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iPad Pro Computer Part 2: Victory in Defeat

Alright, so I have a problem. On the very last day of my return eligibility for the iPad, I panicked, hit the reset button, hustled to the Apple Store, and gave it back. I know, I know, not a great start for a post about using the iPad as a primary computing device. Let me try to rationalize this, in both of our minds, because mine seems a little cloudy sometimes.

First, I really want to love working on an iPad Pro. The idea of a computer as a slab of glass and aluminum which you can manipulate with your hand (or Pencil) is super alluring. It looks awesome, and it seems productive too. It also features cellular connectivity (if you pay for it) for extra usability on the go. It’s light, portable, svelte, always on, always connected, it’s got some real appeal. Apple has also made progress in iPad productivity with iOS 11, compelling internal upgrades (like 4gb ram), and awesome new features (like ProMotion). Unfortunately, progress doesn’t necessarily translate into a great work solution. I love the idea of working on an iPad, probably too much, but the idea has proved insufficient.

Second, working on an iPad Pro is super hard. I knew this going in, sort of; I knew that some things on the iPad would be a little harder to do. I was thinking/hoping that the harder things would also be more enjoyable, and maybe more engaging for that reason. That, even though it might take a little extra time and effort, I would still be more productive overall because I wouldn’t get distracted or avoid less exciting tasks. You just have to embrace the beauty in the difficulty! To be specific, by ‘harder things’ I mean something like taking a file received in an email and sending it in a new email (not simply forwarding). This little workflow can absolutely be done on an iPad, it just takes an extra minute or two, a few extra taps, and a files app. Turns out there are hundreds of these little workflows which need to be figured out, then executed time after time. Many of them have something to do with the less-than-ideal file management system. I had the iPad for about a month, and I’ll say that for the first week or so it was kind of fun figuring out new ways to do things that used to be mundane and easy, but the fun turned into exhaustion pretty quickly. Instead of diving into my newfound, slightly more tricky workflows, I started putting things off. I even started using my super crappy little work laptop for things it has no business doing. If there ever was an indictment against the iPad, that’s it. One caveat: iOS offers a Workflows app which can be helpful by automating some of the ‘little workflows’ I mentioned. However, simply creating a workflow within the Workflow app is tedious. I’m fairly adept with technology, but the Workflows app isn’t something I’ve been able to simply pick up and start using, and I’m not up for whatever amount of work it would take to make it useful.

Third, working on an iPad is restrictive. The glory of the iPad Pro is the App Store, and its bane is the mobile browser. Besides the handsome hardware, the allure of productivity on the iPad Pro lies in the wealth of creativity, ingenuity, and simplicity encompassed in the App Store. There is an unbelievable amount of developmental work focused on the App Store, it’s where most innovation is happening now. ‘Cutting edge’ might be a good way to summarize it. Let me tell you, I love the ‘cutting edge,’ who doesn’t? That’s a huge pull. But there’s a flipside, an ugly underbelly, (that’s not fair, it’s not ugly, just annoying), the mobile browser. iPad Pro is pure iOS, and for all the glories it entails, it also means we’re stuck with the mobile version of Safari, or Chrome, or any other browser you fancy. I wrote Part 1 on my iPad Pro using mobile Safari, and it worked, but it was the worst. No plugins, websites that skip out on features, the fact that you have to touch everything, it’s just messy. A mobile browser has to make too many compromises both ways, it still has to feature lots of tiny buttons because – websites, but it also has to be touch optimized which involves dumbing everything down to make it easier to manipulate without a cursor. On an iPhone I get it, the mobile version of Safari is better on a small screen, but on an iPad Pro I want all the functionality. Once again, there are workarounds, like the ‘Request Desktop Site’ option in Safari’s share extension (which is inconsistent at best), but I didn’t find any to be remotely sufficient. This ‘dumbing down’ (maybe ‘simplifying’ would be a nicer way to say it) is a theme throughout iOS. Though the browser may be the worst offender, simplification and scant features are prominent throughout. The apps are mostly fantastic, but almost always scaled down versions of a web app or desktop app. That’s kind of how the App Store has functioned since it’s conception, it’s by design, but I think when it comes to the iPad Pro it’s a flawed design. In its hardware, the iPad Pro is a professional device boasting some impressive specs, its OS lacks. This is not to say the battle is over, iOS specifically for iPad went through its first major update with iOS 11, and Apple shows no evidence of slowing down. But at this point, the limitations begin to feel suffocating. On my primary professional device, I still want all of the functionality.

