Saturday 22 October 2016

Why I'm giving the iPad another chance at work

Published 10/07/2016 | 02:30

'Have an iPad? Ever toyed with the idea of using it as a work replacement for a laptop? If so, the chances are that you shied away at the last minute'
'Have an iPad? Ever toyed with the idea of using it as a work replacement for a laptop? If so, the chances are that you shied away at the last minute'

Have an iPad? Ever toyed with the idea of using it as a work replacement for a laptop? If so, the chances are that you shied away at the last minute. "It doesn't have a USB port."

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"I'm too used to having a cursor to click on things."

"I type faster on a laptop."

"The screen isn't big enough."

I was that warrior. No matter how much I would convince myself of the potential advantages - lighter, better battery, easier on planes - the crunch would always come when packing a bag for a work trip away.

"I need to be sure I can work quickly on the applications I know," I would tell myself, as I zipped a laptop into its protective case before trying to leverage it into the travel bag, crushing a book in the process.

At the time, I was right. Two years ago, iPads were large, high resolution iPhone lookalikes with very limited flexibility for people who needed a work machine. They appeared to have nothing of power or suitability of tools such as the MacBook Air, Dell XPS or ThinkPad laptops.

But something has happened over the last 18 months. Suddenly, iPads are now work-friendly devices for people like me.

They have laptop-sized screens. They fit professional-style keyboards. And they let you work on more than one thing at once, thanks to split-screen functionality.

The result is that I have started to pack an iPad Pro as a default working tool in place of the (pricey) MacBook Pro I bought last summer.

As for the things I thought I might miss out on, they have now been rendered far less important than before.

That lack of a USB port? Sorry, but other than recharging another phone, I don't use USB ports anymore.

The absence of a cursor? I'll admit that's a leap. But when working on and editing documents or presentations, having no cursor is really only an issue for highlighting text. For almost everything else, the touchscreen is just as fast. (This is not to belittle personal ergonomic preferences others may have for a trackpad over a touchscreen.)

Flexibility is much less of an issue now, too. This is crucial. The advantage to laptops was always that you could rapidly chop and change through several different programs while working. But since Apple introduced its new split-screen feature for iPads, I can write on one half of the screen and check email or use Safari on the other half.

But what about the 'feel' of a laptop versus an iPad? Isn't the older machine firmer with a better keyboard?

The difference here is a lot more marginal now than before. With the iPad Pro, I've been using Apple's Smart Keyboard. For writing, it flies along. It has many of the keyboard shortcuts you'd want from a laptop.

Meanwhile, a lot of my work habits have been gravitating away from PCs anyway. For bread-and-butter tasks such as email, work logins, online research and presentations, I'm now almost as comfortable using a mobile operating system as a PC.

I've even started to use a stylus, something I never thought I'd do. Granted, this is for a very specific purpose: highlighting notes in advance of, and during meetings. But it has led to an even more unexpected turn of events: a use for PDFs. Adobe's Acrobat app PDFs are fully markable and scribble-friendly using Apple's 'Pencil' stylus on the iPad Pro.

Otherwise, the iPad's original advantages are now just as useful as they ever were. For example, it is far easier to charge up on the road than a laptop. The small Techlink power backup gadget I use recharges a full-sized iPad (and an iPhone) with some juice left in the tank.

I will also admit that I need my laptop to be about more than work when I'm travelling. With Netflix, Sky Go and the RTE Player used liberally, the machine I use is also regularly employed as a telly at home and abroad. For this, the Pad Pro I'm using beats the circuits off most laptops because of its higher quality speakers, screen and manoeuvrability.

What about Android 'pro' tablets, you might ask? Or Windows devices, such as Microsoft's Surface Pro 4?

Android tablets are more useful than before. However, they suffer next to the iPad in one respect: business-friendly software are being optimised for the iPad before Android machines. That means Adobe, Microsoft, AutoCAD, Evernote and a host of others. Android will catch up, but the iPad is ahead for now.

And Windows tablets? These aren't actually tablets - they're traditional PC computing systems built into touchscreen shapes. That will certainly suit people wedded to the familiar Windows experience. But I find it to be a 'desktop PC' interface rather than a suitably streamlined portable operating system. From the tiny default fonts to the endless pop-up boxes warning you about making a wrong move, it's not an efficient way to get something done fast.

The iPad is by no means perfect. I'd like a bit more flexibility around open apps. Some more storage would be nice, too. And It still irks me that iOS and Google Docs can't get it together for effective shortcuts. But Apple's tablet is a long way from the game-playing video screen it once was. I can see a real future working with one.

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