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Apple's iPad Pro

Issue: 14.1 (January/February 2016)
Author: Marc Zeedar
Article Description: No description available.
Article Length (in bytes): 8,670
Starting Page Number: 12
Article Number: 14102
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People keep asking the wrong question regarding Apple's new iPad Pro: they wonder if it can replace their laptop. For Xojo programmers, the answer to that is easy (it can't). But that's not necessarily the point of iPad Pro. A better question: is the iPad Pro useful to a Xojo developer? A follow-up question might be: is the iPad Pro better for you than an iPad Air (Apple's 10" tablet)?

I find iOS devices immensely useful in my work. For one thing, they offload tasks from my Mac, giving me another screen on which to triage email, texts, Twitter, and other interruptions, without having to do that stuff on my main computer. iPads are also extremely useful for displaying documentation and tutorials while I work on my Mac.

In general, I find there are many tasks which I simply enjoy more on the iPad due to the comfortable form factor: reading of all kinds, web browsing, watching videos, news, etc. My mom primarily uses iPads for displaying sheet music for when she plays the piano—she loves the iPad Pro because it makes her music even bigger and easier to see.

By the same token, there are tasks that are better suited for the Mac, even if they can be done on an iPad. (Writing can be one, though that is a 50/50 split for me. With an external keyboard an iPad is almost as good as a Mac, but if I'm writing an article about Xojo, I often need to copy and paste code from my Xojo project—and I can't do that on an iPad.)

iPad Pro is just a bigger iPad Air—but that size does change what you can do with the device. For instance, iPad's multitasking features such as Split View—which lets you see two apps at once—are not as effective on a smaller 10" screen. Both of the views are just too small. But on an iPad Pro, each view is about the size of an iPad Air screen, so not only do the apps work better, but you can see enough information to make the views useful.

(For example, having a word processor on one side and a web browser on the other allows you to do online research while writing. An example from the real world: my mom compiles a monthly report for her church from emails she collects and when I showed her how she can have Pages on one side and her emails on the other, she was amazed at how much more quickly she finished the job.)

So this multitasking feature is better than an iPad Air, but is it better than a laptop? Probably not. I certainly wouldn't suggest anyone buy an iPad Pro just for that. However, if a Pro is already useful to you, Split View on the Pro is a really great feature that makes it even better.

That's the iPad Pro in a nutshell: it's a regular iPad on steroids, so if you like using an iPad or find it useful, then you'll probably find that a Pro is even better. The Pro is faster, has more RAM (which means instant app switching), and the huge screen is amazing (much less scrolling, which is a time saver). It also can use the Apple Pencil (see separate review) which can be a productivity booster.

But if you don't like iOS or struggle with its limitations and restrictions, an iPad Pro isn't going to change that. There is still no real access to the file system, moving data around can be a pain, and apps are often too simplified, designed for consumers, not experts.

Another disadvantage of iPad Pro is that it is big. But it's not unwieldy. I've seen many say you can't hold it with one hand, but that's not true. I wouldn't want to hold it all day that way, but for a few minutes it's perfectly fine. Though it's as heavy as the original 2010 iPad, the weight is spread out over a larger area and it seems thin and light. That said, I did quickly realize that with iPad Pro I needed a stand. I purchased Apple's Smart cover, which doubles as a stand, and I'm very happy with it. The cover adds very little weight or bulk, but now I've always got a stand when I need it.

One reason you might want a stand with the iPad Pro is its sound system. The four speakers don't just sound good, but they're loud. I can use my iPad Pro to listen to podcasts while I bustle about the kitchen fixing dinner, and I can still hear everything even with water running. If you don't have AirPlay speakers, this is a big benefit of iPad Pro over a smaller tablet. I love that I can easily move it to wherever I'm working.

With Pro you lose some portability, but it's not that much. Even with a weighty external keyboard case you're looking at about the same weight as a 13" Pro laptop. The question then is just which type of device best suits you. I see the Pro as an ideal laptop for vacation: you can do some work on it, and with the speakers and big screen, it's a great TV replacement. I use mine to read books and while it's large for holding, I like being able to see two pages at once in landscape view. (With my iPad Air I almost always used it in portrait view; it's the opposite with iPad Pro.)

I chose not to get Apple's Smart Keyboard. For one, they're hard to find. For another, they're extremely expensive ($169) for a mediocre keyboard. They're also unnecessary as I can just use the full-sized Bluetooth keyboard I already have.

In my tests, I didn't mind the feel of the thin keyboard (it's similar to the new MacBook), but the added bulk of the keys in the cover meant I wouldn't leave it on the iPad all the time and then I wouldn't have a stand when I wanted it. In theory, my multi-piece setup is slightly more cumbersome for traveling, but I figure in those situations I'm taking a bag along anyway so having several pieces instead of something more integrated is not a big deal.

As for the Xojo programmer, you'll have to see what kinds of work you do that might be suitable for an iPad. You can't run Xojo, but you may find iPad Pro useful for app planning (see my Apple Pencil review), research, communication, and other tasks. Whether or not these benefits justify the price (iPad Pro starts at $799 and you won't want that limited 32GB version) is a deeper question. On the other hand, if you're making iOS apps, you may need a Pro as a test device.

For me, I just find I enjoy my work on the iPad more. It's a laid-back casual device without all the overhead and distractions of a full computer.

The big unknown with the iPad Pro is how it will improve on the software side. Currently, I find the app situation frustrating: too many apps have severe limitations and aren't at a "pro" level. For instance, even for something as basic as photo editing, no app approaches even a tenth of Adobe Photoshop's power, and I constantly find little things that are trivial in Photoshop but impossible (or too cumbersome) on iOS. Sometimes you can use several apps to accomplish what you need, but then you're having to figure out how to move a file between apps, which isn't always easy due to iOS' sandboxing.

However, when you do find a pro-level app, it really makes iPad Pro shine. My theory is that work we can't do on iPad today we will be able to do down the road, so even if iPad Pro does not suit your needs now, it's a category worth watching. The bottom line is that the differences between a lightweight tablet and a full laptop are becoming less distinct. While I find advantages in having both, you'll have to judge if it's worth the cost.

End of article.