ipad

The iPad as Laptop Replacement, Continued

A few days ago, MKBHD posted a video explaining how he is using his iPad Pro with the beta iPadOS installation to replace his laptop. That has always been my play. I still use my iMac every day on my desk, but I like the idea of being able to work on the iPad when I go mobile. It is early days, and the beta is still a work in progress with many bugs, but I think this release is going to tip a lot of people toward the iPad as mobile device lifestyle. There a lot of reasons but two that particularly stand out are file management and the new Safari.

File Management

File Management using the latest operating system works a lot better. You can now create folders when you save files, and there are now multiple categories to sort and organize your files. While it’s not up to all of the features that you get with the Mac’s Finder, it has most of what you need. The new release does not address tags, so if that’s important to you, you may still need a laptop. However, for most garden-variety file management, the iPad is up to the task, although a bit slower.

The New Safari

I cannot understate the value of a desktop class browser on the iPad. With the installation of the beta, all of my trouble spots on the Internet that traditionally did not work on the iPad immediately started working. That includes Google Docs and Sheets, my banking website, Squarespace, and all the other fiddly sites I could never get to work on my iPad. Indeed, since installing the beta, I have yet to find a website that doesn’t work.

There’s a certain amount of delight that comes with using the iPad. That usually comes with a trade-off in that things may take slightly longer. Regardless, you will be able to get real work done on your iPad with this new release and you just may find it replacing your laptop come September.


The Latest iPad Videos Get It Right

Last week Apple released a collection of new videos about getting work done on the iPad. I finally got around to watching them today and they are really good. What I like about them is that each video takes its time demonstrating actual workflows. I think that is what we need to see if we are looking to get more out of the iPad. They even call out specific non-Apple apps.

I also appreciate how they demonstrate more real-world uses. Instead of using the iPad with scuba gear to map an ancient wreck, they have people taking notes and making presentations. Not nearly as sexy as prior "iPad use" videos but so much more relevant to most of us.

These are some of my favorite tutorial-ish content that I've seen from Apple in years. They even have a film showing how they shot the videos with the iPad itself. Keep them coming Apple.

The Next iPad

Jason Snell wrote up a nice summary of the current rumors and his opinions on the upcoming iPad at Macworld. It seems a near certainty that we'll get at least one new iPad next month with Face ID since the current iOS 12 betas on iPad have gone out of their way to move all information to the top right and left of the screen, thus making room for a notch. That bit of evidence also makes me think the iPad Pro will have an edge-to-edge screen since the current iPad Pro design has plenty of room in the forehead to accommodate the Face ID sensors without adding a notch.

Another interesting point is that with an edge-to-edge screen, what will happen with finger detection on the edges? When the iPad was first released, Apple made a pretty big deal out of the fact that it needed borders so you could hold it without touching the capacitive screen on the device. I know they've been working around that on the iPhone but I expect that problem to be harder to solve on the iPad where everyone will nearly always have at least one finger holding (and touching) the front of an edge-to-edge screen.

The New iPad

Over the weekend I took a trip to the Apple Store to check out the new 9.7 inch $329 iPad. There is a lot to like about the new iPad, starting with price. It’s roughly half the cost of the 10.5 inch iPad Pro. For that price, you get an iPad that supports Apple Pencil, looks great,and is plenty fast. I tried to get it to drop frame rates, and it felt just as fast as my 10.5 inch iPad Pro. (I know that it is not but it still felt plenty fast.) I think, for most iPad users, the new 9.7 inch iPad is fine. 

9to5 Mac has a postdetailing the differences and there are quite a few but having used one in person I can tell you for most people those differences won’t matter. Going forward, when friends and family ask me for a recommendation for an iPad, I'm going to point them at the new $329 iPad unless they’ve got a good reason to move to the pro. When you consider the rich assortment of software available for iPad plus the fact you can get a Bluetooth keyboard in the $30 range, the new iPad is a heck of a deal.

