A Year with iPad Pro

I watched with much interest the product launch of the 12.9″ iPad Pro back in Autumn 2015. Here was a fast iPad with a huge display, an intriguing super-accurate stylus and a simple to attach external keyboard.  I began to wonder: perhaps an iPad Pro could serve as a single multi-purpose computer for a teacher, rather than relying on the Mac plus iPad combo. With leaner financial times cutting into school budgets ever deeper, could this be a viable option?

There was only one way to truly find out: go ‘iPad Only’ with the iPad Pro. So from May 2016, that’s what I did! I passed on my MacBook Pro to our new technician and got myself a 128gb 12.9″ iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil and a Smart Cover.

Here are my thoughts, one year on…

It’s Big!

The 12.9″ iPad is certainly big. I still get children asking me, “Mr Lings, why is your iPad so big?”, even though I’m sure they’ve seen me wander around the school with it all year. The screen size is literally twice as big as a ‘normal’ iPad, meaning you can comfortably fit two full sized apps next to each other when doing split-screen multitasking. This generous amount of screen estate is great for when you’re sitting down to do some work at a desk. Developers are beginning to take advantage of the size too, such as how iWork apps now can have an on-screen formatting panel rather than relying on a pop-over. However, it does feel a little bit too big for using the iPad when teaching lessons. It’s not impossible, but a slightly smaller iPad would be better for day-to-day classroom teaching.

Split-screen Multitasking

This has been a feature of the operating system since iOS 9 and requires a newer model of iPad (iPad Air 2, iPad mini 4, iPad Pro and iPad 5). And it’s really useful! The productivity gains of being able to have two different apps up at once is hard to understate: whether that’s Notes and Keynote when creating a presentation, Safari and Numbers when doing some data crunching or just having Documents by Readdle open on the side when moving files around. The fact the 12.9″ Pro has such a big screen means that both the apps have plenty of room each.

Speed

The A9X chip is fast. Coming from an iPad Air (and an iPad 2 before that), this makes using the iPad so much more enjoyable. Apple’s iWork and iLife apps can be quite intensive to use at times, but the Pro handles them all fine. It truly does feel like ‘desktop class’ processing power, which makes a big difference to productivity.

Apple Pencil

Ever since we had started using iPads instead of Interactive Whiteboards in my school many years ago, a decent stylus was something that the iPad was missing. With the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, that decent stylus is here! It’s really nice to use, particularly when modelling any form of writing when teaching. It really does offer that pixel-level accuracy and has a lovely feel in your hand. Charging using the lightning socket on the iPad is really fast, although it does seem a little precarious. You can use an adaptor to charge it with a normal lightning cable, but it’s much slower that way.

I use a back cover from STM, which includes a little slot to store the Apple Pencil. The only downside to this is that the Pencil stays in Bluetooth connection to the iPad all the time and so discharges in about a day, even when it’s not being used at all. Hopefully there’s a fix to this coming in future…

There an app for that

Part of the journey this year has been discovering and making use of new and existing apps to ‘get jobs done’ on an iPad. With a bit of creativity, you can do most things!

  • Documents 6 (https://appsto.re/gb/Vw_Vv.i) – FREE: this allows you to manage documents and files on your iPad as well as easily access a range of cloud and network storage. The most useful way to use it is a bit like the desktop on a Mac: you put stuff stuff there whilst you’re working on it. Because it makes use of ‘Document Providers’ in iOS, files can accessed in other app, allowing you to easily upload files on Safari or quickly email multiple documents.
  • Word (https://appsto.re/gb/PWh9I.i), Excel (https://appsto.re/gb/pqb-I.i) & Powerpoint (https://appsto.re/gb/-ji9I.i) – Office 365 Subscription: I’m still a big fan of Apple’s iWork suite, but sometimes you just need to edit and create native Microsoft Office files. They’ve done a really good job with it and it definitely comes in handy.
  • Screens (https://appsto.re/gb/MBbgN.i) – £19.99: a VNC app that allows you to remotely connect to a desktop computer. I use this for keeping tabs on a couple of Mac servers, but it’s also useful for those pesky websites that just don’t work on an iPad (Apple School Manager and Mathletics Dashboard I’m looking at you!).

