Team iPad Pro

My wife says I’m highly suggestible. She points out stuff all over our house that she recognizes hearing about on ad reads in the podcasts I listen to. So maybe this was inevitable, but I’ve lately started using an iPad Pro as my primary computer, even at work, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

My wife started it, to be honest. I got her an iPad Pro for Christmas to supplement her “why don’t you just sand your eyeballs” non-retina MacBook Air. To both of our surprise, she found that not only did she love the iPad Pro, but she found less and less she needed to do on the MacBook. She’s moved all of her writing and editing for Taledancer.com to the iPad, and if Vellum would just come out with an iPad version, she’d be done with the MacBook entirely.

So last week as I fretted with what to replace my iPad Air 2 with, an iPad Pro or the forthcoming 9.7″ iPad (now rumored to also be an iPad Pro, just smaller), she suggested that we switch iPads for a week. I’d take a week to see if the 13″ size was really right for me — I’d previously remarked at how unwieldy her Pro seemed compared to my Air 2 — and she could spend some time with the Air 2 and appreciate the things she liked about the Pro. Last Thursday night, we both did iCloud backups, erased all content and settings, and swapped iPads.

At first, I wasn’t sure. The iPad Pro feels every bit as big as it is. It’s the same size as my 13″ MacBook Pro, and in portrait the screen looked ridiculous.

Until I fired up Marvel Unlimited. Comics on this are a completely different experience compared to the Air 2. Okay, so that’s nice.

I also quickly discovered that in landscape split view, a lot more apps than I expected use the normal iPad-style layouts rather than the compact iPhone layouts I was used to in split view on the Air 2. It really is like having two iPad Airs side by side.

By mid-day Saturday I was starting to really enjoy the iPad Pro, but wasn’t sure I liked it enough to switch. Then I started really using the Pencil.

I’ve been drawing since I was old enough to hold a crayon, and thought I knew what to expect from using a stylus on an iPad screen. I drew a lot on both my iPad Mini and various 9.7″ iPads. But the precision and palm rejection on the iPad Pro are, again, in a completely different category. I had to force myself to rest my hand on the screen like I would on paper, but once I did, I found I could draw just as fast and fluid as I used to in the old analog days.

The author napping with his cat

On Friday Jump Desktop released an update that made their remote access app much more useful on the iPad Pro. In addition to supporting the iPad Pro keyboard and split view, it also dynamically resizes Windows desktop and server sessions to fit the split view window, and fully supports the Pencil as a pointing device in the remote session. I do a lot of systems administration work in the day job, and this was just jaw dropping for me.

Windows desktop on the left, blog on the right

At this point, I was starting to make little excited noises. Then on Monday, I picked up a Smart Keyboard before going into the office. I was going into the office late because I had an errand to run that morning: picking up a client’s Surface Pro to image. So I got a chance to compare the Surface Pro to the iPad Pro side by side.

Similar, yet so different

The Smart Keyboard itself is nothing like I expected. The keys are crisp and depress with a satisfying click, unlike the Logitech Keys-To-Go I’d used with my Air 2. There’s no Bluetooth lag because of the Smart Connector and likewise nothing to charge; it runs off the iPad’s power.
And coupled with the iPad Pro’s screen and the Pencil as a pointing device, I prefer the iPad Pro for virtually everything I do. It’s better at remoting into RDP sessions than either of my laptops, runs familiar iOS apps, and — and this is a big one for me — doesn’t waste screen space with overlapping windows. Every pixel is useful.

A few caveats:

  • If my job required recording audio — podcasting — this wouldn’t work. I hope iOS 10 has a more flexible audio system.
  • There are a few apps I need every day that I can’t use on iOS, or that don’t work very well in their iOS versions (looking at you, Zendesk). Fortunately, I can work around those by running them on my Windows laptop, which stays in a dock on my desk 24/7 and I access via Jump Desktop. My wife needs to do the same to use Vellum on her MacBook Air.
  • I can’t see as much at once as I could on the Mac with Mission Control. Oddly, I think that actually helps me stay more focused, but YMMV.

Overall, I can see why so many of my favorite bloggers and podcasters have switched to using an iPad Pro full time. This is more than just a big iPad as the original iPad was more than just a big iPhone. Scale matters — ask science fiction’s 15 foot ant, which can’t breathe thanks to the square cube law — and a bigger screen on iOS lets you do things that previously were either impossible or at least inconvenient. I really don’t see myself going back to an Intel-based computer as my daily driver.

And that should scare the heck out of Intel.