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.