Asking whether the iPad is a computer is a debate that has raged online ever since the very first device with good arguments either way. With the first iPad, critics did have a good point that it was a primarily a consumption device and even today the iPad mini size it feels like trying to use it to get work done is a stretch when you have to carry around a bluetooth keyboard + mouse + stand or case that makes the whole experience cumbersome. You can tell that Apple sees the new Mini as a consumption device that it does not even include the smart connector port on the back of the device, which is primarily used for the Magic Keyboard, nor made either Smart Keyboard or Smart Keyboard folio for that device. The iPad Air and iPad Pro 11” is where things start to get debatable. The size makes it better for full-sized iPad apps, which at this point are desktop-class in a lot of cases, but only if you are comfortable running one app at a time with maybe phone app floating on the side. With the large 13” iPad Pro, the original iPad Pro size one could absolutely argue that its a computer (Unless you’re like me and need a workstation-class 16” or larger computer), but the size does not make it a great reading device being too big for a lot of casual reading or traditional tablet stuff…that being said it can definitely run both two full-sized iPad apps at one time and was the original form factor that introduced the Apple keyboard folio for iPad and Apple Pencil…the largest iPad Pro is where Apple really pushes the idea that the iPad can be a laptop replacement to its logical conclusions.
The size that I still recommend to people is the classic 10” size in the form of the iPad Air and if you’re a seasoned iPad veteran, then the 11” iPad Pro. I feel like you get the best of both worlds, its a good size for a tablet, but the screen size is big enough for focused work with one app at a time. When my coworkers then ask me what color or keyboard case I recommend, it typically depends on how they want to use this iPad.
Option 1: Smart Folio
The Apple Smart Folio is simply a thin magnetic cover for the iPad. It offers minimal screen and back protection with minimal bulk. If you want to use the iPad as a tablet for taking notes, reading, replying to short emails or Teams messages, etc, this is the form factor for you. I like how you can also fold up the cover to use it as a typing stand and stand for watching movies. Most people have laptops assigned to them already at work so this is a nice configuration for them because it forces them to embrace the native iPad experience and it provides unique benefits and restrictions over a clamshell laptop. People with this configuration tend to know the strengths and limits of the iPads, but are generally happy with this. The Apple Pencil is a great accessory in this mode as it serves as a pointer, note-taker, annotation tool, and presentation device while always being attachable on the side.
Option 2: Smart Keyboard Folio
When I show people this, I call it the “Hybrid configuration” in the sense that it’s still a cover like the smart folio, but provides a durable, but capable physical typing experience for the iPad. The keyboard itself is spill-proof despite being a little mushy, but if you do like to reply to emails from the iPad or take notes with the keyboard its plenty of keyboard. You still primarily use the iPad as a tablet in this configuration, often having to use your hands to reach up and control the iPad when its in its typing mode. A lot of people like this though because you can aways fold the keyboard behind the iPad and use it like a tablet with minimal bulk. Also, unlike a decided keyboard and trackpad situation, you do not have to worry about what to do with the keyboard and pointer while you use the iPad as a tablet. With this configuration the Apple Pencil is also a great addition and some people opt to carry around a bluetooth mouse when they feel like using the iPad as a traditional computing device. The smart keyboard folio makes retains the fast nature of the iPad, being very quick to jump into an app such as Teams, Outlook, or OneNote while given people that physical keyboard they like for longer-form text entry.
Option 3: Smart Keyboard
The Apple Smart keyboard is definitely the device that turns the iPad into a tiny computer and adds the most complexity to the device. The Apple Smart Keyboard in particular is great because it does not require bluetooth pairing or charging and has most Mac-like typing and trackpad experience. If somebody has a work laptop, I really tell them that this is an expensive and redundant option (We’re not typically in the habit of providing two computers to people), but if they have a desktop then its a good option to turn their iPad into a mini computer. It does add a bit of bulk and knowing what to do with the keyboard when you’re using it like a tablet can be a bit awkward, but it really is a nice experience if you want to use the iPad as a computer. This is how I primarily use the iPad Pro at work since I still do have a desktop at the office (Probably at least until next week when the new MacBook Pros are rumored to come out). I enjoy pushing the iPad to its logistical limit as a computing device and get a lot of work done on it every day. I really enjoy it, but for most people at work I have a hard time recommending it unless they are a seasoned iPad veteran who knows how to manage working in the different environment or they want to use the iPad as a primary computing device at work where they may not be using legacy line of business or web applications and are much more likely to lean into using an iPad App in a pinch. I’ve been very happy with my Magic Keyboard and find it a transformative experience for the iPad.
So, which all of that being said, those are just my general recommendations and guidance on what to buy when you get an iPad…it really boils down to what you want to use the iPad for at the end of the day. The iPad is an extremely flexible computing device, especially when you factor in the Apple Pencil, which I only mentioned in passing in this post. I use my iPad for hours a day both professionally and personal and find that it brings a lot of value to my day. There are a lot of things that it does better than a laptop or a phone, but you just have to go into things knowing that the experience will be different for better and worse. If you can go in with that mindset I’ve found people are typically happy to have one in their lives.