The iPad Pro Experiment: In which we meet the iPad Pro

Shortly after buying an iPad Pro last November, I abandoned my Macs for an iOS-only test drive. If you're thinking about buying an iPad Pro and want to know how to truly get the most out of it, I've collected all my iPad Pro Experiment articles from last year and more recent experiments. Read on!

As I slowly ease back into computer-related work after a recent health scare (I'm fine!), I thought it might be a fun experiment to try using Apple's iPad Pro as my main device. No iMac, no MacBook Air. Just my iPad Pro, Logitech keyboard, other iOS devices, and anything else that will connect to my iPad.

I put my Macs through a lot, normally, and I haven't attempted an experiment like this since iOS 4.2—when the iPad first came out. I'm curious to see if I can actually manage on an iPad with my day-to-day, especially since I'm not in a great position to do much else right now.

It's also going to be a great way to review the iPad in real time. Rene wrote iMore's full, deep-dive iPad Pro review, but in the meantime—this is what I'm thinking of it so far. Onward!

Prelude: Things I know are going to be a problem

Off the bat, there are a couple features my iPad doesn't have that I'm going to miss pretty quickly.

One is support for Napkin, our image annotator—it's the app that lets us do those awesome zoom call-outs on our screenshots. I can probably still do a fair amount with apps like Skitch (opens in new tab), but it won't quite be the same.

Speaking of screenshots, I won't be able to take them—or take videos—of the new Apple TV. Doing so requires Xcode or QuickTime, neither of which I have access to on my iPad Pro. I can work around this by taking photos and video of my Apple TV's screen, but it won't look nearly as professional. (I'll probably cheat by persuading Rene to take them for me.)

The last big one: Podcast recording. While there are a couple of okay microphones designed for the Lightning connector, none have really blown me away. As such, I don't own any. If I plan to record an iMore podcast, I'm going to be doing it with an EarPods mic. Blech.

If Apple supported devices like the Blue Icicle through its USB-based camera connector, this would be a lot easier—I could hook up my microphone system, no problem. (Or, hey, if someone wanted to try building a Smart Connector dock that offered access to powered microphones...)

Even with that, however, there's little (if any) support in iOS for choosing audio input, or recording your side. It's a shame, because I actually think the iPad could be a great portable tool for recording podcasts and audio—if it was allowed to be.

Day one: The white monolith

Today, I ventured out of my house for the first time in almost a week to pick up my iPad Pro from the Apple Store. Exciting on several fronts, including some pure joy at no longer being at my house.

Waiting, waiting, waiting: So I did some Pencil tests

The store was (unsurprisingly) packed to the gills, so while I waited for a specialist to help me, I grabbed some time with a Pro demo unit that had a Pencil attached. I never got to try the Pencil at Apple's event back in September, and mine has a miserly potential ship time of December 15; both of these facts had me itching to give it a proper whirl.

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The above video shows a very quick in-store sketching test using Paper. (I also sketched in Notes and Procreate, not shown.)

In just ten minutes of Pencil usage, I am happy to say that it checks all of my happy artist boxes: It feels great in my hand; latency is next to nothing in supported apps; and shading is just stupidly cool.

Like others have said in their reviews, it's a bit longer than I initially anticipated, but it works to the Pencil's advantage—it gives it a nice balance and weight while drawing that feels just as good if not better than the best third-party stylus on the market.

My initial sketching experience was just "good"... until I remembered to actually rest my palm on the iPad. I've spent five years drawing with styluses, and even the ones with built-in palm rejection aren't too great. That's five years of training not to ever touch my hand on the screen. Once I finally trusted the Pencil and drew the way I might draw on paper, the experience was wildly more comfortable.

The Pencil made beautiful, low-latency lines in just about every program I tried it in, and its pressure-sensitivity is fantastic—well, mostly. In Procreate and Notes, the Pencil worked exactly as I hoped it would: heavier pressure made heavier lines, lighter pressure gave me wisp-thin pencil scratches, and tilting worked fantastically for shading. (A nice little bit about the pencil tool in Notes: As you shade, you'll actually see virtual "bits" of charcoal break off and scatter on the virtual paper. It's such a neat little skeuomorphic touch, and one that adds a lot of character to the drawing experience.)

Paper, on the other hand, seems to still be using pressure for line opacity, and speed for line width. I understand why the Paper team chose to implement Pencil support in this way—it mirrors the company's support for its own Pencil tool—but I hate, hate, hate drawing like this. Much as I enjoy Paper's tools, I imagine I'll probably prefer drawing in Procreate or Notes with the Pencil.

