The iPad Pro Experiment: Writing, email, and cellular data

Welcome to day two of my journey working solely on my iPad Pro and iPhone 6s Plus! I was a little more mobile on Thursday, which allowed me to test the portability of the iPad Pro, its cellular data connection, and get some good writing done.

Fitting the iPad back into my life

I have a dirty iPad secret to admit: I've been sorely neglecting my iPad Air 2 for months. I used to draw pretty regularly on the tablet, but once the iPhone 6s Plus came on the scene, I switched to doodling on it with a Jot Dash. The iPad has sat, unloved, at my house—used only as an occasional recipe guide or game machine.

As someone who jumped up and down when the first iPad was released and took it everywhere, it was a pretty depressing reality to confront: Did the iPad have a place in my life anymore?

The Air 2 was never comfortable enough for me to want to try dedicated writing work on it, and that past stigma led me to barely test it out with iOS 9's new multitasking features. Sure, they were cool, but how often would I really use them in my (increasingly small) iPad usage? It doesn't help that the many, many iPad Air keyboards I've tried, I've hated: Bluetooth keyboards and I just don't get along. I forget to charge them, or they're not comfortable to type on. The list goes on and on.

The iPad Pro, in contrast, is an iOS device I actively want to do work on. It helps (a lot) that I can attach a full-sized keyboard—with function keys!—for long-form writing. I still don't like the on-screen keyboard, even on the Pro. I know plenty of writers who have conditioned themselves to enjoy writing on glass, but it just doesn't fly with me for long-form writing. I love the feel of a physical keyboard, and my WPM speed takes a drastic hit when typing on a screen. I can do it in a pinch, but I vastly prefer having a hardware keyboard around.

I do have my qualms with the Logitech Create case, but the keyboard itself is one of the easiest and most enjoyable setups I've ever used with an iPad. And that Smart Connector makes me wonder how I ever used Bluetooth keyboards before: I spent a lot of yesterday switching between multitouch and keyboard interface, and the Smart Connector took it like a champ—like my first day of use, the keyboard connected and disconnected almost instantly.

After two days and about 5000 words, the keyboard still feels as good to me as the first bit of typing I did on it. It's very well-built.

Pro takes Air

Why is the Pro so much better to work on than the Air? Equipping a full-sized, Smart Connector-equipped keyboard is part of it. But the real trick is that beautiful 12.9-inch screen, combined with iOS 9's iPad multitasking features.

For me, iOS 9 was a neat gimmick on the iPad Air. On the iPad Pro, it makes my multitasking-happy brain sing with joy. The screen is large enough that it makes Split View not only manageable, but enjoyable: I've rocked it with Slack and my email; Notes and Safari; Messages and PIxelmator.

It gets even better when you combine it with a hardware keyboard and the Command-Tab app switcher interface. Use the shortcut to switch to an app that supports Split View, and it will replace the app in the left pane; if you switch to an unsupported app, that app will take up the full screen, but save your Split View state elsewhere. When you return to an app that supports Split View, you'll regain your last two-used apps.

It's not perfect. As Viticci mentioned in his review, getting a new app in the right-side Split View space is downright infuriating if you haven't used that program recently. I'll end up opening the app I want separately first in an attempt to put it to the top of the queue in Split View, but it's cumbersome and frustrating. I'm hoping someone at Apple is already hard at work on a fix and an upgrade for picking apps, because it's such a useful feature—it needs to not be a pain to turn on.

When I'm writing, Command-Tab has been my savior: I use it to swap between my most recently-used app constantly. (For example, between Slack and Notes, if I want to goof off or check in at the office.) I have run into an odd little bug now and again, where if I lift up "tab" too quickly, it goes into a never-ending cycle of app-picking; I suspect it might have something to do with the latency between the keyboard and the iPad, as the software will do the same thing as long as you continue holding Command and Tab.

What I most appreciate about multitasking on the iPad, though, is that it's not solely a keyboard or software-based affair. When I'm drawing or actively using multitouch, I can use four-finger gestures to move between apps, see all running programs, resize Split Views, and more. When I'm in writing mode, I can use Command-Tab to swap between apps, and the Shift-Command-Control and Arrow-Keys/Delete-Key shortcuts to highlight and delete text.

iOS 9 offers power users a lot of flexibility depending on how they like to work, and I really appreciate that effort. The iPad is powerful because it gives users so many different kinds of ways to work: at a desk, on a train, in a lap, in moving hands, with accessories, with your fingers, with styluses, with your voice. That malleability may be—admittedly—part of the iPad's marketing problem. But I'm convinced that it's the right way to go in the long term.

