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So you like the look of Apple’s embiggened iPad, and now you’re wondering if it can replace your regular laptop. Unfortunately there’s no simple yes or no answer — it all depends on what sort of user you are, and that boils down to how you use your laptop.
For the purpose of this article, let’s assume your laptop is your primary machine. We’ll examine what the iPad Pro can replace, the apps you can use to help you get stuff done, and the short-falls of depending on a mobile operating system full-time.
What the iPad Pro Can Do
The iPad Pro is a much larger tablet than the regular iPad Air, and the tiny-by-comparison iPad mini. Starting at $799, it comes with an optional (but essential) Smart Keyboard for $170, which doesn’t require batteries or a Bluetooth connection. It also folds relatively flat when not in use, and props the main tablet up in a non-negotiable typing position for getting work done.
In this respect, it’s like a much thinner version of your laptop with a touchscreen. Typing is comfortable, the keyboard is responsive, and it’s laid out just like a MacBook so there’s little to no adjustment period (for Apple users, at least).
It’s also an iPad, which means it crunches through the things that already feel great on your iPad. You also have the option of using many apps in true, 50-50 split screen mode which allows you to multitask properly for the first time. Take notes while you browse, chat with friends while you watch YouTube — you get the picture. So far, so laptop.
The iPad was essentially born as a giant web browser, and this functionality formed a big part of the hype surrounding its launch. While many saw it initially as a bigger iPhone, it soon developed into a platform of its own with a proper touchscreen web browser that wasn’t confined to a tiny screen. The iPad Pro is more of the same.
Safari for iOS is still one of the most accomplished mobile browsers out there, integrating Apple’s share sheet and the many extensions it supports, and syncing with handy features like iCloud Keychain and Reading List across platforms. Apple even added support for ad-blockers in iOS 9, which means iOS Safari is nearly as capable as Safari on OS X.
Most web apps I’ve used play nicely with mobile Safari on the iPad Pro, and the 4GB of RAM under the hood mean it’s possible to interact with many tabs and other apps without having to reload pages all the time.
If you’re a Chrome user or you simply don’t like Safari, then there’s a multitude of iOS browsers out there for you to choose from (though split-screen multitasking will depend on whether the developer has updated the app to support it).
Email & Social
iOS comes with a fairly competent email client, and it’s now been optimized for the iPad Pro’s larger screen to use alongside other apps. This means you don’t have to stop what you’re doing in order to tap out a quick email. The full-size Smart Keyboard makes typing far more pleasant, allowing you to fire off messages quicker than ever before.
If you don’t like the basic Apple Mail client, iPad Pro-ready alternatives do exist like Microsoft’s accomplished Outlook for iOS, which is free to use and is highly regarded by users for its clean interface and raw power. It’s even supported in Spotlight, so you can search your Outlook mailboxes just as you would with the default Mail app. You can also check out a few of our other favourite Mail alternatives for the iPad here.
One of the most common uses for a regular iPad is browsing Facebook and Twitter, and as you’d expect, the iPad Pro handles both with ease. At the time of typing, around two months after the release of the iPad Pro, Facebook still hasn’t updated their official app — it looks misshapen, and doesn’t support multitasking — but it’s only a matter of time (and the web app works like a treat). There’s no shortage of quality iOS Twitter clients, either.
For use as a portable office, the iPad Pro has got a lot going for it. The aforementioned Smart Keyboard makes it possible to type for long periods, at speed, and make use of keyboard shortcuts for oft-used functions. The iPad Pro’s 10-hour battery life puts my MacBook Pro to shame, and if you need to sign and annotate documents, then the Apple Pencil might be worth the $99 asking price.
All iOS devices come with a free copy of iWork for iOS, which means you can create and edit text documents with Pages (including those in Microsoft Word format), perform spreadsheet tasks in Numbers, and create presentations in Keynote (which can then be pushed to an AirPlay receiver). You’ve also got the ability to keep everything in-sync between devices (including other Macs) using iCloud, though you may need more storage if you’re going to make heavy use of Apple’s cloud service.