Writing was a little trickier, at least at first: As a lefty, I'm used to over-slanting my pen so as not to get ink or pencil dust on my hands. On paper, that works out great; on the iPad, the Pencil reads this as an attempt at shading. For the first few minutes of writing, I ended up accidentally shade-writing letters.

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Once I figured out the tilt issue, I was able to write normally, but it definitely takes some getting used to. I also wonder if there's a preference in Settings that changes the Pencil's "handedness" from right to left, or vice versa; most of the third-party Bluetooth styluses have that option, and if it does exist for the Pencil, it might explain some of my writing troubles.

Final Pencil verdict: I'm hoping a shipment of them come in to our local Apple Store on Friday, because I'm not sure I can wait until mid-December to get my hands on one. (Warning: It's good enough that it may turn your thoughts to criminal ones. I definitely fantasized, while waiting for my iPad Pro, of "borrowing" the demo Pencil for 24 hours. But, y'know, not a criminal, so I left it sitting in its beautiful white cradle for the next customer to try. Poor Pencil.)

Hello, iPad Pro

After not nearly enough time with the Pencil, I was pulled away to take delivery of my own iPad Pro. I purchased the 128GB Cellular model in Silver—in honesty, I would have preferred Space Gray, but the nearest gray model available for pickup would have meant another hour drive in the car for me and my driving companion. Don't care about colors that much.

At the last minute (and after reading Viticci's wonderful review) I also decided to pick up a Logitech Create (opens in new tab) keyboard case. (I am thanking my stars for making that decision, because it makes working on the iPad a thousand percent more feasible. I hate typing on software keyboards.) I got it in rose gold and red, because if you're going to get a white iPad, might as well jazz it up.

Once I arrived home, unboxing the iPad was a surreal experience—the tablet is huge. Huge! Even handling it in the store, I wasn't truly able to appreciate its size until it was stacked next to my iPad Air 2. That giant 12.9-inch screen is one of crazy beauty, but it definitely takes some getting used to.

It doesn't even really feel like an iPad, to be honest. It may run the same software as an iPad and have the same exterior controls, but I can't imagine using this like I used my Air 2. (Which is to say, I think I've been severely underutilizing that poor iPad.) I understand why they called it Pro: When you have this machine in your hand, it practically demands doing real work. Especially when you snap it into the Logitech case, which makes it look like a strange, short laptop.

In part, this is why I was so darn annoyed that the iPad Pro setup process was done in portrait mode. In landscape, the Pro feels like a computer. In portrait, I feel like I'm holding a jumbo-sized iOS device—and an uncomfortable one, at that. The setup screens haven't really been optimized for the Pro's size, so buttons are at far ends from one another, and the lack of landscape support means lack of Smart Connector, so you'll be typing in all your information with the (not great) portrait software keyboard. Thumbs down all around.

Thankfully, you only really have to set up your iPad once (if you're lucky), and once you've done so, you can use your tablet in any orientation you choose.

Once I got the initial setup process over with, it was a simple enough task to authorize my iPad to use iCloud Keychain via my iPhone 6s Plus; I was able to set up my two-factor accounts using the iPhone, too, all in under an hour.

Apps, apps, everywhere

After I finished setup, I went to the App Store and downloaded the apps I might want to use on the Pro. I've mostly been living in Notes, Slack, iMessage, Safari, and Tweetbot for now, but I also pulled The Room 3 (for creepy entertainment), Skitch (in case I need to annotate things), GarageBand, iMovie, 1Password, Pixelmator, entertainment apps, Dropbox, and various drawing apps.

I did cheat a little bit with my Mac in the evening, opening my Air to demonstrate one of those iPad Pro apps for a friend of mine. Astropad lets you use your iPad's screen as a low-latency second screen specifically for drawing usage—essentially, turning your iPad Pro into a Wacom-style tablet. And Astropad has (beta) support for the Pencil, along with a number of other third-party styluses.

More on other apps in subsequent days, once I take some time to play with them.

Sound explosion

One of the first things I noticed after setting up my iPad was its speakers: Apple wasn't just wasting advertising time on idle boasts. On listening alone, the tablet's four speakers are definitely better than my MacBook Air's, if not my iMac's. They may not beat a dedicated speaker system, but they're more than good enough for listening to music while you work, and they downright shine when you load up Hulu or Netflix.

I have a nice TV, a brand-new Apple TV, and decent speakers, but it was the iPad that I watched a movie on last night. And it was awesome.

