Using the iPad Pro for 'Real Work'

Photo courtesy Apple, Inc.

I can be obsessive about my tools.

Sometimes I have the unhealthy habit of spending more time fiddling with ‘em than actually using them to get work done, convinced that just one more tweak will turn me into an inspired super-worker.

But recently there’s a new hammer in my toolbox that I’ve been using a lot and it has changed the way that I work. That hammer is the iPad Pro (and its friend the Apple Pencil).

Apple announced the 12.9" iPad Pro back in September and it shipped in early November. As is not atypical for me, I was there on launch day to pick one up. Seeing it in person I remember being surprised by just how big it is compared to my previous iPads (really, it’s huge). I took it home and started to think about how I would integrate it into my routine. Could it replace my laptop for much of what I do? Turns out, yes (kinda, sorta).

In my job as a manager, a lot of my day involves communication - email, Slack, iMessage and the like. The iPad Pro is great for this stuff, especially with the ’Smart Keyboard’ attachment. The Slack app in particular makes excellent use of the larger screen, providing views into extra content vs. just showing more of what’s already there.

Slack is great on the iPad Pro

The Pencil Rules

Where the iPad Pro really shines for me is when paired with the Apple Pencil. I’ve had all sorts of stylus accessories for older iPads and frankly they all were pretty terrible - without actual hardware support from Apple, they were laggy and imprecise. The Pencil is the opposite - this thing tracks my movements with pretty much zero perceptible lag and since it’s fully integrated into the system, I can do things like write on the screen with my palm covering the corner without it triggering spurious touch input. During a design review for a recent client project, being able to take the PDF mock-ups we were discussing and just “draw” my changes right over the top is great. The Pencil has been widely praised and IMO, that’s justified.

Using Adobe’s Comp CC App I can very quickly create wireframes of my feature ideas that I can then share with our designers and developers to illustrate a point or to get feedback. I’m pretty critical of many of Adobe’s desktop tools but their iPad team has worked intelligently to design apps that play to the device’s strengths.

The Pencil is also great for satiating my endless desire to doodle. Where in the past I would absent-mindedly draw scribbles in my notebooks during conference calls or other meetings, now I can save a few sheets of paper and doodle on the iPad instead (to those on the other end of the line, I promise that I’m paying attention).

Masterpiece created by the author while on a conference call with colleagues

Coding With iPad

Part of my job is writing code and some of that can only take place on the Mac. Xcode is not available for iOS so any work done on iPhone or iPad apps needs to happen there. For Rails apps, it’s more of a mixed bag. While running the projects locally on the iPad isn’t currently possible, using apps like Working Copy I have complete access to our GitHub repositories, making it easy for me to branch a project, make some changes and commit them back, ready for pull request feedback. It’s extremely convenient and even better, the Working Copy app includes a document provider extension that allows other apps on my iPad to integrate with GitHub as well.

Why Try This At All?

I’ve got a laptop so why would I even think about trying to use an iPad for “real work”? Well, my iPad isn’t going to totally replace any of my Macs and that’s fine - I don’t want it to. But for some tasks it feels like the best tool for the job and honestly, using it is just more fun.

I’m writing this post on the iPad now using 1Writer. It’s running in split-screen mode with OmniOutliner in the other slot, which I used to create a breakdown of my ideas before I started. It’s a great writing environment - one that helps me stay focused on the task, something that’s always tough for me on the Mac with multiple windows and my communications and notifications just a glance away.

What’s Coming Next?

I really enjoy spending part of my work time on the iPad Pro but there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement. At this point, support for the keyboard in iOS is still pretty limited - I want to be able to do a lot more without having to touch the screen when I have a keyboard attached. Also, I’d kill to get Xcode on this thing - some version of that development tool would be amazing and I can’t help but hope that Apple is working on doing just that.

Could you get your work done from an iPad? Maybe. I think for some people, the answer is undoubtedly “yes”. There are great tools for communications, writing, project management, design and a lot more (though Google really needs to get it together and update Docs). The advancements in the software and hardware over the past two years in particular have made possible all sorts of workflows that were previously impractical.

Still, if your work centers around something like software development (and if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that’s you), you don’t have much of a choice, at least for now. I hope that changes soon but in the meantime, I gotta run - time to go fiddle with my tools a bit more.

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