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.