On November 1, 2018, I committed myself to using the cellular 2018 iPad Pro 12.9 with keyboard Folio and Apple Pencil as my sole computing device at the office, at home, and when traveling for 30 days. As I write this it has been 51 days. I have been faithful, mostly, to that “spirit quest.” I promised to follow-up on my experience. This is that follow-up.
This begs the question, “why go through the trouble of creating new workflows and learning new processes and applications when I have a 2017 13” MacBook Pro with Touch Bar capable of meeting all of my computing needs?” Aside from the fact that I enjoy learning new things and fiddling with technology, I have many reasons for wanting to consolidate all of my computing to the iPad. Some of my reasons are subjective while others are objective.
I’m convinced that along with integrated voice control and artificial intelligence, mobile computing platforms like the iPad are the future of computing technology. Articles like this one from the WSJ predict as much. While there are current hardware and software limitations making a full transition to mobile computing a challenge, but possible, as noted by the writer of the WSJ article, the biggest challenge is not hardware and software, it is mind-set: “The real barrier, I think, is people’s mind-sets. Those of us who grew up with “desktop” operating systems have trouble grasping that even our phones are fast becoming as computationally powerful as the computers on which we get our work done. But people who lack those experiences have no such bias.” Assuming that mobile platforms like tablets are the future of computing, I figure I might as well get a head start in making the transition in my computing practices.
There are other more immediate and practical reasons for striving to replace my MBP with the iPad for my computing needs. Without going into an in-depth discussion of each, my reasons include the following:
- The desire to simplify and be more efficient and focused by mastering one GUI, one device, and one set of workflows rather than constantly switching between MacOS and iOS. To borrow an aphorism attributed to Albert Einstein, “Everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler.”
- The desire to have a powerful, portable computer with all day battery life. While the MBP is powerful and mobile, it does not have all day battery life.
- The ability to selectively use the best GUI for the task at hand: keyboard, voice, touch, or pencil. Only the iPad offers them all.
- Access to the largest and most innovative applications available. While there is a rich reservoir of applications for MacOS, I believe it is accurate to assert that the iOS ecosystem is more innovative and vibrant than that for MacOS.
- The ability to switch between portrait and landscape modes based on need or preference. For example, I use portrait mode from annotating PDFs, reading, taking handwritten notes and giving presentations. I use landscape for most other tasks.
- The increased security provided by the iOS platform. While MacOS is far more secure than Windows, iOS is even more secure and less prone to exploits than MacOS.
My Computing Needs
Before I describe my experience and assessment of using the iPad as my sole computing device, it is important to share my computing needs. What one needs for getting stuff done will vary widely depending upon one’s work, entertainment preferences, and hobbies. As the Head of School for a large private school, my role is similar to that of a CEO and my computing needs reflect that role. In no particular order, I use a computer to write books, write work related communications and articles, to prepare and give Keynote presentations and speeches at national and international conferences, compose and respond to email, manage large teams and collaborative projects and related documents and reference material, review budgets and other relatively light spreadsheet work, referencing my calendar (my assistant manages my calendar) reading books and research, manage research citations, annotate speeches and articles, manage personal finances and track investments, teaching a graduate course, online shopping, participating in forums, brainstorming using a mind mapping application, conducting meetings and taking notes, developing strategic plans, preparing reports, occasionally watching a video, listening to music and podcasts, photo editing from RAW files, looking up recipes, managing and storing receipts, articles, quotations, user manuals and more. I do not code, create videos, or produce podcasts and my spreadsheet work is light to moderate.
My iPad Experience
Overall, my experience using the iPad as my sole computing experience has been enjoyable and productive. I find using the iPad far more enjoyable, flexible, and productive than my MBP, though I have a few exceptions as noted below.
On the positive side, here is what I find works well.
- The ability to have cellular on my device increases productivity and reduces friction. I’m always able to get online. This is important because I work without paper and all of my documents are in the cloud and synced with the iPad. While I could use my iPhone as a wifi hotspot for my MBP, this is not always reliable and it drains the battery on both devices.
- Typing on the iPad Folio is excellent. In fact, I find the iPad Folio keyboard to be better than the MBP butterfly keyboard for touch typing, though I miss having backlit keys when on a dark plane.
- The iPad with the Pencil enables me to more “naturally” take notes during a meeting and removes the “barrier” between me and others in a meeting. I do a lot of interviewing and hiring. The ability to have the iPad in my lap and to take handwritten notes is far more natural and informal feeling than typing on a keyboard. This applies to all of my meetings.
