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Issue #22: What does it cost to switch to iPad?

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I figured we should do a couple of back of the envelope calculations in this issue, trying to answer the age-old question: What does it cost to switch to iPad?

My name is Thord D. Hedengren, and I’m in the wonderful position of being able to keep up to date on iPad and iPhone models. There’s not much sense to update with every new generation, but I do it anyway.

What does it cost?

Let’s tackle five scenarios where you’d be looking to replace an existing traditional computer setup with an iPad-centric one.

Replacing a home computer

Your laptop at home has given out. It was mostly used to browse the web, answer some emails, and sometimes in bed (with the charger plugged in) to binge a show or three.

  • iPad 128 GB, wifi only — $429
  • Smart Keyboard — $159

Total: $588, with the option to save $100 if everything is online/stream only because then 32 GB storage will probably do.

This is the typical ”internet device”, thus it can get away with less storage. You could even save on the keyboard and get a third-party one, or skip it altogether if your emailing is rudimentary. Do consider a cover if you do.

Replacing an office computer

Word processing, the occasional spreadsheet, email, presentations, video meetings, some stuff that only runs in the browser — you know the drill, this is the hammer of the office worker.

  • iPad Air 256 GB, wifi only — $599
  • Magic Keyboard — $299

Total: $898, which can be taken down a notch with a Smart Keyboard or a stand-alone bluetooth one, but then you’d have to add a mouse or trackpad, because using your fingers for jumping around in text and spreadsheets is bad ergonomics.

This is the use case that’s the hardest to justify with a reasonable budget, because if you live in spreadsheets, you want a large screen. That means the 12.9” iPad Pro, which is $999 for the 128 GB version (that storage will do), is the ideal choice. Add a Magic Keyboard ($349) and you’re at $1348.

Replacing a gaming laptop

The gaming laptop has died. No more Minecraft or Roblox, or Civilization VI for that matter. We can’t have that!

  • iPad Air 256 GB, wifi only — $599
  • Xbox One controller — $90

Total:$689, which is what a decent Windows gaming laptop will set you back. The iPadOS gaming ecosystem is vast, albeit lacking the AAA titles you’d get on a console or on Windows, but it does have Apple Arcade (great value for money), and you can use the up and coming game streaming services in the web browser.

This one’s fully dependent on what sort of games you enjoy. There are so many options out there, it’s ridiculous, but if you want, say, Cyberpunk 2077, then the iPad isn’t for you. To be fair, a gaming laptop for $689 will probably struggle running that game in any of the nicer settings, so…

Replacing a design station

You need a new device to work with your digital design. Wacom has been your friend all these years, but the Apple Pencil is teasing you. Size (both screen and storage) matters here, so we’re going all in.

  • iPad Pro 12.9” 1 TB, wifi + cellular — $1649
  • Apple Pencil — $129
  • Magic Keyboard — $349

Total:$2127, but you’ll definitely want a cloud backup to go with this, because you can never be too careful with your design files. You can save by skipping cellular on the iPad Pro, but it’s nice to be able to access and work with everything when visiting clients.

I’ve got this setup, and while you can pick another keyboard, you’ll surely need one, as well as a couple of services and subscriptions (Adobe for fonts, for example). Anything but pure print design will work fine, although you might have to get used to some new interfaces. See issue 19 for more on this topic.

Replacing a web development computer

The laptop’s given in and you want something that can keep going all day long anyway. While all iPad Air and Pro models would do, the larger screen wins out for that code editor and git app Split View setup people are raving about.

  • iPad Pro 12.9” 256 GB, wifi + cellular — $1249
  • Magic Keyboard — $349

Total: $1598, thanks to us skimping out on storage, but most development that will occur on your iPad Pro will be tied to the internet in some fashion, since you can’t readily spin up development environments on your device. If you go with a smaller device, you might as well go down to the iPad Air, and you can save even further by picking a third-party keyboard instead.

Developing on the iPad isn’t for everyone. You’ll likely need additional services, either servers or a computer to log into, to make it work properly. 

Save on accessories

Apple isn’t exactly known for being the cheapest alternative out there. You can’t find an iPad from another company, but you can pick something cheaper than the Magic Keyboard. Here are some suggestions.

  • Magic Keyboard (from $299, depending on model) can be replaced with Brydge Pro Plus (from $200) or Logitech Folio Touch (from $160).
  • Smart Keyboard (from $159) can be replaced by several Brydge keyboards (from $60), or Logitech’s Slim Folio (from $100). See also, Logitech’s Combo Touch which also has a trackpad ($150).
  • Apple Pencil really shouldn’t be replaced, but there’s a Logitech Crayon that you might get your hands on in the aftermarket. It’s no Pencil, though…
  • Stand-alone bluetooth keyboards are plentiful, and Apple’s alternatives might not be for you. There are great keyboards out there from $40, so find what works for you.
  • There are no good alternatives to the Magic Trackpad, if you’re looking for a stand alone pointing device. See issue 18 for more about that.
  • The Magic Mouse isn’t for everyone, Logitech makes great alternatives for way less. Just like with stand-alone keyboards, you need to find an alternative that fits your preferences.

Some alternatives above will feel inferior to Apple’s products, but others might not. This is a matter of taste too, not just who has the best material or fanciest design. That being said, be careful with no-name brands on Amazon, the old saying you get what you pay for has a lot of going for it, after all.

♻️ Refurbished and older models
There are certainly money to be saved by going with a refurbished iPad, or even an older model. The iPad holds up well, you definitely don’t need to swap it out every year, or even every other year, to keep up. Get the most expensive iPad you can afford without feeling financially stressed.

Valuing niceness

It’s easy to get stuck comparing price tags, but that’s not the whole story. When you choose an iPad over a traditional computer, you’re not just replacing something you already have, or at least know and are comfortable with, you’re opening up other ways of interacting with your computing device. The iPad is a tablet, a laptop, a slate for your drawings, and so many other things. It does this without effort, whereas your laptop is stuck being a laptop, and possibly a crummy bulky tablet with an awkward screen ratio.

Then there’s the OS, iPadOS, and the App Store, which are a different world altogether. Add the snappiness, the instant-on, the battery life, the screen quality, and you’ve got something that very few Windows laptops will be able to compete with.

There are drawbacks to choosing the iPad. Most of them are related to screen size (unless you get the 12.9” iPad Pro) and the cost of storage. But that’s about it, because the iPad will feel faster, slicker, and more close to you than any Windows laptop out there. It’s the nature of the device, and the strength of its innards.

It’s a personal computer.

Going all-in iPad will almost always be a pricy affair. Apple knows how to charge for things, and the iPad — all models — are premium devices in their own right. But it’s not that simple, just comparing numbers, because while you’re replacing something, you’re also getting something new outside what you had. We’ll talk a bit more about that in next week’s issue. For now, if you have any thoughts, tweet to @tdh.

Have a good one!

— Thord D. Hedengren

Unfortunately, trees don’t grow out of money… Wait…