iPad and the constant fear of missing out

I finally broke down and bought a 2016 MacBook Pro. And I’m not happy about it.

It’s not that I have a problem with Apple’s new lineup of MacBooks. The price isn’t super concerning to me. Apple showed with both the retina MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air that a new body design is synonymous with a price increase, but it will eventually settle down a few hundred dollars once the newness wears off. And while I’m not convinced the Touch Bar is the future of touch on a laptop, I don’t necessary think it’s a one note gimmick.

No, what I’m not happy about is I had my heart set on an iPad. I’ve been convinced that an iPad could replace my laptop for a very long time. When I was a student I bought the first generation, two of the second generation and a Mini. But I’ve never kept any of them. As a software engineer (and a wannabe writer), I’ve never been able to justify keeping an iPad because my laptop has always been more versatile. Dropping $500 on something that would be redundant to my laptop just wasn’t something I was willing to swallow.

But now that I’m a big boy with a big boy job that supplies a big boy work computer, I thought that now would be the perfect time to reevaluate the iPad as something I could use at home as a “fun computer”. My girlfriend has an iPad Air from her work, so I took it for a spin over the last few weekends to try and do the stuff I would normally do off the clock. With a bluetooth keyboard in hand, I put it to the test.

At first, I really thought I could get away with it. I make a lot of spreadsheets, both for pleasure and for reference. Numbers proved itself to be more than competent for my needs. Once I figured out where the designers hid functionality to make room for the screen, manipulating cells with my fingers felt as natural as using a cursor. I figured if I could feel good doing something as intricate as spreadsheets, everything else would be a breeze.

I plan on really starting to writing more, both creative works and blog posts, and the iPad is pretty good at these too. There’s plenty of apps that make writing on the iPad with a bluetooth keyboard not only useful, but also fun. I goofily envisioned myself taking my iPad around town, banging away at pieces wherever inspiration stuck me. But when it came to publishing content, I got a little anxious. There’s plenty of ways to publish content with an iPad, but I wouldn’t describe it as a seamless experience. Many apps, like Ulysses, have built in Wordpress or Medium publishing, but unless you want to set-up and design your blog on an iPad (which is a passable experience at best), you’d want a laptop. And for me personally, I didn’t feel comfortable with my work computer being that central hub.

The anxiety didn’t stop there. I always pause when I see reviewers praise the iPad for being a great internet browsing device. On one hand, it undeniably is. Every time I picked up the iPad from the coffee table to quickly search something, it felt, and I regret saying it, magical. However, when I wanted to do more research-intensive tasks on the iPad, I couldn’t help but feel I was missing out on something. Not only does the 9.7 inch screen feel cramped, but the browsing experience itself feels limited. I was constantly wondering if I was going to miss out of something because a website was designed with a cursor click in mind rather than touch. While many web apps are touch equipped, what if I ran into one that shoehorned it in? Browsing with this will-it-won’t-it worry is something I couldn’t quite get over.

I also felt constrained by the iPad’s form factor. Much has been written about how when real work needs to be done, the iPad doesn’t work great in the lap, but I also think it doesn’t do it many favors for leisure either. There’s no great solution to iPad usage in bed, as opposed to just setting a laptop on your stomach to watch videos. Propping up your legs and setting the iPad on it is a solution, but then you have to really commit to that position. I know it’s the epitome of first world problems, but it’s also a problem solved by just using a laptop.

And that’s what it really keeps coming down to for me. Just use a laptop. The iPad is a great gadget. Despite declining sales, I still think tablets have the potential to be the computer for most people. But I’m just not the kind of guy who tries to come up with workarounds to use something that’s just a little more portable, or a little more fun to use. As of now, the iPad is still a device of compromises.

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