Macbook Air vs. iPad? Which should you buy?

With the arrival of the Mac Book Air, a debate has arisen amongst my geeky friends, and some more serious questions have likely emerged by potential purchasers of those two machines.

First the silly question:  Which is cooler?  Geeks always go for the new new thing, and the Mac Book Air is an incredibly beautiful device, but is, after all, still a laptop (which is very old school).  The iPad, also an incredibly cool device, is now a geek trend age of 7 months, which is pushing it a bit, and there are rumors of a new iPad sometime next Spring.  So if you are trying to decide which machine you should by to impress the crowds, I’m afraid I don’t have an answer–they are both pretty impressive.  The iPad can be used on a subway train to wow non-geeks, so maybe that’s point extra in the iPads favor.
But now for the more serious question:  Do I need a laptop or can I get by with an iPad?
Really it comes down to your Internet usage patterns:  Creation vs. Consumption.
The iPad is a great consumption device. Checking emails, reading books and magazines, surfing the web and Facebook. Add watching videos and Youtube and even listening to music. The iPad is simply amazing for these functions. Some of the apps are an experience in their own right.  I’ve spent way too much time on some apps and my kids are addicted to some as well (Dr. Seuss is a nightly ritual it seems).
You can do some creative stuff on an iPad, but it’s not easy given the keyboard issues.  The keyboard is not necessarily small but there are definitely problems in typing certain words (the ‘ mark for example is not as easy as on a full keyboard, nor are other common punctuation marks).  The lack of a tactile feel on a keyboard is difficult for some to master, and the spell checker becomes really an essential function as it guesses what you should have been typing had you been pounding the keys.  My accuracy rate for typing is say 99% on a real keyboard and probably 90% on the iPad.  In more simple terms, I’ve never typed more than two paragraphs on an iPad without having a spelling error.  This can be eased by carrying around Apples sexy bluetooth keyboard, but that’s another device that you have to schlep with you.
But if you are more into creating stuff, such as writing multi-paragraph emails or a spreadsheet or a word document, or editing some photos and emailing them to friends, than you really want a tactile keyboard and something with a little more power like a laptop or desktop.  The Mac Book Air is powerful enough for most events that the average computer user would endure.  I would probably recommend an external disk drive or a home server in conjunction with the Mac Book Air for storage of photos, docs and other items that will quickly tax the relatively small storage capabilities of the MBA.  I also would be hesitant about an MBA if I was editing videos, primarily because I want the most powerful machine I can find to handle that relatively complex task.
I have a desktop I use for most of my creation (and a laptop as well for when I’m away from my home and need to do something major). I have the iPad for most other things. If it is an either or thing with you–either a laptop OR an iPad (and no other computer in the house) than you probably would want the increased functionality of a full computer/laptop. If this is a second device in your house, say you already have a PC in the house and this is a second machine, than the iPad would be a great option.
I only recommend the iPad as an “only” machine if you are an extremely limited net user, just checking email, browsing the web, etc. We bought one for my mother-in-law just for this purpose–so she could see pics from the kids without having to boot up a bit complicated computer.
Since I got my iPad, I haven’t used my laptop at all. It’s sitting here collecting dust waiting for that time when I need to do something more powerful away from my desk. I do carry my laptop to some business meetings but generally I use it around the house for entertainment purposes. It’s great in bed for reading a book without disturbing the other person or even for watching a movie when someone is sleeping.
So in the end, how do you plan on using whatever you want to buy? Answer that question and you’ll know which machine to pick.
FWIW, if I had the need for a traveling desktop (i.e. I had a job that put me on a plane for extended periods of time, I would probably buy the MBA for those events.  But right now, with little travel > 3 days long, I just can’t justify it with the desktop and iPad at home).
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