iPad Pro as Computer - one year on

08 Feb 2020

It’s been a year since I wrote that big-assed blogpost about trying to use my iPad Pro as my main computer, so I thought it was time for a follow-up. Because I haven’t been using the iPad Pro as my main computer, despite trying. Here’s two reasons why…

Ergonomics

I’ve tried various adjustable stands, cases and setups, but the monitor+keyboard+mouse is still my preferred setup for working more than an hour or so. Using a sturdy laptop stand like this one below helps your back and neck a lot, and gives you a Microsoft Surface Studio-esque adjustable position. However, there is too much distance between keyboard and screen for those times when you need to interact with the screen.

As well as desk use, there is also the use case of ‘lap-ability’ though. A MacBook is easy to use in your lap, but an iPad in its case varies in the levels of sturdiness from terrible to sort of bearable.

I’ve also tried a lot of keyboard/cases and the perfect one still doesn’t exist. I want one that:

  • Has an adjustable angle kickstand to use it low for drawing, and more upright for typing
  • Protects the Pencil while keeping it charging on the side. Even though the new Pencil is magentic and ‘snaps’ to the side of the iPad Pro, it’s very easy to knock the it off. This is something the Otterbox 360 case solves with a simple magnetic flap.
  • Does all this without covering up the keyboard in drawing mode, or adding unnecessary bulk. I’m surprised at the amount of cases that add a big rubbery/plasticy bumper at the sides and back - I want as little covering as possible. The previous generation iPads felt thinner as their smart covers only covered the front, whereas third generation ones add a layer to the back as well.

I’ve been switching between a Fintie case (much cheaper than the Apple Smart Cover, and has more angles) and an Apple Keyboard Cover. The latter doesn’t have a low angle, but you can either use it upside down (it’s very sturdy, but if you ever need to use the keyboard you have to rotate it again) or the taping a toothpick to the back hack, which at least disconnects the keyboard. One day I might get around to documenting all the solutions I’ve tried!

You can’t get all this in one solution, which is maddening when something like the Surface Pro X has all of this built in:

Surface Pro X from Microsoft with built-in kickstand and safe storage for pen

Surface Pro X from Microsoft with built-in kickstand and safe storage for the pen

Look at that thing, it’s gorgeous! No third-party solutions or hacks needed. Just a shame that apps need to do some catching up to be able work properly with the new ARM processors. It still puts Apple to shame how much Microsoft has thought about these things. I’m not sure I’m ready to lose MacOS as an operating system though, even though most of apps are cross platform.

Work

The nature of my work has changed a lot in the last year. I’ve needed a change from the logo, identity and icon projects that I’ve been typecast for, to do a wider variety of web and print projects. The app support for those isn’t yet on a par with desktop:

  • Affinity Designer can do print design, and even open Affinity Publisher files* but not the multi-page flowing text kind. Affinity Publisher for iPad is in the works though!
  • I’ve been working on a lot of Statamic projects this year, developing locally using MAMP. I’ve heard tales of people who have solved the inability to run a local webserver by connecting a USB-C powered Rasberry Pi, but I know my limits. There is always Codesandbox, and ssh-ing into a remote server, but the screen size is restrictive. I like to see code and preview windows next to each other - I"m too much of a fan of Coda and and all my split views.
  • I’ve also been doing a lot of work in Powerpoint (yes really, It’s all about “meeting people where they’re at”), and the iPad version lacks many of the features of the desktop version.

*Affinity files are all the same format. The only reason they’re labelled differently, is so that they open in their default app. You can see this best in Affinity Publisher, where you can seamlessly move between it, Designer and Photo within the same app.

That’s not to say that I haven’t been using my iPad Pro though, because I’ve been using it a lot. Much more than the first generation model I used to have.

  • Creating vector artwork in Affinity Designer. Vectornator is also nice to use - less features than AD, but a simpler, more adaptive interface.
  • Sketching/planning/thinking in Linea
  • More illustration than before, especially in Procreate. This Great White Egret is one of my favourites. Adobe Fresco is also looking interesting, with it’s combination of bitmap and vector tools.
  • Recording and editing podcasts in Ferrite. This is how I’ve been doing Troika (although that’s taken a back seat while John and I are doing The Rissington Podcast).
  • 95% of video conference calls are done on the iPad, in either Zoom or Hangouts.
  • Even ‘simple’ tasks like cropping editing photos in Photos app is substantially quicker than on my MacBook Pro.

I love that gorgeous slab of glass, but I have to admit that it can’t be everything I want it be. Yet.

Pencil support is restricted solely to iPads, and it’s high time that Apple thought beyond them. It’s been three years since Microsoft Surface Studio was launched, and Apple still don’t have anything near it.