This is the third in a series on the experience of owning an iPad (Baby) Pro as someone who never even had a tablet before. You can see my initial thoughts and my one month followup thoughts by clicking those links.
Wow…. It’s been almost two years since I’ve owned the Baby Pro… and I’ve got to say, my friend’s words to me were prophetic: “It will change your life in a million little ways.”
And it really has.
To list a few:
- I’m in much more contact with my clients
- I read a lot more than I used to
- I travel with my MacBook Pro a lot less than I used to
- I’m more creative at random times
The fact is, at home I almost never open my MacBook any more nor do I look at my phone. Instead, I walk around like Jean-Luc Picard with this thing under my arm, taking it from room to room with me to stay connected to the world.
I like to cook and one of the things I often do is have it in the keyboard position while cooking. This allows me to use Siri to set timers via voice when my hands are dirty but also to have Skype, email, and Messages open all at the same time to communicate with the various people in my life. Hell… occasionally, I even take a phone call or FaceTime with someone while in this position.
The iPad Pro, despite my first tepid review, is the future of computing.
But before my explanation of why, let me get into a few of the things that has made the iPad even better since my last update.
When I bought this sucker, iOS 9 was still pretty new. And it had, for the first time, allowed two apps to run side by side… assuming they’d been updated to allow such a thing. It was great! I could run Mail next to Messages and do both! Or have Safari open next to Messages and do both! But, early on, most adoption was Apple apps only. Eventually even Google got on the bandwagon and Google Docs could do the same thing but that was months in.
iOS 11 solved all of this in several ways, because, yes, even several years on, not all apps have been updated to support the shared screen architecture. Now, there isn’t just the shared side by side apps, there’s also the slide over scenario in which an app that supports side by side can be slid over an app that doesn’t to achieve the same effect.
Suddenly, the iPad world is really multitasking even if the app hasn’t been updated in forever. (I’m looking at you NPR….)
But, what’s even better is it means I essentially now have access to three apps on the screen at the same time. So I can share the screen side by side with Podcasts and Messages while also having Skype float above a third of the screen temporarily (with temporary meaning essentially the amount of time I want it there).
It can get even more crazy when you consider that you can also start playing a video and have it minimized in a corner of the screen while interacting with the other three apps also there…
Suddenly, it’s seeming like a real computer…
“Sure,” I can certainly hear some people saying. “So what? If you had a Mac or whatever you could have as many windows on the screen at the same time as you want…”
Which is absolutely true. But there are a couple of drawbacks that are a little tough to explain. But I’ll try.
First is that when you’re on a regular computer as much as I am everyday, just opening it back up again feels like going back to work. You open the lid, you type in your password, you swap through your windows until you find what you’re actually looking to do… Yeah… I know… “First world problems” but with power comes… ugh…
The iPad OS is smart in that it limits you to your immediate tasks. Want to listen to a podcast but don’t need to interact with it regularly, fine, it’ll play in the background as you chat with your friends via Messages, your girlfriend via Skype, and monior your email occassionally via the swipe over window. It could be that you play NPR, have messages open on the side to chat, and have Safari open in the main window displaying your recipe.
What you don’t need open (if you’re me) is the four different terminal windows each with four or five tabs, the two browsers, each with an icognito session going for testing, three different IDEs, the Excel spread sheet to track my time, or the rest of the bullshit you don’t need just to communicate while cooking something up.
iOS 11 has managed to strike the right balance between giving you access to everything you might need access to whil at the same time keeping things simple enough to not feel like work.
Yes, there were other features added, like drag-and-drop and what not but not enough 3rd party apps support that yet for me to be able to review how much of an effect that will really make (though I assume in the long run it will be huge).
The moral is, between iOS 9 and 11, the iPad platform went from a slightly more powerful and larger screened iPhone to something completely different and unique. And it’s nice to see that the Baby Pro, even with half the RAM of the Daddy has more than kept up with the changes. When you drop a grand on a device, it’s great to know it’ll survive more than a few years.
So let’s get into how it’s changed my life…
I’m a consultant, which means that clients email me at times when most people with most jobs would look at the alert, laugh, and go back to whatever they were doing. But I can’t do that. My whole job depends on being in contact and reachable.
Fortunately, I’m not a party guy and like to watch a lot of TV.
Just as fortunately, I also like read which means that rather than trying to squint at my iPhone and read the news, I prefer to look things up on my iPad. Which means I have it with me almost all the time while in the house, which (and I hope you can see where I’m going with this) means I see emails come in almost as soon as they were sent.
Now… I have great clients and they almost never try to contact me after what would be considered “polite” hours but emergencies do happen. And because I have my iPad Pro with me, I’m alerted to these when they happen faster and also able to address them. As I pointed out in my last review, having SSH access to the production server is like being a god, so half the time I can get an email, log in to the server, fix the service or page that’s at issue, log out, and it hasn’t taken me more than five minutes to do the whole thing and send a response.
I can even send a short and detailed summary to the client by just unfolding the keyboard, typing something out as I would on my Mac, and then going back to whatever it was I was doing before.
Contrast this with my workflow with my Mac before. I would essentially hit 7 o’clock, decide the day was done, close the lid, and not find out there were issues until the third call finally caught my attention from the next room.