Pro, meet iMore's CMS

Day two was my first real test pitting the iPad Pro against our content management system at iMore, and it came off pretty well, overall. I was able to copy and paste my text in Split View from Notes to our CMS's Markdown editor, fill out boxes and forms, and even add a few images from my camera roll.

I'm still working in Notes for my writing at the moment; I'm going to take a look over the weekend at some more full-featured Markdown editors, but I'm not convinced I need them. I've always had a bad tendency to write out my code rather than use app-built shortcuts, and I suspect any editor that provides me with buttons for italicizing my text may see those buttons stay cold and unloved. But who knows? I do love keyboard shortcuts, and I'd prefer to write in plain text (which Notes is decidedly not).

When I upload my Apple TV review this weekend, I'll get a real test of how much touchscreen input the CMS will take without being a jerk about it, and whether I'll be able to annotate my (already-shot) screenshots properly on iOS.

Email, PDFs, and the great app problem

I spent a lot of day two triaging my email inbox—turns out, messages stack up pretty quickly when you're sick and unable to really work at your computer.

The Mail app has gotten a lot nicer to use on the iPad since I last took a crack at seriously working with it. Swipe gestures, the "Move All" feature, and keyboard shortcuts all made quick work of my email backlog. I do wish that Mail on iOS had the option of setting frequently-used sorted mailboxes; you can set these along a top bar in Mail for OS X and assign them shortcuts, and it would make my life infinitely easier on iOS if I could do the same.

I also greatly value iCloud Drive's integration with Mail's attachment picker: It's now a lot easier to add various document types to an email from the Mail app, rather than having to send emails inside of various programs. The Attachment picker also has a "Locations" button that lets you choose files from Dropbox and other apps, which is brilliant. (Thanks to iMore commenter Phil Holland for that tip!)

Mail's search on iOS remains atrocious for anyone who uses folders to store their messages, in part because your iPad doesn't download data for those potentially thousands of messages in those folders until you actively open them (or keep the search field active and running). It remains one of my big peeves with iOS's email client.

In replying to email, I also hit my first major snag with the Pro experiment: I had to fill out a few PDF and DOC forms. Simple, right? I already owned Smile Software's great PDFPen (opens in new tab). Unfortunately, I owned an older version which didn't support saving to iCloud Drive, and ended up having to email directly from the app and start a new thread on my email chain.

For a subsequent file, I bit the bullet and upgraded to PDFPen 2, only to find that the app had trouble converting a .docx into a PDF—it rendered instead as the header image on the .docx. To fix it, I ended up going through iBooks and emailing the converted PDF to myself before once again bringing it into PDFPen.

I've filled out PDFs on iPads (and PDFPen) before with no problems, and I'm chalking this up to weird circumstances. But it's an example of a larger app issue on the iPad Pro: If you can't find an app to do what you need—or it takes longer to do a task you'd be able to do in seconds on your Mac—you're going to feel stuck and frustrated.

Apple can't solve this problem alone. It needs smart, capable software developers to build and iterate on applications for the platform to succeed. I'm lucky to have the contacts to reach out to the folks at Smile pretty easily regarding bugs and weirdness. But your average iPad Pro user? They may just run into a problem and give up, or leave an anonymous iTunes review that gives the developer no way to contact them and help them with their problem.

There are other, smarter takes on the problems with the App Store elsewhere, and I'm not going to digress in this review. But it concerns me. For the iPad Pro to succeed, it needs great apps to revolutionize what you can do with a touchscreen and fill gaps for those who need to do old-world tasks like filling out PDFs or working with spreadsheets.

Traveling with the iPad Pro

Yesterday evening, I made my first non-iPad-related venture outside to help run my boyfriend's roller derby practice. The travel time to said practice is almost two hours, however, which gave me some perfect passenger seat time to test working with the Pro on the go.

For this experiment, I packed my iPad Pro in the Logitech Create case, and signed up for a T-Mobile data plan. Apple's SIM comes loaded with AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile as options, but AT&T will auto-lock the SIM card to its network. (No thank you.)

In the Create case, my iPad weighs almost three pounds—a little bit heavier than my 11-inch MacBook Air. That said, if I were to bring the Air, I would almost certainly bring its extended charging cable, too; I'm not sure how much extra weight the charging cable adds to my laptop bag, but the Pro didn't feel all that differently to my laptop when carrying it.

