked out and should be safe to use.
So how can an iPad replace a laptop? It really does depend on what you need a computer for in the first place. If you need a computer to surf the web, email your friends, chat online, video conference (with something like Skype or even Apple's Facetime), write simple documents, work on presentations, play casual games then an iPad 2 will work great for you.
To replace a laptop with an iPad you will need a couple extra accessories. The first is a keyboard. Yes, there is an onscreen keyboard that is part of iOS, the iPad operating system. It does work amazingly well and I have typed documents that have over 2,000 words. But if you plan on doing lots of this type of work, or you want to work on spreadsheets, then a keyboard is crucial. You do have a few choices here. The two basic choices are wired or wireless. Some USB keyboards will work with the iPad using the iPad camera connection kit (Apple Store price of $29). This kit contains two pieces, each of which is used with the 30-pin connector on the iPad, There is an SD memory card reader and a USB adapter. I have found that late model Apple USB keyboards will work with the USB adapter. I use a cool folding keyboard from Matias (under $40), which I found at Other World Computing (eshop.macsales.com).
The other choice is the Apple Bluetooth wireless keyboard. This is the same one that comes with the new iMacs. If you have a newer iMac with one of these keyboards, you can always just take that along with you and use it with the iPad too. When the iPad sees that a keyboard is available it will no longer bring up the screen-based keyboard. The first thing you will notice is that you now have much more screen real estate to work on your documents. The other thing you will notice is that you now have use of the Command key and maybe even more important, the arrow keys. Now you can touch the screen to move the cursor, but then if you are off by a word or just a few characters you can just tap the arrow keys to move it to where you need to start working. If you choose to use a full keyboard, you also get a full numeric keypad to use too.
Of course, the most important piece is the right software. For most productivity jobs, iWorks should be more than enough. Apple sells iWorks for the Mac as a suite. For the iPad you can buy all three programs (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote), or just the one or two that you need. Each App is just $9.99. The cool thing with the iPad 2 is that it can easily connect wirelessly to your TV, by using the $99 Apple TV 2 box, or can connect to an HDTV, TV, projector, or LCD Monitor using various adapters. Now you can playback your Keynote presentation on either a big-screen TV or with an LCD video projector.
Another important piece to make an iPad work like a laptop is the right printer. There are plenty of them to choose from, as long as you like HP. There are currently over two-dozen HP printers that are compatible with the iPad. If you are on a budget, then the HP Photosmart D110 is an excellent choice. One of the sleekest printers I've seen in a while is the HP ENVY 100 e-All-in-One. It is fast, small, and versatile. It can print great documents quickly and, with the right photo paper, pictures that rival a photo lab. Both of these will work with most late model Windows PCs, Macs, and iPads. Did I mention they all connect via WiFi?
Now there are going to be those who really can't replace their laptop with an iPad. I think most can. Those that can't are the power users, those who really need the power of a full processor. If your work requires plenty of screen space, large amounts of storage, accessing external drives or optical media, then you won't be able to do that with an iPad. But for the most part, I bet many can use an iPad for 90 percent or more of what they think they need to do on a laptop. Then again, we will likely have an iPad 3 here within 6 months and this might all change yet again.