Six Months with the iPad Pro

My first session with the iPad Pro

My first session with the iPad Pro

At first I was skeptical. I was perfectly happy with my iPad Air and the Pro seemed too big and too expensive. Six months later I wouldn’t dream of going back. The iPad Pro has become my primary computing device.

Does the Pro eliminate the need for a laptop or desktop? Almost, but for me not quite yet. I still need my Mac Air for NodeBox coding and a few other things; since they are both exactly the same size I now carry them together in a messenger bag.

iPad Pro and Mac Air share the same bag

iPad Pro and Mac Air share the same bag

The Pro is lighter than it looks and, with a little practice, balances easily on my lap. It fits perfectly on an airplane tray table.

Flying over Vegas using Apple Maps

Flying over Vegas using Apple Maps

Does the 12.9-inch screen really make that much of a difference? Yes! The effect is surprising; after all, it’s the same size as an ordinary laptop screen. But there is something addictive about holding large, high resolution photos and videos in your hands. I *much* prefer photo editing on the iPad. 3D flyovers in Apple Map are almost like being there.

Coda and Safari sharing the screen

Coda and Safari sharing the screen

The extra screen real estate also makes iOS 9’s split screen feature much more practical. Above is a screenshot of me editing a webpage using Coda. By splitting the screen with Safari, I can update code and instantly see the results as I go.

Bloomberg Professional with picture-in-picture

Bloomberg Professional with picture-in-picture

Enterprise users can see more numbers and charts at once. Bloomberg Professional uses the picture-in-picture feature to let you watch the news while perusing a large portfolio display. WunderStation makes dashboards big enough to get lost in.

WunderStation weather dashboard

WunderStation weather dashboard

For web conferences, a major part of my working life at Oracle, the iPad Pro both exceeds and falls short. The participant experience is superb. When others are presenting screenshots I can lean back in my chair and pinch-zoom to see details I would sometimes miss on my desktop. When videoconferencing I can easily adjust the camera or flip it to point at a whiteboard.

But my options for presenting content from the iPad are still limited. I can present images, but cannot easily pull content from inside other apps. (Zoom lets you share web pages and cloud content on Box, Dropbox or Google Drive, but we are supposed to keep sensitive data inside our firewall.) The one-app-at-a-time iOS model becomes a nuisance in situations like this. Until this limitation is overcome I don’t see desktops and laptops on the endangered species list.

Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil

Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil

Accessories

The iPad Pro offers two accessories not available with a normal iPad: a “smart keyboard” that uses the new magnetic connector, and the deceptively simple Apple Pencil.

I tried the keyboard and threw it back. It was perfectly fine but I’m just not a keyboard guy. This may seem odd for someone who spends most of his time writing – I’m typing this blog on the iPad right now – but I have a theory about this that may explain who will adopt tablets in the workplace and how they will be used.

I think there are two types of workers: those who sit bolt upright at their desks and those who slump as close to horizontal as they can get; I am a slumper. And there are two kinds of typists: touch typists who type with their fingers and hunt-and-peckers who type with their eyes; I am a, uh, hunter. This places me squarely in the slumper-hunter quadrant.

Slumper-hunters like me love love love tablets and don’t need no stinking keyboards. The virtual keyboard offers a word tray that guesses my words before I do, lets me slide two fingers across the keyboard to precisely reposition the cursor, and has a dictate button that works surprisingly well.

Touch-slumpers are torn: they love tablets but can’t abide typing on glass; for them the smart keyboard – hard to use while slumping – is an imperfect compromise. Upright-hunters could go either way on the keyboard but may not see the point in using a tablet in the first place. Upright-touchers will insist on the smart keyboard and will not use a tablet without one.

Running Horse by Anna Budovsky

Running Horse by Anna Budovsky

If you are an artist, or even just an inveterate doodler, you must immediately hock your Wacom tablet, toss your other high-end styli, and buy the Apple Pencil (with the full-sized Pro as an accessory). It’s the first stylus that actually works. No more circles with dents and monkey-with-big-stick writing. Your doodles will look natural and your signature will be picture perfect.

The above drawing was done in under sixty seconds by my colleague Anna Budovsky. She had never used the iPad Pro before, had never used the app (Paper), and had never before picked up an Apple Pencil. For someone with talent, the Apple Pencil is a natural.

If you are not an artist you can probably skip the Pencil. It’s a bit of a nuisance to pack around and needs recharging once a week (fast and easy but still a nuisance). I carry one anyway just so I can pretend I’m an artist.

The Future

For now the iPad Pro is just a big iPad (and the new Pro isn’t even big). Most apps don’t treat it any differently yet and some older apps still don’t even fully support it. But I am seeing some early signs this may be starting to change.

The iPad Pro has one other advantage: processing power. Normal iPad apps don’t really need it (except to keep up with the hi-res screen). Some new apps, though, are being written specifically for the Pro and are taking things to a new level.

Fractals generated by Frax HD

Fractals generated by Frax HD

Zooming into infinitely complex fractals is not a business application, but it sure is a test of raw processing power. I’ve been exploring fractals since the eighties and have never seen anything remotely as smooth and deep and effortless as Frax HD. Pinch-zooming forever and changing color schemes with a swirl of your hand is a jaw-dropping experience.

The emerging class of mobile CAD apps, like Shapr3D, are more useful but no less stunning. You would think a CAD app would need not just a desktop machine but also a keyboard on steroids and a 3D mouse. Shapr3D uses the Apple Pencil in ingenious ways to replace all that.

A 3D Doodle using Shapr3D

A 3D Doodle using Shapr3D

Sketch curves and lines with ease and then press down (with a satisfying click) to make inflection points. Wiggle the pencil to change modes (sounds crazy but it works). Use the pencil for drawing and your fingers for stretching – Shapr3D keeps up without faltering. I made the strange but complicated contraption above in my first session with almost no instruction – and had fun doing it.

I hesitate to make any predictions about the transition to tablets in the workplace. But I would recommend keeping an eye on the iPad Pro – it may be a sleeping giant.

AboutJohn Cartan

I am a designer, inventor, and writer currently working as a Senior Design Architect in the Oracle User Experience Emerging Technologies group.

One comment

  1. I can see using the Pencil with note-taking recording apps such as Notability or SoundNote. You can switch between drawing and typing on a regular tablet, but there’s little room for it. With the Pro + Pencil, it would be much easier to capture notes AND draw a diagram. But being a touch-typist, I’ll stick with my MacBook Air.

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