Computer I Can’t Use

For a couple of generations now, iPad seems to be a phenomenally capable computer that could replace a MacBook. Apple even promotes iPad to PC users as a replacement to their aging laptops.

While I know people, who switched to iPad full-time. Both Tamuna and I tried for a couple of times and failed. This article is a critique, not a review or conclusions. It explores few of the reasons behind the bottlenecks, and why I can not make iPad for me.

(Spoilers: it’s all software).

Here’s a list of things I regularly do on a computer, the MacBook Pro kind of computer:

  1. Programming — I make iOS and watchOS apps, for a living. Writing, building and debugging code is what I do most of the time on a computer.

  2. Graphic Design — User interface design specifically. I take part in the design of most of my client projects. I design all my in-house projects.

  3. Photography — Except for a couple of years, I always have a camera on me since I’m nine. Tagging, organizing, editing and printing couple of hundred photos is what I do almost every week.

  4. Thinking — Coming up with new workflows, reading a book, sketching user interfaces or ideas, writing outlines and articles for the blog. All of those happen on my MacBook Pro with some help of a pen, paper, and Kindle.

Four above are the most important things in my everyday life that requires a computer of some sort.

Programming

Let’s get straight to the issue — there is no Xcode on iPad. Swift Storyboards is an excellent exercise and study tool, but in my experience, that’s all it is. To make progress on personal and client apps I need [almost] full-featured Xcode.

I think most native platform developers are in this position that can’t use iPad for development. I’m no web developer, but I could imagine working from iPad using some existing apps, or even setting up Mosh so that I could ssh into development computer somewhere in the cloud. Is logging into remote PC cheating? I don’t think so.

Graphic Design

While there are quite a lot of apps for doing such work, none of them are industry standard apps which you could use with a team (or easily find resources for). Sketch and Photoshop, are what really counts. I haven’t had a chance to play with announced “real” Photoshop, so I do not know how tuned towards UI designs it is. It seems most drawing apps on iPad are leaning towards illustrators. Hopefully, Photoshop on iPad is as flexible as its desktop version.

What I’d really like to see on iPad, is a full-featured version of Sketch. Without at least one of those apps, iPad is a fancy sketchpad. Something I can do using a pen, paper, and ScanBot for 1% of the price of the iPad Pro.

Photography

I can not believe this is still a problem on iPad. Editing photographs on iPad is a pleasure, and selection of photo manipulation apps is vast. But, there is no sane way of managing your photos. As if the whole experience is made for Instagram_-er_: capture, edit, post, forget. This is not how professional or even mildly serious amateur works. Visually editing photos is only one step of a dozen. Here my workflow after each day of shooting.

Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 9.49.00.png

There are seventeen steps out of which only three is what iPad is truly good at, just because iOS refuses to import photos directly to apps or filesystem (or any cloud storage). For some reason, working files, client files, selects, white balance and color calibration files and final images should go into Photos app.

Photo library backup is another critical issue for photographers that I can’t find a good solution on iPad.

Thinking

iPad is an excellent visual thinking aid. I found Notability and Apple Pencil to be a good note-taking and sketching tools. Although since it’s merely simulating physical tools, benefits over traditional pen and paper are not huge. Yes, you can move things around and copy iPhone screen canvas instead of drawing a 14th rectangle, but the true digital document, in my mind, should do much more than that.

While above is, admittedly a nit-pick, I find it surprising that iOS on iPad doesn’t have nearly as good control over a text as macOS. To this day I don’t know how to paste and match style on iPad.

 Sketching on paper is more time consuming, but yields same result for fraction of the price.

Sketching on paper is more time consuming, but yields same result for fraction of the price.

Point of this post is to demonstrate that while iPad solves problems of many, it is still very “it depends” device. I hesitate to call it full-fledged computer as Apple does. Computers are incredibly flexible devices, and iPad fails to serve many. I’d argue iPad is more of a niche device, rather than me being an edge case.

Tamuna, for example, is a research worker in academia. Most of her work is reading, annotating, typing and thinking. Things iPad should do effortlessly, but she also finds iPad hard to use consistently.

There is a pattern to all of those bottlenecks I described above—lack of software support.

New iPad Pro (2018) solved very few hardware issues any iPad ever had. Regularly discharged Pencil and clumsy keyboard are fixed. Fixed very well and elegantly. iPad never looked more appealing than that, but in reality, those hardware changes make little to no difference to any issues I have. In fact, I’d argue that iPad hardware is way ahead of its software for more than a couple of years now.

If you know how to solve any of the above problems without theoretical iOS 13, please let me know. I’d be happy to get myself new iPad Pro. I’m living with 15” MacBook Pro which I do not like much. Nothing to do with a keyboard or TouchBar, I just don’t like lugging around a big notebook. I’d rather own iMac Pro at home and iPad in my bag. Heck, I’d rather own massive drafting table-sized 60” iPad at home and 11” iPad in my bag.

Q&A

Toto, I know people who successfully use iPad full-time, what are you talking about?

I know those people too. My Mom is one of them. I’m very jealous of those people.

So what’s your problem?

The current state of software on an otherwise phenomenal bit of hardware I really want to use. I want to have iPad Pro in my shoulder-bag instead of a noisy aluminum brick of a MacBook Pro that lasts only two hours without the charger and gives me shoulder pain every other day.

Your photography workflow is unorthodox!

Most of the hobbyist photographers I know have even more demanding workflows. I can only imagine how many steps are involved in a professional photo shoot. Also, that’s not a question.

Who cares about software when the hardware is so good?

I do. I became a fan of Apple because of the software. I’d take any crummy PC laptop running macOS over Windows or desktop Linux on MacBook, any time. I think iPad deserved good software too. (Note I didn’t use word best, best among others is not enough for Apple.)

Drafting table-sized 60” iPad? Really?

Oh yes! Just imagine windowed iOS app on huge iPad with an 8–12K touch screen. Drag-and-drop files and objects between apps. Write memos using Pencil while having Safari, YouTube and Books open on the side. Put the physical keyboard on it if you like. That would be a modern computer for creatives.

Do you think ARM Mac could fix your problems?

Maybe? I do not know. If Apple can fit iMac Pro power into 12” MacBook body using A chips, they can take all of my money.

Do you think theoretical new iOS/software could fix your problems, and you could use iPad full-time?

Yes. Oh, yes.