For those of you that are interested in the iPad Pro, I think we’ve officially entered the “don’t buy unless you must” zone. I expect a new iPad Pro shortly, probably with Face ID and more bells and whistles to distance it from the impressive new $329 iPad.

Repairability vs. Sturdiness

Over the years, Apple Products have become increasingly less repairable. The latest teardown of the new iPad evidences this fact with photos of densely packed electronic components and copious amounts of glue. This led iFixit to give the new iPad a low repairability score.

I get that, but also don’t see it as big of a strike against the iPad as most people make it out to be. For years now, repairing these devices, even without the glue, has been no walk in the park. To make these devices small, they have to be dense, and things are locked together inside, so the contents don’t move around. This also leads to that sense of sturdiness you feel with an iPad in your hand.

I can’t help but feel to make it more repairable you’d lose some of that. I'd also argue that for the vast majority of us, we’re not going to take a screwdriver to our iPad at any time, no matter how repairable it is. As a result, for most of us using less glue, adding more space inside, making the device less sturdy for the sake of repairability is a cost without a benefit.

I don’t envy Apple in having to make that decision between repairability and sturdiness. I understand there is a screwdriver-wielding crowd out there that won’t be happy as Apple increasingly locks these devices down. However, I think they generally make the right decisions when you consider the abundance of Apple Stores and certified repair centers where we can get a professional to fix our devices and the fact that we buy these devices to use them every day, not take them apart.

A Few Notes From Apple’s Education Event

I followed the live stream blogs during today’s Apple Education event and took a few notes. These observations are based on reading the live blogs. I'm sure that people in the room will have more insight as the day goes on.

That New iPad

  • I'm happy to see the Apple Pencil support moving down the line. It’s pretty great, and everyone should be able to use it.
  • I think Apple still has a pricing problem. Chromebooks are in the low $200 range. The new iPad is $300, but when you add a case/keyboard $100 and an Apple Pencil ($100), a fully rigged iPad becomes nearly 2.5 times the cost of a Chromebook. When schools need to buy them by the hundreds (or thousands), that extra $300 is going to matter.
  • I think the non-pro iPad has come so far that it indicates we are going to get the iPhone X version of the iPad in June at WWDC. I'd be surprised if the rumors aren’t true about adding Face ID to iPad Pro.

Swift Playgrounds

I'm glad Apple is continuing to press forward with this app. Swift Playgrounds are fun, and I’ve done a lot of coding in there over the past few years. I consider it a puzzle game as much as a coding education. My kids never got interested, but I'm guessing a lot of kids will go nuts for the new augmented reality features.

iWork

  • The new features in iWork look interesting. They didn’t talk much about it.
  • I think collaboration is where iWork needs the most attention. I'd like to see it collaborate as easily as Google Docs and it currently doesn’t.

iCloud Storage

200GB per student is great. Hopefully, they follow suit at WWDC and announce everybody gets a free 200GB. The current free offering of 5GB, particularly in light of the cost of Apple hardware,  feels pretty cheap on Apple’s part.

Teaching Tools

The classroom tools look impressive. I’ve not got any experience with them and am looking forward to hearing from teachers about this. As I understand it, for the past few years Google has been eating Apple’s lunch on classroom tools.

iBooks

I'm currently in the home stretch of an iBooks media-rich Field Guide, and I was very anxious about iBooks Author today. It looks like I'm fine. They are bringing the ability to create books to the iPad, but it doesn’t appear iBooks Author is porting to iPad. Instead, it will be an additional feature in Pages. So long as they keep improving iBooks Author on the Mac, I'm good.

The iPad in Education

On MPU several years ago we had Fraser Speirs on, who spearheaded one of the first one-to-one iPad programs in a school. When I asked him about why they used iPads instead of a traditional computer with Microsoft Word he had a really good answer. “We’re making CEO’s, not secretaries.”

