The iPad Pro: the next step in computing’s evolution?

by Kenneth Lampinen

Two months ago I dismissed Tim Cook's statement that the iPad Pro was a PC replacement. Instead, I believed that the iPad Pro was a great Apple ecosystem device. A device that doesn't really stand out on its own; that makes the most sense when used as a compliment to Apple’s OS X devices. Today, after seeing it become my most used computing device, I need to revisit my original conclusion.

I’m clearly not alone

IDC recently reported their estimates of tablet sales in Q4 2015. The data suggests that Apple sold approximately 2 million iPad Pro tablets in the quarter. To put this in perspective, Microsoft sold approximately 1.6 million Surface devices. This includes the Surface Pro 4 as well as the much cheaper Surface 3.

IDC calls this sub-category of tablets “detachables.” With IDC commenting that consumers are “seeing these devices as PC replacements,” it’s clear that I missed something in my initial review of the iPad Pro.  

What changed in two months?

On a personal level, the biggest change to how I use the iPad Pro came when I added Apple's Smart Keyboard cover. When I wrote my initial review, I wasn’t able to get my hands on one. Once I did, it changed everything. 

Having a light, portable keyboard that was always with me changed the way I used my iPad Pro. It made my 2015 MacBook largely redundant. It moved my usage of the iPad from a content review and ideation/brainstorming device into one where I was getting real work done. And not just so that I could punt it over to my MacBook or iMac for finalization. I am actually finishing work on it. Presentations. Documents. Spreadsheets. This review. Everything an office worker typically does. The iPad Pro has turned into my main work machine. 

It’s still a tablet, and that’s a good thing

It's important to note that adding the Smart Keyboard did not turn the iPad Pro into a laptop. And I mean that in a positive sense. It is still first and foremost a tablet. As such it retains all of the benefits one loves about the form factor. Portability. Battery life. Simplicity. Always connected.  

Now the benefits also extend to workflow. As I noted in my original article, I review a lot of content as part of my work. Desktop and laptop form factors have never been good devices for doing this type of work. Before tablets, I often reverted to print-outs when I needed to read something of any length. But the iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil is fantastic for reading and reviewing documents in a way I find natural and effective. With its ability to rapidly detach, Apple's Smart Keyboard doesn’t get in the way when I need to review content. And its ability to quickly reattach allows me to start doing other types of productivity tasks faster than pulling out a laptop.

Apps have changed as well

It's not just the Smart Keyboard that has changed my experience.  Over the last two months, more apps have begun to take advantage of the iPad Pro's capabilities. Spilt screen is now supported by many 3rd party apps including favorites like OmniFocus, Evernote, PDF Expert, Notability, Liquid Text, Tweetbot, and Pixelmator. Of course, Apple's apps and Microsoft's Office apps have supported split screen since launch. But with many of my favorite apps supporting it today, I find my workflow feeling free, flexible and fast.

In addition, Apple Pencil is also seeing broader app support. I love using it in Pixelmator to edit photos. And Evernote's Penultimate now supports Apple Pencil so well, I'm serious debating my use of Notability. This increased support only increases the productivity of the iPad Pro. And it's something that a laptop or desktop cannot touch. 

OS X: Far from dead

Despite the fact that the iPad Pro has become my most used computing device, there are still times I need a full computer. Some areas where iOS still falls short include pro-level music and video production, remote podcast recording, using local virtual machines (a need for some in IT), usage of privacy services like TOR, and using peripherals like document scanners and printers. 

But that list seems to be shrinking fast. For what Microsoft used to refer to as “knowledge workers”, the iPad Pro, with it’s accessories, apps and cloud services, really has become a feasible PC replacement for many people. Myself included. Looks like Tim Cook knew something after all.

