I’ve discussed iPad keyboard cases earlier, but since that time more accessories have come to market, offering multiple aspects of using the iPad for productivity. Most notable is the Brydge, a Kickstarter-funded accessory that does more than folio-style keyboard cases to turn your iPad into a faux Macbook Air. The device is impressive, offering both a model with stereo speakers that are touted to be superior to the iPad’s existing mono speaker and a bracket that holds your iPad firmly.
Another accessory offering the Macbook Air experience with your iPad is the ClamCase, affording full protection for your iPad along with a fully positionable keyboard that can fold behind your iPad. The ClamCase would be an excellent choice for those that want to quickly transition between laptop and tablet functionality without having to remove the iPad from the accessory.
While both of these products are excellent accessories (to go along with the folio-style cases discussed earlier) there is an elephant in the room that hasn’t been recognized: is this option a worthy investment? Even if you choose the least expensive iPad (16 gigabyte storage, wifi-only), adding one of the two keyboard cases above (ClamCase at $149, Brydge at $210 for speaker-equipped and $170 for speaker less) raises the price to around $700. That’s very close to the entry level price for a Macbook Air that offers a full OS as well even more cloud storage options than the iPad. Pick up a larger capacity iPad or one with LTE capacity and you could easily surpass the price of the least expensive Air. Bear in mind, if you don’t need the portability of an ultraportable and aren’t devoted to OSX there are options far less expensive than the Air (caveat emptor!).
So what’s your best option? The answer depends entirely on what you need to do. If you need network connectivity from where ever you are, the iPad/keyboard case is likely your best option provided you don’t need the power of a full OS. The latest generation of iPad’s LTE connection is blazingly fast, and even 3G connectivity is sufficient for most productivity tasks. More than a few businesses have switched to using iPads as their primary device, relying on proprietary apps for ordering and inventory; in cases like this a ClamCase would work perfectly. If you need the best battery life possible the iPad/keyboard case might be your best choice as well. While the Air offers great battery life, it can’t touch the iPad’s 10 hours (I routinely use my iPad for a full business day, including constant Pandora play without falling below 50% battery charge).
There are some tasks that are simply better on a full fledged laptop, however. I can attest that while the WordPress app in iOS is fine for quick posts, it’s much easier to collect all of the references and information I like to use in a typical post on my iMac. Having the ability to have multiple apps windowed (even on the smaller screen of the 11 inch Air) is a great productivity tool. Then there’s the physical form of your device- while the ClamCase and Brydge are solid, there are times that the aluminum unibody of the Air offers an advantage. The form is even slimmer than the combined iPad/case and offers a slightly wider screen to go along with the more powerful processor and multitasking ability. Then there’s the far greater range of applications available to the Air, all the way to being able to boot or emulate a different operating system. While the Air typically has a smaller hard drive than other Apple computers, it does afford the ability to use Bootcamp or a virtual environment like Parallels to provide access to Windows or Linux.
The question of what setup provides the best experience is actually a good problem to have. More choices for consumers is always an advantage, allowing users to tailor their devices to exactly what their needs are. The only requirement is that customers be aware of their options and have all of the information needed to make an informed decision as to what best suits their needs.