As a consultant, it’s made me a much better service provider…
But that only assumes emergencies.
In the last two weeks alone, I’ve sent emails to clients after hours of doing research on my iPad for something they’ve wanted while in bed close to midnight because I have an idea about something and want them to have it first thing in the morning. I wouldn’t take my giant MacBook to bed but the iPad is usually there anyway to watch TV with or listen to the radio through. So unfolding the smart cover and typing out a small essay is simple and I get an email to a client that they’ll read first thing in the morning.
Traveling With the iPad Pro
Which brings me to me next point. I never travel with my MacBook unless I’ll be away for a week or longer.
My girlfriend lives in Germany, which means I will go and stay with her for extended periods and the iPad, as I discussed in my last review still isn’t a primary development machine. So I still take my MacBook with me when I go to see her. But, if I’m away for a long weekend, I don’t need to think about bringing a full computer with me, I just take my iPad Pro, which is as easy to travel with as an iPhone.
I’ve taken it exclusively on ski trips to Chile, Colorado, Tahoe, and Stowe, back on family holidays to California, and on summer trips to Fire Island without ever needing my MacBook.
This isn’t fully in the iPad Pro’s favor. A lot of this is also client management. Since the iPad Pro can’t be used as a full development machine, I’ve informed my clients that I’m only available for maitenance and emergencies during these periods but, when both have cropped up, it’s performed admirably both do to a quality SSH client and a Git client that I can commit my live changes to.
But that I can do that much while away means that I don’t lose out on all billable hours and my clients still feel serviced. And I’ll say that I wouldn’t leave without my MacBook unless I already had confidence my iPad Pro could do what I needed it to.
The question that I still wonder about is, when did that happen? As my friend promised, it changed my life in a million ways but I hardly noticed until after it already had.
Benefits to Creativity
Of all the things that the iPad Pro brough to my life, it’s the increased opportunities for creativity. By being omnipresent, so are the chances that I’ll actually work on one of my creative projects. Or even just something random.
I’ve been working on a suspense series for a while now but it kind of tapered off for one of the reasons I mentioned above: opening my laptop felt like work.
I had a thousand other windows open that were doing things that had nothing to do with my creative project and, mostly likely would detract from it. Also, once home, just the act of opening the thing felt like going back to work.
But the omnipresence of the iPad and the addition of the app version of Scrivner has really helped me make progress on my latest writing project. In fact, I’d say that it took it from being moribound to actually reaching near completion.
And this is something the iPad Pro really had in its favor, the smart cover keyboard.
With the smart cover keyboard, writing is just a matter of folding the cover into the origami shape it requires (which takes half a second) and then starting to write into the correct app.
Combined with Scrivner, a writing app that adapted itself perfectly to the iOS medium to offer the power a writer could want with the simplicity of the iOS user interface, it means that when I get bored watching TV or suddenly have inspiration, I can be writing in seconds.
And because it’s so easy to mute notifictions on iOS, the app is so self-contained, and like every other app it boots in just a second, none of it feels like going back to work. Instead, I just fold up the keyboard to be used, start the app, and get writing.
There might be an easier workflow for a writer but I’m not aware of it.
And my problems with typing on the relatively small keyboard that I reported in my first review have completely gone away. I can type almost as fast if not just as accurately on the smart cover keyboard as I can on my Mac meaning I’m just as effective a writer on my iPad Pro as I am when using my actual computer. But, because I’m more likely to write on my iPad, an even more effective writer because the job is actually getting done.
But that’s not where the creativity ends. I’m also casually interested in music and every iOS device comes with a free copy of GarageBand. I’ve actually created more music in the last two years than I have in the last fifteen. And to some extent, it’s even better than the songs I used to scratch out on my old four-track with terrible guitar and bass. And once I get the old podcast up and running again, I hope that you might be able to actually hear it! All of it created exclusively on the baby iPad Pro…
After over 2,000 words, I hope it’s clear what my summary would be. The iPad Pro, even the baby version, isn’t just what I’d hoped it would be when I first bought it but has actually become very much more.
There’s a good case to be made that it’s become my primary non-work computing device. An that’s because of a mixture of both its simplicity and its power. And I think it is the future of computing.
Honest to god, for most people I know, especially of my father’s generation, the iPad Pro is essentially the computer they need. They can surf the web, check email, send messages, do some or all of it at the same time but without the complexities that modern computers have (despite them being as simple as they are these days).
When my dad’s Air kicks, I will push for him to get one instead of a full new computer because it does everything he needs but nothing he doesn’t. And it’s more secure, both from the outside and from himself.
I still have a short wishlist of features I wish it could do, things like allowing a full development environment to be installed on it, even fuller drag and drop support, even more access to the file system than Files allows, but since it’s found it’s niche in my house these aren’t requirements, just other reasons I want to use to not have to take my Mac with me.
Don’t get me wrong, even if a full web or app development environment were available, I’d still use my Mac as my main development machine, it would just be nice to know that even if I had to do something while on holiday, I could do it with my little baby.
But maybe it’s a good thing that it doesn’t do that well yet. Because it’s already made me a better consultant and a hell of a better writer because I’m actually willing to open the thing and write on it…