The iPad can be a great productivity tool, allowing you to work on the move, keep reading material with you, keep track of your calendar and emails, and even make sketches. However, in my mind the thing that it needs to beat is the humble pad of paper. Paper has shown itself for generations to be a tried and trusted method for personal productivity, in the form of diaries, calendars and notebooks. Indeed, paper has a proven track-record over millennia for reading and writing, and there is something extremely ergonomically easy-to-use about a pad of paper and a pen. If the iPad can’t beat carrying a pad of paper, then it’s not truly worth it as a productivity tool.
I’ve been an iPad user since the first generation iPad was launched in 2010. I’ve recently replaced my full sized iPad with the iPad Mini. Whilst I like the iPad, I always felt it was just a bit too large to be truly portable, a problem that the iPad Mini corrects. It’s much lighter to carry, and whilst it is smaller, the screen size itself doesn’t feel too small. To begin with, the original iPad didn’t feel like an essential piece of technology (the way my smartphone did) but more like a luxury, ‘nice-to-have’ item. Indeed, one of the early criticisms of the iPad was that it was more a device for consuming information (reading, watching videos, playing games) than for producing information (writing, sketching, etc). This problem has been corrected to some degree with a wider range of apps now available for allowing you to create things, but the root of the problem (in my opinion) is the lack of a stylus pen to allow you to directly draw and hand-write on it. Maybe this will be a future development for the iPad?
So, how good are the iPad and iPad mini now for getting things done, and being productive?
The iPad, particularly the iPad mini, is the kind of device you can carry around with you wherever you go. In order for a device to be useful for productivity, you need it with you. There are many times and places where you can carry an iPad, and make use of its ability to switch on instantly, in which a laptop would be impractically big or too slow to turn on. Similarly, the battery life on the iPad is around 9 or 10 hours, way more than the typical laptop. If you are a writer of any sort, or even if you like to write down ideas, the iPad is ideal, as when inspiration strikes, you are ready to capture your ideas wherever you are. If you have nothing to write down your ideas with, the chances are you’ll forget them. Of course, you can do this with a paper notepad too, but I think you are more likely to loose a notepad. Also, as notepads fill up over time (depending on how much you use it, it may only last you a week or a month) the organisation of your information in your paper notepads will be largely based on time (i.e. you will end up with a stack of notepads, each from a different point in time), whereas if you take notes on your iPad, you can organise them according to subject, and hence keep them better organised and accessible.
The digital, internet-connected nature of the iPad means you are able to synch your notes etc with cloud storage or with your other digital devices (computers, smartphones etc) in order to share your information wherever you are, and to back it up to protect it. If you write everything down in a paper notebook, you don’t have this capability.
Once you’ve made notes on your iPad, they are in digital form and you don’t have to re-type them (as you would if you were making notes by hand in a notebook).
You can take photos with your iPad and also screengrabs of webpages which can be incorporated into your notes, or uploaded to whatever online storage space you are using.
There are many options for syching the iPad with your calendars and to-do lists.
One of the things I believe the iPad excels in most is storing and displaying PDFs. If your work requires that you have access to lots of PDF documents, the iPad is great for this; far quicker and more convenient for reading them than a laptop. (not to mention the fact that you can also read and annotate books on it).
Depending on where you are, Internet connectivity can still be too slow and unreliable.
Many people will find typing large amounts of text to be less than ideal on the iPad’s keyboard. Due to this, the iPad is not always the best option for making quick notes. For example, if you need to write down information with one hand whilst on the phone with the other, paper and pen is still way easier than the iPad.
Whilst there are drawing apps for the iPad, you may find it less ideal than paper for making sketches and doodles.
My conclusion is a difficult one: I don’t believe the iPad is a perfect replacement for paper notebooks, but I can’t totally dismiss it either. If you have the spare money, enjoy playing around with and mastering technical gadgets then it’s probably for you. If you can invest the time and money in experimenting with it, and the various available apps, to find a way of working with it that suits your needs.
Overall, the major benefit (I believe) is the fact that you can synch information over the web with it (hence share your notes and calendars between devices) thus making your information more organised. Its major drawback is its still not got quite the ease of ergonomic use that a pad of paper and pen has. The ultimate solution may be to combine use of both. The iPad for the majority of your reading, calendar use and long-term notes, but a notepad for quick sketching and notetaking. The iPad can then be used to take photos of any important paper-and-pen notes/drawings that you make which you'd like to keep.