iPad Pro vs laptop, three months in

1145 words, 6 minutes.

It’s been a few months since I sold my trusty MacBook and bought an iPad Pro, with the idea of performing all mobile compute on the latter. How has it gone?

TL;DR It’s OK. I’m getting by, with some slight working practice changes. No current need to buy a laptop.

The longer story…

If you read back through this blog, or you already know me, you know my background is twenty years of being a tech engineer. That changed a little over 4 years ago. It’s this which led me to think I could do without a laptop, and lighten the load in my luggage when I travel (which I still do a lot).

My day-to-day comprises Slack, email, conference calls over various medium (mostly Bluejeans and FaceTime) and Google apps like docs, sheets and slides. All of these are catered for well on iOS, and since I’m mostly only using one at a time, having it fill the screen, unlike a traditional desktop, is “fine”.

I say fine like that because it’s probably the first change to my working practices I’ve had to make and one I’m unsure yet is a good or a bad thing. I’ve alternated between writing this on my iMac–where, as anybody working on a traditional desktop will probably recognise, the screen is a splatter-cast of open windows and applications–and on the iPad itself.

On the iMac I’ve got windows open left, right and centre. I don’t even know why–but because I can’t do that on the iPad, I don’t. It’s probably a good thing though–I focus on one thing at a time, which for my mind is no bad thing. But it is a big shift in the way I’ve worked for a long time, and I can see why that might irk people.

The flip side of focussing on the one thing like this is if I need to refer to another application then it’s more of a pain on the iPad. Yes, you can do the split window thing, but it doesn’t work for all apps. And as I wrote that I promptly split the screen between Safari, where I’m writing this in an online editor, and Notes, where I’ve been keeping a tally of the annoyances :) So even as I describe this as a pain, I find it’s actually OK. Ha!

Other things that work ‘OK’, with minor annoyances. I recently gave a sales presentation, which I’d written in Keynote (I do use the Google Suite, but I still find Keynote the simplest presentation application). The actual presentation went fine–I plugged the iPad into the meeting room HDMI (using this adapter) and had a ‘presenter screen’, complete with notes, on the iPad and the content on the big screens in the room. It worked just as well as using a laptop. However, it wasn’t so easy to put the presentation together on the iPad, so I did most of the work on the desktop. You can put a perfectly workable set of slides together using Keynote for iOS, but I found accurately laying out text boxes etc. hard (I couldn’t find the actual pixels box on Keynote for iOS, for example–and who wants the horror of a text box jumping a couple of pixels between slides?!)

Saving an email as a PDF is a complete faff – https://www.imore.com/how-save-email-pdf-iphone-and-ipad

When I’m travelling I tend to snapshot receipts for expenses into Evernote. Then, because our expense system is archaic, I have to separately submit them as PDFs. Which is easy to sort on the desktop version of Evernote because you can simply right click and get ‘convert note to PDF’ from the context menu. Try doing that on the iOS version! Basically, you have to print the note and go through the same faff as printing an email to a PDF.

Writing for the blog is doable. I use the static site generator, Hugo and store all the pages in a private Git repository. Mostly I author in ProWritingAid[1] but then paste the text into Working Copy. This handles the Git bit and is the closest I get to anything still remotely technical. Working Copy is a decent source code management solution for iOS so would also be good for coders. The Git repo sits on a network only accessible over a VPN, so that’s handled by the iOS OpenVPN client. Again, that works perfectly well. The final leg for the blog is a ‘make sync’, which I run manually from a Linux shell (“a Makefile?! What are you, a hundred years old?” Well, yes, I’ve been around a while in the industry, what can I say. Make is simple, it works. I should just make a Git hook and have it automatically push :)). I tend to kick that off from a terminal using Prompt. I really must automate this last leg to publish :)

One joy I’ve found is photo-editing. Photography is a minor hobby, and sometimes the digital pictures out of my Fuji X-E3 need some tweaking. Using Affinity Photo with the Apple Pencil on the iPad is so much easier than using either a mouse, or a tablet, on the desktop version.

The only total let down I’ve found so far, which will require a laptop purchase at some point again, is video editing. I use Final Cut Pro, which as of today does not exist for iOS. iMovie just doesn’t cut it (pun not intended). After a recent ski trip I stuffed days’ worth of filming into the Mac to edit and now I can’t be bothered to do it. Having a laptop when travelling means edits, or at least picking out favourite scenes to use later, is so much more productive when done later the day they were filmed.

The final total annoyance, for me at least, is fingerprints on the screen. I‘ve always hated it when folks point at something on your screen and smudge their fingers all over it, so to spend my days doing the very same myself is an annoyance I need to get over.

For now then I will stick with the iPad as my mobile compute of choice. At some point or another I will probably buy a laptop for the niche activities, but I’m in no rush.

UPDATE 24-Apr-19 Interesting development on the video editing front. Whilst discussing this blog post with former colleagues, LumaFusion was brought to my attention. Oh my, what a revelation! Also, whilst going down the rabbit hole that is YouTube, I came across Christopher Lawley’s channel. He has some great videos about living with an iPad and I’ve adopted a few of his tips. This post edit, for example, comes courtesy of Drafts – another nice app find.

[1] underlying link is my discount code – you get 10% off and I get 30 days added to my license.