Third, working on a MacBook is super easy. I call it ‘victory in defeat’ because there is a positive side; while the latest iPad Pro experiment ended in disappointment, my affections for the MacBook have been rekindled. I have a new appreciation for the power and capability of a desktop OS. As I consider the frustrations presented by working on an iPad, the vast majority of them fit into two main categories: difficult workflows and stripped down apps, each of which is easily remedied by Mac OS. Do I miss the ultra-portability and continual connectivity? Sure, but I also feel free. And I learned a valuable lesson: for me, the capability of the OS is more important than the portability, or even connectivity, of the hardware.

At some point, Apple has to give us some sort of merger between Mac OS and iOS, whether that’s access to the App Store on Mac OS, or a full desktop browser and better file management in iOS, it just makes too much sense. Maybe someday. In the meantime, I’ll take the MacBook and get back to work.

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iPad Pro Computer Part 1

Intro:
Here’s the deal, I can’t stay away from the iPad Pro. I don’t mean iPad Pro as in ‘nice tablet for reading and gaming,’ I mean as a primary device. It’s more like a ditch-the-MacBook-and-go-all-in-on-the-iPad-Pro type of pull. I have a mind block (we can talk about that later) that won’t let me own more than two devices, so it’s either iPhone and MacBook, or iPhone and iPad Pro. My practical side insists that I stick with the MacBook, that way I get iOS needs met with the iPhone and still get all of the functionality of Mac OS, but my adventurous fun side keeps pulling me back to the iPad Pro. So here’s the goal: convince my practical side that the iPad Pro has all of the capability and function that I need, while also being super fun and exciting to use.

Full disclosure, this is like the 4th time I’ve bought the iPad Pro with the intent of replacing a MacBook in the last 12 months. Every time I do it, I get a little bit closer to making it work. It’s been about 3 weeks so far this time, long enough to start writing, and I’ve gone through enough different use cases (travel, different work scenarios, personal finances) to make me think this could really be a long term solution.

There are others who have adapted the iPad Pro only mantra, but as far as I can tell they’re few and/or short lived, or they’re not writing about it. Maybe that will be me too, no guarantees, but going all iPad Pro is my long term plan. Maybe the fact that I keep coming back despite the objections of my practical side is a good thing!

Loadout:
I decided to go with the 12.9 variant because of the extra screen real estate and better battery life. Since the iPad is all I’ve got (no MacBook to fall back on) the larger screen is handy. Basically it means I can see more at once, multitasking is a little better (the 12.9 will run full instances of iPad apps side by side instead of pairing them down to iPhone equivalents like the 10.5 does), and I don’t have to slouch over as much when I’m using it. It’s tough to say how much better the battery life really is, Apple claims both models put out 10 hours, all I can say is this thing will easily go two days of pretty heavy use.

For a keyboard I’m sporting the Apple Smart Keyboard. There are other great laptop-like alternatives but for now I’m sticking with the name brand because of it’s size. I love how thin and light it is. I also love the fact that I can pull it off when I want to read or watch a movie, or use it in bed or on the couch. It’s more versatile than the more laptop-like keyboards out there. I also like the soft touch keys more than I thought I would. They’ve got a little bit of extra travel compared to the current MacBook lineup and they’re not nearly as clackity (translated – loud).

I do have an Apple Pencil which I rarely use unless a PDF needs editing. I understand Apple likes to make nice things and then let developers/manufacturers fill in some of the blanks, but I’m still a little miffed at Apple’s apathy when it comes to keeping the Pencil with the iPad. I haven’t found a great solution for it yet. So far I’ve tried a magnetic sleeve from Amazon which I generally like, but which lacks enough magnetic pull to give me any sense of certainty that the pen will stay stuck to the iPad. The Twelve South Pencil Snap has had some positive buzz, so that may be joining the loadout at some point. For now the Pencil mostly stays in my bag.

I also grabbed a cheap back cover from Amazon to keep the iPad’s aluminum case in good shape. This I will vouch for. It’s cheap, it’s thin, it’s got a nice soft plastic feel, and it provides all the protection I wanted. It’s also obviously compatible with the Apple Smart Keyboard.

So that’s it, we’re off! I’ll have various uses cases, workarounds, applications, tips, and more in the weeks to come.

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The iPad Pro Problem

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.