2 Days in: iPad Pro as Primary Computer
I have an addiction to living in the future. When I saw what the iPad Pro was shaping up to be, I knew I had to have it. In fact, I started to think it was probably the best work machine for many people I know: it’s portable, it has a fantastic screen, it’s an iPad when you want it to be and a laptop when you need to get work done.
I couldn’t have made this jump a few years ago: this is not the full-time machine for someone writing software. But I live in the world of Keynote, Trello, Google Docs, and Excel these days: all I need is a keyboard and an Internet connection and I’m good to go.
Getting the setup
I ordered my iPad Pro and Smart Keyboard and Pencil (yes, the whole set) as soon as I could, but while the iPad arrived weeks ago, I still don’t know when the original peripherals I ordered might ship. In a very surreal series of events, I went to the Apple Store to ask if they get any inventory of the Pencil or Keyboard. They said they did, but it came in and went out in minutes, and they couldn’t predict it. Given that I have a job and a life and can’t camp out in an Apple Store, I went on CraigsList and hunted around. Sure enough, I eventually found a guy I now affectionately call “my sketchy Apple stuff guy,” who somehow is able to get ahold of all the new stuff (for a price). I did ask how, and he gave me a legitimate answer that I’m not interested in being particularly skeptical about. So as of this past weekend, I was able to get both my Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil, and my setup was complete.
Until I was 17, my entire life was art. I spent most of high school preparing an illustration portfolio for my inevitable pursuits of a BFA. I left that behind for a degree in Japanese and a career with computers, but my mom has periodically asked me, ever since, whether I’m still drawing. The answer is yes, but very infrequently — and I think that’s about to change. The Pencil is as good as billed, and that’s a really big deal. I haven’t had a way to really scratch my artistic itch, without devoting a lot of resources and space (NYC apartments are small), but suddenly it’s as easy as picking up the Pencil. I spent an hour in the Procreate app, and to my surprise and delight, I still have it.
When I first tried the keyboard in an Apple Store, I was skeptical. It feels odd, as if the keys are too small and have an odd texture. Two days in, I’ve built a 20-slide Keynote presentation, written dozens of emails, copy edited several documents, and taken reams of notes. I haven’t gone onto TypeRacer to see if I can still hit 130 WPM, but the keyboard is completely sufficient for a typing-heavy workload.
This is one of the places the experience is less than perfect. With some notable exceptions (I’m looking at you LinkedIn), iPad apps work fine on the Pro, but many of them aren’t optimized either for the resolution or for the form factor. Google’s apps have become a large part of my life, and none of them are particularly pleasant to use. I’m actually back to using the built-in Mail app, because it’s such an unpleasant experience to use the Inbox or Gmail apps for email on this device (they’re ugly, they don’t use the screen real estate well, and they don’t support keyboard shortcuts). The third party apps that I’ve found really do an amazing job with this device:
- Tweetbot (sweet activity pane when full-screen)
- Trello (native resolution, though I’d love them to try split-screen)
I’m sold. While I was hoping more of the apps would be optimized for the Pro, everything I rely on works sufficiently well. On top of that, this device deeply satisfies my Less is More obsession: I have gone from carrying a MacBook + iPad Air 2 + Moleskine to just carrying the iPad Pro. I got the version with a cellular connection, so no more tethering something to my iPhone, and I’m keeping either Notes or Slack up in a split-screen through a lot of my day, housing my daily ongoing checklist and allowing me to talk to my team while staying focused. Typing notes in meetings is a little more intrusive than jotting in a notebook, but the upside of having things searchable and shareable is really compelling. And with the pencil I can sketch diagrams too! The battery lasts a very long time (and also takes a long time to charge — I keep it plugged in when possible, like a laptop).
While the iPad as a whole is going through an awkward phase, this feels like the end game. App developers need to realize that this is the platform of the future, and get their apps optimized for the iPad Pro. Apps should support split screen usage, native resolution, and take advantage of a laptop-level amount of screen real estate. Apple, for their part, really needs to figure out trial versions of paid apps: the controversy that’s been raging about the Mac AppStore is going to get worse with this platform, because I want full-on productivity apps, but it’s really hard to justify spending $12.99 to buy an app that may or may not be what I need. It’s time to fix this.
And of course, it’s buggy. A few times a day, I need pop the iPad off the keyboard and back on, because somehow the OS has forgotten about it and is showing the on-screen keyboard. Animations (particularly launching and minimizing apps) are jerky and ugly. The app icons are clearly just blown up a little too large, the dock ought to support at least 2 more apps in it, and unread counts are positioned in this we-didn’t-bother-to-optimize-it-yet place that looks like they’re about to fall off of the app they’re on.
This is an amazing device, and I don’t intend to go back (except to write code, unless I find a great iPad editor — but I’d like my Emacs, thank you very much). Cellular internet access is a surprisingly compelling feature, and ever since I had it on my first iPad, I’ve been saying that it makes a large-screen device qualitatively different: you can sit down in a coffee shop, pull out your iPad, and just be working, reading, creating, without even thinking. And while I wouldn’t have thought of myself as a pro-convergence-device guy, being able to read in the Books app, do all of my work, browse Twitter natively, and drop into a sketching app to decompress and do some artwork is just an amazing experience.