Print Preview and the Share Sheet

One really great ‘Easter Egg’ hidden in iOS 10 is the ability to generate a PDF wherever you can print. When printing something on iOS, it should bring up a print preview below. If you pinch out on it, it opens full screen and has the share button to then do what you like that PDF. This little trick opens up loads of possibilities!

To conclude, going ‘iPad Only’ isn’t for everyone, but it definitely is a viable option. Using iOS all the time makes ‘legacy’ desktop operating systems just feel so overly complicated and time consuming. In a sense, the iPhone is the ‘post-PC’ device, with over 1 billion of the hand-held super-computers sold so far. Because the iPad uses iOS too, it can benefit from that world of apps and workflows too.

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Thoughts on iPad Pro

So, I’ve now got an iPad Pro (the 12.9″ version). Here’s my thoughts:

  • It’s really big. Like, “Why have you got such a big iPad?” big, or: “What is that?” It’s bigger in footprint than an 11″ MacBook Air or the infamous 12″ MacBook.
  • The really big size makes split screen multitasking really great. You can fit two apps side by side as if you had two ‘normal’ iPads stuck together.
  • Lots of screen estate means a bigger keyboard whilst still having lots of space still on screen. The bigger keyboard has a dedicated number row that is always present, which means I hardly ever have to go to a second symbols keyboard. This is nice.
  • Being so big makes it a little ungainly in the more portable settings, which is probably where most teachers use an iPad. I sometimes feel a little ridiculous carrying it round or pulling it out in meetings.
  • Using it for sitting at a desk and doing ‘proper’ work is nice. It’s just such a big canvas and you don’t feel cramped working on it for an extended period of time.
  • The Apple Pencil writes really nicely. It’s a million miles away from something like the Paper53 Pencil and from any other capacitive stylus I’ve used.
  • The STM case I have (well, ‘shell’, as I still need a Smart Cover) has a handy slot for putting the Apple Pencil in. This is super handy, but the downside is that, because it’s always so close to the iPad, the Pencil’s battery gets drained super quick even though I’m not using it. The only solution I’ve found to that is to turn Bluetooth off on the iPad when not using the Pencil. Or just not to carry the Pencil in the slot.
  • 128gb is very handy. I no longer have to continually juggle storage, which makes it feel much more like a main computer.
  • The speakers are indeed nice and loud.
  • I haven’t used the Smart Keyboard with it, but I have played around with the keyboard on a 9.7″ iPad Pro. I imagine that cmd+tab switching is jolly handy, and so is having cursor keys. I’m not sure the the complex foldy nature of the Smart Keyboard would help with portability on the 12.9″!
  • I do like living in iOS land. Going back to a Mac for various tasks just seems so complicated and old-fashioned: OSX does need way more babysitting than iOS!

I’m not convinced the 12.9″ is the perfect computer for a teacher, mainly because it’s just that bit too big to easy carry around. So maybe the 9.7″ iPad Pro is + Smart Keyboard + Apple Pencil is. If I’m asking teachers to not use a Mac, a hardware keyboard is probably needed at some level.

The original iPad felt a bit like the jump from Apple ][ to Macintosh (not that I was around to remember it…!). In order to make  radical shift to something new, the old was jettisoned: no command line, no cursor keys. But if you look at OSX now, those things are there again. With iPad, the physical keyboard (with its cursors) and the mouse pointer were gone. But in the iPad Pro they’re back: Smart Keyboard (with cursor keys) and two finger cursor for editing (iOS 9 feature).

The post-PC age has been heralded for over half a decade, but (despite falling iPad sales), I do think it’s really starting to arrive with iPad Pro.