The new iPad is making waves on the mobile market, outselling not only all the other tablets combined, but also desktop computers – Apple is ahead of Acer, Dell and Lenovo in that regard, which is pretty impressive. Intel’s Ultrabooks are also speeding up in sales, and with the new Ivy Bridge processors, they’re becoming a better choice than traditional laptops, even though they’re a bit more expensive.
The Ultrabook design is very nice, but what’s more interesting is the fact that it was actually Apple that released the first Ultrabook quite a long time ago – the MacBook Air has been on the market for almost half a decade and it’s always had the features and size that fit exactly into the Ultrabook specifications. The price of the Air is also comparable to the other Ultrabooks on the market, so there’s really no reason not to choose it, unless you need to run Windows or Linux on the device.
The bigger question, though, is “should I go with the iPad or the MacBook Air for my next computer?”, and it’s a pretty tough question to answer. Both the iPad and MacBook Air are perfect as replacements for a desktop or laptop computer for an average user, but there are a few things to consider before choosing one over the other.
First of all, the size
While the iPad and MacBook Air are both ultraportable, they do have a different form factor and size – the iPad is a touch-enabled 10 inch device, while the Air comes in 11.6 and 13.3 inch versions and packs a keyboard. Depending on your intended use, one might be better than the other. If you’ll be traveling a lot or using the device as a secondary computer for work on the go (with your main machine at the office or home), the iPad might be a better choice – it’s more compact, has a better battery life and can do pretty much anything you’d expect it to, from document editing to creating presentations and working with any Web apps. You can even get a nice keyboard dock if you need one.
The MacBook Air has a bigger display, but a worse color reproduction (if you’re working with photos on the go, the iPad’s IPS display is simply the best), much shorter battery life and no touch functionality, making it harder to use without a desk.
Second, the hardware
The MacBook Air and the iPad are quite different on the inside – the former uses an x86 processor, has more storage space and more integrated expansion options, while the latter uses an ARM processor, has half the storage space in the best case and needs an adapter in order to use the USB functionality.
You should take that into consideration when choosing between the two devices. Technically, the x86 processor and SSD in the Air use more power and you’ll only need them if you work on something pretty resource intensive like Photoshop – for document editing or working with cloud apps, the iPad is more than enough. The Air has ready access to two full sized USB port, but you’ll still need an adapter to use HDMI out, just like is the case with the iPad.
Third and final, the software
Obviously, the MacBook Air runs the full Mac OS X operating system, while the iPad uses iOS, a mobile-oriented OS. The biggest advantage of Mac OS X is that it can run multi-task, i.e. run multiple apps at the same time, but iOS is pretty close to that and is much better at managing resources at the same time. Most of the popular apps are available for both platforms (except heavyweights like Photoshop and CAD applications), and the Safari browsers are pretty much identical, except for the notable lack of Flash support on the iPad.
Unless you have some apps that only run on x86 processors or Mac OS X, the iPad is just as good a choice as the MacBook Air software-wise. Many professionals (developers and designers, for example) use the iPad as their main work machine, so there’s definitely no lack of good software for it.
In conclusion, I would say that the iPad is a marginally better choice than the MacBook Air for those who work on the go – the long battery life is its main advantage, and if you tend to do most your work in the cloud or at home/office on a powerful computer, then finish it on the go, you’ll find the iPad a better choice.
The MacBook Air gives you more capabilities, but you’ll only be able to work for around 3-4 hours before the battery is dead and it’s more cumbersome to use the keyboard and touchpad than a touch screen. There’s also the issue of price – obviously, the iPad is cheaper, while offering a better display and almost the same functionality.