For decades, business travellers have considered a laptop as part of their arsenal. Those laptops have slowly become slimmer and lighter, while gaining more power and longer battery life. But in the end they're still laptops.
The latest generation of tablets are trying to change that, and from what we see at airport lounges and in business class cabins, they're making some headway. Apple's iPad Pro and Microsoft's Surface are on the front line of this shake-up, and Apple has been particularly vocal on the laptop-slaying prospects of its 2018 iPad Pro series.
So last week, I put that to the test. I gave my MacBook Pro laptop a holiday and relied on the Apple's 12.9 inch iPad Pro for everything my laptop would usually do.
To start with, transforming the iPad Pro into your new notebook relies on more than just the tablet itself. You'll want the Smart Keyboard Folio, which adds a wrap-around keyboard cover to your iPad Pro: that's $119 or $149, depending on what size iPad Pro you have.
You'll also want the Apple Pencil – believe me, this is such a great device that you will want it – which is another $199.
And for total freedom on the move you'll be looking at the iPad Pro with 4G.
Most business travellers will lean towards the 12.9 inch iPad Pro, as this is closest in screen size and thus keyboard size to a 13-inch notebook – the smaller and marginally less-expensive 11 inch iPad Pro is more convenient but less practical if you spend a lot of time at the keyboard.
This means you're looking at the 12.9 inch iPad Pro with 4G and 256GB of storage (enough for most business travellers) for $1,969, with the keypad and stylus boosting the total price to $2,317.
Yes, that's a lot for a tablet – but the iPad Pro is a lot of tablet, and suitably kitted up it's ready to take on your laptop and probably win, and in ways that may surprise you.
Large laptops just don't fit into the world of meeting rooms and conferences. They create a barrier between participants and results in everyone playing peek-a-boo over their screens. The iPad Pro changes that dynamic: it looks like an elegant meeting compendium and lets you easily read and annotate documents, take notes and quickly access information, with two screen angles available when using the Smart Keyboard Folio.
The iPad Pro can run familiar office suites from Microsoft and Google, or even Apple's own apps if you desire, and tap into cloud services such as OneDrive, DropBox and Google Drive equally well.
Some very specific apps for your business might not exist on the Apple's iOS platform, but almost everything a business traveller would need is out there, including support for corporate VPN services.
For travellers, another critical feature is the iPad Pro's dual-SIM feature. The conventional nanoSIM slot is paired with a digital eSIM module (think of its as a virtual SIM card). You can drop a 4G SIM from an Australian telco into the slot and use the eSIM when travelling, activating it with a local carrier plan in each country; or pair the eSIM to your Australian number as a second device and buy a SIM card in each country you visit.
Back at your desk, the iPad Pro can easily connect via Bluetooth to a regular keyboard while the new USB-C connector – which replaces Apple's long-favoured Lightning port – can hook up to an external display. You may need an HDMI dongle for this but that's also the case with many slim laptops.
The updated Apple Pencil is pretty much a mandatory extra if you want to extract full value from the iPad Pro. It flows smoothly across the iPad Pro's beautiful display and is easier to use than any styli I’ve encountered with notebooks and convertibles on the market.
There's something incredibly natural about taking notes on the iPad Pro by writing instead of typing, perhaps because you're not limited to typing – you can draw arrows and sketch diagrams, do mind-maps, mark up notes.
The only issues I encountered where my MacBook Pro would have worked better were in working with a client's content management system for which I had to write some articles and upload some images. That was more about the CMS than the iPad Pro, and if I pushed it there probably could have been (kludgy but do-able) work-arounds.
For most people, this is where the iPad Pro vs laptop battle will be won or lost. If the iPad Pro can run your apps and play nicely with the rest of the world, then it might just be time to put your laptop out to pasture.
Additonal writing by David Flynn