The iPad as a laptop replacement

The latest iPad Pro release has got me thinking. For a long time, I have been of the belief that an iPad is an entertainment device, something that you can pick up and use to browse the web, watch videos, read books and view photos. The Pro line has been challenging that perception though, and the latest release takes it further towards the territory of a “real” computer.

The iPad Pro line comfortably matches, and even beats traditional laptops in terms of processing power. It has a screen that holds its own next to 4K displays, and has the option of connecting a keyboard, an external display, and an Apple Pencil. At this point the only real argument against the iPad is iOS itself. There are ways to perform most tasks that a casual user would want to do, but for the like of software developers and audio/video professionals, the iPad is still not going to cut it just yet.

That’s something that I expect to change in the near future. The fact that the iPad now has the power to run “pro” apps means that it’s a matter of when not if professional apps make there way to iOS. Shortcuts, which debuted in iOS 12, are beginning to unlock the power of automation on iOS. I can only see this get more and more embedded into iOS over its next few iterations.

Thinking about this brings me back to this blog post by Matt Gemmell from earlier this year. In it, he talks about how the iPad is already well on its way to becoming a standalone computer to replace a laptop for most people:

I used to be an iOS and macOS developer, though it’s more and more difficult to believe it was really me. Xcode is the integrated dev environment on macOS, to build software for all the Apple platforms, and everyone’s always saying that it’s the reason the Mac is still around (and the reason that all these programmers who invariably love iPads can’t switch to using one full-time).

But you don’t need a Mac. You need Xcode on the iPad. That’s all. We’ve gone through dozens of iterations of this same subtly-misdirected argument.

Typing on glass is imprecise, or weird, or slow, or something! You’re right. But you don’t need a Mac; you need a physical keyboard. We’ve got that.

Finger-painting is nowhere near precise enough for serious artwork! That’s true. You don’t need a Mac; you need a more accurate input device. That’s the Apple Pencil.

You can’t do your job on one little screen! Fine. You don’t need a Mac; you need iOS to support external displays. There’s AirPlay right now, and I think more support will come.

The list goes on.

My MacBook is six years old now and beginning to show its age. Up until recently, I was thinking of upgrading to a new one. When I thought about it though, I realized that I only use it about once a month - and that’s only to do tasks that I can’t do on my iPad (updating my website, coding, manipulating photo metadata etc). The rest of the time, I’m on my iPad. I don’t have to worry about booting up or shutting down, fans spinning, third party software, slow updates, being in a sitting position the list goes on.

For the first time since its release, I’m starting to see the side of the argument for the iPad being a viable primary computing device. There’s still a lot to figure out, but I’m excited to see where the iPad and iOS goes over the next few years.