How the iPad Pro became our main work computer

After trying these last years to work with a first generation iPad and a year ago with a Surface Pro, I was not impressed — to say the least. But since a few months the iPad Pro has become my main computer. What has changed?

Three months ago I started to switch from my Mac desktop and laptop to an iPad. I was working in Shanghai giving classes and conferences thinking on how to have the most minimalist setup for this kind of interactions. When you focus on mobility and travel it’s difficult to beat a 9.7-inch iPad. And since the new ‘Pro’ version was readily available, there was the promise of removing past problems I encountered trying an iPad for work.

After a few days of giving keynotes and working on basic mail and web works, it was obvious that this tablet had become quite a decent computer now. No more of the previous one dimensional interface, the slow launching apps, and the fact that Safari would have a hard time to render a webpage —let alone let you play with dozens of tabs. For the office, having all of our professional files in DropBox and abusing Google apps for shared mails and calendars was also making transitioning to a tablet much easier than anticipated.

Then, after a few weeks of using the iPad for travel companion, the need of my trusted Macbook had totally disappeared. The killer feature after investing in a cellular model with worldwide access to cheap 3/4G data SIM cards, was always on internet. Boy, this is sweet when you have to hop from Shanghai to Amsterdam, then to Paris, Tokyo and New York.

Except that the if the experience was good, it wasn’t perfect.

You see, if iOS and MacOS are close enough to allow you to work from your tablet to your Mac and back, much friction remains. Key issues appeared after a while with two operating systems that don’t handle file management in the same way and start to version files as they see fit through your Dropbox and iCloud accounts. But also, going from a full-screen touch (and pen) interface to a windows and mouse thing started to seriously mess with my UX muscle memory.

So a month ago I bite the bullet and went iPad-only.

Of course, I wouldn’t recommend working at a desk on a 9.7-inch tablet for too long. That was a good reason to splurge and buy a 12.3-inch iPad as my office computer.

And it works wonders.

Setting things up

As for September 2017, my current office setting is as such:

The most critical issue I had with working for days on an iPad is that don’t want to get near the crappy Apple keyboards, whether they are the soft ones folded in Apple covers, or the small Bluetooth aluminium ones. My only trusted Apple keyboard remains the venerable (not so clicky) Extended II model from 1989. This particular model requires an ADB to USB converter such as the Griffin iMate, that is probably not sold anymore but easily found on eBay. But as any other mechanical keyboard, it will draw power from your iPad. And during the first days, plugging in the keyboard directly to the iPad would not only prevent the iPad from charging but actually slowly drains battery away… even with the 29W adapter. If you want to have a stable configuration, this is why you also need a USB hub that acts as a charger.

The setup you obtain is somehow inelegant but grab the best of all worlds:

working only with an ipad - innovation copilots

Well, keep in mind that no one forces you to keep all cables exposed —unless it’s for demonstration’s sake.

There is also a less messy alternative setup with a Logitech dock and keyboard that still does also work pretty well for shorter sessions of work:

ipad pro icopilots

(To my huge surprise the keyboard is VERY good.)

Is this sampling the future?

Just like people in big cities don’t need cars, but a solid public transportation service —or taxis and Uber, we don’t really need computers so much anymore. Just solid access to cloud infrastructure and a few local pieces of software.

In that regard, being able to switch from different slab of glass to get a full, functional access to my work and all the content we deal with at the office really feels like the future. Using the constraint of the tablet to streamline your workflow around a few key apps and websites is also weirdly empowering. You don’t feel victim of all the usual tools and apps laying around on your hard drive.

And one of the last benefit is that you once you have setup your work around cloud services and some other apps, you’re not depending on a specific machine anymore. You just can walk in an Apple store, buy a new device and be up and running with all your work in about 30 min (can’t prevent thinking of recent victims of hurricanes and floods).

I could try to sell you the idea further (how many of you have your computers protected by biometric authentication?) but there’s not much reason. The PC market is changing. It is changing slowly though. And if Stéphanie and I are probably among the fabled early adopters, not a lot of businesses are rushing on iPads right now.

There is nonetheless something at play that goes deep.

Our collective perception is lagging

As always changes in the market don’t happen overnight or through a single breakthrough event. Old paradigms die by a thousand cuts. And while our collective perception is lagging with the image of an iPad as a photo frame, or a Netflix tube to use on a couch, it’s way past that point.

Observing how Apple deals with nudging us into their future vision is always interesting… They design the first iPad generations moving away from the stylus, but end up inventing a ‘pen’. They fail with the top of the line Mac Pro and put it on the back burner for years. They move faster with MacBooks that are more and more powerful and ready to make desktop obsolete. They have to go back to reinventing a Mac Pro, because yes, they are pros that need it. They introduce new interactions with a Touch-bar that tries to go in iPhone territory, but no one really cares. They revamp iOS with a version 11 that introduces file management and multitasking beyond what a smartphone would need. Etc.

… They don’t get everything right.

I’m still surprised that they don’t push their car version of iOS more (of course they want to have both hardware and software, but still this would prepare us to actually buy an Apple car someday). I don’t understand why they are not that active as well with Apple Pay (specially when markets like China are so important and so centered on mobile payment). All my docks and connectors tinkering demonstrate that if yes, the iPad Pro can actually be a real thing for some of us, professionals, it’s still for now a consumer device transitioning.

But as innovators we should acknowledge that is clearly the Schrödinger’s moment in time where a few possible futures are overlapping and not yet resolved for the next decade.

Let’s stay tuned, shall we?

Author: Philippe

Philippe has been training 200-300 startups a year since 2007, consulted for dozens of multinationals on rupture innovation or corporate incubation, and was directly involved in more than 150 startups building their market fit and scaling up their business. He also teaches business model innovation in key MBA programs whether they are in Paris or Shanghai. And since 2017, Philippe is now living in Amsterdam, one of the best European business hub around.