Turning the iPad into a pseudo-computer

I wouldn't have embarked on this iPad Pro-as-full-time-computer experiment without a good hardware keyboard, and the Logitech Create sold me on the prospect almost immediately. This is a fantastic keyboard: It took me less time to acclimate to than Apple's new Magic Keyboard, and feels great in your lap or on a desk. You can even pick the keyboard-and-iPad combo up by the bottom of the case like you might a laptop, though I'd advise holding on to the iPad while you do.

The iPad Pro's new Smart Connector is something special. Snapping the keyboard to the connector creates an instant pairing; detaching it immediately disables power. I snapped and unsnapped the Create to the iPad three dozen times or so, and every connection brought the keyboard online almost instantaneously. It feels much quicker and smoother than Bluetooth, and there's no worrying about charging your keyboard or accidentally letting it run down the battery.

And as a result, the Create offers what has heretofore been a luxury in portable keyboards: backlighting. As someone who lived with a backlit-less MacBook Air for years, backlighting has become one of my top features on a good keyboard, and the Create does it very nicely.

You also have an entire row of function keys available on the Create. Like a laptop, you've got keys to control brightness of both the iPad screen and backlit keys, along with volume and music shortcuts. The keyboard also has a few iPad-specific keys, however: The escape button has been replaced with a shortcut to the Home screen; there's a button that sends you to the Spotlight screen for searching; a Lock button to instantly send your iPad to sleep; and my own personal favorite, a keyboard-switcher. If you use third-party keyboards or the emoji keyboard often, that physical keyboard-switcher button is a lifesaver—I used it at least ten times in my first day with the iPad Pro alone.

I've got a lot of praise for the Logitech this early on, but also a few critiques. Its back casing for the iPad Pro doesn't fit perfectly on my Cellular model, and while the iPad's in no danger of slipping loose, there's an odd gap at the top of the casing that makes the overall fit look sloppy. It also adds quite a bit of weight to iPad, and it's a little difficult to snap out of the case if you'd prefer to use it sans keyboard. (You can fold the iPad over the keyboard, but it means carrying an extra 1.6 pounds around—that doubles the weight of the 1.59-pound iPad Pro.)

So far, that 3 pounds hasn't bothered me, but I also haven't carried it around anywhere besides my house—it's a good half-pound heavier than my 11-inch MacBook Air. (The 13-inch Air is around 3 pounds, for reference; the 12-inch MacBook is 2 pounds.)

Day one bottom line

One day in, I've got a lot of hope for the iPad Pro as a replacement laptop computer. I was able to set it up quickly, and get going with some of my basic tools; authorizing my two-factor accounts was easy with my iPhone by my side; and I really like the feel of the Logitech hardware keyboard. I expect to run up into some limitations as I get further into this experiment, but for now, I'm really enjoying working with the iPad Pro. (And I wrote this article on the Pro, using Notes!)

Serenity Caldwell

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.

