iPad Pro For Work: Almost perfect

I’ve been using an iPad Pro for a little more than a month, and it’s pretty damn close to being a laptop replacement. In terms of hardware, it’s excellent for what I need (writing, document annotation, basic graphics). Software is where it falls short – but the limitations are easily fixed, and as Apple moves ahead I hope they’ll address the issues.

Hardware

I’ve lugged around a MacBook Pro for years. 4.5 pounds doesn’t seem like much, but the weight definitely makes itself known pretty quickly when you’re traveling. I’ve been tempted to get a MacBook Air for quite a while, and was pretty close to pulling the trigger when the iPad Pro was released. Almost immediately after buying the iPad, I’m happy – ecstatic, even – with the choice.

At 1.5 pounds, it’s a dream come true. Even adding the weight of the Apple Magic Keyboard (about half a pound) keeps it below that of the Air. The Pro’s versatility also means I’ve stopped carrying around the one or two paper notebooks I usually do, because Apple’s Pencil is so damn good (with the right software).

How great the Pro is for people with more intensive hardware needs – designers, artists, etc. – I can’t say, although some reviews I’ve read by those folks seem to love the Pro as well. But as a writer, I can pretty much crown the Pro as a full-fledged laptop replacement. My MBP has sat almost unused ever since I started using the Pro. It’s still useful (and necessary) for messing around with coding and image work, but for all intents and purposes my laptop is now a desktop.

One important issue that needs to be pointed out is the battery life. Apple claims a 10 hour life, which is probably right, but charging takes a looooong time. It’s been suggested that the quickest way to fully charge it is to shut it down, but that’s kind of unacceptable considering how fast I can get my iPhone and older iPad to 100%. I know, I know, different hardware. But still.

Pencil

The awesomeness that is the Pencil can’t be understated. When I got an iPad 2, I also thought that could be a laptop replacement. While it worked fine with a keyboard, the jankiness of using a stylus kept me firmly planted in laptop/paper/pen land.

But the Pencil has changed all that. The palm rejection technology, speed and precision of the Pencil is great. While not all apps produce the handwriting results I like, it wasn’t hard to find one that did. First I tried Paper (which is designed around it’s own unique stylus), but it didn’t feel smooth. Notability, on the other hand, really works with Pencil nicely. That pairing is why I can leave notebooks at home, and no longer print out PDFs to scribble notes on.

Software

And since we’re talking about Notability, we might as well jump into the ‘not’ portion of this ‘not perfect’ assessment. Notability is great, although it suffers from a tiny case of oversimplification and fixing what ain’t broke.

What I’ve noticed is that many app developers come up with unique file organization that is different enough from standard OSX/PC conventions that it feels limiting. Notability, for example, uses a ‘subject’ and ‘divider’ scheme to organize files. With OSX/Windows I can move and manipulate files easily. I know what a folder is; I know I can move stuff between them. Subject/divider is different just enough to not feel natural, and I still haven’t completely adapted to thinking in these new terms.

A lot of that probably has to do with how apps store data in iOS. Simply put, each app basically has to create its own storage system. If you want to open a file in App A that was created in App B, it needs to be sent through some sort of middleman – Dropbox, Google Docs, etc. iOS doesn’t provide a single repository you can just put and pull stuff on/from.

This filesystem weirdness also makes opening zipped files unnecessarily complicated (in a relative sense, of course, because it’s really just an extra step or three). It’d be fantastic if I can unzip a file directly from Mail into another app, instead of having to open a 3rd party app, unzip it, then go to the app I want to use and download the file.

That said, it’s something that Apple and developers can work on, along with some other minor issues. Selecting and deleting text can be a pain, as it’s still geared towards touchscreen control. The ol’ Command-Delete to clear a bunch of text doesn’t work in iOS, and placing the cursor where you want it can be a hit and miss process.

There’s also signs of 3rd party web app issues. Namely Google. Many companies use Google apps now, but they aren’t optimized for iOS. For example, one of the new features in iOS 9 is a split screen view, where two apps can share the screen. Sadly, this isn’t supported by Google Docs. So instead of being able to keep client feedback up while working in Notability or Ulysses, I have to switch back and forth between the two. I can’t help but think this is Google’s fault, and they don’t want to fully support a competitor’s feature.

But again, all these minor problems will probably be fixed sooner or later. In the meantime, it’s just a matter of accepting things as they are – which are still pretty great.

Apps Writers Will Like

In OSX my standard tools were a combination of Scrivener (currently in iOS Beta – yay!), Google Docs and WriteRoom. With the iPad Pro, it’s all about Notability (perfect for annotation and jotting down notes with Pencil) and Ulysses. I still use a little bit of Excel on the laptop (subscribing to MS Office is a non-starter for me; I’m very anti-subscription), and will probably switch to using the included Apple Numbers at some point.

I give myself a huge pat on the back for taking the leap and getting an iPad Pro. As the line matures, I’ll have fewer reasons to get another MacBook Pro. (A MacPro, on the other hand, is a different matter…)