Ipad or Macbook? Advice for writing please.

Hello all. New to Scrivener.

Both my wife and I are writing our novels.

We both have iMacs right now and are looking for a portable option for working on our novel’s outside our apartment.

My choices are a Macbook or a iPad. The iPad is cheaper and will also work with a few other applications like my wife’s knitting class to look at patterns. We would not be getting the 3G cell network version.

The other option is a Macbook. More money but I am thinking for all I want to do I will be much happier with a macbook as I could utilize a full version of Scrivener on it.

Your thoughts are appreciated. Has anyone done good work on a iPad?

Thanks in advance.


If you want to keep working on novels, choose a laptop because it will run Scrivener.
If you want a tool for taking notes and other uses, like knitting patterns, choose an iPad.
I love them both, but for different uses. Compromise: one of each?
And welcome to the forum.

You might want to read this thread on the MackBook Air.



What Druid said. If you do get an iPad for writing, be sure you get a Bluetooth keyboard to write with it. If one of your iMacs already has one, you can use that.

MacBook Air! If it’s for writing a MacBook Air has to win any day. Of course I’m a little biased seeing as you can run Scrivener on a MacBook, but the MBA is only a little wider than an iPad and is nearly as light (it probably works out lighter - and certainly less cumbersome - if you carry around an external keyboard with your iPad), so if budget allows the MBA should win for writing hands-down over the iPad.

However, lest I get accused of iPad-bashing (I like iPads honestly), it does come down to what you want it for. If you are still going to do most of your writing on your iMac and just want something for note-taking (provided you have an external keyboard - assuming you won’t be using it on trains or places with non-flat surfaces), and you want access to all the cool apps available for the iPad, and if you don’t want to spend too much for a very portable machine (especially if you’ll be doing most of of your writing or editing on the iMac), then the iPad is a great device.

So, if you’ll be doing most - or a lot - of your writing on it, go for a MacBook Air; if not, a lot of people find the iPad a great note-taking device. (I know some users may use the iPad as a full-on writing machine but I’m still not convinced. :slight_smile: )

All the best,

Get the Macbook, especially if the main thing that you want to do on it is write, besides as the theory goes, New iPads should be out in a couple of months, so if you don’t mind not having the latest and greatest wait and see, you may find a few people willing to let go of their current iPads in order to buy the new one.

Buy the tool that best fits the job.

If you were building a dog house by yourself a hammer and handsaw would be just fine. If you were building a house you might want Nail gun and power saw.

iPad = Hammer and handsaw. Lightweight, easy mobility.
Great for small projects and quick notes and such.

Macbook Air = Home power tools. Lighter weight than Macbook but does sacrifice some speed and “brute strength” but gives you better mobility.

Macbook Pro = Industrial Power tools. More cumbersome but more power and flexability than the iPad or Air but sacrifices mobility (weight and size) to offer more power.

With a nail gun you usually need an air tank and hose (non electrical version) and electrical cords for power tools but you have the power for about any task. If you have a hammer and handsaw your mobility is great but large tasks will become a burden due to the slow speed of progress.

My opinion is I would use a macbook. More flexability for other uses, the best performance and speed out of the 3 choices if you decide to do something else other than write text, and the Macbook is a good central hub to build a digital life around (supplement with iPad, ipod, iphone, Audio/Video, media files, central storage devices, networking, printing, etc.

PS: Even though the iPad can “print” its print options are very limited (due to the fact iOS4.2 just came out) so you might need to buy new printing hardware and your choice of printers is very limited, where as a macbook has better printing options available since its not a “new technology” that manufacturers have to adopt (Airprint).

I agree with null-Kevin; my MBA has been my best ever computer for writing in part because its lightness makes me take it with me more places. I’ve been happily using a 2nd gen Air with SSD that I picked up refurbished a year and a half ago. No doubt the advent of the new airs will cause more of the previous generation versions to come available cheap, maybe as cheap as that new MacBook you’re considering.

I’d go for an MBA, no question. I have the new 13", which, I am pleased to say, Wock, even though only 1.86 GHz, outstrips my 2.16 GHz Rev 1 MBP 17" by a long way in speed terms, and its screen resolution is brilliant – same as 15" MBP. Light, portable, speedy … the poor old MBP hasn’t been turned on for about a week, even when I’m at home. I was thinking of treating myself to a new one when I retire from Xiamen, but now I’m thinking differently … perhaps a good full-size monitor and a bluetooth keyboard and just use this as the computer, or else a MacMini set up as a home-network server.

