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The iPad Pro is a computer for everything — mostly

On Wednesday, MacStories's Federico Viticci published a retrospective on using the 12.9-inch iPad Pro as his primary computer for a year:

There's no doubt in mind now: the iPad Pro is the best computer I've ever owned not only because it's powerful, but because iOS apps unlock a different kind of productivity on the big screen. More than any other iPad before, the iPad Pro is the strongest argument in favor of iOS for as a primary computing platform.

As someone who also spent the better part of the year working on iPad Pro, I have to agree. The potential of the iPad platform remains huge, but Apple has made great strides in realizing some of that potential, giving its users more control over the last twelve months. Thanks to third-party apps like Workflow (opens in new tab), I've been able to recreate — and in some cases, better — daily work tasks. The iPad has also succeeded in focusing my productivity where the Mac scattered it, thanks to dedicated app windows for writing and other tasks. And I love being able to switch on a whim between writing on a keyboard like the Logitech Create and sketching with the Apple Pencil.

Where I'd like to see the company bring deeper updates is iOS and the iPad accessory department. The iPad's multitasking UI needs a visual overhaul and integration with external keyboards. It's also time for a system-wide drag & drop framework that can provide a suitable alternative to the clipboard and extensions. There should be support for in-app split views (like Safari's) in more Apple apps, too. Hopefully, Apple had the time to measure the response to iOS 9, and they're working on a proper follow-up for 2017.

This is the big pain point I still have with working on iOS: For certain tasks, it's too cumbersome to use an iPad over a Mac. I feel lucky in that I can switch to my iMac or MacBook Pro in those cases — a 9.7-inch iPad is the perfect accompaniment with a MacBook or 13-inch MacBook Pro — but not everyone is going to have the luxury to own multiple devices. In truth, your primary device needs be able to do 99% of the work you need it to, not 50% or 65%. At this point, I find the iPad great for about that percentage of my daily activities, but certain tasks just aren't enjoyable on iOS. (Especially those that involve drag and drop gestures in Safari: Trello, whose app remains sub-par and lacking features on iPad, is a constant source of frustration when I'm working with iOS.)

Even if this discussion was settled a long time ago, it bears repeating: millions of people today like working on iOS more than they do on macOS, and the iPad Pro is the best machine to run iOS. There is no sarcastic subtext about the Mac here, which is still a fantastic environment that many Apple users love and need for their line of work. The Mac and the iPad can coexist in a market where customers believe one is superior to the other. I prefer working on the iPad; others like their Macs more. And that's fine because, ultimately, the Apple ecosystem as a whole grows stronger and we all reap the benefits.

I remain convinced that Viticci is correct here: I don't foresee the Mac melding with iOS as Microsoft has melded Windows with multitouch in its Surface tablets, and I don't want to go that direction. iOS and macOS may share more similarities as the years progress, but they're built for different interactions: iOS is direct touch, macOS is indirect input. As such, each will have its own strengths and weaknesses: The Mac will never be as good a platform for drawing or image correction as a tablet, and the iPad won't ever be the multitasking giant the Mac is today.

I'm okay with that. As users, we can want iOS to improve without championing the death of the Mac — I have use cases for both machines, and I want to see both succeed. And if we can get some of the Mac's brilliance on iOS and vice versa, it only helps both platforms move forward.

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.