It also has a major advantage over my laptop: cellular connection. Sure, I can tether my iPhone to my Mac if I really want, but that requires potentially draining the life of two different batteries, and (for my connection to be solid) usually requires a USB cable, too.

In the car, the Create keyboard was a little bumpier to type on than usual, but no weirder than typing on my MacBook Air. And despite most of the weight resting in the screen area, I never felt like the case was in danger of tipping over or otherwise sending my iPad flying.

Tapping on the iPad was a slightly different story. Trying to hit a virtual tap target when you're on a bumpy highway—especially the further that target is away from your face—is a wee bit challenging, and I found myself a little annoyed whenever I had to tap an on-screen button.

Drawing on the iPad Pro was similarly frustrating, but that's nothing new: I've been trying and failing to draw in moving vehicles for years.

Next time...

Friday, I took the iPad Pro on another road trip—along with some styluses and my Canon camera! I'll have a post up Saturday about the iPad Pro and artistically-minded endeavors. Stay tuned, and feel free to pop any questions you have about this series in the comments. (Or if you want me to try one of my other hobbies on the iPad for a day—I'm game for trying to do just about anything in my many-hatted wheelhouse.)

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.

56 Comments
  • You can select Dropbox attachments from the mail app in ios9. Tap "locations" on the tap left after choosing to add an attachment.
  • Way to blow my mind. That's awesome and a tip I didn't know about!
  • Glad to help!
  • Great post Serenity, thanks! And I sort of have a thought; maybe you could do a "typical day with the iPad Pro" video if you schedule ever allows for it...
  • Definitely! I'll try and do one for my last post this week.
  • I really like your day to day review, making the best of your situation. (Hope you're fully recovered soon).
    Didn't you also play an instrument? The piano perhaps? I'm really wondering how it compares to the ipad Air for using digital sheet music to play from.
  • Yes! I'm going to try playing with GarageBand tomorrow as well as running sheet music off it.
  • If they take the pencil support froth iPad pro and add it to the iPad mini, I don't think I'd ever use anything else. I could see using the iPad Pro at home (if I didn't already have an iMac), but I don't see it as a good mobile device at all really.
  • "I could see using the iPad Pro at home (if I didn't already have an iMac), but I don't see it as a good mobile device at all really." Well, you're not the only one. Still a great device though http://www.asymco.com/2015/11/11/desktop-computer/
  • Cool. I often get sad because no one on this site generally thinks my ideas and insights are any good, so to have Horace Didieu, (arguably one of the smartest guys in the field) agree with me is great. As far as I know he is one of the few people who have literally never been wrong in regards his prognostications and explanations of Apple's behaviour and their products. Just yesterday I had a similar idea to the argument in his video, which is that the first iPad Pro I will buy will likely be at the point where it can be a replacement for my home iMac, and not my iPad mini. Even today, a Mac Pro desktop, with an iPad Pro on a stand for a screen, that can be detached and moved around for other (iOS) uses, would be a killer combination.
  • I bet they add Pencil support to the next iPad Air and then eventually a future iPad Mini, Apple seems to do that to help drive sales to the newer or more expensive product then lets it trickle down.
  • I sure hope Apple decides to add Apple Pencil support to the iPad mini. I really like the Pencil but for me, the iPP is too big.
  • Hi Serenity. Thanks for documenting your days with the iPad Pro. Looking forward to the next entries. Since you're asking, how is it as a web surfing and social media device while on the couch or in bed? Is it comfortable? Cumbersome? Too heavy? Any observations? Thanks!
  • Going to talk about this more tomorrow, but I actually really love it as a casual reading device—and in portrait, which I did not expect.
  • My biggest concern is having to move the hands from the keyboard to the screen while writing. I use an iPad Air to write small pieces and I already find awkward to do simple tasks like selecting a couple of sentences and move them to another point in the text. As the iPad Pro keyboard lacks a trackpad, is there a more sensible way to do it?
  • Not that I am aware of, Apple should have added trackpad support at a minimum.
  • Shift+Arrow Keys = Select characters Shift+Control+Arrows = Select Words Shift+Command+arrows = Select lines This changed my life when someone taught me these.
  • That is helpful. I'm curious if these commands become second nature with time or you will be missing the mouse.
  • I would have to put that on a sticky note for a while....
