iPad Pro - Not a Pro Device


Like every good citizen of the internet, I have spent the last couple of weeks using an iPad Pro, substituting it for where I'd otherwise use my retina MacBook or my iPad Mini but unlike almost every other citizen of the internet, my conclusion is - it’s not for professional users. It's an intriguing device but not a Pro device. I have persevered, as many who's views I respect, have fallen head over heals for it. But, so far, that love bug hasn't bit.

I have spent a lot of money on it. I want to love it. The hardware is impressive and first impressions, with such a big screen, are quite dramatic but when the dust settles and I think of my typical use cases, it doesn't make the cut as the best device of the three I own (MacBook, iPad Mini or iPad Pro) for many of the tasks I do each day.

I think I am probably a good case example of a 'Pro user'. I have a completely paperless workflow, I work from my office two days a week at home (on a multi screen desktop Mac) and travel domestically and internationally on a frequent basis. Comparing the iPad Pro, the latest iPad Mini and the new retina MacBook, in a simple list of my common use cases, I struggle to find many where the Pro is the best of the three.

Starting with my most common and prosaic use case - Sitting on the train for an hour going to and from London, triaging emails and calendar management - the retina MacBook is easily the best device for this. Keyboard maestro and Alfred mean I can do in seconds what takes minutes in iOS. I can much more easily swap between split screen desktops (email & calendar, email & Omni Focus, Omni Focus & calendar etc). Pressing one key (CTRL 3) on my Macbook takes the email I am looking at, creates an Omni Focus task for three days hence complete with the body of that email, files the email & it’s attachments in Evernote, archives the email and deletes it from my inbox. Try doing that same thing on 40 emails in iOS and you’ll have added 45 minutes to the same job. Even though the hardware is slightly slower on the MacBook compared to the latest iOS devices, the workflow is miles faster.

Reading a book or an RSS reader - the mini is the winner here. Almost invisible in weight in the hand but big enough to deliver every thing I need. Once it's away from a desk or a train table the Pro feels unwieldy in my hand.

Reading in a restaurant or my London Pall Mall club - nobody minds the Mini, if it's open on the table next to my wine glass, but the Pro is just to big to discreet. 

Any task from email to Omni Focus review to reading whilst my wife is sleeping in bed next to me. - The Mini again. Silent, no arm ache, no waking of spouse and I can hold and type simultaneously.

Reviewing a multi tab Excel document that someone has just emailed me -  the retina MacBook. You don't need me to tell you why. 

File management - sending stuff to Dropbox, Evernote etc. It's now doable on iOS 9 on the Pro but it's still a faff. It's about ten times easier (particularly if I am off the network, on a train or plane) on the retina MacBook.

Searching for one of the 4000 + emails I have archived or in the sent folder of my IMAP email.  The retina MacBook - where all of this is stored locally and so is instantly accessible. Email search on the iOS 9 mail client is an impossible wait of frustration, hurt, confusion & disappointment.

Watching a rented iTunes TV program. This was the one place where I was sure that the Pro would be the best of the three but no. In the rural, back of beyond place, where I live, the best internet connection is 3 Meg down. I normally start downloading an iTunes episode and whilst it will take about 25 mins to complete on the laptop, I can start watching after about 2 mins. On the iPad Pro I have wait for the 25 minute download to complete before I can start watching.

There are tons of these edge cases where OS X trumps iOS 9. That shouldn't be surprising to us, given the development timespans, but once the iOS device weighs more than its laptop equivalent and isn't as ergonomically easy to use, you have to start to question - what is it best for.

It's not the hardware that is the limiting factor here, stopping the iPad Pro being a machine for the Pro user. It's the software. If Apple is serious about having an iPad that is suitable for Pro users it needs a version of iOS Pro. Without it, there remains some resonance to the old cliche - ‘it’s just a big iPod’

The top three things that iOS Pro needs to tackle:

  1. The sand boxing restrictions that prevent Keyboard Maestro, Text Expander, Alfred style solutions from working smoothly - without the ability to easily create one tap workflows, you will never be truly Pro.
  2. An email client that stores you work locally so you can always work, on or off the grid. 
  3. A file management system. iOS has ended up in a cul-de-sac here. It's time to face into that. A file system that is good for your phone is not suitable for Pro users.   

I’m glad that the iPad Pro exists. I’m optimistic about it’s future development. I share the view of many that it probably is a key product on the way to the future. It just feels like a couple of sacred cows have to get slaughtered on the way.