The iPad is an inherently more creative device than a traditional computer, particularly something as basic as a Chromebook. Apple made this point with the new “Everyone Can Create” curriculum. I think schools and teachers, like Fraser, that take advantage of that will be doing something special for their students.

 

Gabe Weatherhead's iPad Experiment

I enjoyed reading Gabe Weatherhead's thoughts following his attempts to do more on his iPad. Although I have to admit that I could never see Gabe going into the iPad-only crowd, at least not in the foreseeable future. Gabe is far too clever in the way he uses his Mac. Indeed, Gabe never was looking to replace his Mac. While that is possible, and even preferable, for some, I still think for most of us the question should not be about whether one platform can replace another so much as us users figuring out which platforms work for us best under which circumstances, which is exactly what Gabe did.

The Increasingly Rare iPad Deal Killers

Jason Snell wrote an excellent piece today about how he uses his iPad for a lot of his work. The post references a recent quote from Microsoft's Satya Nadella that implies the iPad is not a real computer and a recent iPad ad that makes its point nicely.

I've spent a lot of time writing and podcasting about the iPad as a potential laptop replacement. In the early days, I went iPad only while writing the book, iPad at Work. Back then it was rough. The hardware, operating system, and software were all in need of improvement. Things did, however, get better. iPad hardware these days benchmarks alongside currently shipping Macs very respectively.

iOS also is a lot more powerful than it used to be. Last year I gave my laptop to my daughter and used my iPad as a laptop for about six months before buying a replacement laptop. That was during iOS 10, and the reasons that I ultimately bought a laptop rested largely on the operating system. Before iOS 11, managing multiple files and email attachments felt masochistic. iOS 11 fixes that. Now with iOS 11 and the Files App, I'm able to manage files nearly as fast on iPad as I am on Mac. If I had 35 years experience using a tablet like I do the mouse and keyboard, I'd probably be just as fast. 

All that said I still find times where I need the laptop. The interesting bit for me is that while Apple has improved the hardware and the operating system, I've got some lingering problems with third-party software. 

Two such roadblocks that immediately come to mind are Microsoft Word and Googe Docs. I spend a lot of time in both these apps doing day-job legal work. In many ways, Microsoft Word on iPad is superior to its Mac counterpart, but it has one glaring omission, the inability to modify style preference. If I want to change a style format or line spacing, it's simply not possible in Microsoft Word for iPad. I've used styles in Word forever. If you know what you are doing, they dramatically improve document editing and tricky legal paragraph numbering. Likewise, Google Docs has a change tracking feature that works fine on the Mac but has never been properly implemented on the iPad app. I've found ways around these problems, but they are workarounds and get in the way of productively using my iPad.

It didn't hit me until reading Jason's piece tonight, but with each step forward, the iPad's limitations get narrower. The hardware and operating system problems are, for the most part, solved for me. Likewise, there are alternatives for my software problems. There are iPad word processors that support styles. Google's passive-aggressive approach to the iPad leaves them ripe for disruption by some other company that wants to make a Google Docs-like experience for iPad without second-class iPad software. I'd honestly be surprised if these problems (along with two or three other on my particular list) don't get solved in the next year. 

But getting back to the original point, if you are asking yourself whether or not the iPad is a "real" computer, the fact that I've got to go to Microsoft Word style formatting for distinction should tell you that the question was already answered a long time ago.

iPad Sans Bezel

Image by Benjamin Geskin

Image by Benjamin Geskin

Now that I've got a bezel-less iPhone in my hands, I'm looking at my iPad(s) a little sideways. Turns out I'm not alone. Benjamin Geskin did some lovely renders of a bezel-less iPad that feels to me like the direction Apple has to be going with this. The trick on iPad will be the swipe up gesture. Currently, there are two separate gestures: short up for dock and long up for the control center. If I was a betting man, I'd say that a bezel-less iPad would switch the long swipe up to match the behavior on the phone and they'd move the control panel to some other gesture.