  • Actually, it is the shift+alt/option key+right or left arrow that selects words. Up and down arrow will select lines. Shift+Command+ left or right arrows selects to the beginning or end of the current line. Shift+Command+ up or down will select to the beginning or end of the document. Shift+Control+ up arrow invokes spaces or whatever its called. I don't know how anyone edits text without these commands. I've used the none shifted versions of these commands to move the cursor at least 10 times just typing this reply. Option right and left just moves the cursor by words. If you take the shift out of the above commands, you get the corresponding moves instead of selects. If you don't know these you are wasteing a lot of time.
    One thing I do a lot is capitalize. I'm too used to iOS. I'll hold the option back arrow down to scroll to the beginning of the sentence, take a finger off the alt and hit the right arrow to select the first letter and then hit the letter with my finger still on the shift key. Then command down arrow to get to where I left off.
    Windows people hold Control to move by words and the Home and End keys to go to the beginning and end of the doc. Adding shift selects like on the mac. Rick
  • rickyackel, thanks for the keyboard shortcuts. I copied your response to Evernote so I'll have as reference. I've used some of these shortcuts before but not all. I will commit to memory over time. Having this reference is golden.
  • If you want to do more with your keyboard without touching the screen, you might want to try Matcha 3. It is a writing application designed for touch device with/without external keyboard.
  • Yeah, a macbook lol Sent from the iMore App
  • 1. For your PDF forms issue, try Readdle's PDF Expert 5. Seems it's free this week.
    2. I think part of the mental adjustment issue with the Pro stems from viewing it as a large computer, rather than realizing previous iPads were all very small for a full-on computing device. It is only huge if you think it is.
    3. Take care. Killing yourself for a living is a dubious proposition.
  • Still can't use the iPad 'pro' to do professional things like...develop iOS/OSX apps, run excel macros, on and on. Not very pro in my opinion. Just bigger
  • Taking the Pro here too literally. This is not a Pro as in a Mac Pro, which is a professional machine. This is Pro, as in an iPad that is higher end, more powerful, and as a result much more capable compared to other iPads, tablets, or low end PC's.
  • Yes, the pro term with desktop and portables generally indicates more capable hardware, not different software or system capabilities. It is strange though the range of limitations, like app development, that still remain in the iPad lineup. Perhaps it's fear of cannibalization but I thought apple was fine with eliminating hardware if demand shifted elsewhere? Sent from the iMore App
  • No mouse/trackpad support.. IMHO a no-go for a device that's supposed to replace notebooks (sic. tim cook). When I sit on my couch I don't want to touch a screen. Ever tried to fill out a complex form with a touchscreen? It's a PITA. I don't know why they didn't implement a cursor for mouse/trackpad input, like Android does. Apart from an artist (for which I think the Pro will be great) I don't see a use case for normal persons. For that kind of money I'd rather buy the Macbook or Macbook Air. Or the SP4.
  • I tried out a pro at an Apple Store, and it simply isn't for me. I'd much rather bring my MBPr with me when I travel or present. I realize that a laptop is heavier and consumes more battery, but I also have a more versatile and powerful machine. If all you're doing is browsing the internet, generating text, and Mail then the pro may work (I already do this with my iPad anyway), but I'd rather have a full computer for everything else I do. Sent from the iMore App
  • Nice article. I just think Cook is stretching it too far when he says the iPro will replace laptops. It's too limited for that. Mouse support, storage and other peripherals are needed for that. He has put it against the SP4, and it fails in many respects. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I don't buy your arguments at all.
    1) Mouse support is not necessary when it has keyboard support for the web, and it doesn't actually run an OS that uses a cursor in the first place.
    2) The storage on the iPad Pro is about the same, or more than the ultraportable laptops it competes with.
    3) If you're talking about attached storage, then you are basically talking about a old-school desktop metaphor, regardless of whether the device is physically a laptop.
  • 1.) That's a problem created by Apple itself.. they could've brought cursor support to iOS just like android did (and it's perfectly fine). For some reason they just don't want to. I really could imagine an iPad with a cursor; especially for browsing the web or serious work. This, and the absurd unused screen real-estate are my main gripes about the iPad Pro, it looks almost like a joke.
  • you talk like iPad Pro will always remain the same. As iOS evolves, and apps evolve, Apple may bring those features down to the iPad Pro. iPad Pro, five years from now, won't be what it is today.
  • I didn't say anything like that. Just talking about the status quo.
  • My biggest issue is that the stylus apparently doesn't exist >< My second biggest is the lack of zbrush, but that is pixologic's fault. After that I have a few small issues such as the icon spacing. As for a cursor, I could definitely see it in writing apps. Unless the keyboard brings some special functions, I hate editing anything in iOS.