Apple’s iPad Pro: What it Really Replaces

by Kenneth Lampinen

OK. I’m going to admit this up front. I’m a tech addict. I like to have the latest and greatest gadgets. And I’ve been known to spend a little too much to get them. So when I picked up the iPad Pro recently, most of my friends simply rolled their eyes thinking, “there he goes again, buying yet another gadget.” And given the tone of the media coverage of the iPad Pro, I can see why they might think that. But here’s what I think everyone is missing: the iPad Pro is not just an upgrade to an existing device. It’s a whole new category of device. One that enables me to work in ways my previous devices could not.

Using the iPad Pro as one of many devices

As I discussed in my review of the 2015 MacBook, I’m not a single device kind of user. I have a 27” iMac that I use for tasks that demand large screen size, local storage, and always-on, server-like applications. And I use a MacBook for mobile computing and web browsing, an iPhone 6 Plus for mobile communications and social media, and an Apple Watch for keeping me focused and on time.

To be frank, an iPad hadn’t really fit into my daily work routine for several months, as I’d just gotten tired of all the compromises. Since I’d acquired the 2015 MacBook, my iPad Air had become a simple media consumption device — if I bothered to use it all. I stopped carrying it in my briefcase. It rarely left the house. It just wasn’t getting much use.

But then Apple launched the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil. And after 2+ weeks of using them every day, I can honestly say that an iPad has a meaningful part in my daily workflow again.

Now it’s important to understand that I do not believe the iPad Pro is a laptop replacement. (Sorry Tim Cook. I might get there at some point. But not yet.) I still carry and use my MacBook every day. It is still the best mobile computer for the way I work, as it gives me a fully-featured OS in a highly-mobile premium laptop. I get the work I need done on it. And it’s an absolute pleasure to use.

But there has always been a significant part of my work that I’ve done outside my computing devices. Such as reading and annotating documents. Taking notes during meetings. Planning. Brainstorming. Mind mapping. And I’ve never been able to do these activities effectively on a computer before, as it’s never felt as natural or effective as pen and paper. Partly because the input mechanisms are too rigid and the software too cumbersome. I tried using a regular iPad several times over the years to do these activities, but it never quite worked. Even though the software was close, the screen was too small and the styluses were too clumsy. As such, my briefcase always included paper, pencils, pens and highlighters.

How the iPad Pro has changed my workflow

But the iPad Pro has changed all that. Now reading, reviewing and annotating documents is a joy. Especially with the Apple Pencil. It’s like working with paper, only much more flexible. I work in pen mode, not keyboard mode. I have instant access to all my documents, all the time. And with apps like Liquid Text, I’m able to quickly and easily summarize key points for use later in my work flow. It’s a huge time saver. And it feels right.

The same goes for note-taking. With the Apple Pencil and apps like Good Notes and Penultimate, taking hand-written electronic notes is extremely natural. It’s as easy and fast as using pen and paper. But because your notes are electronic, they’re backed up to the cloud, available on multiple devices and easily shareable.

Yes, many of the apps out there can still be improved. Some, like Microsoft’s One Note, still require too many clicks before you can even start writing. Others make adding a new page a multi-click affair. But thanks to Apple, the act of writing electronically is, in itself, already a fantastic experience. And I expect the apps that are falling short in organisation and similar areas of the note-taking experience will be updated soon.

The iPad Pro is also a really good iPad

Of course the iPad Pro is also the best iPad ever made. Everything about it — from its beautiful large screen to its powerful CPU — make the device a pleasure to use. Reading magazines and newspapers feels right for the first time. It is finally as nice as reading the real, physical thing. No more pinching and scrolling. No more “tablet optimized layouts”. And when you want to do computing and use more complicated apps like Microsoft Office, Garage Band or iMovie, they actually feel truly functional. Especially when using iOS 9’s multi-tasking features.

Now I know a lot of people will wonder if the iPad Pro is too large for them, but Apple seems to have struck the right balance between size, portability and functionality with this device. There’s a reason it’s similar in size to a traditional magazine.

Concluding thoughts

And maybe that’s the real point of the iPad Pro. Apple didn’t make it to replace your laptop. They made it to replace the paper parts of your life in a way that feels as good as the real thing, but with all the benefits of being digital.

