So far with… iPad Pro 10.5” and iOS 11

The mobile working dream continues, but it’s not quite lucid yet…

Let’s lay my cards on the table: It is my intention to eventually only work from an iPad and I will try as hard as I can to get there.


It’s lighter

When I think about the iPad being lightweight, it’s more the experience of moment to moment use than the literal newton impact.

My body has spent decades sitting in front of PC-style screens, spaffing around on forums, messing with games, screwing around on MSN Messenger, exploring Wikipedia, tweeting – and occasionally, working.

It’s not like I don’t know how to concentrate – but the furrows that funnel my attention toward those distractions are wrought deep on the surface of every computer desktop I see.

By contrast, when I load an app on an iPad, all I can see is the task in front of me.

As an avid fan of Getting Things Done, this means when I’m in “action” mode, I’m in action mode.

And the easier it is to get into action mode, the easier it is to find that ideal “flow” mode.

I prioritise this above almost all else. I think if you can get into this swing, you start to reach the best ideas, the depths where our profession touches upon being a finer craft than just shuffling paper.

So how does the new iPad and iOS 11 help?

iOS 11 – a more unconscious workflow

For me, the best improvement in iOS 11 so far is the dock and windowing.

Shifting between apps in iOS 10 always felt like it had a bit of an overhead to it. It was a big sluggish, it literally tore you out of what you’re looking at. By contrast, jumping between windows on the desktop was a sort of unconscious manoeuvre.

For me, the dock in iOS 11 is a huge step toward that same seamless thought process.

Invoking it is a very simple action, with keyboard or without, and, as someone who hides their dock on OS X too, feels familiar. This is combined with a much faster little blur operation as the new app loads in, and as a result, it slips almost below the threshold of thinking about or waiting on.

Compounding this is the ability to now quickly hold on any of these dock icons and drag them to become a second window on the screen. As in iOS 10, you can either have them hover over the top of the main app, or share the screen space and stay open.

The big difference is that it’s now much easier to interact with the “hovering” app while continuing to use whatever one or two apps are splitting the main screen space.

Typically, I’ll keep Asana sitting in the wings here, while swapping out my “main” windows to focus on the tasks it lists for me.

However, it’s now so easy to swap apps in and out of this mechanism that I won’t think twice about seeing a badge in the dock and quickly chucking Skype into the space for a minute. Or remember a message for my wife and flick Messenger onto the screen for a moment.

When I need Asana again, I just flick it up in similar fashion.

This probably sounds awful. But I think it works because it crosses a threshold of how easy it is to do without thinking. For some reason, I feel like I know where I am in iOS now in the way I’m used to on the desktop.

And I prefer these metaphors. They are more lightweight in the way that I’m looking for.

Notable mention: Screenshots

Screenshots are a dream now. When you snap something, you want to annotate or share it, then bin it. Imagine the simplest process to do that – that’s basically what has been implemented here. Screenshot as usual, a little preview pops up, which you can click on to make edits, crop etc and share. Then you can choose to share or delete it.

This is only going to continue establishing this as a key way people communicate around digital assets. For more on this, check out recent pieces from Steven Sinofsky and M.G. Siegler.

iPad 10.5 – Another example of thresholds

While we are on the subject of thresholds, the new iPad form factor is another great example.

I feel like I have more screen, with no real compromise. Turns out it’s about 20% more.

When you are talking about dragging windows around, and splitting your workspace into half or 3/4 for different apps, it turns out that makes a big difference. I don’t know how much of is the better software and how much of it is the screen, but all the windowing feels more useful now.

There are only two reasons to go from 9.7” form factor to 10.5:

  1. It crosses a subtle but important threshold from a design/ usability perspective
  2. Higher average sale price, makes your shareholders happy

To be honest, I think Apple did it for both these reasons. But I do believe the first one is true enough to make it a win/win.

Honourable mention: 120 frames per second

I’ve had a 144 hz monitor for a little while now, so I’m ahead of the game on this one – but these higher frame rate screens really do provide a strange and satisfyingly different sensation.

As someone who moved to Pencil and Notability, it’s also worth mentioning that the lag on it is beyond unnoticeable now. The remaining challenges are about texture of screen and nib – but what already felt instantaneous to me is now absolutely flawless.

It’s as simple as this: You can write on a screen with an electronic pencil – and if you like taking notes in that way, what you are able to do is the most remarkable way I’ve ever found to organise notes, provide feedback on documents, and generally switch up how you use the device.

It’s a cherry on top for anyone looking for a different, more pleasant experience vs lugging around a MacBook.

Elusive Lucidity

I’ve talked a lot here about the lines between conscious and unconscious experience. But to wrap up, I think the experience of trying to work entirely from an iPad is like the difference between lucid and normal dreaming.

In a lucid dream, you are 100% in control, uncompromising and have a kind of omnipotence over the world around you. By contrast, in a normal dream, you’re sometimes hurtling through surreal situations and things may take a nightmarish turn, and there’s nothing you can do.

For the mobile working “dream”, iPad is still more similar to the latter than the former. Sometimes, you have to revert to a laptop to cover or finish a task that would be impossible on iPad. Sometimes you find yourself on a bizarre wild goose chase to shoehorn a workflow together, which would be easy on traditional laptops.

But still, when it comes together, I find working from an iPad to be one of the most peaceful and productive parts of my professional life.