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My love affair with the iPad Pro

26 May 2020 by Neil Alexander

I have been a casual iPad user for many years now and I recently made the decision to replace my personal laptop with the iPad Pro. Outside of work, the iPad has long been the first device that I reach for and the laptop was, admittedly, collecting dust. I figured that, with a keyboard, the iPad Pro would be more than sufficient for day-to-day general use and that I can always fall back to using the iMac at home if needed.

I have to say, I’ve been very happy with the experience so far. This is largely helped by the addition of far better trackpad and keyboard support in iPadOS 13.4, which finally helps the iPad to step over some of the barriers where using the touchscreen can feel just a little bit fiddly. That’s not to say that the whole experience is there yet—there are still plenty of third-party apps which haven’t been updated to take advantage of the new features—but on the whole, it’s pretty good.

I have been a Mac user for about 15 years now and, while I still enjoy using macOS generally, it does feel a bit like it is becoming the “forgotten cousin” platform in the Apple sphere. It definitely doesn’t get anywhere near the attention that iOS does, which is a shame all else considered.

I’ve increasing started to feel like Macs are suffering from something which I’ve nicknamed the “Electron Paradox”, which is the idea that most new applications for the Mac are only appearing on the Mac because they’re actually not Mac apps, but Electron ones - web app hybrids built using the Electron framework. It’s worth noting that many other companies don’t even go that far and just build web apps instead, expecting users to find them through the web browser. However, many of the big name apps like Slack, Spotify and VS Code are all dressed-up web apps. I could complain heavily about Electron. I could step up onto my soapbox about how native operating system components have been built with care by real designers who are paid a lot to care about accessibility and usability, but I would not be the first person to make those arguments and I certainly won’t be the last. I understand why Electron has happened and why developers use it. Even I still choose to use Electron apps at times - I am spoiled by the rich VS Code and Atom ecosystems, for example.

However, iOS is a platform where Electron practically doesn’t exist, mostly just because Apple don’t allow it to. The result is that the App Store is filled with a pretty good selection of apps that are native, and that’s a really nice feeling. They feel fast, app-switching is fast and most of the same gestures and tricks are consistent. I’m writing this right now using Textastic 9, which I love. Procreate is remarkably powerful for image editing and drawing, Termius is top-notch for SSH. Apple’s own Pages, Keynote and Numbers apps are all first-class citizens on iOS and I have drafted up some really beautiful documents with them. Even the Ubiquiti apps for managing my home network are awesome, and Wireguard starts nicely on-demand whenever I join a cellular or Wi-Fi network that isn’t my own, to keep me connected to my home network wherever I am.

Once upon a time I would have been fairly bothered by the fact that you don’t really have any control over the lifecycle of a process on iOS (is it running in the background or is it not?) and I can report that I have, for the most part, got over this now. I don’t know whether it is helped by the extra RAM in the iPad Pro but jumping between apps (either by the switcher, the Dock or even using Cmd-Tab on the Magic Keyboard) always feels pretty much immediate. There’s only one case where background tasks being unexpectedly killed still irks me and that’s with SSH connections in Termius. It would be nice to have more long-lived background tasks in iOS that are more user-controllable - Apple do have complete control over the scheduler so it would definitely be possible to ensure that background apps are sufficiently throttled down so that they don’t wake up CPU cores or drain the battery quickly. But other than that, I have learned just to not think about it.

File management is also a bit weak, although not unusable. Most apps manage their own libraries of files fairly well, and the Files app is just enough to move things around and to keep some structure otherwise. Sometimes it would be nice to have a shell, but those moments are few and far between. It’s not a machine for software development and I have made my peace with that.

Immediate sleep/wake and constant connectivity (both with Wi-Fi power saving mode and with the 4G connectivity) are both great. The device pretty much always feels ready to use, with my latest emails downloaded and notifications present. It doesn’t feel like there’s a barrier to getting started, or picking up where I left off. It feels pretty much friction-less, which is what I think I’ve possibly always wanted out of a computer and just didn’t realise.

So all in all now, unless I’m programming (and sitting at the desktop for that purpose), I would say that I am pretty much converted to iPadOS. I think that I have been won over by the feeling of computing being simple again, and I definitely think that the iPad is a platform with a huge amount of potential. It has become my ideal everyday computing device.

Is it perfect? Not by any means, but I am still smitten with it regardless.