The iPad Pro Problem

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I’ve been using an iPad Pro 10.5 for the last few months as my primary personal computing device. I know it’s a pretty popular question: can an iPad Pro really replace my laptop? Apple unequivocally says yes, and I actually mostly agree, but there’s more going on here than that simple question. Maybe an iPad Pro can function as your personal computer or maybe it can’t, I can’t answer that question for you. But I’ll tell you about my personal deliberations on the subject.

I bought the new iPad Pro 10.5 as soon as it was up for pre-order. I had been using the 9.7 inch iPad Pro for several months previous with mixed feelings, but I was psyched about the new 10.5 inch model. The extra screen real estate, the incredible ‘Pro Motion’ display, the faster Touch ID sensor, it looked like the ultimate solution for my personal computing. I was hoping to find the best of both worlds, a beautiful pairing of consuming and producing, play and work. Here’s what I found:

I really love iPads for consuming. There is nothing more desirable than curling up on a comfy chair with an iPad to read my Kindle books, research the latest tech news, watch a show, etc.  The ‘comfy factor’ is a functioning category for my technological devices, and the iPad reigns there. It’s so easy to hold, feels so perfect in the hand, so wonderfully cold to the touch…. I’m getting carried away, but suffice it to say, the iPad is the perfect consumption device. That’s a big plus because, let’s be honest, we all do a fair amount of consuming. I re-kindled (pun!) my love of reading because of the iPad, I use it to play some of the amazing games iOS offers these days, and it’s fantastic for watching a game or Netflix in bed.

Just like every other iPad I’ve tried the iPad Pro 10.5 is amazing for consumption. It’s actually the best device for consumption, mostly because of the Pro Motion display. If you have a 9.7 inch iPad that you use regularly and little cash to burn, buy the iPad Pro 10.5 for the Pro Motion display alone. I’m not often taken aback by a device anymore, but this iPad made me melt when I first laid hands on it. Watching movies, playing games, even reading, everything feels unbelievably responsive and beautiful on this display. Many have commented that If you want an entertainment device, just buy the cheaper iPad, which at $329 is formidable. I lean the other way, if there’s a better, more immersive and capable device, it’s worth the premium pricing. Even if you buy the iPad Pro 10.5 only for consuming, it’s a great investment. It’s the best possible consumption device.

The iPad also has an incredible ‘coolness’ factor. There’s the ‘social coolness’: in the past, you really needed a MacBook with you in order to sit in a cafe and feel acceptable. Since the launch of the new iPad Pros I’m seeing more and more iPads in my frequented cafes and they don’t look dumb like a five pound windows laptop, they look awesome, like they belong. I feel so ‘cutting edge’ when I pull out the iPad in the cafe. And I’m pretty sure people notice. There’s also the ‘self gratifying coolness’: I can do so much stuff on this svelte slab of metal and glass and I can do it for longer than I could with a MacBook! There’s a real nerd high that comes with the portability, functionality, and pleasurable UI that the iPad Pro offers. So much potential!

It’s called the iPad Pro though, which carries certain implications beyond consuming and looking cool. Apple has not been shy about the ability of the iPad Pro to replace your laptop as a productivity device. This is where it gets a little tricky. For many, an iPad Pro can’t replace a laptop because of the obvious fact that it doesn’t run legacy apps. I can’t use an iPad Pro for my full time job because it simply doesn’t have the capability to run the massive and bloated software ‘solution’ that my industry uses. I have a locked up windows laptop for that. It’s not helpful to argue about whether or not an iPad Pro can replace everyone’s laptop because it definitely can’t, not for everyone. However, I also have a personal computer that I use for everything besides my full time job (blogging/writing, budgeting, browsing, emailing, researching), and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. There are also many careers that don’t require the use of loaded legacy apps. Is the iPad Pro a viable solution for all of those people?

The scary thing about ditching a tradition laptop for the iPad is not knowing how much function you’ll lose. For those of us who want to use the iPad for simple personal computing or for the professionals who don’t need legacy stuff, the iPad Pro is more capable than you might think. The basic things, email, calendar, chat, are probably a better experience on the iPad than on a traditional computer (though I still like my MacBook for these things). File management (which will be helped by iOS 11), anything that requires a full browser, writing/blogging, and more specific tasks are things that may cause some frustration. Not because you can’t do any of them, there is a workaround for just about everything, but because it’s harder to do them. One example: I religiously use YNAB to keep track of my finances. It’s awesome. However, only the desktop web version has the ability to import transactions, and I’m not about to sit at my iPad and manually enter a transaction every time I swipe my card. My workaround? I open YNAB on the iPad in Chrome (because it won’t work in Safari), request the desktop site (which mostly works but it’s super clunky), and import transactions. Then I go to the YNAB app (a much better interface, but definitely limited) to sort and categorize them all. When I run into any transaction that’s a little more complicated I give up and start playing Clash Royal. This in essence is my experience with the iPad Pro: I start consuming and I fall in love, I get the nerd high thinking about all the productive things I can accomplish with my new, multi-functional iPad, I try doing something productive for about five minutes until I run into another situation that requires some sort of workaround, I open up the game folder or Kindle app and I’m back to consuming, which is really great on this iPad.

The basic problem with the iPad Pro as a laptop replacement is that it’s a combination of the ultimate consuming machine and an interface that requires a series of workarounds to do anything productive. Those two things just don’t mix well if you need to be productive with your ‘laptop’. I’m not saying it can’t be done, it seems like more and more people are making it work (although almost all of them still have MacBooks), but I’m not ready to invest whatever time and mental energy it’s going to take to get there. The simple fact is that when I use an iPad as my personal computer I play, when I use a MacBook as my personal computer I catchup on all of the things I had been ignoring while I was playing on my iPad.

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