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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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MacBook Pro (2016) from a Windows Perspective

Let me start by saying this, I really love my MacBook Pro (2016). The vibe I get from the reading I’ve done and even from people I’ve talked to makes me think I’m in the minority. It seems a defense is in order.

Before we dive in, I have a confession to make. Contrary to the incredible majority of tech writers, or just writers in general, I had never owned a MacBook Pro before 2016. Over the last 10 years I’ve used a plethora of different Widows laptops and convertibles to varying levels of satisfaction, though never enough satisfaction to keep one for more than about a year. Probably partly because of my tech fetish, and partly because of their shortcomings, I hopped around a lot. Point is, the perspective here is from Windowsland, not the glory days of the MacBook Pro.

MacBooks set the standard in design early in the millennia and most Windows laptop manufacturers have followed suit. However, no windows device that I’ve tried has quite met the standard, even Windows itself. They’re good, sure; better, definitely, but it’s impossible to miss some deficiencies. For instance, if you look at a Surface screen under light you can’t help but notice that the panel is not perfectly flat, it bends and waves. I’ve read that the reason could have to do with a technology that makes it better for touch but I don’t care, it’s supposed to be flat and it’s not. Other manufacturers have problems like hinges that loosen up over time, lids with either too much resistance or not enough, straight up bad touch pads, weird bezels (huge on the bottom), plastic all over the place, and the list goes on.

In my mind, you still can’t beat the design of the MacBook Pro in today’s market. It’s thin, it’s svelte, it’s all aluminum, it’s solid, and it looks amazing. MacBooks also tend to last forever, they’re expertly built without giving up any aesthetics. I love the look and feel of the MacBook Pro.

In the realm of UI, Windows and Mac OS do 95% of the same things, which one you choose is going to be largely subjective, or based on simple necessity (if you work in an office, chances are you’ll be tied in to Windows). My loyalties lie with Mac OS (for now).

Windows 10 has done a nice job with Windows 10 simplifying the options menus and trying to cut down on confusing parts, but it still feels like a thinly veiled beast which, as soon as you hit one too many buttons, will toss you into an endless sea of 1s and 0s. That’s an exaggeration, but it’s the feel I get. It tends to favor function over usability, options over simplicity. Mac OS is much closer to a mobile operating system in terms of ease of use. It’s still got all the raw power and functionality that a laptop should, but it’s guts are brilliantly shielded by a friendly OS which is more fun and more productive.

As far as function goes, I’ve spent an exorbitant amount on time on my Windows laptops trying to ‘fix’ things like weird scaling issues and other little glitches. It always feels like something isn’t quite right and it takes some sort of deep reprogramming job to get the machine to cooperate. Those are things I simply never have to deal with on my MacBook.

Windows has also made progress on the look of the OS, it’s far superior to what it has been in the past, but it steels feels disjointed. In its attempt to become more user friendly it has basically become two separate operating systems, the old confusing and ugly Windows vs the new sleek and usable Windows. The new menus and home screens look similar to each other, but the old look is still right below the surface, and you’re going to necessarily end up working there before you get too far. I’m out on the new design standard anyways. Too many sharp angels, weird gray menu, gaudy colors, constant moving tiles, adds, etc. Mac OS is beautiful. It has smooth graphics when opening and closing windows, its windows have rounded edges, the whole OS feels like a unified whole. It doesn’t matter which app or program you’re in, it will look like it belongs and it will look beautiful. That’s probably more important to me than it should be, but still true.

The apps might not be important to you, I mean, it’s a laptop. But I love the row of apps on my Mac menu bar. To be fair, Windows offers a few apps as well, just not nearly as many and they’re not nearly as useful. Honestly, Mac doesn’t have a ton of apps either, but I’ve found most of the basic apps I use on my iPhone available on my MacBook. The big winner here is iMessage. I can’t even tell you how great it is to have instant perfect syncing between iMessage on the iPhone and on my MacBook. I’m constantly texting people from this thing. It’s so addictively handy that iMessage alone is enough to keep me from moving to a different platform (for now). The apps are just one more thing that makes the MacBook a better laptop experience.

Overall the MacBook is a beautiful picture of simplicity. As someone who has the privilege of choosing between a MacBook or a Windows PC, the simple subjective fact that I love how the MacBook looks and feels compared to its Windows counterparts matters just as much as its functionality and productivity. For me, for now, this MacBook is as close to perfect as I can get.