Erik Ableson 8 minute read
November 14, 2018

2018 iPad Pro 12.9

So I broke down and upgraded my first generation 12.9 iPad to the latest version this week. Here are some quick observations from the last few days.

History

I have both the 10.5 and the 12.9 but as a matter of practicality, the 12.9 has been pretty much fixed to the desk (using the very practical IOMountsystem) to serve as an outboard extra screen in the office for keeping an eye on Twitter, or following documentation while using the main computer and so on. It was relegated to this task for the simple reasons that it was just a little too big and little too heavy to be a useful mobile device for my uses.

On my uses: I’m not an artist and don’t do very much with anything using serious media files - no audio or video processing, no huge graphic files or anything like that. Lots of research, notes, writing, diagramming and stuff like that.

The 10.5 is the mobile iPad that I use when out and about, mostly reading, writing, taking notes and so on.

First impressions

The combination of the drop in weight from 676g down to 631g and the reduction in thickness really do make a big difference in the portability of the new version. Holding it one handed is now doable, albeit not for long periods of time, while the with the original, it was just over my comfort level for even brief periods. Now I find it much more reasonable as a mobile device. That said, I noticed on a few reviews that it’s too tall (like most laptops) to be used on the tray in coach – so I’ll have to keep the 11.5 as the airplane device (or start reviewing my budget to include seat upgrades, but since I blew the budget on the iPad, that seems unlikely 😕).

The bigger screen is just great for working in various apps and with the extra space, working in split screen is much nicer since the apps are not scaled down to the compact size class, but remain full iPad versions with iPad affordances.

Overall the iPad is much snappier with the new processor and GPU, and the integration of FaceID is so much nicer for the constant stream of logins and authentication requests from apps and websites. That said, I'm still in the process of unlearning the muscle memory of reaching up for the home button, but that’s normal at this stage.

The Folio keyboard still has the same issue that all tablet keyboard have in that it’s not really great for working on your lap. The good things are that the iPad is really solidly attached and it moves as a complete unit, but it’s still light on the bottom so the center of gravity is farther back and creates some wobbles. It’s way better than the old 12.9 in this configuration since it would wobble from two places. I’ve taken to resting my left thumb on the edge of the keyboard to give it some pressure to hold it against my legs which vastly reduces the bounciness.

iOS

This is still a bit of a stumbling block as there are a number of restrictions imposed by the UI that are trying to orient you towards a focused approach of using one or maybe two apps at once. For me, this is actually a bit of advantage since when I’m writing, I like to be in a distraction-free environment and I find that this works quite well for me. But this is very much a YMMV situation since it all depends on how you want/need to use your device.

On this front, I find that the usefulness of the apps is a direct correlation with their pedigree. Apps that were born in this space like Ulysses, Things and Paper have a thoughtfulness about their design and support for things like keyboard shortcuts where appropriate that work really well on this device. Those that come from the desktop OS world are less well-integrated and frequently not feature complete, particularly things like the Microsoft Office apps, which are reasonably well done ports, but don’t feel native and their implementation of file management is a little strange, even bizarre at times, with unclear iconography and things like that. But part of that gets back to the whole issue that iOS was originally designed to not have any visible file system or file management component since “documents” would live inside the App container. Again, Apps designed around this constraint like Ulysses don’t suffer at all from the lack of filesystem, but they had to do some wheel reinventing to produce the effect of a complete local filesystem of their documents. If your workflows involve a lot of ad-hoc connections to arbritrary files, iOS still has a ways to go, particularly when you run up against the constraint that prevents using arbitrary external storage devices, even through the Files App.

I fully expect that the lack of ability to connect external storage will be fixed in the next major iOS release, but since I’m not usually dealing with massive files email, Dropbox and so on fill that gap pretty well for my use cases. But I can completely understand someone who is thinking about using the iPad for working on arbitrary audio files and things like that will chafe at this limitation.

As a general note, the people that I follow that are all-in on the iPad lifestyle, are also people that are building new workflows and using new, generally indie, apps. And of course, one of their criteria for CRM tools is that they work with Mobile Safari. If your workflows are mature and based on a lot of multitasking between ”legacy” apps, iOS is currently not the best place to be, particularly if you are working in certain Enterprise spaces where everything gets passed around in Office files, the apps are not as comfortable to use. Not to mention that the design specs for most internal web applications are aimed directly at Internet Explorer at worst, Edge and Chrome at best, but have rarely been qualified on Mobile Safari and making it compatible is very far down the features list in most companies.

On the other hand, if you are trying to follow some of the precepts of focused work on one subject at a time, and you can choose the best tools for the job, iOS can be a really good fit. From my end, I have given up on using the Office apps as primary tools. For anything involving writing, documentation and so on, I go straight to Ulysses and only at the very final stages do I export the files to Office for final formatting tweaks and such. PowerPoint is OK, and Excel is actually pretty good if you need work on shared files. But unless I’m working on something that really needs pivot tables or some other advanced feature (a relatively rare event), Numbers can pick up the slack just fine for simply working with tabular data.

I have barely scratched the surface of what can be enabled using Siri Shortcuts (née Workflow) but I suspect that there’s a lot of stuff that I’ll be able to optimize using that if I can find the time to spend in that space. That said, the bulk of what I do is all one-off so there aren’t that many opportunities for automation.

Contrasts and observations

Part of the fun of a new iPad Pro release is all of the chatter about who can use this as their primary “professional” device with the attendant cries from people who’s workflow simply isn’t appropriate, or has dependencies on tools that aren’t compatible and so on. But as part of these discussions, I noticed something interesting about the nature of the various software platforms, and usage patterns.

One thing that jumped out is that other than Office, there are no killer apps for Windows that you can’t find elsewhere and that the indie development scene on Windows is pretty much nonexistent. As part of that movement, it seems to me that the whole .Net development is pretty much all about the business and enterprise market. I don’t see an awful lot of indie development here that is selling directly to the general marketplace. In fact when asking around, nobody was able to cite a must-have Windows application coming from anything other than a (at least relatively) big software shop. The feedback I was seeing from friends and colleagues is that those that are heavy Windows users are pretty much moving towards web based apps, with things like Lucid Charts taking the place of Visio (which was one of the primary apps cited for using Windows). So in many ways, the business user who doesn’t have any custom developed .Net software, they might as well be using a Chromebook if it wasn’t for Office.

Final thoughts

In many ways, this iPad is complete overkill for my needs, it is a constant delight and makes me want to be writing and drawing on it. I’m currently travelling and I just realized that two days in, I haven’t taken the MacBook Pro out of the bag.