By Eric Zeman
November 14, 2018

My iPad has saved me, professionally, more than any other device. I’ve used an iPad almost daily since I bought the original in 2010. (I’ve bought seven over the years.)

The iPad’s portability, connectivity, stability, and battery have allowed me to file stories from around the globe when my laptop couldn’t because either the battery died or Wi-Fi was unavailable.

But it’s not always easy. The iPad, and, more specifically, iOS, demands you to be intimately familiar with its quirks and workarounds to make the most efficient use of the tablet, referred to as a “magical piece of glass” by Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Apple’s latest iPads, the iPad Pro 12.9 ($999) and iPad Pro 11 ($799), which went on sale Nov. 7, are a huge step forward. These entirely new slates are among the world’s most powerful mobile computers, but it’s a shame they are hamstrung to a degree by the limitations of iOS.

Here’s where Apple’s new iPads succeed and where they stumble, based on using the 12.9-inch model for more than a week.

Hardware

Nearly every iPad introduced before March of this year has been a minor update to the previous generation. Over the years, the designs included modest upgrades, such as a new display, and updated components, such as a faster processor. The basic size, shape, and features have largely remained unchanged.

This year is different. Apple design guru Jony Ive finally tossed the old-guard iPads out the window and introduced entirely refreshed versions. Gone are the thick bezels and signature home button. These iPads are nearly all screen, with the display leaving only a slim black frame along the outer edges. The appearance is attractive while bringing iPads in line with modern phone designs.

The iPad Pro 12.9 has the same screen size as the previous generation, but the tablet itself is dramatically smaller thanks to the slimmer frame. The 12.9 is still somewhat large for carrying around, and yet I find it much more usable than the original big-screened Pro when surfing the web on the couch or while on a bus. The smaller iPad Pro 11 keeps the physical size of the previous model while boosting the display from 10.5 inches to 11 inches.

Your eyes will thank you for using these tablets. The screens are simply unmatched by rival devices. They use Apple’s ProMotion technology for smoother animation in games and video and True Tone that shifts the color based on the surrounding light so that images appear more natural. The experience of using the new iPads next to my 2016 iPad Pro leaves the old model looking dull and lifeless.

Face ID, Apple’s facial recognition tool, replaces Touch ID, the fingerprint reader buried in the old home button. Face ID is very fast. The camera is located in the top bezel when the iPad is held upright. If you tip the iPad on either side, users risk covering it with their thumbs. If so, the software will tell you the camera is blocked. Some users may mourn the loss of Touch ID, but Apple’s Face ID on the new iPads is the quickest facial recognition feature I’ve used. It also authenticates purchases and passwords, should you choose.

Another big change for Apple is the iPad Pro’s compatibility with accessories. Sure, Apple has its redesigned Apple Pencil, its artistic stylus for drawing ($129) and Smart Keyboards for typing on physical keys ($179 – $199), but the USB-C port on the bottom is what I’m talking about. The iPads (finally!) move away from Apple’s proprietary Lightning port in favor of the same port being used by other computer makers. This means you can plug in devices such as an external display or a camera more easily. The lone port, however, leaves the iPad unable to connect to multiple accessories at once (at least, not without an adapter).

My everyday laptop is a 2015 MacBook Pro (13 inch). The iPad Pro’s four speakers sound richer no matter which way you hold it, and its embedded battery lasts hours longer. The Apple A12X Bionic processor smokes the Intel inside the MacBook, and the iPad weighs two pounds less than the laptop. The optional cellular radio (LTE 4G) means the iPad can remain connected where the MacBook, which is dependent on Wi-Fi, cannot. Thus, the iPad Pro allows me to work longer in more places.

There are many instances when the MacBook is superior, but these are mostly due to the …

Software

The new iPad Pros ship with iOS 12, which is Apple’s latest mobile operating system. To be sure, it has plenty of powerful tools for both work and home use.

iOS 12, for example, improves FaceTime, smooths and accelerates augmented reality, tells you how much time you spend staring at the screen, and lets you exert more granular control over notifications. The platform eases the pain of sorting through photos through search suggestions and the For You tab, streamlines tasks with Siri Shortcuts (personalized voice commands), and makes significant improvements to privacy by preventing web sites from identifying your device. This is all great and generally lives up to Apple’s typically breathless marketing.

On the other hand, app and file management are among iOS’s biggest weaknesses. Apple tells us the new swiping gestures for navigating through the home screens are intuitive and thoughtful. For the most part, they are. No matter how you swipe it, running multiple apps with multiple open windows is simply easier to control on a laptop. A laptop’s integrated trackpad and keyboard certainly help by allowing for fast desktop switching, jumping between open apps, and speeding through the user interface via keyword shortcuts.

During the event at which Apple announced the new iPads, a friend of mine joked, “My favorite iPad game to play is ‘Quick, email a file attachment in less than five minutes.'”

This sarcastic commentary exposes iOS’s poor file system. Apple designed iOS this way on purpose; it doesn’t want people focusing on files, it wants them focusing on apps. Professionals in the real world, however, need to be able to find photos, documents, and other file types to send to the colleagues and customers. The attachment picker in iOS barely gets the job done and often leaves the user feeling frustrated. Will Apple ever change this? Probably not.

Another big limitation to iOS is its lack of support for multiple users. Only a single Apple ID profile can run on an iOS device. For families that share an iPad or lone professionals who are issued their own tablet, this may not be a big deal. For businesses that need multiple employees to use the same device throughout the day, however, it makes iOS a non-starter. Windows, macOS, and Android all support multiple user profiles. It’s past time iOS does the same.

Final Thoughts

Is the iPad a powerful computer? You bet. Will it be more than enough computer for some professionals? Undoubtedly.

The new iPad Pros deliver almost everything I need to do my job: full-day battery life, an eye-popping display, incredible speed, and excellent portability. Most of the apps I require on a daily basis are available to iOS and run well.

Spending up to $330 more on accessories (keyboard, stylus) is annoying. Typing, apparently, will never be something tablets master despite accessory makers’ best efforts.

But iPad Pros cannot yet replace my MacBook, at least not entirely. I’ll always be able to work faster on macOS because of multitasking and keyboard shortcuts. Moreover, apps such as Photoshop simply aren’t as good on iOS as macOS. Apple promises this will change, and I hope so, because I’d be happy to leave the MacBook at home in favor of the iPad Pro.

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