How much of your job can you really do on an iPad?

Tim Cook recently said that he performs 80% of his work on an iPad—and he thinks everyone should do the same. But is that really realistic?

The answer depends, of course, on the kind of work you do. Perhaps Cook spends his entire day working in email and a browser. If that’s the case, the iPad could be entirely adequate. When he was quoted, Cook was specifically touting the iOS-compatibility that will come to many corporate apps, thanks to Apple’s new alliance with IBM. So if you’re living in apps that your company built for itself, the iPad could someday be all you need.

But what about the rest of us, whose work tools lie somewhere between a Web browser and bespoke corporate software? To get a take on how well the iPad suits at least one specific job-description, I asked some editors here at Macworld, as well as at our sister publications PC World and Greenbot, to tell me: How much of your job do you currently do on an iPad? And how much could you do if you really had to?

Christopher Breen (Senior Editor, Macworld)

What little work I do on my iPad happens after normal work hours and consists of things like email, Web browsing, and Twitter. Otherwise, my job requires me to string words together and record and edit media, and I find a computer to be a better tool than the tablet for that.

Taking care of work communications wouldn’t be difficult in an iPad-only world. The Mail app doesn’t have the power I need for sorting PR pitches and working with attachments, but it’s entirely workable for quickly swapping messages with co-workers. Likewise, there are plenty of solid iOS chat tools for coordinating stories and events on the fly. I could also get by with an iPad for writing and editing. With an external keyboard, typing is doable. I’d miss the keyboard shortcuts and macros I have on my Mac, but I'd survive.

But actually producing those stories in Macworld’s Web-based content-management system (CMS)—the closest thing we have to a customized app—would be impossible on the iPad. Those tools aren’t built for mobile devices at all. (Some would argue they weren’t designed for modern-day computers, either.) Producing stories often requires me to have multiple apps open at the same time to separately manage words, images, and media files. Without real multitasking (yet), iOS just doesn’t cut it.

ipad work machine cms

Unless they're optimized for touch, custom apps like this content-management system are all but unusable on the iPad.

Also, while I know it’s possible to edit audio and video on an iPad, I’d do it only upon threat of termination. I try to be very precise in my edits, but using a finger to implement them is inescapably clumsy. I find that editing multiple tracks requires the extensive onscreen real-estate that only a computer monitor can provide.

Serenity Caldwell (Associate Editor, Macworld)

Circumstances have, on occasion, forced me to use an iPad for work; at those times, I found it feasible but not comfortable. So, though I spend a good chunk of my work time testing and playing with iOS apps, when it’s time to write about them I invariably go back to the Mac.

That’s partly a matter of convenience: If I’m writing about an iOS app, it helps to have it open on one device while I'm writing on another. That's not to say I don’t like writing on the iPad: I’ve written many things on both my iPad mini and iPhone. I find doing so can help center me and tune out the noise that comes from constantly switching applications, monitoring chat rooms and Twitter, and checking email. But those projects are usually personal, rather than professional; I find that I prefer a multi-screen workflow for work-related content.

As Chris mentioned above, our content-management tools aren’t built for a touch screen. Nor is it practical to constantly be switching among applications to, say, be sure I haven’t missed an important bit of information in our newsroom while I’m working on something else.

Given the right job and the right software tools, it’s certainly possible to do all or nearly all of your work on the iPad. But at the end of the day, it’s about matching the device to the task. I don’t know what Tim Cook’s daily schedule looks like. But I imagine it involves a lot of email, viewing Web-based reports and the visual output of designers, and the like—all tasks that are eminently achievable on the iPad. And if he runs into something he can’t do with it, he knows who to call to make the tool he needs.

Jason Cross (Executive Editor, Greenbot)

I currently do zero percent of my work on my iPad. But if I really had to, I could probably do 90%—maybe even 100%—of it on Apple’s tablet. But it would be slow and laborious.

For one thing, having multiple windows open—preferably on multiple monitors—is a core component of my daily workflow. I need to be able to drag an image from a webpage to my local machine, then into Photoshop (real Photoshop, not just any old image editor). I need to drag multiple images from my local files into our CMS, copy and paste large blocks of text, and quickly highlight text for comments, links, or edits.

Can the iPad do all this? Sure, at least in some roundabout way. I can save an image, then switch over to an image editor and edit it. It would take more time to resize those images precisely (for which I have simple presets on the desktop). It would take more time for me to manage multiple files at once, just as it would take longer for me to open email attachments from writers, edit them, send them back, then take the next round of revised text and put it into our CMS.

I’m sure with the iPad I could do all of this. It would just take vastly more time, and make me way less productive.

ipad work multitask

The iPad's lack of true multitasking is one of the most significant impediments to using it for real productivity.

Subscribe to the Best of Macworld Newsletter