  • The iPP is version 1. First versions are just that. Remember the first iPad? I'm sure suggestions are appreciated by Apple. I'm just not sure complaints are.
    From different articles I've read and from my own ownership and use of iPads, if Apple wanted to make a Mac like tablet they would have. Maybe in the future Apple will make a Mac like tablet, maybe not.
  • Bingo. Remember that iOS didn't have copy and paste until iPhone OS 3 (2009). Custom third-party keyboards not until iOS8. Split screen and browser plugins waited until iOS 9. Clearly there is much more to with split screen tech -- some great discussion of future functionality in this thread. Never forget the lesson of Cosmic Encounter (1977) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_Encounter . Beware of features/rules that have byzantine interactions with each other. If you want a promiscuous platform, consider going elsewhere. If you want a company that will sweat out the details and strive for clarity, stay with Apple. I personally will take the tradeoff of slow and thoroughly-considered extensions to the UI. YMMV.
  • About typing on glass. Perhaps why BB still has a small market out there for Classic, Passport and Priv. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • The virtual keyboard on the iPad Pro, especially when used in landscape mode, is much improved compared to previous iPads. Granted, typing on glass isn't for everyone, but if you are comfortable typing on glass now, you're going to love the KB on iPad Pro even more.
  • This is what I love about iMore, sincere attempts, and often successful, at bringing perspective to Apple hardware and software - no ranting, or raving, [ except when well-deserved, based on first-hand experience] just trying to make real-world application for the benefit of your readers and their respective, decision-making processes.
  • Sorry about that. Didn't mean to report your comment. Just accidentally hit the button.
  • Good article Ren, but now your photo has put me in the mood for a coffee, and I'm trying to give it up. The iPad Pro is the device I always yearned for at Art School, and now it's here. I can't tell you how this will make productivity easier for me. I haven't used the Pencil yet, but everyone I know who have, tell me it's way ahead of anything else out there. I plan to still work from a sketchbook, but it was interesting reading Jony Ive say the design team have been adopting it into their work day. My work is mostly created in A2 sketchbooks, so I'll still work that way a lot, but I can see the iPad Pro's place in my workday. Sent from the iMore App
  • I can imagine power users having 4-5 saved configurations of the two split-screen apps. You could call them pairings, but I'm sure that term is already overused. Those configs should include the ratio of the screen for the two apps.
    "Hey Siri, give me split screen layout 3."
  • I love everything about this idea.
  • What happened to Days Three and Four????
  • I took the weekend off to keep recuperating! Day Three coming later today. :)
  • I am waiting to hear about an Astropad experience. My purchase of an iPad Pro primarily hinges on how effectively I would be able to use Photoshop.
  • Astropad's one of my all-time favorite iPad apps. It's great on the Pro. My initial review's here: http://www.imore.com/astropad-brings-cintiq-experience-your-ipad
  • Great reviews so far. I'm hoping we see days three and four before too long. Appreciate the effort!
  • Day three is up now! I skipped the weekend to recoup. :)
  • All this information is good. For me, I'm on the fence right now. I passed up last year's iPad Air 2 to wait for the Pro, got mine the first day (Wednesday). I'm now struggling with how to use it. I know that it will take some time to get used to it, but right now I'm struggling a little bit with the use. Time will tell! Can't wait for some more articles Serenity.
  • I have used the "markup and reply" feature that is now accessible in iOS mail when you long press a PDF or photo to fill in forms. It's Some what tedious ,but works well enough. I also like makeup to annotate a photo that I have attached. Cant wait to get my iPad pro as well.
  • Hi ... I really liked your take on reviewing the new iPad Pro, staying away from too much emphasis on the hardware and going instead for the real long term user experience and Apps usage, which I find it is far more useful to those that are considering purchasing one of these tablets on the near future.
    In fact, I liked it so much that I registered just to be able to congratulate you ... please continue this series.
  • Thank you very much! I'm glad you're enjoying it so far. Day three's up now. :)
  • For pdf fill ins, markup, and Word to PDF conversions, Notability or PDF Expert tend to do a better job.
  • I know I'm a little late to the party, but I was just working with my iPad Pro and read the comment about being able to *finally* attach documents in Mail app from Dropbox. Great tip. Then I thought about the issue with filling out PDFs and having to start a new thread. A bit of a work around for that is to save the PDF to Drobpox