If you’re used to Microsoft’s way of doing things and you absolutely can’t live without Office, then you’ll be relieved to know that fully-functional versions of Microsoft’s work suite are available for the platform. The only drawback is that you’ll need an Office 365 subscription in order to use the apps on an iPad Pro, because Microsoft treats devices larger than 10.1″ like standard desktops (Office is free on regular iPads and iPhones).
Note-Taking & Drawing
Paired with a multitasking-ready note-taking app (Evernote is a good choice), the iPad Pro is a born note-taker. Pin a window to the right of what you’re working on and use the Smart Keyboard to type notes or grab whole sections of text using two-finger cursor control and paste using keyboard shortcuts. Assemble blog posts while researching, plan school or business projects while consulting PDFs, chat to team members in Slack or via Messages while taking minutes — all with enough screen space to see what you’re doing.
It’s surprising how focused an environment the iPad Pro creates. Unlike OS X, with its cluttered system tray and row of dock icons all begging for your attention, iOS strips everything down to the barebones. All you see are the two apps you’re interested in, with intermittent notifications at the top of the screen (disable these for an even more productive workspace).
If you’re the sort of person who still prefers handwriting your notes, then you’ll love the Apple Pencil with its incredible degree of accuracy and automatic palm rejection. Evernote is another app that works well with handwritten notes, though it’s also a good place to sketch your ideas if that’s your thing too.
It should go without saying that the iPad Pro is an accomplished digital canvas for illustrators and anyone else interested in drawing on their tablet. The Apple Pencil is twice as sensitive as your finger in terms of input, can be used to shade when coloring thanks to a built-in accelerometer, and it’s pressure sensitive to boot.
Best in class apps like Procreate ($6) and Paper (free) have already been updated to support the first-party accessory. Pixelmator ($5), one of our favourite Mac image editors, recently got an iPad version, and it incorporates many of the mainstays you’d expect from a powerful image editor, including layers. You simply won’t find a better stylus-and-tablet combination out there.
Provided you’re into mobile games — and somewhat limited re-releases of console and PC classics — you’ll find that the iPad Pro has plenty to offer you as a gaming platform. About 50% of apps available on the iOS App Store are games, but don’t expect to be playing the latest triple-A releases. Pair it with a decent iOS controller for best results, and play through the likes of GTA: San Andreas ($7) and Knights of the Old Republic ($10) like you’re 14 all over again.
Where the iPad Pro Struggles
While the iPad Pro handles the above common tasks with ease, there are a few things that you may find the tablet-hybrid struggles with — particularly if you want to depend on it as your only machine.
Movies & Music
Depending on your media, you may be able to watch videos and listen to your favorite tunes on your iPad, but if your files are on external drives, then you may have problems accessing them. VLC for iOS handles just about any media file that iTunes won’t, but mounting external hard drives isn’t something the iPad supports. That means you’re still tied to a Mac or PC for storing media files.
If you’re used to using Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Apple Music, or other similar streaming solutions, then you’re in luck. But for locally stored media, including optical formats like BluRay and DVD, you may be in trouble.
Music Production & DJing
iOS is the mobile musician’s platform of choice — there’s absolutely no doubt about that. Apple has strived to keep audio latency to an absolute minimum, and that’s why so many third party software and hardware developers have embraced iOS with open arms. There are hundreds of quality apps for music creation on iOS — from Apple’s own GarageBand, to professional synthesizer apps like Animoog and iMS-20 ($30 each).
That said, as a professional you may find your choices are somewhat limited. DJs will be delighted to see that Algoriddim’s djay has grown into a professional package with the arrival of djay Pro [No Longer Available], but transferring music can be a hassle, and support for obscure platforms like FLAC still isn’t there. You can’t plug in an external hard drive to access your tunes, and the iPad Pro only comes with 128GB of memory — which means a lot of file juggling. If you want a top tier DJ package, you’ll still need something like Traktor Pro or Ableton Live on a Mac or Windows PC.
Unfortunately the same is true for music production. While iOS is full of synthesizers, drum machines and the occasional DAW, there’s no iOS version of Logic Pro, Reason or specialist trackers like Renoise. For now the best of the bunch are Auria ($25, powerful, but not particularly nice to use), FLStudio Mobile HD ($20, a stripped-down mobile version of its desktop counterpart) and Cubasis ($50, probably the best of the lot).