- The ability to have two but no more than two windows open at a time (especially on the larger 12.9” iPad) is productive for two reasons. First, it reduces the distraction of having too many windows open. Second, I can open two full-size applications side-by-side for working on reports, research, a writing project, etc.
- Using the Pencil to edit photos in Pixelmator or Affinity is a pleasing and effective experience.
- Having the ability to grab my iPad and instantly change from keyboard typing to handwriting notes or switching from using the keyboard to the iPad without the keyboard to give a speech is fast, easy, and natural. I have one device that serves each of these purposes extremely well.
- I only need one small bag to carry everything I need.
- I’m using dictation and Siri far more, which has also increased my productivity and forced me to learn how to use dictation more effectively.
- I found using the Apple Pencil to navigate the iPad and memorizing the keyboard shortcuts (hold the Cmd key for application specific shortcuts) reduces the need to reach for the screen and reduces what I believe Steve Jobs referred to as Gorilla arm.
- Many of the iOS applications are more delightful and easier to use than their MacOS counterparts.
- I was surprised by how good Apple Notes is but only after forcing myself to experiment and learn how to maximize it. I don’t consider Apple Notes to be a replacement for programs like Evernote, I use DEVONthink for that purpose. Apple Notes is not so much a shoebox for storage as it is an excellent note taking and note keeping application. Go figure.
- My normal day goes from 6:00am when I arrive at the office to 8:30pm. My iPad lasts all day, especially when I plug it in briefly while having lunch for about 30-45 minutes.
- The iPad just works. I seldom have to “manage” the iPad. The MBP requires more management overhead.
As one writer said, not everything is rainbows and unicorns. I have run into limitations and frustrations. Here are the ones that I find to be most problematic.
- It is not possible to manage contact groups in the Apple Contacts application. I use contact groups a lot so this can be frustrating. This is one of the instances in which I had to use my MBP to create and manage contact groups.
- It is not possible to manage folders in Apple Notes. Again, this forced me to use the MBP to arrange folders in Apple Notes. Truth be told it is not “necessary” to have folders given the good search functions in Apple Notes but I’m OCD when it comes to being organized so a good folder structure is important to me.
- While it is possible to work in spreadsheets on the iPad, it is a frustrating and inefficient experience. If one does a lot of spreadsheet work, the iPad is not a suitable platform until/unless iOS drastically improves in this area.
- I have little need for external storage but I do like to backup my work to both the cloud and external hard drives in different off-site locations. It is not possible to connect the iPad to an external storage device. I hope/expect this to change with iOS 13.
- While most anything can be done on the iPad, somethings are harder or impossible even after mastering new workflows. I’ve already mentioned spreadsheets, contact groups, and Apple Note folders. The other pain points include selecting and managing multiple files. This is not something I do often but when I do I find that it is possible on the iPad, but not ideal.
- I don’t use Google docs a lot but when I do, the experience is better using Chrome on the MBP than using the iPad. Again, I can use Google docs, sheets, etc. on the iPad but Google applications work better on my MBP using the Chrome browser.
My Verdict and Plans Going Forward
Having used the iPad nearly exclusively for 51 days and forcing myself to learn new workflows and mastering iOS applications and iOS keyboard shortcuts, I have concluded that I will be using the iPad for nearly all of my professional, personal, and entertainment computing needs. In fact, I’m reversing the normal process of using the MBP as my primary computer with the iPad being my backup or mobile computing device to using the iPad as my primary computer and only using the MBP when I can’t effectively and efficiently use the iPad. In other words, my MBP will now be my backup, secondary device. My prediction is that as iOS continues to evolve, I will use my MBP even less.
To those who are wondering if the iPad can replace their MBP or iMAC as their primary computer to get real work done, I’d say yes for most. There are of course some professions where this may not currently work—for example, developers/programmers, those who extensively use spreadsheets, podcasters and others. That said, making the transition to using the iPad as one’s primary computer requires a willingness to change, to deal with the initial loss of productivity and the frustrations that come with changing workflows and habits. Moving to the iPad as a primary computing device requires a change in mind-set and habits. Not everyone is willing to make the mental and emotional investment in making the change. To those willing to make this investment in time, frustration, and mental energy, I encourage you to do so. I found the iPad to be overall more productive, efficient, and delightful to use than my MBP.