Here's a tale of how a simple iPad became my substitute for an advanced laptop.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983


Turning an iPad into a laptop, Part 1

June 12, 2011

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2011, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2011, The Post-Standard

Planned events aren't as instructive as unplanned adventures. I was reminded of this when I took my new Apple MacBook Air on a long family trip and almost immediately disabled it by spilling coffee into it.

The coffee damaged essential electronic parts so badly that the new laptop stopped working entirely. It was hopeless. I was a long way from home with a non-working laptop.

My wife and I knew we'd be able to get the MacBook Air fixed by dropping it off at an Apple store. But alas, we were far from an Apple store, too, vacationing on an island in the Gulf of Mexico. The fix would have to wait.

And so begins the tale of how a simple iPad became my substitute for an advanced laptop. I had brought my iPad along as a way of reading books and catching up on the news while we were gone. I ended up using the iPad for everything I normally do on my laptop.

That means all my newspaper column writing, all my email, all my Web research, all my photo editing. And all my Facebook forays, along with all my note taking and all the weekly updates on my website.

I dreaded this change. For me, the iPad's built-in keyboard is too hard to use if I'm typing more than a couple of words -- I'm not a touch typist, but I can type fast on a normal keyboard -- so I dug out the iPad's extra-cost keyboard dock, hoping it would turn the iPad into a sort of mini-iMac.

Bad idea. The keyboard dock can only hold the iPad in portrait mode -- kind of like a sheet of printer paper held vertically -- and most of the work (and play, for that matter) done on any computer, iPad or not, needs to have the screen in horizontal, or landscape, mode.

So I quickly gave up on the goofy keyboard dock and switched to my Apple Bluetooth keyboard. This keyboard works with any Apple device that has Bluetooth (a short-range wireless connection method), and, with the iPad propped up against a thick book, the Bluetooth keyboard was ideal.

With a real keyboard, I was almost ready to do everything on my iPad. What it lacked was a mouse. How could I do serious work without a mouse?

But the only way to use a mouse with an iPad is to jailbreak the iPad -- to alter the operating system using a non-Apple (and more importantly a non-Apple-approved) software hack. I might try that someday -- it's not illegal -- but I didn't want to take a chance on something that radical while I was away.

So I gave up on a mouse. I was glad I did, as you'll see next week.

Next: How a secret Apple hid in the iPad's interface makes mouseless operation effortless.