  • I noticed which of my apps were just upscaling and contacted a few of them. Comixology customer support said "keep an eye out for an update". Comics look great it's just the UI needs some tweaking for the larger screen. After trying out the Smart Keyboard at the Apple Store I find myself wanting one now. The other keyboard covers required me to snap the iPad in and out of a case to use just as a tablet but the Smart Keyboard wasn't noticeably thicker than the Smart cover on my iPad Air.
  • This is why I'm begging Belkin to make an Ultimate Keyboard Pro for iPad Pro. I love my iPad Air 2 version; would be cats meow to get one for Pro, especially if it supported the new connector.
  • Me too. I use the Ultimate keyboard on my iPad Air. Great case. I twittered Belkin and they said they would forward my iPad Pro keyboard case request to their development team. I thought that was a lame response but I recall they came to the iPad keyboard case market late. I'm sure the iPad Pro case is already in development, just wanted to get them a gentle push. :-)
  • It's still just an iPad, you could do all the same stuff on an iPad Air.
  • Thanks for saying this. I hate how everyone is acting like the Pro is a whole new machine just because it's big. It is bigger, it has better speakers, and it has pencil support. Arguably, pencil support is the only truly "new" and different thing about it the bigger size and speakers being just enhancements of what was already there. Sure, it engenders different uses because of it's size, but it's basically the exact same device as the other iPads, (but with the pencil). It makes one wonder if Apple will (artificially, immorally, wrongly), hold off on giving us pencil support for the other iPads, given that this is almost the only thing that differentiates it.
  • I agree - I love the Logitech keyboard, but I do wish it were easier to get the iPad Pro in and out of it. And I typed in all my password stuff, even with the screen sideways! LOL! Laura
  • Thanks for this. I have my ginormous iPad Pro but no keyboard yet. I wonder how it will change the experience. I had to buy the regular and am going to pair my bluetooth keyboard to see how much I can do on it. iOS 10 really needs to catch up next year to give app interactivity and management a more Pro feel. Although iOS 9 has been out for only a few months the slow down in iPad growth may be giving some developers pause in supporting iPad specific apps in general which makes me somewhat nervous. The amount of apps that STILL can't use the new on screen keyboard is surprising. What do these developers do with those early developer releases??
  • Have you tried the Apogee MiC 96k for podcast recording on an iPad? We are very happy with it, even use it with most Macs now.
  • Agree - we have a couple of these for work and the sound quality is excellent, certainly up to podcasting...
  • Is it just me or is anyone else finding the Logitech Create case SUPER hard to get on and off the iPad Pro ? Concerns me the damage it might do to the iPad underneath
  • yeah that was the reason I wanted one but decided not to get one
  • Yeah, I may have to take this one back. The keyboard in it is nice and all but not at the expense of having to pry the IPP out of it. Didn't want the Apple keyboard case because that didn't look great or feel good at all so now I guess will have to see what other 3rd party ones get some good reviews
  • Yep. It's really unpleasant, and one of my main gripes.
  • I've noticed on my cellular one the same gap you mention but also if you look in the corner closest to where the camera on the IPP is (but the white bezel covering the cellular radio), the case is causing that to lift a little ! Serenity will you or Rene be getting any other cases like the Zagg keyboard one etc ? Really not thinking I will keep the create longer term if this is what I am seeing within 24 hours. Like you said the fit feels sloppy. While Logitech state they worked with Apple, I have to question whether it was with just schematics or testing a 'real' IPP because this does not feel as good as their other previous products for fit and finish. Logitech if you are reading and feel this is an isolated batch etc hopefully you can reach out to this or other threads/users on the matter as well. Will be opening a support case with them for my issue currently. Thanks
  • My apologies, Serenity, if you have not spoken to this already in earlier posts or articles, but what is your main writing machine for iMore? I love the iPad Air 2 for writing for its limitation in terms of one-app, one-at-a-time. Do you see the iPad Pro as an evening better writing tool and a worthy upgrade for that reason? Sent from the iMore App
  • Well, the iPad Air 2 and iPad Pro both let you now run two apps side by side with the split view feature, so maybe that will help you?
  • I primarily use a MacBook Air, with an iMac as a backup. I really like the focus of writing on an iPad, but have had a lot of trouble writing on the smaller models. Like the Pro a lot more.
  • Hey Serenity, there is a device that will allow you to use powered mic's on the iPad. It is the new Apogee One.
  • Awesome post, Serenity. Thanks for taking a week to do this. It'll be real helpful to those of us unsure if we want to take the plunge on the iPad Pro. I'll be watching daily for your updates and progress.
    Get well soon. :-)
  • It may not be worth it, and you can only record, but Auria DAW app(iPad only) a camera connection kit, powered USB hub, and an audio interface. You can plug any mic into the a interface, and record to Auria. app. Sure there are other DAW apps that will do the same. Only problem with Auria, and the connection, you can not charge the iPad while using it. May be a little too much for you. I do not think you would need the full fiction of Auria, a 48 track Digital Audio Workstation. Of course the mix would have to go to your computer via iTunes file sharing, AAF file. Mixes can be save to Dropbox, or soundcloud. Just an idea for the future. Have fun, and take it easy. Sent from the iMore App
  • SO excited to read your initial experiences and thoughts. I'm stoked about producing 4K video dailies and moving my presentations over. Now if Apple would just give me Xcode on the iPad Pro.. :)
  • It is the same as other iPads but larger....things really should not be that different...
  • Apple figured out they can just resize the iPod Touch every year and sell it over and over.
