How My iPad Replaced My Laptop

I started the fall semester with the intention to see if my iPad could replace my laptop during the school day. In short, it has. How was this possible? Before I elaborate, I want to be clear that I have an iMac at home that I use all the time and there are days that I use my school-issued tablet due to limitations of the iPad.

Key Features

I’ve been surprised by several of the features that I most appreciate about the iPad.

The best is that it turns on instantly. It takes my school-issued tablet several minutes to boot. Even if I wake it from sleep, it fails to connect the the wireless as often as not and requires at least a reboot. While this is an appreciated feature for me, I’ve recently realized that this is a killer feature for iPads in the classroom. When a student pulls a laptop out of the cart, boots it, logs in, and then later, shuts it down, a substantial fraction of class is spent with these worthless tasks.

The iPad battery is fantastic. I never charge it at school; I just plug it in every night. My bag is light and now there’s more room for lab reports.

VGA output is a critical feature. I need to display a variety of media via an LCD projector in my classroom. VGA output is not a universal feature; it has to be supported by individual applications. I’m surprised by how many people are unaware that an iPad can project slides via an LCD projector.

Key Applications

I rely on a number of important applications on the iPad in order for it to replace my laptop. Just as importantly, I rely on a number of applications on my Mac that interface with my iPad.


My life is manageable because of Omnifocus. I’ve followed the Getting Things Done methodology or something similar for years and Omnifocus; which is synchronized between my Mac, iPhone, and iPad; is the best implementation of it. Without Omnifocus, the iPad wouldn’t even be an option.


Yojimbo is my digital junk drawer. All of my bookmarks, notes, receipts, etc. are stored and tagged in Yojimbo. I don’t often need to create new items on my iPad but I definitely need to search and access them.


I often have slides to display in class. I’ve used Keynote on my Mac for years. Keynote on the iPad pretty much displays whatever I create on my Mac. The latest version of Keynote supports the display of presenter notes on the iPad while displaying slides via the LCD. This is a key feature for me as it allows me to scroll through my lesson plans while a slide is being displayed.


I used to copy Keynote files between my Mac and my iPad via iTunes. This is a huge pain. I now use [Dropbox]( to have practically all of my files accessible from my iPad. I wish the iWord apps on the iPad would integrate seamlessly with Dropbox. No, I don’t want to use


Each of my logins is unique and relatively secure. I rely on 1Password on my Mac to manage this and it syncs with 1Password on my iPad. The 1Password iPad browser doesn’t work as well as Safari for some sights, but it works well enough for me to take attendance without having to type my log in information in every period.

Other Apps

PCalc: I teach physics, PCalc is the best calculator.

iBooks: I don’t read many books on my iPad, but I reference a ton of PDFs.

YouTube and Videos: These apps support VGA output so I can share videos with my classes.


I still use my school-issued tablet when I want to demonstrate how to solve physics problems. I was given an Acase iPad stylus for Christmas. It works better for writing equations than the Pogo Sketch, but I wish it had a finer point. The best note taking application that I’ve found so far that supports VGA output is PenUltimate. However, I plan to try Note Taker HD soon. If you have any recommendations for another stylus or app that would be well suited for writing equations as well as drawing diagrams, please let me know!

There are many excellent physics simulations available ([PhET]( and [OpenSource Physics]( However, they require either Flash or Java. I’m tempted to compile my own Java interpreter so I can at least run some of the simulations but I really have better things to do. Hopefully, someone figures out a solution that is compatible with Apple’s application requirements regarding interpreters.

I occasionally wish I could display something via an LCD projector in an app that doesn’t suport VGA output. It would be great if the iPad supported universal VGA output (without jailbreaking it). It would be even better if it supported wireless LCD projectors (like the Epson one in my room).


Overall, I’m quite pleased with my iPad at school. I find that the benefits outweigh the limitations and I can go find my school-issued tablet when needed. Rather than replacing my first generation Intel-based MacBook Pro this winter, I bought a 27″ iMac instead. The price of my iPad plus an iMac is less than a new MacBook Pro. In case you are wondering, I really like the 27″ screen.

3 thoughts on “How My iPad Replaced My Laptop

  1. Tony VA

    As a new ipad owner who is hoping to use it extensively in my teaching, I appreciated your ideas.

    As for integrating dropbox with iwork apps, last night I discovered DropDAV (, following the directions I found at another site. It works beautifully–I saved a Keynote and a Pages doc to my Dropbox, then opened them again both on the ipad and on my MacBook. A great fix, and I’m now planning to rely on DropBox for all my school-related files.

    As for writing equations in the classroom wirelessly, check out Airsketch–it allows you to wander around the room writing on the iPad if you have a desktop computer in the room connected to the projector (it creates a live webpage, I believe, and projects that through the desktop).

  2. geoff Post author

    Thanks for mentioning Air Sketch. I will investigate it. I’ve been using Note Taker HD very successfully. While its interface is dramatically different than most iPad apps, its feature set (especially zoomed editing, PDF annotations, and export as PDF) is exactly what I need.

  3. Susan Sedro

    Thanks for posting on this topic. We are researching that right now and your perspective is really useful. I think much of what you are doing is applicable in an elementary classroom.


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