iPhone JD's 12.9" iPad Review

The second generation iPad Pro is better than the first generation iPad Pro in the ways that matter most for attorneys using an iPad to get work done — how the screen looks, how fast and responsive the system is, and how it works with the Apple Pencil.
— Jeff Richardson, iPhone JD

I've been using the new 10.5 inch iPad exclusively since I received it but I have occasionally missed the big one, which is particularly good for contract reviews and sheet music. I'm going to continue using the small one exclusively for a few weeks to see exactly how much I miss the big one. Right now I'm leaning toward keeping (but not upgrading) my 12.9 inch iPad for those special times where it makes sense and working primarily from my 10.5.

WWDC Reflections and Future Hopes

Now having returned from WWDC, I can't help but take a few minutes to reflect upon the general mood in San Jose this past week. Developers were a lot less surly this year and I spoke with several developers inspired by Apple’s work to go and create the next big thing.

Why wouldn’t they? We got new Macs, iPads, and the software updates addressed many priority issues, like iPad productivity. I can't really put my finger on it but it seems like Apple just has its eye on the ball better this year than it did last year. Talking to folks around San Jose, one explanation was that Apple had a lot of focus on the new building and the car project. I'm not sure if that’s the case. It may just be that the features they announced this year took longer than expected. 

Indeed, it really doesn’t matter why it suddenly seems Apple is addressing these issues so much as the fact that they are addressing these issues.

The iPad gets a lot better with iOS 11. I have a long list of critiques having used it under fire for several days but, fundamentally, the iPad gets more useful when iOS 11 ships.

The bottom line is people are generally happy with what Apple announced last week. Now let’s keep the the momentum rolling. I’ve got three hopes for the next year:

  1. I'd like to see that Apple is listening to feedback particularly on the iOS 11 iPad improvements. Beta users have some great ideas and I'd like to see the best of them make it in before iOS 11 ships.
  2. I would also like to see Apple continue to do incremental updates to the Macintosh hardware. The fact that they upgraded the MacBook Pro to the most current processor in less than a year is a great sign. That is, however, just one data point. I hope that they continue to upgrade hardware as soon as the appropriate upgraded chips are available.
  3. With the improvements of the iPad and the iPad operating system, we now need a healthy ecosystem where developers can spend the time necessary to make professional iPad applications and then sell them for enough money to justify the effort. Hopefully Apple can work with developers to find a way to make that happen.

A Little iPad Productivity with iOS 11

I'm writing this post sitting in San Jose Airport. I didn't have any WWDC plans today so instead I arrived at the airport ridiculously early, found a comfy chair and did about a three hours of real work on my iPad running beta one of iOS 11. I did this not wearing my MacSparky hat but instead my lawyer one. I wrote contracts, sent and received emails (with multiple attachments no less!), tracked changes in Microsoft Word, scheduled meetings in Fantastical, took notes with my pencil in Apple Notes, and otherwise made myself productive.

It's still early days. This is the first after all. I wouldn't recommend loading this early beta on your production iPad. I know of at least one person that managed to severely crash his iPad with the beta. Also, the battery life running the beta is about half what it normally is. (That's normal for early betas.)

What I can say is that once iOS 11 releases, people that want to be more productive on an iPad most certainly will be. iOS 11 is very kind to iPad power users.