So while Apple may have ditched skeuomorphism in their UI design, they’re actually doing an even better job of replicating and improving real world experiences in their software and devices. So much so that for the first time ever, I’m actually comfortable leaving the pens and paper at home.

Tata’s admirable approach to sharing value

by Andrew Flowers

Is shareholder value the ultimate measure of a company’s success? Or is true success about how that value is used to the benefit of others? Indian conglomerate Tata has some of the answers.

We can all agree that a company exists to produce and/or sell something. Its shareholders invest their capital — be it intellectual, financial or material — to create a product or service for which there is demand. They sell this product or service at a profit and expect a return on their investment. In short, they expect value. Shareholder value.

But what if there was more to it than that? What if a company existed to create value not just for its shareholders, but also for other stakeholders? What if the mandate of the shareholders, as guardians of the value, was to extend that value beyond themselves or the company they represent?

Last summer I had the opportunity to meet with some people from Tata Consultancy Services, part of the Indian conglomerate Tata Group, which comprises more than 100 companies globally. Tata is an impressive enterprise with a youthful, almost futuristic feel to it — even though it was founded in 1868! And the company’s mission statement — the essence of which goes back to that time — made a lasting impression on me: “To improve the quality of life of the communities we serve globally, through long-term stakeholder value creation based on Leadership with Trust.”

Note how Tata refers to “stakeholders” and not “shareholders” as the ultimate beneficiaries of value creation. Or to quote Tata founder Jamseti Tata (1839–1904) himself: “In a free enterprise, the community is not just another stakeholder in business, but is in fact the very purpose of its existence.”

These are bold, visionary statements. And Tata lives up to them organizationally through a holding company called Tata Sons, of which 66% of the equity share capital is held by philanthropic trusts. These trusts in turn fund education, livelihood generation, health, art, culture and other initiatives in the communities where Tata operates.

Yes, Tata exists to make a profit like any other company, but its success is not defined solely by traditional notions of shareholder value. Instead, the very existence of the company is grounded in the act of giving back to the community. The notion of shareholder value has been extended, and success enjoyed by Tata is success enjoyed by other stakeholders too.

It’s an approach to admire and learn from. And it’s made me wonder how I could similarly create and share value from the work that I do.

Please note that these are my own personal opinions and observations. I was not solicited by Tata to write this article.

Why Ellis Nichol is the right next move

by Andrew Flowers

Last week I left Microsoft after 10 years of working for the acquired Nokia phones business. This week I’m part of launching a new PR & Communications agency: Ellis Nichol. Here’s why I’m doing it…

It’s mid 2005. I’m 30 years old and working as a freelance copywriter in Sweden. My home is actually in Finland, but after five years there I have itchy feet, so now I’m working in Stockholm and flying back to Helsinki most weekends. I feel like I have the best of both worlds.

And yet… there is something missing professionally. I’d worked as a copywriter for a B2B agency and I’d worked as a freelance writer, but I realize that I want to be part of something bigger. I want to be on the inside of a big company, seeing how things work (or don’t work), learning new stuff, and meeting influential people.

I see a recruitment ad for a “Financial Communications Manager” at Nokia HQ in Finland. I apply. I get a phone call from the hiring manager. She interviews me. Her colleague interviews me. HR sends me for some psych tests. The head of communications interviews me. I get the job. I move back to Helsinki and join Nokia in September 2005.

A decade later…

Fast forward 10 years, to mid 2015. Microsoft announces that it’s going to write down the entire value of the Nokia phones business it acquired the previous year. And make almost 8,000 people redundant, myself included.

What am I going to do now? What do I want to do? What can I do? What’s going to make me happy? These are the questions I ask myself all summer as I try to make sense of this new eventuality.

So I start by taking a look at what I have done, what I’m good at and what I can offer professionally. And then I look at what the communications & PR market in Helsinki needs, I have some conversations with a few ex colleagues and agency contacts, and I reach my conclusion: I’m going to write for a living.

