A Year in the Life of the 12in iPad Pro

It has been about a year since adding the 12in iPad Pro to my stable; letters, lessons, and lunges abound.

Many words have been written by others regarding their iPad Pro usage, and mine could just as easily get lost in the noise. To that end, I’ll continue to approach these iPad Pro experiences in a slightly different framing. Some of these activities have been well established by others; others have not been as explored. In this 1 year look back, I hope to convey some of what I agree with or have learned for myself.

There are other lessons about what being tablet-focused can provoke, and I’m still learning these. Much of these lessons actually have less to do with the iPad but what the intentions of what I produce on it should look like. Lastly, I’m going to focus on what using this iPad means for me going forward. Part of that might be newer iterations; much of that is interacting in depths beyond what this large glass pane allows.

Off we go…


Letters Well Established

The iPad isn’t a creation device, but you can…

As much as that’s been said, I’ve been one to say and perform the opposite. A good friend will usually point out that I’m more or less messing with letters and pictures, I’m not coding apps, rarely touching code for websites, and I am not musically inclined enough to make a collection of notes into something pleasing. Still, I create, in my own way. I would assume that the blank canvas nature of the iPad has shown others the opportunities and limits of such.

Of the aspects well established in my use of the iPad Pro, there are several where I basically don’t like going back to a conventional laptop or computing platform:

  • Almost all notes are taken/sketched on the iPad; Penultimate/Evernote and 53's Paper are the top apps I use for this; LiquidText has risen to doing the kind of mixed media (links, ink, PDFs, limited sharing) I wish had come to my devices earlier
  • The Pro has replaced the need for a TV; between Amazon, Netflix, and YouTube, just about all bases are covered (live sports is my big miss). I’ve also learned to appreciate not seeing shows when they happen
  • Outside of design and other projects, I spend a decent amount of time teaching SharePoint and Excel, the apps taking me outside of those frames (Pixxa’s Perspective, LiquidText, Evernote/Penultimate, Paper, etc.) have basically made me a two-faced consultant — teaching a method I’ve left, living/developing methods fitting the way work actually happens (for example, painting with Trello)
  • For better or worse, my abilities of work outside of desks or offices is amplified by the pleasant battery life. Though noticing that screen brightness being pushed over the 50% mark takes a huge chunk out of the after-lunch productivity. In reflection, I think the 12in Pro makes for a better excuse of having many mobile/virtual workspaces. That I can work deep thgouht pieces in a laid back manner, switch to a cafe for writing pieces, or to a desk for collaborative/synthesis-type moments is great. The device swings those roles quite well.

I make a lot of letters and connections between them. For how I work, and for the pieces of which people usually request my output, the iPad Pro hasn’t just fit the bill, it’s created spaces for me to make better decisions about the work that’s necessary and the work that isn’t.


Lessons To Learn Still

Just because you can do it on a tablet doesn’t make the tablet necessary…

A few times a month, I arrive at a client workspace to teach and ask again if I will allow myself to not do the class on the iPad Pro. But, the iPad isn’t able to do the class as needed. While it has the horsepower and hardware, it doesn’t have the apps in the right framing. It’s this which keeps coming up pulling backward — and rightly so — on my approaches to use this iPad Pro for productivity.

Earlier in the year, I created a calculator of sorts on a spreadsheet that would be used for a few UX and development needs. For me, it was easier to create what was needed into a spreadsheet rather than other methods. However, building it was very difficult on the Pro. From not being accustomed to navigating, to needing to see more than the app could show even when connected to a second screen, I was limited. And that was just a calculator. Going beyond that context towards classes, I can’t teach the higher level features of some apps because the iOS versions just don’t have them.

As written previously, I can do a chunk of UX/SDX assets on the iPad, but I’m limited in fidelity to some items, or to consumption/presentation assets for many discussions. This is a limitation more of the tools than the hardware, but unless I become a developer (or befriend several who want to run with providing the iPad good in this space) these kinds of limitations can potentially affect not just the work I do, but an ability to evolve with those roles to other spaces.

Then there’s the quieter times. The Pro isn’t actually a bad device for reading, until you get comfortable. It’s big. And then it’s heavy when you realize it’s big. Plus, there’s a lot of light on that screen. I ended up purchasing a Kindle Paperwhite for longer form reading (RSS, reports, etc.) and let the Pro just be a device where I can connect the dots beyond the reading. It can challenge some paradigms a bit more than you’d give it credit for if not careful.

I would love for there to be better software for things like web development — don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind coding, I just mind coding-centric approaches. I’d like to see more like Perspective; apps that push towards wider and deeper views of data, making manipulation less about knowing functions and formulas, it about controllers which act like them. We might get there, but those kinds of professional apps aren’t quite here yet.

Until they are, my productivity can be considered full-yet-stunted. There’s much left to pull out of this canvas.


Lunges Forward

The iPad is the clearest vision of personal computing…

It’s very easy to fall into the marketing speak for just about any product these days. From the cars and beer that’s supposed to make you sexually mountainous to the idea that one cannot get into a quiet place without an off-road form of transport and series of meditation notifications. For lack of better words, much about what makes a great product is not defined by the person(s) using it and what they are producing, but by the marketing and brands which put forth their best vision of the product you are supposed to sit within. And that’s where I think the iPad bucks the normal. It morphs into its owner’s needs, not necessarily the other way around.

In terms of the way forward, I’m looking forward to continuing to push the iPad as a workstation — hoping that it’s one of the last non-AR-enabled surfaces I consider bending productivity towards. The software has to get better in that respect. Not just the ability to create communicative ideas as I’m doing now, but to bend into the code and connections that are final-production-product ready. I don’t know that it willl work like the mouse-keyboard framing, but it wouldn’t be different from that entirely. The iPad should push productivity differently, and it will challenge what’s become normative.

It cannot do that if the software stays as it is. Others have spoken in details the items which need shifting forward. And I think Apple is listening, but slowly. Being driven by hardware is one thing, software working for many — growing extendable for others when it’s not mature — is a hard act to run with. For the mobile it’s probably easier; which makes it key Apple gets right anything it tweaks in this iPad frame.

I look forward to more accessories like the Apple Pencil and AirPods making the iPad not just approachable, but bending the user into a different frame of mind when it comes to what mental administration is required for accessories. That Pencil charges from the iPad and the iPad still has more than enough battery life for a 8hr workday will seem normal. That the AirPods connect easily, swinging from Watch/iPhone to the iPad is great — I wonder when then software hack comes that adds white noise behind them when you are working or on a call and need more directed sound?


Conclusion

A little more than a year ago, I purchased the 12in iPad Pro as I was looking to shift into a new project and wanted the perspective of designing on a device that would represent the one of the eventual devices those users would be utilizing. I met a good bit of success doing this and therefore my approach to using the iPad Pro as workstation and television continued. There have been some interesting moments, and it’s use has certainly challenged some of what I considered normal for computing. Still, I am excited about pulling this out each day whether it’s work or pleasure.

Let’s see what the future offers… while continuing to pen a decent view of the present.

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