The iPad Pro, is finally a computer.

May 23, 2020

The iPad Pro, is finally a computer.


TL;DR - Mouse support lets you remote desktop into your laptop from your iPad, allowing you to leave your laptop when on the go, but the iPad will eventually get there.


Mouse and keyboard were the missing pieces. The iPad doesn’t do everything your Windows PC or Mac can do. But think about this as a new computer. For example, the first time you started using a Mac after being a PC user, you definitely saw some similarities, but also witnessed drastically different workflows and processes.


Remember trying to install an app on MacOS? On Windows you download the .exe, double click it and click Next, Next, Next. On the Mac, you drag it to the applications folder and your done. Same idea, but it feels different.


Printers have always been kind of troublesome. On Windows you would install your printer software and then hopefully it would show up in the application you wanted to use. On MacOS you would add the printer in System preferences and it would “just work”. Typically “installing drivers” was a progress bar or just non existent.


Browsing the web always felt similar between the two, you could select text on a page, drag images out of the browser onto the desktop, view videos and other rich media. Drag multiple windows around so you could see multiple pages at the same time. It just felt normal.


Drawing applications like Photoshop were nearly identical on both Windows and MacOS. When using the mouse, it felt like you really needed to “become one” with the mouse, or maybe that feeling the first time you tried to draw something on an etch-a-sketch. You know deep down that it is possible, you know that other people are probably really good at it, and you accepted that and attempted to do the little edits you wanted to do from the beginning.


Programming is similar between the two platforms as well, you would open your editor, open the preview app/page and edit, build, run over and over until you got the results you wanted. You have flexibility to debug and the freedom to edit the source files, move things around, get assets from other sources. At the end of your programming session, you might have 20-30 windows opened in partial states of work. Folders open to specific locations that you needed an hour ago. Like a painter cleaning up her workstation and brushes after a session, closing all of those windows, applications and files would give you a quick summary of all the steps and work you did throughout the journey.


Listening to music and watching video on Windows or MacOS has changed since streaming took over, but prior to Netflix and Spotify, if you wanted to watch a movie or listen to a song it required you to open an app that had files somewhere on your harddrive. The meta data and cover art were probably missing, but that didn’t matter, you knew exactly what song 07_Nickelback_Photograph_All-The-Right-Reasons.mp3 was and that you secretly loved it.



Ok we get it, Windows and MacOS are similar, but what does this have to do with the iPad. Well, if at any point you tried to install and use Ubuntu Linux you would have found yourself trying to find solutions or workflows to accomplish the same tasks.


You would want to print, you would want to browse websites, you would want to listen to music. However you would find yourself learning new ways to accomplish these tasks. Going into command line to configure CUPS to print was way too cumbersome. Opening OpenOffice would do the job of document editing, but you had that feeling in the back of your mind that its interpretation of .docx will probably render weird if you shared it to someone using Microsoft Word. At the end of the day, you felt that it was a “Computer”, but also a “Toy” or “Experiment”. On paper you could recommend it to others, but deep down, you know you wouldn’t use it daily.


This is where the iPad has similarities to Ubuntu. It can definitely edit documents, but is really going to export compatible and correct looking documents that you can read in Microsoft Word? If I want to do something involving multiple apps, am I really going to figure out whatever the heck the “Shortcuts” app is and how to chain things together? Simple answer, NOPE.


All of the examples I’ve listed about Windows, MacOS, Linux have one thing in common. They are all software, and that software could be changed. Just because Windows doesn’t have a simple application installation workflow, doesn’t mean it couldn’t be added. We need to remember this when thinking about the iPad.


Yes, the first version of the iPad couldn’t replace your laptop, but it is because of software. This year when Apple introduced trackpad/mouse support with iPadOS 13.4 it really changed the iPad. This was completely a software change, but its impact to the platform was huge. For one, it sets a precedent that major changes can be introduced in a point release, unbundling us from the once a year update. Prior to this, if you didn’t see the feature you were looking for introduced at WWDC, chances of it happening before the next WWDC were slim to non existent.


But this is where the iPad differences start to change the landscape. Right now, my two year old is watching an episode of PJ Masks on her 4 year old iPad Mini 2. I didn’t do anything, literally. I am typing this on my iPad. She walked into the room after getting screen time permission from Momma, she found her iPad, turned it on, swiped over to DisneyPlus, swiped a few screens, found her show and pressed play. SHE IS TWO AND CANT READ.


Could she do that on a laptop running Ubuntu?…..Windows?……MacOS?…..Nope


The main difference between the iPad and a laptop/desktop is that an iPad is FUN. Just holding it in your hands is fun, it is always powered on and ready to go. Need to start an app? Touch the icon and boom, its running and ready to go. Battery life, yeah I don’t even think about it. I charge it whenever I’m done using it (maybe). Overheating? Fans spinning up so loudly that I need to mute myself on Zoom? Hibernating? I don’t worry about these things anymore. This is part of what makes the iPad fun. Feeling tethered or having battery anxiety really reduce the fun factor in devices.


A lot of these features that make it fun make it harder to do some of the stuff we could do on Windows/MacOS/Ubuntu. For example, the sandboxing and security model of the iPad completely removes the need to worry about clicking on “unknown links” or “accidentally downloading a virus”, however installing software that hasn’t been approved by Apple is almost non existent. (Yeah I know Jailbreak, Enterprise Distribution and building with Xcode are exceptions, but its rare).


Now for the best part. Yes Ubuntu, Windows, MacOS have software already built to do things that have been limited on the iPad, but that doesn’t prevent us from having the best of both worlds. With mouse support you can FINALLY remote desktop into another machine running those operating systems. With a few changes to iPadOS such as better external monitor support and better background processing (running a webserver or some daemon on your device while in other apps) I might not need to remote into them, but with mouse/trackpad support at least I have the ability.


For now, the iPad with a keyboard/trackpad case is my mobile computer. My laptop will stay in the office from now on and if I need to do something on the go that the iPad can’t do, I’ll just remote into the laptop, do the task and get out.