Photo Editing & Serious Art
Photoshop Lightroom for iPad is free and great — it provides you with an almost-identical set of tools as those provided in Adobe’s cherished Camera RAW tool provided with the full version of Photoshop, and it even handles RAW files. Most cameras can be mounted by the iPad Pro, which means you can import images straight from the source and work on them in the field. For quick edits and occasional shooters, it’s a fantastic tool to have at your disposal.
Unfortunately if you’re doing more than a bit of tinkering, the iOS version of Photoshop Lightroom doesn’t quite cut it. While you can tweak various parameters using sliders, you can’t apply selective adjustments to certain parts of the image. You can’t correct for lens distortions using preset profiles, nor can you perform more detailed color adjustments. The killer for me was not being able to perform batch operations, like exporting a series of edited photos to JPEG for sharing on the web. Everything needs to be done step-by-step, which is a shame because the iPad Pro’s hardware can probably handle it all.
The same argument can be made for serious artists. Procreate and Pixelmator are exceptional tools considering they cost less than $10, but if your workflow depends on Adobe Photoshop or another top-tier graphics editor like Corel Draw, you’re going to be left hungry for features. The iPad Pro doesn’t support peripherals like graphics tablets, though interestingly, the iPad Pro and Pencil can be used as a graphics tablet for your Mac using an app called AstroPad ($10).
The iPhone now shoots 4K video, and as a result, Apple’s iPad Pro can also be used to edit 4K video via the wonders of iMovie for iOS ($5, but also free with every iPad Pro). One of the main problems here concerns space — the iPad Pro can only house 128GB of data, and if you’re transferring 4K (and even HD) video for editing, you’re going to burn through that pretty quickly.
iMovie itself is only a hobbyist’s video editor. It’s a polished and user-friendly bit of kit, and the latest version even supports keyboard shortcuts if you’ve plugged a Smart Keyboard in, but it’s never going to replace Lightworks, Final Cut, or Adobe Premiere Pro. If you want to get serious about your video editing, you’re going to need a computer, some external hard drives, and a powerful non-linear video editor to learn and master.
Again, the iPad Pro probably has the raw power to handle a serious video editor like Premiere, but its current maximum capacity of 128GB holds back its potential for serious projects — particularly if you want to use it for other things too.
As noted, the iPad Pro isn’t a full-blown PC or console. It won’t be seeing the latest first person shooters or epic RPGs, but it will probably see plenty of indie games. It doesn’t make the ideal emulator either, though you can build your own emulators using xcode 7 if you’ve got time and patience. You can’t use DOSBox to play your old retro favourites, and controller support is limited but growing.
Other Things to Consider
By now, you probably have a pretty good idea if you can ditch your laptop in favour of an iPad Pro, but there are a few more considerations to make. Even if you’re not a serious artist or photographer who produces music on the weekends and is thinking of starting a YouTube channel, it’s worth keeping in mind that you’re going to be limited if ever you do require a bit more oomph in these departments.
If you’re dependent on any old or specialist software that’s unavailable on iOS, you’re going to have to work around it either by using web apps (which can behave erratically at times) or by finding (and potentially buying) more software. Many iOS apps do feel like “dumbed down” versions of their OS X or Windows counterparts, and many (like the WordPress app) offer even less in terms of features than comparable web versions.
You’re also going to have to depend on a machine that, by design, is restrictive in terms of what you can and cannot do. Unlike Windows and OS X, which still afford a relatively high degree of customization to the user; iOS is Apple’s most-guarded fortress. You can’t change your default web browser, there’s no Finder or Windows Explorer equivalent for browsing files, and you can’t escape Apple’s grip by installing another OS.
These aren’t all necessarily bad things. iOS is an incredibly easy operating system to get along with, and it’s speedy in terms of workflow. Spotlight continues to get more powerful, and app support is the best of any mobile operating system. Overall the iPad Pro is a powerful tablet that’s a joy to use, so weigh up the pros and cons and decide for yourself — just ask yourself a few important questions first.
Will you be replacing or supplementing your laptop with an iPad Pro?