Why I hope the iPad and MacBook Air stay separate

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="336" caption="Via TiPb.com"][/caption] Apple is having an Event. Naturally, the rumor mills are churning like crazy.  Most speculations are gravitating toward a new OS (Lion) or a new, improved MacBook Air. I have been reading the latter speculations with considerable interest (best of breed: TiPb, TechCrunch, and CrunchGear) because I'm super curious about where the market and technology will take us with tablets and particularly where tablets will end up fitting in with our other devices. Right now I have an iMac and an iPad. I sold my laptop and am getting along fine without it, much to my surprise. I'm not a student or a businessperson, but I do write a lot and am a power user in other ways, so take these opinions for what they're worth.

The MacBook Air speculations caught my geek attention because at times it would be nice to have an iPad with a keyboard, which is basically what the speculations come down to. For me, though, that would produce diminishing returns. I've got an iPad with a keyboard right now (it's an Apple Bluetooth keyboard that I can slip into my Timbuk2 bag right behind the iPad if I think I'll need it), and more to the point it's optional.

I'm writing this blog post on my iPad by using Documents to Go (iTunes link; expensive). If I wanted to, I could copy and paste it into Wordpress and publish it from there, but I'll probably sync it with Google Docs so I can add some links and prettify it a bit before publishing. This exemplifies my iPad use. I use the heck out of it to a certain point, but at that point I need an actual computer to complete my task. And that's totally fine with me because of the other things I use the iPad for.

Just for example purposes, let's have a look at how I used my iPad during yesterday's 24-hour stretch, which reflects typical use for me when I'm not working. I got off work in the morning, ate breakfast, and crawled into bed with my iPad to read my Twitter feed (with the free Twitter app), Facebook (with Friendly; iTunes link, $0.99), and a few Google Reader items (with Reeder; iTunes link, $4.99). When I got sleepy, I put it on the nightstand and crashed. When I woke up, I sat at my iMac to drink coffee because I needed to do some blog design and photo manipulation that were too much for the iPad. Later on, after a trip to the gym, I read a book on my iPad (propped up in its Brenthaven case, which I paid too much money for but really like) while I ate dinner.

I spent some more time on the iMac because, again, I was working on my blog site, and it's just not one of those tasks an iPad is good for. Later on I took the iPad with me to the couch while I watched some video podcasts and again used it to tweet and read a few articles (this time with Flipboard; iTunes link, free). I responded to a few e-mails. When I checked into my podcast with GetGlue I saw that one of my followers had checked into a TV show that I had forgotten I wanted to try; it was a show available on the ABC.com app, so I put my feet up and watched the first three episodes on my iPad (after checking in on GetGlue, of course).

After all of this leisure I needed to get some work done, so I connected my keyboard and edited some Word files. They synced automatically to my Dropbox account. I could have walked back to my iMac to do this, but here is a key point with the iPad. It gives me the flexibility of a laptop (I can sit on my couch with my feet up, working) but automagically transforms back into a book, newspaper, or TV screen by the mere action of my setting the keyboard back on the coffee table. A secondary key point about the iPad is that it forces you to do one thing at a time. I'll be happy to get multitasking, but it still won't be as easy as cmd-tab to switch endlessly through all my distractions. If I'm writing on my iPad,  that's all I'm doing. If I'm writing on my iMac, I'm probably also responding to e-mails, checking Twitter, and seeing what updates Facebook Notifier is spewing at me. Perhaps that's why, increasingly, I'm getting the groundwork on projects done on the iPad before I move over to the real computer. I haven't even gone in to how handy it is to take a 1.5-pound tablet to a coffee shop vs a laptop...heaven. Or the instant-on of the iPad. Or the freakishly long battery life.

I think that if they do come out with a smaller MacBook Air or something that is basically an iPad with a keyboard, there will be a market for it. I won't be in that market, because what would I do with the keyboard for the 90% of the things I do with my iPad that don't involve a keyboard? I mostly consume. I don't want a keyboard in my way while I'm reading books or articles in bed before I fall asleep or when I'm watching shows. When I do want a keyboard, I just pair one.

Apple needs to watch its step on this one. They've always been big on product differentiation, and they already have a product that is a portable computing device with a keyboard. It's called a MacBook. Apple now has clearly demarcated desktop, laptop, and tablet lines, and I really hope they don't muddy the waters too much.