Soon after the first iPad Pro came out, I bought one and started using it daily. The experiment is ongoing and I thought it was time to reflect upon it further.
Before I begin, I need to clarify my goals. When I started this experiment, some people objected that I could get a hybrid (laptop/tablet). That is definitively true, and it would be more “practical”. However, it would not be much of an experiment. I am deliberately trying to push the envelope, to do something that few do. So I am not trying to be “practical”.
And, indeed, using an iPad Pro for work is still an oddity. Relying solely on an iPad Pro for serious work is even rarer. I am currently in Ottawa reviewing grant applications. There are a few dozens computer-science researchers (mostly professors) around me. The only other person with an iPad is a Facebook researcher, and he seems to be using the iPad only for reading applications, otherwise he appears to be using a laptop.
In my department, other faculty members have iPad Pros, but I think only one of my colleagues use it seriously. Other colleagues do not appear to use these tablets for work when they have them. I am not sure.
- The main impact on my work at relying mostly on a tablet is that I am always focusing on one or two applications at a time. I recall finding it really cool, back in the days, when a Unix box would allow me to have 50 windows open at a time. I think having many windows open is akin to have many different physical files opened on your desk. It is distracting. For example, on a laptop, I would write this blog post while having an email window open, probably a couple of text editors with code. Yes, you can work in full screen mode with a laptop, and I try to do it, but I tend to unavoidably revert back to the having dozens of applications on my screen. Laptops just make it too convenient to do multiple things at once. If you need to concentrate on one thing for a long time, you really want to have just one clean window, and a tablet is great at that. On this note, it is also why I prefer to program in a text editor that has as few distractions as possible. I can write code just fine in Eclipse or Visual Studio, and for some tasks it is really the best setup, but it often leaves me distracted compared to when I work with single full-screen editor with just one file opened.
- Though I could not prove it, I feel that using a tablet makes me a better “reader”. Much of my work as a university professor and researcher involves reading and commenting on what other people are doing. The fact that I am entice to concentrate on one document, one task, at a time forces me to be more thorough, I think.
- As far as I can tell, programming seriously on a tablet like an IPad Pro is still not practical. However, there are decent ssh clients (I use Shelly) so that if you master Unix tools like vim, emacs, make, and the like, you can get some work done.
- I’d really want to push the experiment to the point where I no longer use a keyboard. That’s not possible at this time. I like the keyboard that Apple sells for the iPad Pro 2018. There is a major upside: the keyboard is entirely covered so it is not going to stop working because you spilled some coffee on it.
- Generally, most web applications work on a tablet, as you would expect. However, it is quite obvious that some of them were not properly tested. For example, I write research papers using a tool called Overleaf. However, I cannot make the shortcuts work. At the same time, it is really surprising how few problems I have. I think that the most common issues could be quickly fixed if web developers did a bit more testing on mobile devices. Evidently the fact that developers rely on laptops and desktops explains why things work better on laptops and desktops.
- At least on Apple’s ios, working with text is still unacceptably difficult at times. Pasting text without the accompanying formatting is a major challenge. Selecting large blocks of text is too hard.
My final point is that working with an iPad is more fun than working with a laptop. I cannot tell exact why that is. I’d be really interested in exploring this “fun” angle further. Maybe it is simply because it is different, but it is maybe not so simple. My smartphone is “fun” even if it is old and familiar.