  • Interestingly, Staples is accepting pre-orders for the Pencil and claims to be shipping them out on November 18th for delivery 1-6 days after that. I wonder why Apple's own store has such a long lead time.
  • Hope you are feeling better and thanks for sharing your first day on the ipad pro. I won't be getting one - no real need - but I look forward to hearing about your first week experiences.
  • Here we go. Another resized Apple product. Same thing you have, again, just bigger. Surface rip off.
  • Except the Surface can actually replace a laptop. This is just a big iPad. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • *takes a drink*
  • Two questions Ren... 1) Why did you choose Notes over Pages to write the article in? (since Pages offers far more editing tools) 2) Since you were talking about not being able to annotate photos in Napkin, I'm sure you know that you can annotate photos in many other apps like Pixelmator or even Notability. So I was curious what specific type of annotation Napkin allows you to do on the Mac that the iOS apps don't allow. Thanks!
  • 1: I like writing in plain text and Markdown, because that's what our CMS uses. 2: It's more being able to precisely and easily imitate the kinds of annotations we can do in Napkin. I can get similar results in Pixelmator, but they're not quite what I want right now.
  • Tried to do this in the past, going for a few months - ended up circling back to my MacBook Air. Sent from the iMore App
  • Its still just an ipad.... I don't get all the hoopla. Why can't the ipad run full MacOS? (you the MS Surface)... having a big iphone/ipad doesn't add any value. MAYBE the stylus, but since I'm not an artist, this is a product that I will skip until it because something useful. I have an iphone, and a Macbook Pro 15" retina. I'm good.
  • That would be do-able with the Apple pencil.... but security gets in the way. There's probably a trade off that needs to happen first as how "useful" it will be.
  • Why does everyone think it's a great idea to put a mouse-based desktop OS on a touch device? The iPad is an opportunity to rethink how computers get used. Apple is clearly still figuring out what to do, there are difficult problems presented and the solutions are not obvious until they're found. But taking the Surface approach isn't clever, it's giving up. If you need a laptop, just buy an effing laptop. For the record, I am writing this on an iPad. Mac OS is a great operating system, but it's the last thing I want to see here.
  • Allow me to clarify further. Consider this seriously for a moment. What is the problem a tablet computer is intended to solve? If all you want a computer that works just like the computer you have already except that you can poke at it with your fingers, then Microsoft has done a fine job. The problem I have with that approach is that while I, and probably most of the people on this forum, have no problem managing the complexity of a traditional computer, that doesn't describe 90% of humanity. In my experience most people can barely grasp the concepts of a hierarchical file system, data formats and overlapping windows, if at all. Even for those of us who can, these things are often an inconvenience of convention that we've simply become blind to, an implementation detail that just distracts from the actual work at hand. Those are the problems I think (and hope) Apple is trying to address with the iPad. It's ambitious and dazzlingly complicated. And I think "just make it like the Surface" comments completely fail to appreciate that vision.
  • Have you tried Ember as a replacement for Skitch? After Skitch was bought by Evernote it went from being the drop dead easy to use tool with minimal steps to adding many steps and frustrations. The iPad version has been decent, but I had switched to Ember which was closer to the pre-Evernote version as it it has light workflows, easy Dropbox or iCloud synch, easy quick annotations, and really once screen capture and cropping. It also has a quite good Mac app as well.
  • Thanks for the recommendation. Didn't know Real Mac software, a company I already like, made such a replacement. I'll pick this up for OS X. However, I don't see any version of this for the iPad. Are you sure it exists?
  • I can sum it all up in a few words..... well maybe a few paragraphs. Its still running iOS and affected by everything limited iOS is today, software & hardware support. The only difference its now better for creative work with the Apple pencil and larger display for movie watching/better graphics. and although performance/resolution is better than any Macbook or Macbook Pro with Retina display, its still iOS under the hood, and until there are extrenal ports for offloading/backup Terra-bytes of data, and apps perform equally as well on a laptop, it will always be a limited OS, regardless. I like what Apple did to the 'Pro' but its no PC replacement yet.. Apple's getting there with extensions and all, open-ness. but it needs to be 'more' open before we can call it a PC replacement. we are still limited with what info can be shared between apps and what apps are doing the sharing without sacrificing security. I'll wait till the 3rd generation.
  • Forgive me if i've missed something but i'm quite surprised to see that apples own smart keyboard doesn't even get a mention and you've gone straight for 3rd party smart connector keyboard why have you chosen this one apple's own solution?
  • I tried it in the store and wasn't interested in a non-backlit keyboard; Rene's doing a full review of it on the site soon!
  • Apogee MIC Sent from the iMore App
  • As enough people already said here: It's an iPad... With more power that most people will never need anyway because they use Facebook or write some stuff.
  • Great article. Thank you. If I could add, the single greatest application for me is sheet music. FINALLY! I can see the notes without straining my eyes. Looking forward to the pen, but for a musician who has all his music in PDF, this is a godsend. ForScore looks and works great. I also tested annotations with the pen in the store. Tried a movie at home and was blown away with the sound. Very pleased.
  • I am really considering getting the new iPad Pro, but I am torn whether to get this or the Apple Watch first. It'll probably end up being the watch knowing myself. Then there is the new Apple TV but I am not sure I can justify that considering my PS4 can do a lot of the same things.