The two things the iPad needs before it can replace my laptop

I took an iPad Pro with me to cover this year’s CES. I couldn’t rely on Apple’s tablet for everything but I got surprisingly close.

Credit: Apple

There’s a lot I like about Apple’s most modern and powerful iPad. 

I like the seamless security of Face ID. I like the snappy A12X processor. I like the expansive app support. I like how it offers me more battery life in a leaner form-factor than most traditional laptops. I like the convenience of charging it via USB Type-C.  In many ways, the experience of using an iPad Pro as my daily driver feels like an assault on all the things that bug me about my current laptop. 

I’ve had my current Samsung Notebook 9 for a few years now and the idea that I could make the switch to relying entirely on Apple’s tablet for my portable PC needs isn’t as outlandish as it once was. The advent of iPadOS has changed the equation in a very real way. 

To put things to the test, I bought an iPad Pro to help me cover this year’s CES in Las Vegas. 

The short version? I couldn’t rely on Apple’s tablet for everything. But in the end, I got surprisingly close. 

The added support for better multitasking, faster app-switching and a full-scale desktop web browsing experience made it much easier to get the most out of the iPad Pro’s nimble hardware. Jumping between emails, documents, my calendar schedule and my site’s CMS was much easier than I had anticipated. Apple’s tablet was also much lighter in my bag than a traditional laptop would have been - even compared to my current PC, which weighs 1.2kg.

Unfortunately, I did run into some problems sooner rather than later - which saw me lean on the HP Spectre x360 to get the job done. At the end of the day, all it takes is one disruption to puncture the thrill of using the iPad Pro as you would a laptop. 

The first thing that killed me here was the lack of proper mouse support. 

iPadOS did see Apple introduce a kind of mouse support through the iPad Pro’s accessibility features. However, it’s far from elegant and, when it came to dragging and dropping elements inside my CMS, it wasn’t recognised. 

Obviously, this is hardly a universal shortcoming but if the website that ties together my entire workflow isn’t recognising Apple’s substitute for traditional mouse inputs then it’s not going to work as a realistic replacement for me. There are situations where having the responsiveness and precision of a mouse is just plain better for productivity than any touch-based interface could ever be.

Credit: Brydge

Going hands on with Brydge’s new Pro+ keyboard only poured salt in this wound. The accessory itself feels incredibly premium but it feels wasted when the mouse support on the iPad is as awkward as it is. 

The other issue I ran into concerned photography. Regardless of whether I was looking to take images off my DSLR or off my Pixel 4 XL, getting those files onto my iPad Pro proved unexpectedly troublesome. 

If we’re talking about the former, the biggest issue here is the absence of an SD slot on the iPad. To be clear, I would be less surprised to see the iPad Pro grow a new headphone jack than I would be for Apple to put an SD card on the next version of this device. Nevertheless, it makes fitting the iPad Pro into a photography workflow that much more difficult. 

Worse still, it’s a problem with few clear solutions. Dragging my files over from my camera onto the tablet via a direct cable proved futile and connecting the two devices using Bluetooth or an image sharing app was similarly frustrating. 

Pulling images over using my smartphone wasn’t much better. Directly cabling my phone into the iPad via USB Type-C did not result in the former being treated as a potential file directory - which was disappointing to discover. 

I could theoretically email compressed or downsized versions of images to myself through Google Drive, Google Photos or Gmail but then I’m losing enough of the image quality that editing them in something like Photoshop becomes a bit of a waste of time. 

For as much as CES 2020 showed me how close the iPad Pro is to becoming my portable PC of choice, it also showcased the critical areas where the fantasy breaks down. Some of these things might seem innocuous but, if you can’t complete your entire workflow within iPadOS, then the fantasy that Apple’s tablet is as much a tool for content creation as it is consumption falls apart fast. 

Credit: Apple

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Fergus Halliday
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