For the past month or so I’ve done everything reasonable—and some things unreasonable—to see whether Apple’s new iPad Pro could be used as a laptop replacement.
But I’m starting to think that this effort is missing the point. That is, yes, for a significant number of people, an iPad Pro—and probably a normal iPad, frankly—could perform the duties that most people currently do with a traditional laptop. I’ll even go so far as to say that an iPad Pro could even work for certain professional writers.
What it doesn’t do, of course, is meet my needs. Nor do I believe that the iPad Pro would meet the needs of many power users. The experience is just too constrained, and too compromised, even with the coming benefits in iOS 11.
The primary issue, of course, continues to be the lack of an on-screen pointer and a mouse or trackpad. Even for something as basic as writing this post—which, yes, I did with the iPad Pro—being able to position the cursor exactly where you want it is crucial.
But let’s get past that. A lot of the complaints that I, and others, have made about Apple’s post-PC efforts are built on tradition, familiarity, and, let’s be honest, PC bias. It’s important to remember that most of the activities we used to do on a PC are more efficiently done on mobile devices now. And that writing and other productivity tasks are, for many, the exception not the rule.
It also occurred to me recently that some of my complaints about iPad Pro productivity are a bit unfair. For example, with iOS 11 and an iPad Pro, you can position two apps on screen, side-by-side, in a simple form of multitasking. On the smallish 10.5-inch iPad Pro I’m using, those two apps are not full-sized, and are in effect the iPhone versions of those apps. This is, I argued, problematic.
And maybe it is. But here’s the thing. I don’t even use this kind of feature on my PCs. So why would this matter on an iPad?
Consider a typical workflow for me. Microsoft publishes a blog post, and I want to report on it. So the blog post is open in a web browser window and I have my text editor—Markdown Pad on the PC, but it could be Microsoft Word or anything else—open in a separate window. I don’t actually—or ever—place these two windows side-by-side. Instead, I switch between them using the ALT + TAB keyboard shortcut.
Well, guess what? That works just fine on the iPad Pro, too. The only difference is that the keyboard shortcut for app switching is COMMAND + TAB. Whatever.
Of course, the real difference is that I can select a quote from a Microsoft blog post with my mouse very easily, copy it to the clipboard, and then paste it into my editor. This procedure would require some deft touch gestures on my part, thought the copy and paste part (COMMAND + C, COMMAND + V) would work normally. I bet you’d get used to it.
The one thing I’m not a big fan of, at least on my 10.5-inch iPad Pro, is Apple’s Smart Keyboard. It’s expensive, at $160, though its fabric-covered keys are actually fine. The issue is that it’s too small (and that it offers only one display angle). If you’re a smaller person—man, woman, or child—you might be OK with it. But I would need the larger 12.9-inch iPad for a satisfactory typing experience. And that version is more expensive and is overly large for a tablet.
If you can forget about the Smart Keyboard and move on to a more realistic typing experience—say, Apple’s Magic Keyboard or any other Bluetooth keyboard—things start to get interesting. First, any Bluetooth-based hardware keyboard will better than the Smart Keyboard. All you’d need is a normal Smart Cover to prop the thing up.
Of course, the Smart Cover also only provides a single viewing angle. If this is unacceptable, you could try a third-party adjustable stand. I bought a Satechi R1 multi-angle tablet stand from Amazon on the Twitter-based advice of Betanews’ Brian Fagioli. It provides different heights and angles, which I like. But you can also use the iPad in portrait mode. I always thought that configuration would make for a decent writing setup, and it does.
In case it’s not obvious, what I’m describing here is a bit complex and expensive: The Magic Keyboard is $99, for example, and the stand I ended up buying was about $35. But you could get cheaper variants of either. And it’s worth remembering that the Smart Keyboard costs $160 anyway. So, you’re saving money, in a way.
It’s a lot of trouble to go to, to make this work. You’d have to cart around all this stuff, and, of course, you still wouldn’t have mouse cursor support. But I feel this feature is inevitable, and that a Bluetooth-based touchpad like Apple’s Magic Trackpad 2, would solve the problem nicely. Maybe that will happen with iOS 12 in 2018.
In the meantime, no, the iPad Pro is not a laptop replacement. Except, of course, that it is.
