In the seemingly never-ending debate over whether or not the iPad is a computer, there is always something that prevents some people from adopting it as a full-time laptop replacement. For some, it might be the multitasking constraints, while others might have issue with the limitations of mobile Safari. In each case, it’s more often than not something specific, which means that while the iPad might be a great laptop replacement for some, it won’t be for everyone.
My hang-up has always been with a specific app: Google Docs. In my job, I spend a lot of time composing and editing other writers within Google Docs. This is mostly driven by decisions outside of my control — I’m personally a huge fan of Microsoft Word, especially on the iPad, but at work we use Google’s apps for collaboration, so Google Docs it is.
The problem with this is that Google’s mobile Docs apps, whether for iOS or Android, have always kind of sucked, at least in comparison to their desktop counterparts. Sure, I could use Docs to compose an article or note on an iPad, or read something that’s been shared with me. I could even make edits to a document created by someone else. But Docs’ best collaboration feature, Suggested Edits, was never properly supported in its mobile apps.
If you spend any time editing other writers’ drafts, Suggested Edits is a game-changing feature. It allows you to make changes to a document without erasing the prior text or formatting. Once I’ve added a bunch of suggested edits to a draft, the writer can then review them, choose to accept or reject them, or further edit the suggestion. This can be done all at once or for each individual suggestion. It’s basically a digital version of the famous red pen that print editors used on drafts for decades. It’s no surprise that Suggested Edits completely changed our editing workflow for the better when it was introduced in 2014.
The issue with Suggested Edits was that it only worked on the desktop version of Google Docs, and not on the iOS app. The best that Google offered was a way for me to see suggestions other people made and approve or reject them — there was no way for me to suggest changes to a document from my iPad. (Trying to access a Google Docs file in Safari or Chrome on the iPad presented roadblocks as well, as Docs is even less capable in a mobile browser than it is as a mobile app.) This basically meant that while I could do many parts of my job — read, write, email, Slack, etc. — with my iPad, I could never rely on it fully.
That all changed this week when Google finally released full support for Suggested Edits in the mobile Docs apps. With this update, I can now read, approve, reject, and even add edit suggestions to a Docs file, all from my iPad Pro and Smart Keyboard. I can now say that I can do the majority of my job with my iPad and I don’t necessarily need a laptop anymore.
I’m not interested in giving up my laptop anytime soon — it’s still more comfortable to work on than an iPad and it’s more efficient to use when I’m juggling a bunch of tasks at once. I also occasionally have to work with RAW image files, which is still too much of a chore with the iPad.
But it does mean that I can now leave my laptop at the office and still get all of my work done on my commute home or later in the evening. I don’t need to schlep a full laptop around — my iPad and its keyboard are enough to do the vast majority of tasks I need to accomplish.
Right now, there are still plenty of reasons why someone would prefer to work on a laptop instead of an iPad. But it seems that each day, those reasons are becoming less and less pronounced. For me, Google Docs was the tipping point. For someone else, it might be the improved multitasking slated to arrive with iOS 11. Or it might be a powerful video or image editing app that has yet to come out.
Once you get over your specific roadblock, it becomes easier to see why devices like the iPad, with touchscreen input, always-on cellular connectivity, and far superior portability, feel much more like the bold future of computing than a traditional laptop with its worse battery life and portability and legacy operating system.
It all comes down to using the iPad for what we've traditionally considered "work": sitting down at a desk, doing things with files, and collaborating with others. Once enough of these frustrations have gone away, it's the things the iPad is better than a laptop at that'll make the real difference.