Initial Thoughts on iOS 11 iPad Improvements

I took a lot of notes this morning watching the WWDC Keynote right up until the point they started talking about iPad improvements. At that point I was completely absorbed by the presentation. That's a good sign. I'll be writing/podcasting more about this in the coming days but in the meantime, here are a few thoughts:

  • It's a Mac ... in a good way. So many of the features were very Mac-like. Spaces for instance is very similar to what we already have in macOS but probably even more useful with a touch interface
  • Selecting between multiple pre-arranged spaces is a feature I've always wanted without verbalizing.
  • The redesigned control center is a significant improvement over the iOS 10 three-page version. I still would have preferred to exchange stock apps for better third party alternatives, like switching PCalc for calculator.
  • Files. Amen. My biggest white whale on iOS is dealing with multiple files. Often I'm required to work with multiple documents and until today this was a huge pain point on iOS. With the Files app and Drag and Drop, my iPad got a lot more useful.
  • They only demonstrated iCloud in the Files app. Will we get "favorites" from third party cloud document providers like Dropbox?
  • Does the existence of the Files app indicate they'll make it easier to open and save files to cloud services directly in Apps? That's still pretty clunky.
  • The new 512GB iPads may make sense if you can locally store massive amounts of cloud data locally on your iPad.
  • Multiple file selection with gestures? Yes, thank you.
  • The Dock is another super-useful feature for power users. I need to get hands on this before saying more but that won't be long now.
  • I have a feeling we are going to be wanting app suggestions in our iPhone docks before long.
  • They went through the multitasking stuff very quickly. There's a lot there but it looks like a much-needed improvement.
  • I like the semi-transparency on drag-out multitasking. It really makes the old system feel pedestrian.
  • I am impressed with the scope of Drag and Drop but want to get my hands on it before saying more.
  • Interesting how much focus there was on Apple Pencil. It looks like we'll also still be able to use the Apple Pencil to navigate but we'll know soon enough as the beta gets out.
  • There were significant new improvements to Notes. I didn't expect that.
  • Scan and Sign looks really clever. I hope it works as well as demonstrated.
  • The new QuickType keyboard looks pretty useful. How much time have you spent switching between keyboards on your iPad? Related – the 10.5 iPad software keyboard does not quite appear to be the awesome monster that the 12.9 iPad software keyboard is.

iOS 11 Musings

As Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) approaches, a lot of folks are thinking about what Apple will do next with iOS 11. I am particularly interested to see if they can push the ball forward for iPad. It has been two years since the iPad got any significant love, and an iPad-heavy iOS update is long overdue.

I've been writing about this a lot here at MacSparky, and I'm not alone. Federico Viticci at MacStories wrote an interesting "wish list" for new features in iOS 11, and it is primarily focused on iPad. Viticci and Sam Beckett put together a remarkable concept video for some of their favorite ideas for the new operating system on iPad.

I like nearly all of their ideas. One in particular that makes sense is the idea of the shelf. They've created a drop-down shelf where you can temporarily store files and data. I do something like this already on my Mac with an app called Dropzone. This idea makes even more sense on iOS where moving data between applications is harder than usual. Something like this could alleviate a lot of the bottlenecks that come from working with multiple files on iOS.

Either way, it's been two years, and I sure hope Apple is as ambitious as Viticci and Beckett were. I’ll be at WWDC in a few days and will report back here.

Glad I Brought the Laptop

A few weeks ago I wrote about my little nerd-crisis as I prepared to go on a trip. It was largely a trip for fun and I was hoping I could get by with the iPad but I had a few things cooking at the day job that made me ultimately decided to bring the laptop along. I thought I'd report back on that.

I got by just fine with a 9.7 iPad Pro for most of the trip. It's an excellent computer to use on an airplane and combined with the smart cover, I can type pretty damn fast on it. Moreover, despite my constant grumbling about file management on iOS, I got a significant amount of work done between Microsoft Word, Apple's Pages, and Numbers. Likewise, the day-to-day management of email and OmniFocus was just fine.

As expected, as I tried to rely on the iPad, I found a few areas that could use automation improvements and the experiment resulted in a couple clever new Workflow recipes.

Overall, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself about not needing the Mac … until the last day. 

