Technology

Can Apple's iPad Pro replace my laptop? Not yet, but the answer might surprise you!

By  Natalie Foster on 13 January 2019

 Apple  iPad Pro  Apple Pencil  MacBook Pro  Windows  Surface Pro

I travel a lot for work and leisure, so when Apple released the iPad Pro 12.9 in late-2015 with "desktop-class performace" and professional productivity apps from Microsoft and Adobe, I was (almost) front of the queue despite the hefty price tag. But, can it really replace my laptop? Sadly, not yet. But the answer might surprise you!

I bought my first Apple laptop in the early 2000s, and I loved it. It was an impressive piece of hardware which served me well, until I started an Open University course, and they didn't support MacOS. Putting aside the painful few years in which I used a Windows PC for my degree, I have always used Apple devices. I now have MacBook Pro as my main computer. I use it for everthing from writing documents to watching movies and listening to music. It literally goes everywhere with me. However, it has one significant flaw: typing on the built-in keyboard causes the most excruciating neck pain and migraines. For this reason, I now use it with Apple's Magic Keyboard and Magic Trackpad. But, it's really not an ideal situtaion because this setup takes over most of my desk space, and I also have to carry around all the 'extras'.

And so it happened that I sat down for my first day working on an iPad Pro. The first couple of hours were spent re-learning how to do things using the multi-tasking gestures introduced in iOS 9. It was fun and felt liberating to be able to use the touch screen instead of a mouse.

But soon, the whole process just got more and more frustating.

Want to open two Word documents side-by-side? Want to set the colour of the text headings to a specific color? Want to move a file to a different folder? Want to use a mouse instead of endlesslessly taking your hands off the keyboard to use the touchscreen? Nope! Sorry, not on an iPad Pro.

It's not all bad though. Writing and drawing with the Apple Pencil is so good that it's worth a whole paragraph just to itself. I spend a relatively large amount of time either annotaing PDF documents or drawing illustrations to include in reports. Both these tasks feel natural and easy with the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. I can read and write just like on paper. It's a truly awesome experience. You should try it!

I tried really hard to work on my iPad Pro, assuming that if I persevered things would get better. It's just a case of time to adapt to new or different workflows, right? But, after about a month or so in which my productively was often interupted by niggling frustrations, I finally gave up and resumed working on my laptop. Only now my situtaion is worse than before because I just can't live without the Apple Pencil. So, I'm now carting around my laptop, keyboard, trackpack, iPad Pro, Apple Pencil and the chargers.

Fast-forward to 2018--and travelling around more than ever--it's just not feasible to carry around all that kit. So, I decided to give working on my iPad Pro another go. Perhaps it would be a better experience with the intoduction of the iOS 11 Files app to keep all my documents in one place. And surely the other apps had developed sufficiently that all those initial "teething problems" I expereienced first-time around are now rectified?

And so it happened that I sat down (again) to try working on my iPad Pro. Just as before, there was some re-learning how to do things with the new Files app. It's a huge improvement over the basic file-picker that it replaced. It's now possible to create new files and folders, and organize them by drag-and-drop using mutlitouch gestures. But file support is generally inconsistent so far.

Want to move a file between folders? No problem if it's stored in iCloud Drive, everything works just as you would expect. But, want to move a file from Dropbox to iCloud Drive? You'll have to copy it first, then paste it in the new folder, then remeber to go back and delete it from the original folder. Want to search within files? Want to download all the files in a folder? Nope! Sorry, not on an iPad Pro.

Determined to succeed in my quest to work on my iPad Pro, I moved all my files from Dropbox to iCoud Drive. Everthing was going ok, until I realised that there is no way to pause iCloud Drive, not even on my laptop. That's not a problem with unlimited wi-fi, but it's an expensive mistake using cellular connectivity with a limit amout of data. Furthermore, those frustrating "teething prolems" are still there.

And so I'm back to the begining again having wasted a lot of time and effort along the way. The iPad Pro is a world-class piece of hardware that is second-to-none for doing simple tasks like emails, watching movies and listening to music. But, at least for me, it can't replace my laptop until the professional productivity apps are significantly improved to match the functionality of their desktop counterparts.

Update in 2019: After nearly two decades of using Apple devices, I've now switched from Mac to Windows and I'm absolutely loving the experience. The Microsoft Surface Pro 6 is exactly what the iPad Pro should have been and more!