Since the announcement of the iPad Pro, the two recurring themes that seem to permeate the blogosphere are “it’s a laptop replacement” and conversely, “it’s not a laptop replacement.” I have one of the big iPads — in fact, that’s what I’m using to write this post — and in my opinion, it’s not a laptop replacement for many people.
Many laptop owners find that they need to stick to their MacBook, MacBook Pro, or MacBook Air for a number of reasons. Perhaps they need to run Windows apps in a virtual machine, or they have apps that don’t have a workable iOS equivalent (not to mention they have the ability upgrade most MacBook models). I’ve talked to several MacBook owners who have said they’re willing to make the leap to an iPad Pro, but there’s just one app that has no iOS counterpart that works for them.
That being said, I have decided that I can personally use an iPad Pro for my work as a blogger and freelance author. It wasn’t an easy decision, and I have to admit that it cost me quite a few dollars to get the necessary apps and accessories lined up to make the iPad Pro my portable work machine. In case you’re wondering, the iPad Pro, apps, and accessories were less expensive than a new laptop and a tablet together — that’s what I was using before, a 12-inch MacBook and an iPad Air 2. So with one less total device in my office now, I feel like I have the best of both worlds in one very amazing tablet.
Here’s what it took for the iPad Pro to become a viable laptop replacement for me:
1.) The right hardware
I’m not talking about the actual iPad Pro hardware here, although I think the 128GB version is really the only one worth looking at for serious work. What I’m talking about is the necessary keyboard and, if needed, stylus for the device to be useful for the type of work that you do.
Thanks to a rather poorly-executed launch of the iPad Pro accessories, I still don’t have what I think will be the perfect keyboard and case for the device — the Apple Smart Keyboard. However, I’ve found that with the help of a couple of other accessories I had around the office, I’m able to do my work efficiently.
There are several other keyboards on the market specifically for the iPad Pro and many more on the way. At the present time, you basically have your choice of waiting for the Smart Keyboard or something similar, or using a Bluetooth keyboard. I actually like the fact that I can move a disconnected keyboard around to a comfortable position as I’m typing words into an app on the Pro. An Apple Keyboard would also be a good choice as a non-fixed keyboard for the iPad Pro.
As for a stylus, you may not necessarily need one. Unless you plan on drawing on the device or using a stylus for fine control in something like a photo editing app (MacSales.com offers great stylus choices for doing this), your fingers will work just fine. The Apple Pencil doesn’t work as a “gesturing” device in many iOS apps anyway, which limits its utility unless you have apps that really work well only when you’re using a stylus — think of Procreate or Paper by FiftyThree as examples.
However, the Apple Pencil’s slim body, perfect balance, pressure sensitivity (once again, with certain apps), lag-free tracking and excellent palm rejection make it a great choice for the iPad Pro.
2.) Apps that do what I need to do
Much of the work I do is done in one of two content management systems (AKA “blogging tools”) — WordPress, the system that’s used here at The Rocket Yard, and Squarespace. Fortunately, both systems have iOS native apps that work well on the iPad Pro. The WordPress app has been updated recently with full iOS 9 multitasking support, so it’s easy to have a full-sized blogging window and a full-sized web browser side by side. I seriously think that the updated WordPress app is almost the perfect blogging tool now, especially on the iPad Pro. The situation is similar with the Squarespace app, although it doesn’t support iOS 9 multitasking with Split View yet.
For situations where I want to write offline and then paste a completed article into a content management system, I use a text editor that supports Markdown. I’ve probably used a dozen iOS text editors over the years, but the one I am most impressed with at this time is 1Writer. Why? Once again, it’s because it has been updated to fully support iOS 9 multitasking. The app also has a built-in browser, meaning that I can have 1Writer open on one side of the iPad Pro and another research tool — the Fiery Feeds RSS reader — on the other side, and switch back and forth between the two effortlessly. I can write, browse, and check the feeds for breaking news all on one screen.
As a freelance writer, I also need access to some collaboration and accounting tools. The collaboration tool that several of my work teams use is Slack, and guess what? It’s also optimized for iOS 9 multitasking. Are you seeing a trend here? Many of us can work with a maximum of two apps at a time anyway, and the big screen of the iPad Pro is perfect for having two apps working side by side.
I mentioned an accounting tool, and by that I mean the QuickBooks Online iPad app. Sadly, it hasn’t been updated for Split View, but at least when I need to send someone an invoice or check the status of a payment, I can do it on the iPad Pro.
How about “power tools” for business? Those are ready to go, too! Apple updated the iWork suite — Pages, Numbers, and Keynote — to work on the flagship iPad, and Microsoft’s Office suite — Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Outlook — has as well. Most writers are forced to use Microsoft Word because of its widespread adoption in the business world and powerful change tracking features, and it’s refreshing to know that Word is fully functional on any iPad and very useful in Split View mode on the iPad Pro.
Any “real” laptop also includes the ability to print. Yeah, I know that’s old-fashioned, but sometimes you really need to have a hard copy. The printing capabilities of iOS leave a lot to be desired, but fortunately I was able to find Readdle’s Printer Pro app as a solution that worked on a more consistent basis with my printer.
Add to the mix of apps a bunch of specialty apps that have been perfected over the years on iOS while development on Mac OS X equivalents have been neglected, and it’s a very complete world for me.
3.) Cellular connectivity
Another thing that really sold me on the iPad Pro was the cellular modem that’s built into the 128GB Wi-Fi+Cellular model. With my various MacBooks over the years, I have (since it became available) used Personal Hotspot as my connection to the Internet when I’m in a place without Wi-Fi. But doing that has one big drawback — it draws down the battery on your iPhone, so unless you’ve plugged in the phone while you’re tethered on the MacBook, you can quickly get your iPhone to the point that you’re not going to be able to make a call or check messages without recharging.
With the cellular modem in the iPad Pro — something that is not available with any MacBook at this time — that’s not a problem. I can work online as long as I want, and I know that the iPhone will still have “gas” when I need it.
There’s another plus for those who may need to write online while traveling overseas. Most of our iPhones at this time are tied to a specific US carrier like AT&T or Verizon, and roaming charges can be prohibitively expensive unless you have a carrier-unlocked phone and can buy a pre-paid SIM for a foreign carrier. The iPad Pro (along with the iPad Air 2, iPad mini 3 and iPad mini 4) uses a different setup called Apple SIM, and with one tap, it’s possible to set up an account in the Settings app with GigSky when overseas and buy a data package that will keep you going without breaking the bank. Add to that the capability to use Skype to make calls (at extra charge) to any phone in the world, and you have quite an amazing piece of communications equipment at your disposal.
We’re still in the early days of “super-sized” tablets, so it is too soon to tell if the iPad Pro will begin to gnaw away at sales of the popular MacBook line. If you have a need for portable computing power, the iPad Pro is definitely worth a look to see if it fits your work style. Having the right accessories, apps that do what you need and support iOS 9 multi-tasking, and having a need for occasional or full-time cellular connectivity are three factors that may tip the balance of your decision toward the iPad Pro.