<blockquote><a href="#139977"><em>In reply to hrlngrv:</em></a></blockquote><p>Kind of like a bit-mapped VT100.</p>
<p>So the iPad Pro doesn't meet Paul's needs? Exactly what are those needs? </p><p>A pointer? Paul can't function his on a computer because it lacks a pointer? That's it? Paul's main function when he works is typing. The action of moving the mouse to a position on the screen, then the action of clicking, and whatever thereafter is more tedious to to do then simply taking your finger, point, and touch the screen. The problem with Paul is that …HE'S NOT USED TO IT.</p><p>The fact of the matter, one day…some day….when can get rid of the mouse and perhaps the keyboard, because we will always want less space.</p><p>I don't know when Paul has been experimenting with a new workflow, but clearly not long enough. </p><p>In all honesty, Paul's workflow is not hard. In fact, one can argue that HE is the one making it hard and his refusal to get with the times, is bit alarming since he does cover the fact moving tech industry.</p><p>Soon, we may not keyboards anymore. We could just dictate what we want to write to an AI based assistant. Then what, Paul? He's gonna complain about that? </p>
<blockquote><a href="#140083"><em>In reply to Bats:</em></a></blockquote><p>Except when you touch the screen and you miss the position you wanted to point to. It can take multiple tries to get it right that exceed the time it takes to use a mouse. Of course, if you make the font big enough you can avoid the problem at the expense of wasting screen space.</p>
<blockquote><a href="#140334"><em>In reply to jimchamplin:</em></a></blockquote><p>If I had good hand-eye coordination I might have become a surgeon instead of a software engineer. :)</p><p><br></p><p> Perhaps advice for people considering a career in software development should be similar to the common advice for going into the arts – if you can do anything else, do that instead.</p>
<blockquote><a href="#140109"><em>In reply to curtisspendlove:</em></a></blockquote><p>Seems kind of strange to criticize someone for a making what you saw as an irrelevant comment and then follow it up with an anecdote that is even less relevant. His comment was on your "demonstration" of how easy it was to edit on an iPad Pro, so you having failed to perform it perfectly is entirely relevant. </p><p><br></p><p>Obviously everybody makes mistakes no matter what tools they use, but that doesn't mean that all tools are equally easy to use.</p><p><br></p><p>As far as teenagers are concerned I think most people would agree that they have a much higher tolerance for error in their personal communications than they do in school or work. If you don't go back to correct mistakes, I agree that a mouse or keypad isn't so important.</p>
<blockquote><a href="#140142"><em>In reply to curtisspendlove:</em></a></blockquote><p>I goofed on this one. I didn't read carefully enough. I was a little to anxious to disagree I guess.</p><p><br></p>
<blockquote><a href="#140109"><em>In reply to curtisspendlove:</em></a></blockquote><p>I will guarantee you that if a test with a certain set of tasks that required multiple manipulations like highlighting text, selecting multiple photos, copy, paste (forget cut Apple does not believe in it) etc were setup and the iPad had mouse/trackpad support the mouse user would not only finish faster but make less mistakes.</p><p><br></p><p>It is just pure ignorance on Apple's part for not have the OPTION of mouse/trackpad support.</p>
<blockquote><a href="#140328"><em>In reply to jimchamplin:</em></a></blockquote><p>Immaterial? Lol! I never said there are not ways to do it on the iPad. I know there are. </p><p><br></p><p>I am just pointing out the fact that a user with a mouse vs a user with just touch will be much faster and make less mistakes and be less frustrated when doing a wide range of UI manipulation.</p><p><br></p><p>I am also not asking they they get rid of or change touch, just add mouse support. It is crystal clear that their current path is doing nothing for the declining iPad sales. Even schools are starting to go back to traditional laptops (form factor) and getting rid of iPad's.</p>
<p>"It’s important to remember that most of the activities we used to do on a PC are more efficiently done on mobile devices now. "</p><p><br></p><p>Like what? In addition, I'd say that most of the activities that are done on mobile devices were seldom or never done on PCs. </p>
<p>Ummm…..duh. iPad sales have declined every quarter for 3+ years now. Introducing the "Pro" model has done nothing to change that.</p><p><br></p><p>For those that can replace a laptop with a iPad….they never needed the laptop in the first place but had no choice.</p><p><br></p><p>I don't know if it is arrogance or stupidity that Apple does not add mouse/trackpad support? In either case it is costing them. I bet just adding mouse/trackpad support would stop the sales decline. Heck I might even replace my iPad Air 2 for the ultimate in a ultra light weight laptop stand in.</p><p><br></p><p>For those that think they should NOT add mouse support as an option?????? Seriously WTF?</p>
<blockquote><a href="#140145"><em>In reply to Stooks:</em></a></blockquote><p><br></p><p>So, the argument is now shifting from "an iPad can't replace a laptop" to "anyone who is replacing a laptop with an iPad never actually needed a laptop" in an effort to move the goalposts?</p><p><br></p><p>Also: If you have no choice but to use something, that is pretty much the definition of "needing" it. If you now have another choice that fits your needs, that is pretty much the definition of something being "replaced."</p><p><br></p><p>And, ultimately, I bet that describes a huge segment of the population.</p>