I’d like to have an iPad, but can’t justify it. I was coming back from Fuzhou on the train last night, and a young woman in the row of seats in front pulled out an iPad and started playing games on it. It looked great, but I’m not a games player, and would never do that, not even to work on … looked too pretentious … bit like driving a Porsche Panamera or a Ferrari on the broken-up, congested roads of Xiamen!

But this MBA is unquestionably my favourite computer of all time. I’ve even come to prefer the keyboard to the one on the MBP (silver keys).


That’s what I decided, too. Scored a 24" apple display when the refurb store knocked $300 off, got the bluetooth keyboard (which I can also use with the iPad), ditched the tv in favor of streaming video to the Air and display, and now use the Air with monitor for most of my writing, without it when on the road or just taking notes, checking email etc, although much of that reading/jotting role is now shifting to the iPad.
Next year the question will be whether to upgrade to the newest air or instead , as you suggest, to buy the newest Mac mini to hold and stream my music library and be my desktop writing tool, and stream video to the display, reserving my current 2009 air for road warrior duty. It would also of course serve as a backup if my air fails or vanishes, but the iPad can now serve that function. Oh well, I cant afford a new computer for awhile anyway, so I guess we’ll have to see how the situation shapes up in future.

Is someone using InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator on his/her Air? I’m currently on a MBP 15", and am hesitant to switch to a smaller screen. But the excellent portability of the Air is really tempting me.


I’ve used Photoshop on the Air to create a many-layered image with some large source files, doing a lot of of cutting out, lasso and touch-up work on it, and that included creating and bringing in a pattern from InDesign. I was hesitant about installing these programs at all as I had read that the MBA wouldn’t handle these too well - but to my surprise and pleasure both of these programs loaded and ran much, much faster than they do on my MacBook. My Air is the 11" 1.6 Ghz model with maxed out RAM. My regular MacBook is a 13.3" silver one - the sort that got renamed to “MacBook Pro” about a year after I bought mine. My regular MacBook crawls next to my MBA.

Until I got my MBA, I had used my MacBook for everything - it’s my development machine, my iPhoto and iTunes library, and everything else. My plan for my MBA was that it would be my writing machine - I have no plans to install Xcode on it (as I do wonder whether building Scrivener thousands of times has slowed my MacBook down over the years). As with others here, it has quickly become my favourite machine ever (and I didn’t think anything would replace my old iBook 12" G4 in my heart, even though I retired it a few years ago). The screen is fantastic, and it’s so light and cool on the lap!

In the next month or so I’m going to invest in either a top of the line iMac or a Mac Pro for development and use my MBA for everything else.

All the best,

I’m not, as I can’t afford the upgrade, but given that the 13" MBA has a native screen resolution of 1440 x 900, which I think is the same as your 15" MBP, I would guess you wouldn’t have problems, especially with maxed out RAM and the biggest SSHD.

The only consideration I could think of would be: would you need a FireWire port, or would 2 USB 2 ports and an SD card slot do you?


The MBA will meet 99% of ANY need with the following adjustments to config or additional products.
• Max out RAM.
• Get largest SSD or a 500GB external (silent and portable model).
• Get an external key board, mouse. Prefer blue tooth and portable.
• Get full res 21" monitor for “workstation”.
• Set up a RAM disk for swap space (look on the net).

The 1% that can not use a MBA for everyday use will almost all be video codec or multi channel, realtime audio processing. These are almost 100% CPU bound tasks and they will need a mac pro (not a macBOOK pro, the real one).

But what do I know? I just a headless body looking for a place to eat.

Creative Suite on a MBA might feel a little sluggish. Of course if your projects are small the slower power may not make much of a difference to you. Like the headless one said it depends on the CPU demand.

Many average projects in Creative Suite would probably be sufficient. If it is a “production” machine you would go with the tower and not a laptop configuration to begin with.

The MBA is slower in some aspects and has the slower Core duo processor and less VRAM.

In many applications you would not notice the difference but anything that is CPU intensive or graphic intensive you would start to notice the difference.

