My Next Move: To An 11.6″ Air?

I love the iPad. I really do. It’s a fantastic device. It’s fast, capable and sexy. The apps are great.

I love reading on it. Between Kindle, iBooks and Instapaper, I’m never without something to read. If I end up at the end of my queues, there is always Safari. Which is also great.

However, I do a ton of writing. I write here, at Macgasm, for school, for work and for pleasure. While PlainText has totally changed my life and the way I store my words, the iPad isn’t a great writing machine.

Yes, I’m fast on the virtual keyboard. Yes, I have a Bluetooth keyboard for it when I am going to be working in long stretches.

When I write, I usually have countless tabs open in Safari, music playing, IMs going and more. It’s messy and distracting, but I’m sure it comes from my nights of working at the college paper, where a quiet room for working wasn’t a possibility. It also may stem from the fact that my brain is probably forever altered by a lack of sleep thanks to college, and now having two small kids.

MobileSafari’s nasty habit of needing to reload pages due to a lack of RAM is nothing short of frustrating. Bouncing around apps is slower, too.

Publishing on the iPad is a nightmare. While most of WordPress’ web-based backend works in MobileSafari, it’s far from great. The WordPress app is worse, as it has many severe limitations. Don’t even get me started.

Right now, if I write a blog post on the iPad, I let PlainText and Dropbox do their thing, delivering my content to a computer, where I publish using the fabulous MarsEdit.[1. The obvious question is what would I do if MarsEdit came to the iPad. While that would be amazing, I can’t plan a workflow around a product that might not ever happen. Plus, it would only answer one of my issues with the iPad.]

So I’m thinking about selling my iPad and buying a MacBook Air. I’m looking at the 11.6" model, but bumping it to 4 GB of RAM to help future-proof it. The size, weight and battery life are all extremely attractive to me. The high-resolution screen and full-sized keyboard should put usability far past what any netbook can reach, which is great, since the netbooks I’ve had in the past sucked.

There are several advantages that the Air has over the iPad in my eyes.

The obvious one is that it runs OS X. That means that the tools that make up my work environment would all be at my fingertips. My workflow would also be simpler without iOS apps — no matter how great they are — in the mix.

Running OS X also means that the weird Wi-Fi issues I see with the iPad wouldn’t bug me anymore. Some places (like St. Jude, here in Memphis) still don’t allow iOS devices on their networks. An Air obviously wouldn’t suffer that fate.

Secondly, having a “real” keyboard all the time would make my writing faster, but less prone to being full of weird typos. I can type incredibly fast on not just my Apple Extended II keyboards, but on my 15" MacBook Pro at work. As good as the iPad’s keyboard is (and it really is very good), it’s not match for real plastic.

I’m going to be jump-starting my Project 365 thing in January, for a third year. While I had been thinking about using the iPad as the critical machine in the project, an Air would fit the bill better.

Lastly, I’m intrigued with seeing if I can last on a computer with only 64 GB of storage. While my iPad has just 16 GB, the challenge to keep an eye on storage capacity would be harder on a notebook. Re-installing OS X without language packs, printer drivers or iLife would save me some space, and Dropbox’s just-announced selective sync feature would help even more. I really think I could make it with just the built-in apps, MarsEdit, Word and Excel.

Minimal computing is all the rage for a reason.

It’s not all good news for the Air. Reading on an Air would be less enjoyable than on the iPad, without a doubt. I can’t quite reconcile that bit yet. The battery life also isn’t as awesome as the iPad’s is.

While I haven’t made up my mind, I plan on spending the rest of the week thinking on it. I need to land a few freelance gigs before I can think about spending the money, but I might just pull the trigger here sometime soon.