22 Comments
  • This all boils down to what you either do for work or expect out of your machine. Compiling code and running development tools is a no go with these devices. While I accept what Frederico said, it doesn't account for the amount of time that he has spent configuring software, writing automation apps scripts and finagling other apps to get the productivity up to match the mac platform for his needs. One has to wonder if that time is worth the money saved.
  • "The Mac will never be as good a platform for drawing or image correction as a tablet, and the iPad won't ever be the multitasking giant the Mac is today." Why? If you put a touch screen layer on a Mac, it could be at least as good as the HP Spectre X360 I am currently writing this on. So I don't accept that the Mac CANNOT be a good touch device. Apple just doesnt "want to." Also, what does the Ipad being a touch device have to do with its ability to multi-task? Again, my HP has a great touch screen and on the flip side, the A10 and newer chips are catching up with the Intel core cpus very quickly.
  • "So I don't accept that the Mac CANNOT be a good touch device. Apple just doesnt "want to."" And there are good reasons why Apple doesn't want to (and shouldn't) give Macs' displays multi-touch. 😉
  • and what are these "good reasons"?
  • Because Apple doesn't want to lol. Thats the only reason. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • If someone doesn't want to do something when other manufacturers are doing it, there's always a reason behind it. It's not like Apple got into a meeting about touchscreens on Mac, then without any discussion they all said no and left
  • - Whole OS and all its applications (including applications by other developers) would have to be redeveloped for touch interfaces
    - Touch interfaces won't allow for showing a wide array of controls on the screen. Touch interfaces require bigger icons for touch, and that means less on the screen and more in hidden menus etc.
    - Precision for stuff like video editing or music programs can only really be gotten by a mouse cursor, touch screens don't allow that level of precision without some workaround like zooming in.
    - Touching a screen at a 90 degree angle isn't fun, if it were to be done on a Mac, the screen would probably have to detach, then you've got two tablet devices, creating more confusion for users I'm sure there's more, but that's what I can think of off the top of my head
  • I'm afraid it's not that complicated. Make the Macbook touchscreen ready and people stop buying expensive iPad Pros. Always remember: With Apple it is all about how much money they can get their customers to spend. You buy an iPad that costs as much as some laptops and you have to BUY the fancy pen to write on it.
  • Fingerprints
  • I was just going to comment on this. Devices like the Surface Book or even Surface Pro 4 or Vaio Flip show that you CAN have a device that is a true 2-in-1: a no-compromise laptop, and a no-compromise drawing device. (I wouldn't say "no compromise tablet" - the Surfaces come very close, but the Surface Book has only 4h tablet battery and while you can extend that to ~12h with the keyboard, it then becomes too heavy for a tablet. Also the tablet app ecosystem is still young.)
  • Agreed that the type of work one does will determine how suitable any particular tool is. As for the time Federico spent, I would suggest that any automation process, be it Workflow on iOS or Automator or AppleScript on the Mac, requires time and effort at the outset. This isn't really a specific investment one makes in relation to the OS. That said, I do think that the iPad as a newer form factor running a fairly young and evolving OS with a young app ecosystem has been short on productivity features. That has begun to change though. I would add, to reflect Federico and Serenity, there are some cases when the iPad and iOS actually surpass the Mac. Regarding multi-tasking, I think we see with split screen and extensions that the iPad and iOS are capable of multi-tasking. It's just a bit different from multi-tasking on other platforms. This too is an area that will improve with new iterations of hardware, OS and apps. I've happily moved about 80% of my work to the iPad (an Air2). It began accidentally and without intent. I only return to my Mac for InDesign projects and some graphics work.
  • My point is that there are things being done on iOS that takes a multiple taps and multiple apps to complete that can be done simply on the Mac, without a need for automation. And while there definitely are things worth scripting on the Mac and iOS, the difference is in the OS. One makes you do things in a different, less optimal way, while the other is broader in its capabilities.
  • But they don't NEED to be implemented in that way. This is just a poor choice by Apple in something that will probably evolve. Its completely a software issue and not a reflection of the capabilities of the hardware at all. I agree that it is currently clumsy and Apple really needs to step up their game.
  • I'm not arguing that they need to be that way, just pointing out that while you can do things on iOS that you can on the Mac, some things are more difficult to implement and take more time than is really pointed out. I'm not sure it's just a software issue, security plays a bigger role I think, but it's not just about the implementation it's about securely implementing it.
  • Ipad is great for some tasks and adequate for many but as Serenity says it is cumbersome on too many tasks to be my only computing device. What is frustrating that whenever I travel I need to carry both Macbook and iPad - some work applications are iPad only. It wouldn't take much to fix this. Number 1 issue is that I cannot automatically sync my files onto the ipad so that they are available on the device when I don't have an internet connect ie it doesn't work like Dropbox which syncs my Mac files the moment it gets a data connection. This is essential for travel. There will be loads of time without a data connection whilst away from home and I need the files on the device in these situations. This should be easy to fix - the Music App is working really well at downloading music files onto my phone. I'd love a proper keyboard (ideally with a trackpad). Apple is right that having to reach up from a keyboard to a touch screen is awkward. Also wrong in that being able from time to time reach and scroll or swipe. iPad would benefit from a trackpad. Mac would benefit from touchscreen. There are lots of other areas where I somewhat prefer the mac but could probably live with them.
  • I'm not sure if this is what you meant, but you can save files for offline viewing on the Dropbox iOS app?
  • It's just one file at a time and you have to select each one individually. If they offered syncing of chosen folders then that would be problem fixed.
  • "but not everyone is going to have the luxury to own multiple devices." As the resident family Apple tech, this is my biggest condumdrum when it comes to recommending computer purchases. My aunt has a 2006 Macbook and a 9.7 iPad Pro. She wants to get a new Macbook, but my father thinks she should just be okay with an iPad. However, what do we do with the years of photos on her Mac? Her iTunes library filled with all her ripped CD's? All her files? Photos - pay for iCloud Photo library?
    iTunes - Get her Apple Music and have it all uploaded to the cloud? That's great until there's an Apple Music bug that makes her need to reupload or something, and that only works from a Mac.
    Files - Pay for more iCloud storage for her files? It seems like for using apps and browsing, iPads are great, but when it comes to years and years of STUFF we have on our Macs, the transition process isn't clear, and you lose tight control of the media once it is only on iOS. And on iOS you are stuck paying for online cloud storage.
  • Productivity on the IPad Pro is hindered by the lack of a trackpad or mouse. The Apple Pencil lacks right-click when remote controlling a Windows Machine. Very nice tablet, but still a tablet and not a productivity powerhouse like a Laptop. Sent from the iMore App
  • Lack of access to the file system on iOS makes using an iPad as a replacement for a real computer annoying. Posted from my Nexus 6P
  • I could not agree more! IPad has been my computer of choice since day one. I use iOS on my 12.9" iPad Pro for 95% of my daily personal computing. ( I don't use it for work, because my employer's ERP is a Windows app.) I would not need to use my iMac at all if two things were added to iPad Pro/iOS: external drive support & full features between iOS & macOS versions of apps. ( I would still use my Mac, but I would not NEED to. ) Yes, I would also like drag & drop, a better app picker UI, & universal Split-View. But these are conveniences, not necessities. Sent from the iMore App
  • Sure an iPad is great for almost everything until it's not. Then you need a Windows or Mac computer or you're SOL. I'd rather just use a Macbook or MBP instead of having to switch back and forth all of the time when I hit a wall on the iPad, and it happens often enough. Besides, Macbooks have gotten really thin and light.
    I love the iPad, but it's still mostly a consumption device for me. The iPad pro's pencil is great of creative on top of that, obviously. That's something that is not on an MBP by Apple's design. I think that's where MS surface has the right idea to bring that to the PC rather than require an either device situation, though MS's implementation is just not as good IMO.