About That iPad Pro…..

Several weeks ago, I decided that I was tired of not having a laptop. That’s kind of a strange thing for me to admit, because when the iPad entered the market back in 2010, I actually swore off laptops forever. For years, my main computing devices have been a 2012 Mac mini as my workhorse home machine, an iPhone for the mundane every tasks, and an iPad for “mobile computing”. That worked out fine most of the time, but I started running into a few issues:

  1. A Mac mini is still a desktop computer and not super portable unless you want to bring a monitor, keyboard, and mouse with you.
  2. Mac minis don’t get updated often and mine seemed to be showing its age pretty quickly. It was starting to struggle with its normal podcasting duties and was costing me lots of extra editing and syncing time after recordings, sometimes entire Sunday afternoons.
  3. There is still not a good workflow for iOS to record double ended podcasts with hosts in different locations. I have seen some workarounds for bending iOS to your will to get this to happen, but they are time consuming and impractical and do not preserve the audio quality we try to attain on The Campfire Project. Even though my Apogee MiC came bundled with a lightning cable specifically for iOS devices, it doesn’t solve 99% of the other problems I have with podcasting on an iOS device.
  4. Typing anything of length on the iPad on-screen keyboard sucks. (More on this in a moment.) In some situations, I found myself opting not to write at all rather than suffering through writing a piece on the iPad.
  5. Multi-tasking on the iPad, even in iOS 9, is not optimal. (More on this later as well.)

The result of all this was that I was using my Mac mini for most “productivity” type tasks, and my iPhone for everything else. Because I no longer have a long commute to work, which was the original reason I bought an iPad, my iPad Air was mostly just hanging out in my backpack unused. I would occasionally get it out to watch Netflix in bed, but even that decreased once I got an iPhone with a larger screen. It turns out that if I’m not going to watch TV or movies on the large HDTV, the larger iPhone is a much more comfortable option while laying in bed than the iPad ever was.

I decided to try something drastic to revive my interest in my iPad and avoid spending money on a new computer: I got a keyboard case. In fact, I went one step further than that and put the latest iOS 9 public beta on my iPad Air to be able to take advantage of at least some of the new features iOS 9 would have to offer on the iPad. It was a fairly recent build and ran pretty smoothly. I had no complaints about iOS 9 itself. The picture in picture feature was really nice when I had a video on and wanted to do something else. The slide over function was very useful if I had a video on and wanted to do something else. (Do you see the pattern here?) Because I did not have an iPad Air 2, I was not able to try the split view out, but it seems like a nice addition — very similar, if not identical, to the split view in OS X El Capitan. But all in all, everything new I was seeing in iOS 9 looked to be a step toward making this a productivity machine for me…….until I started trying to use it as a laptop.

My first thought was that on nice days, sporting my new iPad keyboard case, I could now work out on the patio or at least in the sunny living room rather than in my cold basement at a desk. I work from home full time, and the only thing ever keeping me from doing this is the weather. Then I got to thinking — my company is largely dependent on Skype for Business as our in-office messenger. On iOS it’s still called Microsoft Lync, but it’s basically the same thing. The problem is that if you minimize it to the multitasking bar in iOS, it shows you as away or offline. If it’s not front and center on the screen in iOS, your co-workers think you’re gone. More importantly, your bosses think you’re gone. And when you work from home full time, it’s very important that your boss doesn’t think you’re MIA. This could be fixed with a software update, but given the slow progress of updates for chat messengers in iOS, I’m not holding my breath.

We also rely a lot on conferencing, whether that’s through WebEx, Skype for Business, or whatever other software our different departments use. We have to be able to screen share with each other and with our clients for the sake of collaboration, and we have to be able to have more than two things on our screens at the same time. Maybe I’m in a conference call and displaying someone else’s screen on one monitor while I’m answering questions or multitasking on other things on another monitor. My point is that I have to be able to be versatile, and judging by the companies I’ve worked for in the last few years, this is the rule rather than the exception. People aren’t doing their office work on dinky 13" screens on a mobile OS — they’re doing it on full blown computers with one or two large monitors, and they’re usually doing more than two things at once. We need to be honest with ourselves here: a 13" inch iPad is a really big iPad. It is NOT a really big computer monitor.

Ok, so using my iPad as an impromptu workstation was out. No big deal. Surely I could still get some writing done on it, right? That was the intent, anyway. When I bought the keyboard for my iPad, the main purpose was long form writing. But within a couple of days I became frustrated with the concept of typing for input but touching the screen for selecting and editing. While swiping around on the screen I would accidentally edit things and then not be able to tell what I did. The copy and paste function while the iPad was sitting upright was wonky because I would end up knocking the iPad backwards while trying to manipulate text with my fingers. And perhaps even more importantly, iPad with keyboard cases are not ideal for typing on anything other than a table top. The new Smart Keyboard for the iPad Pro really doesn’t seem to fix that.

Then there’s the podcast issue, which is really what this all boils down to for me. When I podcast, I hook my computer up to two giant widescreen displays, I switch to a full blown bluetooth mouse and keyboard, and I set things up as if I’m in a real sound booth. I run GarageBand on one screen for recording, syncing, editing, mixing, etc. It acts as my “board”. While we’re having the actual conversation Skype, GarageBand is recording my local audio on one monitor, and on the other monitor I have Piezo recording our Skype conversation. I also have any notes, other needed programs for that particular show, and maybe a web browser open on the second monitor. The Piezo recording goes right to a specified file location on my computer when it’s done recording, and I instantly drag and drop that into GarageBand. Matt sends me his audio in Dropbox, and I drag and drop that into GarageBand. When I’m done editing, I export the audio directly to an MP3 in a specified directory, and upload that to our hosting site.

I have been scouring the internet over the last few weeks to see if there’s any semblance of this workflow that I could duplicate with ease on iOS. There just isn’t. I know that in regards to podcasting I’m an outlier use case; most people don’t do weekly podcasts, and most people probably never even bother opening GarageBand on their Macs. But Apple called their new machine an iPad Pro, so shouldn’t I be able to do all my pro stuff on it? And the pro things I want to do are barely pro things. They’re daily mundane office functions and some light recording. Honestly, podcasting in GarageBand these days is not much more complicated than clicking and dragging. But while OS X excels in these things, iOS lags sorely behind.

The end result of all this was that I chose to sell my aging Mac mini and iPad Air, and use the proceeds to purchase a 2015 13" MacBook Pro. It is the thinnest, lightest, most beautiful laptop I have ever used with the most stunning display I’ve ever seen. It packs the power of my desktop machine and the (relatively speaking) portability of my iPad Air all into one gadget and makes zero compromises in functionality.

I’m passionate about this topic, because I feel like the entire tech world has gone mad. If you have Google searched “iPad Pro” over the last week, you’d think that laptops and desktops will be a thing of the past by the end of 2015. To disprove that theory, just install a build of OS X El Capitan on your nearest Mac. Use the split screen function to put Safari on one half of your screen and iMessage on the other half. The two apps split your screen and both go into full screen mode. You can’t access any other apps without exiting full screen mode and minimizing one of the apps. You now have an iPad Pro on iOS 9.

Are you happy with that setup? I didn’t think you would be. A lot of people who watched that iPad Pro introduction on their Apple TVs, iPad Airs, iPhones, and *gasp* computers, probably thought it was the cure all for iPad productivity. It’s not. Productivity on the iPad is a shiny new concept for a shiny new gadget, but I have trouble imagining it, at least in its current form, as a reality. Apple needs to take the software and hardware a LOT further before it’s ready for prime time.