So Audio processing, Large photoshop files, and graphic intensive games the differences would become galring apparent.

The big speed difference would be noticed with 10.7 if Apple further adopts the idea of offloading CPU cycles to the GPU.

The MBP has 2 video cards to better take advantage of this newer technology BUT the question is how much will Apple implement this in 10.7 Lion?

Wock I might disagree on one point: Most cpu intensive apps for photo processing rely on virtual mem for processing. Since this is normally on HD a MBA will actually show marked improvement due to its solid state drive over a MBP or MP using a standard disk for swap. Yes, the cpu should impact performance but access to the V-Mem will be a bigger factor in large file processing.

Video and audio codec, processing on the other hand, are actually lower in RAM consumption and higher in actual calculations. The streamed nature of the data drives the RAM requirement up which makes them both MEM and CPU intensive.

Anyone have a sandwich?

When I think of “photo intensive” apps I am thinking of when I apply multiple filters using actions in Photoshop. Since SSD is much faster than 5400/7200 (even 15K really) hard drive usage does improve speed noticeably (VM swapping) but when one has a large list of actions applying multiple filters on large files (>1G) that takes a lot of CPU calculations to accomplish (ie gaussion blur, watercolor, or "artistic filters) the MBA comes to a crawl compared to an i7 processor (taking into account both are maxed out on ram). But most people don’t use scripted actions to apply multiple filters at a given time or often in most scenarios, that is why I agreed with you. 99% of the time people are just making little PSD files and would not push the MBA beyond its limitations. The limitation of the small amount of HD space would make the 1% not even consider a MBA since the throughput of USB and firewire is so slow compared to internal 10/15K HDS compared to using an external drive.

Photoshop when using batch processing and multiple filter applications can be very intensive on hardware. (Hence why the Mac Pro Tower is such a hot seller in industrial application when not counting audio/video rendering)

I agree with Jaysen and Wock, the MBA should be just dandy for average Photoshop/Indesign stuff. As Wock points out production work quite often is handling huge files at high volumes and no laptop is bearable for production: some designers have Photoshop files with 60 or 70 layers and if a fair portion of those layers are effect layers the cpu and gpu are getting pulverized every time you move around the file. Production people like towers with 30" screens, internal RAIDs, and video cards that cost as much as a MBP for a reason. :smiley:

The other thing I would point out is that if you actually get a chance to handle a MacBook Air you will discover that it is quite simply a magnificent engineering design. Mr. Ive & Co. have hit one truly out of the park, here.


Thank you, folks, for all your answers.

This is something I could do as well. A Mac Pro for video and audio editing, and the MBA for writing and publishing, or anything else while out of my studio.

Another of my doubts is how the smaller size of the screen, paired with a higher resolution and no resolution independance, may affect eye fatigue.

Unfortunately, the lack of FireWire ports seems to prevent any serious audio and video work. Any pro audio interface I can think about is FW, as well as all fast external disks to be used to do video editing. I doubt I could use the Air as I do with my MBP (often docked as if it was a desktop Mac).

Great hints. The one I’m not sure about is the external bluetooth keyboard. Isn’t the Apple Wireless exctly the same as the MBA? I don’t think I would prefer it to my Das Keyboard while at the studio.

Well, usually I break up my projects in chapter not greater than 30 pages (or 30-40 MB, in InDesign terms). Maybe this is not too big for such a system.

After I stopped using my G5 tower, I discovered that I could work even better (with more silence, the office following me when moving to my committants’ offices…) by switching to the laptop. What a tower can offer in terms of pure speed, I found a laptop can give me in comfort. I’ve been working this way since a couple years, and I would love to continue working this way. Will an MBA be enough, or a tower will be needed for more taxing tasks? (I bet, it will).

All Creative Suite apps rely on large chunks of virtual memory. This should make the MBA shine. I don’t apply many filters (I don’t do photo editing), so it should work.

Best, Paolo

On the keyboard front:

The apple wireless is a combination of convenience and functionality; light enough to take with you to a “more than casual” work location such as a daily office, same format as the native to allow for less need to adapt to a different keyboard between uses, when used as a “workstation” the wireless allows for an easy adaption to desk environments with out the need for cables.

Any keyboard will work. I am just a fan of keeping things as similar as possible.