On the last day a client contacted me with a new contract that they needed to turn around quickly. In the law game, most contracts are provided to you in Microsoft Word and sometimes even Apple's Pages. The real rare snowflake is a contract provided to you as a Google document. Lawyers just haven’t adopted Google documents very much. Its track changes features (which Google calls “suggestions”) are fairly recent and still a little clunky. Something I didn't know until the fateful day is that the Google Docs app for iPad doesn't include support for Google document change tracking. You can see other people’s suggestions. You can even accept or reject them. You just can’t add your own. If you go to the Google website they explain that the way to suggest an edit on the iPad is to “open a document, spreadsheet, or presentation on your computer.” That’s right. If you want to make suggestions with your iPad the trick is to put it down and open the file on your computer. 

So on the last day of my trip I was forced to pull out the MacBook and do some work. My grand experiment was struck down by Google.

That's the thing about trying to get by with your iPad alone. It works great until it doesn't and then it doesn't work spectacularly. Over the years the percentage of work you can complete and iPad has steadily increased. I'm at about the 90% range. That doesn't mean I can work just as fast on iPad but I can work on an iPad. The trouble is, however, that last 10%. It's not a simple problem that Apple can fix with a single software update. In this case, it was Google's delay in adding a feature that is common on every other platform for their software except the iPad.

I don't know how long it's going to take us to travel that additional 10% but I expect it's going to be an uphill climb for a while. As much as I'd like to have the freedom of using my iPad only on trips, for the time being I'm still going to have to bring a laptop. That won’t, however, stop me from continuing to try.

Packing the Laptop

I'm about to take a little trip. Packing for me is usually pretty easy. If I can get by on a trip with one pair of shoes, it makes my entire day. I can, however, get hung up when it comes to technology. My current nerd crisis is the decision of whether or not to bring the laptop.

For this trip I've really been struggling with this question. There's a part of me that would love to leave it at home. I do a lot of computing from the iPad and I can often go days without needing a Mac. However, some days I really need a Mac. If I can leave the laptop at home, it means significantly less gear and weight. 

There is also the intangible part of this equation. I just enjoy working on the iPad. I like the relative simplicity of it. I like being able to use the Apple Pencil when the mood strikes me and I particularly like the way using (essentially) a piece of glass as my computer makes me feel like I'm living in the future.

Finally, there's a certain degree of geek thrill from putting yourself out on the ledge like that. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention and leaving the iPad at home may lead to some interesting discoveries.

Against this inclination to leave the laptop at home I always have to stop and think about what work I intend to get done and whether the iPad is up to the task. On this particular trip I'm worried because I'm still in the process of finalizing a large client transaction which means I may need to spend time with a significant number of files and some complex Microsoft Word documents. Microsoft Word is great on the iPad except when it comes to making changes to style formatting, which it can’t do. When I work on big transactions, there is lots of style formatting.

I do have the ability to remotely access my iMac at home so, in a pinch, I could perform any Mac-specific work from the road so long as I have an Internet connection.

The real problem is that we all have this list of things that are either impossible or a lot more difficult on the iPad than they are on the Mac. When deciding whether you are going to use a iPad for 10 minutes or a five day trip, we still have to go through the same calculus. Until the iPad can get closer parity to the Mac where we don't have to go through this mental journey every time we take a trip, the iPad will never reach its full potential.

As for me, because the friction points relate to client work, I’ll end up bringing the laptop along. What kills me is how close I am to not needing to bring it. If only the iPad filing system were just a little bit more robust and if only Microsoft Word were just a little bit more powerful. I hope people at Apple and Microsoft are getting the message.

 

JD Powers Tablet Survey

in the most recent JD Powers survey, the Microsoft Surface edges out the iPad. This is not entirely surprising to me. I've been paying a lot attention lately as I go out into the public and work with my iPad about what other devices are in use. As I write these words, I'm at Starbucks with a person using a Microsoft Surface sitting next to me. That’s not unusual. 

This is yet one more data point in my argument that the big problem with iPad is software. If being productive on the iPad is too fiddly, users are going to revert to their MacBook (or Microsoft Surface). WWDC can't come soon enough.