<blockquote><a href="#140159"><em>In reply to BrianEricFord:</em></a></blockquote><p>It seems to me that it's essentially the same argument in a different form. The point is that smartphones and tablets excel at activities that are fundamentally different than what laptops/desktops excel at. Obviously there is overlap, but for example, if all I want to do with a computer on a plane is watch a movie, I'd rather do that on a tablet than a laptop. Likewise, if I want to work on a spreadsheet I'd rather do it on a laptop than a tablet. You can add a physical keyboard to a tablet, but the non-integrated configuration is a bit of a kludge. This applies just as much to Surface devices with a detachable keyboard as it does for an IPad Pro with a keyboard. It's not about the brand, it's about fundamental ergonomics. </p>
<blockquote><a href="#140177"><em>In reply to RobertJasiek:</em></a></blockquote><p>Certainly a laptop with a portrait display and an attached keyboard could have been made if there was a market for them (obviously with a more narrow keyboard). I used to have a rotatable display for my desktop PC but eventually concluded that the portrait mode didn't really add much value so I left it as landscape. While I'm sure that some people would find a portrait orientation useful, I doubt that the majority would favor it.</p><p><br></p><p>Yes, a detached keyboard similar in size to a typical desktop keyboard is often better than a laptop keyboard but that's not really a mobile scenario. If you're going to park a tablet on a desktop you might just as well use a desktop machine. Of course, a laptop can also use a detached keyboard easily in a non-mobile scenario.</p>
<blockquote><a href="#140159"><em>In reply to BrianEricFord:</em></a></blockquote><p>No effort to change anything. That was the only option they had. Their needs are better filled by a tablet and now they have that option.</p><p><br></p><p>It is NOT a laptop replacement for them.</p>
<blockquote><a href="#140276"><em>In reply to Stooks:</em></a></blockquote><p><br></p><p>You're being obtuse.</p><p><br></p><p>They used to buy laptops (and likely still would be but for the new alternative) and now they buy iPads. Saying that's not "replacing" a laptop is shaping the narrative to fit your argument, out of some odd loyalty to a type of device. </p><p><br></p><p>Which is a bizarre sort of loyalty even above and beyond loyalty to a brand.</p><p><br></p><p>(I'd love to see you advising the CEO of Brand X laptop. "No, no sir. This dip in sales isn't real because most of these people never needed our laptops, they were just buying them because we didn't offer them what they DID need. Nothing to worry about, here!")</p><p><br></p>
<blockquote><a href="#140286"><em>In reply to BrianEricFord:</em></a></blockquote><p>I have ZERO brand loyalty. I NEED a Laptop and I have a iPad which I use for 98% consumption and very light work because it might be what I have in my hand at the time and it can be utilized to reply to an email. </p><p><br></p><p>My point is simply that lots and lots of Joe consumers have a computer, which they use for Web Browsing, email, light photo organizing/editing and possibly some lite document work. All of which can be done via a Web browser honestly if they use Google or Microsoft web products. For years all they had was a computer as an option. </p><p><br></p><p>Then they got a smartphone and did most of that on a smartphone, switched some of what they did in a browser to dedicated apps, like facebook, netflix etc. Then tablets came out and now these type of computer users no longer need a computer…..because they barely used it.</p><p><br></p><p>Had the iPad or Android tablets been available from day one of their computing experience they would have never gotten a full Laptop.</p><p><br></p><p>Yes they are replacing their laptops but it is all about right sizing their hardware to match their needs now that they have options.</p><p><br></p><p>There are a group of die hard Apple/iPad fans that would be better off with a laptop but they make it "work" using and iPad to prove a point. They have to change many things and compromise in various ways but they can say "I can replace my laptop with a iPad".</p>
<blockquote><a href="#140589"><em>In reply to Stooks:</em></a></blockquote><p><br></p><p>I don't know what to tell you other than to say that you're agreeing with me without admitting that you're agreeing with me.</p>
<p>I'm sure for many people the lack of placing 2 apps side by side to fill the screen is problematic. As an engineering student, I regularly run my Surface Pro 3 with excel and word side by side or word and an engineering application. It's basically required to be able to read out results from an experiment and be able to form a coherent sentence in my report in real time, not switching apps continuously.</p>
<blockquote><a href="#140227"><em>In reply to Ugur:</em></a></blockquote><p>With the iPad Pro Apple is inching toward making the iPad more like a conventional "PC". But what's the end game here? Add a keyboard, maybe add a mouse later, some other productivity-friendly features. The fact is they already have a solution for productivity – it's called a Mac. What's the point of recreating a parallel OS with similar features just so you can say it's new.</p><p><br></p><p>IMO Gates' vision was just incorrect, we aren't in the Post-PC or Post-Mac era. We are in an era where consumption of content is less focused on TV, DVD players, CD players, and yes, PCs and Macs. But that doesn't mean that the core capabilities that personal computers have always had is being usurped by phones and tablets. We don't need "all-in-one" devices and we don't need "all-in-one" OS's. </p>
<blockquote><a href="#140782"><em>In reply to RobertJasiek:</em></a></blockquote><p>I guess it depends on your definition of "all in one". If you have to hook a tablet into a lot of extra equipment to use it for productivity I wouldn't consider it an all in one solution. A laptop not being a tablet seems to be a less of a compromise that a tablet that you have to park on a desktop to use for productivity. Obviously if you use these devices primarily for the purposes they were truly designed for there's very little compromise.</p>
<p>Use cases are everything. For the stationary worker, definitely: "what's the point?"</p><p>For the individual that is more mobile, the battery life, always-on connectivity, lack-of-a-laptop-bag simplicity of the thing is a godsend. I don't even bring a charger with me and it tends to last two full days.</p>