Productivity and the iPad Pro: A Policy Wonk’s Review

Tools by Christopher Parsons
Every time Apple announces a new iPad, a slew of technology reviewers and YouTube personalities ask whether the newest iPad can finally replace a laptop. And, in almost every situation, they argue that the device can mostly, but not quite, serve as a replacement. But reviewers’ workflows—often involving film production, audio editing, and other marginally esoteric requirements—tend to be pretty different from those of non-AV professionals.

I don’t make videos for a living, nor do I engage in audio engineering. I’m a professional policy wonk and amateur photographer, which means that I do a lot of national video and audio interviews, a lot of writing and text-based communication, some image editing, and depressing amounts of media consumption. I also read a crazy numbers of PDFs and have to annotate them. And for the past two weeks I was consigned to work off my iPad Pro (2018) and iPhone Pro because my MacBook Air was getting its keyboard repaired.

So how successfully did I continue to work just from my non-laptop devices? Spoiler: it was pretty great and mostly convinced me I can lead a (mostly) iPad Pro work life.

The Tools

As mentioned, the hardware that I principally relied on included my iPad Pro 11” (2018) and iPhone Pro.

For the iPad I also had a Logitech Bluetooth keyboard and a Magic Trackpad, as well as a cheap stand. For importing my photos, I have an old USB-C hub that has a SD card reader. For the iPhone, I routinely used a knock-off Gorilla Pod tripod, Manfroto head, and AirPods.

On the software side of things, I used Mail, Pages, Wire, GoodNotes, Mendeley, Reeder, Photos and Darkroom, Safari, Google Drive and Docs, Tweetbot, and Apple Notes to get my daily work done on the iPad Pro.

For interviews I was at the mercy of whatever the interviewers wanted me to use on my iPhone Pro, which was usually either FaceTime, Skype, Signal, WhatsApp, or Zoom, and I used Google Meet for non-broadcast communications.

Successes

The Setup by Christopher Parsons
On the whole I was able to do everything using my iPad Pro and iPhone Pro that I was doing when I was relying on my MacBook Air and iPhone Pro. My reading and writing were largely unimpaired, and my communications with colleagues were not noticeably affected.

Specifically, I was able to continue importing and editing photos, and worked in Google Docs and Drive to leave comments and contribute to documents that were in progress. Email continued to be dealt with using the native client, and I kept on working on Word documents using Pages. Apple’s cloud storage meant I had access to all my files on my iPad, just as on my MacBook Air.

Working with PDFs was simple and easy: I imported them to GoodNotes and shared them into Mendeley after I’d annotated them. I then deleted them from GoodNotes to avoid having multiple iterations of a document in different apps.

All of my communications were easy to maintain, though it was admittedly annoying to have to pick up my phone whenever I received or needed to send a message in WhatsApp. It’d be great if Facebook committed to the service, and made it available on all iOS devices like Signal has already done.

Minor Annoyances

There were one or two things that were annoying. I had to take a photo with government identification, and then strip away some of the more sensitive information. It took me a bit of time to figure out that I could move the photo into Notes, scratch out the offending information, and then output the edited photo to Files to then be uploaded. But it was annoying, not impossible.

I also continue to struggle with a good blogging process on iOS devices. I used Ulysses for years but the lack of new updates for non-subscription users was grating. Other non-subscription-based apps, however, don’t really support images as well nor upload as nicely to this blog. So I’ve actually started using the (mediocre) WordPress client. It’s not impressive, but neither are any of the other clients.

Major Pain Points

First, Google Docs is a terrible application that doesn’t work well. Period. In documents where there are a lot of tracked changes and comments it becomes basically non-functional. It got so bad that I’d write text in Apple Notes and then just copy it into Google Docs, or else I’d be stuck waiting for minutes for a sentence to finally be input. Google Docs is generally a dumpster fire, though, and it’s a shame that Google hasn’t properly developed their app or service in all the years that Google has operated it. (In my MacBook Air, editing in Safari is only a marginally better experience. Google really needs to get its act together.)

Second, Slide Over is incredibly confusing to get working. I’ve owned an iPad for years and it was only in the last two weeks that I finally figured out how to control it, and doing so required watching an instructional video. It is bonkers that this feature is so unintuitive to use and yet so easy to trigger. That said, once I figured it out, it was a very positive and transformative productivity enhancement.

Third, I absolutely needed my iPhone for actual video conferencing. The iPad can do conferencing, but it’s form factor sucks for this kind of activity. That’s fine, and I’d be doing the same if I was doing interviews or video chats with a working MacBook Air in my possession. Still, you’re going to want another camera (and a headset with microphones) if you need to so high(ish) quality calls when you’re working purely from an iPad Pro.

And that’s really it. Beyond the Google Docs app being a trash fire (and, I would point out, it is also just a less-bad trashfire when accessed using Safari on a MacBook Air), the inane complexity of Slideover, and need for a separate device for video calls, the iPad Pro pretty nicely replaced my workflow on the Air. I missed the slightly larger screen, but not so much that it was a real issue.

Concluding Thoughts

I really appreciated and liked using my iPad Pro and iPhone Pro full time. It was easy to set up and tear down. It let me get my work done with fewer distractions than on my MacBook Air. And the screen is noticeably higher quality than the Air.

So if you have a relatively writing- and speaking-focused job, and are doing neither a lot of video or audio editing (or, I suspect, spreadsheet work) then the iPad Pro could be a good fit for your workflow. Does that mean that it’s better than working off a laptop? Nope! But also that what a lot of reviewers consider to be ‘normal’ and what authors and policy folks think are ‘normal’ are very different, with the latter category being pretty well supported on iPad Pros.

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