From decision to opportunity

Shortly after I come to this decision I’m presented with the opportunity to form a company specializing in strategy and content development for executive communications, financial communications and B2B marketing. The timing is perfect. Thus… Ellis Nichol is born.

It’s clear that there is a need for such services in Helsinki. I know from my own “client side” experience that it can be tough to find good English writers in this city. And everyone in the industry here is telling me the same thing: “there is a big need for English B2B copywriters” and “there is no agency focusing on financial and executive communications.”

I believe Ellis Nichol will stand out by providing a few specific services that are backed up by solid experience. We’re not going to be selling projects and then scrambling to find junior people to fulfil them; my partner and I will be doing the work ourselves. And when it’s time to expand, we’ll do so in a very measured way. In a way that ensures our quality of service is never compromised.

The next 10 years

The next decade of my life needs to be about more than just working to gain experience or to bring home a paycheck. I want to build something. I want to change the status quo. And with Ellis Nichol I will be able to do that, guided by an ethos grounded in principles that I have helped define.

This feels like the right move, at the right time. And another ten years from now I want to be able to look back and say that we lived up to our ethos, and that we made a positive impact on the individuals and organizations we serve.

I look forward to meeting with prospective clients in coming weeks to share more about Ellis Nichol and to discuss what we can do for you.

The Seven Elements of a Successful Corporate Ethos

Ethos.

It’s a word I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as we prepare to launch our new company. And I guess that shouldn’t be too surprising. After all, it’s one of the most important factors behind any company’s success. Over my career, I’ve had the opportunity to see its effect on multiple organizations. Both for good and for bad. There’s a power in ethos. And I want to make sure it’s the wind in our sails; not a headwind that hampers our progress.

But what does the “right” ethos look like for a company? Is there a single way that all successful companies follow?

Here are seven things that stand out about the ethos at Ellis Nichol that may work for your company.

1) Assemble the right people

People need to fit together in order to accomplish whatever definition of success they have. For some organizations, a diverse group may lead to success. For others, a homogeneous group may be key. It depends on the situation, timeline and the path ahead. But the best groups do have some commonalities. Complementary skill sets. A unified vision. And a sense of cohesion that enables them to work together through both good and bad times. Whether its management, employees, partners or vendors, a commitment to assembling the right people is key to success.

2) Build an atmosphere of trust

Trust makes any working environment enjoyable. But more than that, it enables a degree of speed and execution that isn’t possible in environments where trust is lacking. Commit to building trust amongst management, employees, partners and vendors. Show support for their core needs and values. And watch execution exceed your expectations.

3) Aspire to excellence

There’s profit in excellence. But more than that, there is an undeniable joy that comes from a job well done. Excellence in execution not only makes your customers happy, it provides a company the energy for whatever comes next. Enable an environment that fosters the creativity to solve problems and continually improve. And it will create a virtuous cycle that keeps rewarding everyone involved.

4) Know your value: say no often

The secret of success can be simplified down to one thing: adding value. Don’t be afraid to say no to situations where you don’t contribute. When you focus on how and where you add value, you not only maximize your joy and revenue, you minimize your stress.

5) Stay authentic: lead by serving

The journey of success can sometimes lead organizations and individuals to change for the negative. Be humble and understand that sustainable leadership comes by serving others’ needs. Be clear on who you are leading/serving. Customers. Partners. Employees. Understand their needs. And help them solve their problems.

6) Flexible Sisu

Another way of saying this is “adaptable persistence”. Know that things are going to change. They always do. Be flexible enough to change when needed, but brave enough to work through any challenges that get in the way of success. Never be afraid to move forward. And always remember your roots. After all, they are what give you strength. (It’s why I use the Finnish word “sisu” instead of persistence. Your personal wording may vary.)

7) Give Back

We’re all part of this same, funny world. When we make it a better place by sustainably contributing what we can to others in need, we inevitably end up getting back more in return. Never make the mistake that freeloading or taking advantage of others is a path to success. It’s only a short term solution that breeds the bad habits leading to failure.