For members only ↓ Sign up here →

Issue #17: Do I need an iPhone with my iPad?

🆓 This member post is free for all, thanks to our paying subscribers. Enjoy!


Just about everyone has a smartphone these days. It never leaves our side. Since this is a letter about making the switch to iPad, it’s likely that your smartphone of choice is an iPhone.

But do you need one when you’ve got an iPad? That’s what we’re going to talk about today.

My name is Thord D. Hedengren, and my first iPhone was the 3G one. After that, I’ve upgraded on a yearly basis, which of course is downright bonkers from a financial point of view, but I do actually work and write with tech for a living. That’s my excuse at least, what’s yours?

New iPhones

Apple are in the process of launching new iPhones right now, maybe you’ve already pre-ordered one, or even gotten it already. Personally, I’m holding out for the iPhone 12 Mini, because I absolutely loathe how phones are just growing. I’ve had stints with Plus and Max models, but in the end I prefer a smaller phone.

I’m holding on to my iPhone 11 Pro though, because of the cameras. The idea is not to buy an iPhone 12 Pro Max for the new cameras, but I’m not sure that’ll hold up in reality. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d have a pocket phone, and a camera phone respectively.

This does bring us to the thing that iPhones have over the iPad models: Great cameras. Sure, the iPad Pro cameras tend to hold their own pretty well agains the iPhone Pro model cameras, but I just won’t pull up my 12.9” iPad Pro to snap a photo. It’s just not feasible, nor is it a nice experience.

That’s not the whole story through, it all depends on what you need the camera for. If you use a camera on a stand, in a controlled environment like your office, then of course you can get away with an iPad Pro as your camera. No need to pick up an expensive iPhone for that use case. The iPad’s size is an issue for action photography of all kinds, and for spur of the moment things, but other than that, you can surely record a presentation for your intranet, or a video for your Youtube channel. The iPad Pro’s camera won’t be the deciding factor in a controlled environment, lights and sound will – but goes for an iPhone, or a dedicated camera, too.

This is only true for iPad Pro models through. You can get work done with the cameras on other iPad models too, but there’s just the wide lens, and although the new iPad Air is comparable to the iPad Pro’s wide lens (both are 12 megapixels too), the iPad is a mere 8 megapixels and of the older variety.

If you find that the only thing the iPhone brings to the table, when paired with your iPad as a kit, is the camera, then maybe consider getting a dedicated camera instead. That’s a whole different world, and while Apple really knows how to squeeze the most out of their cameras, mostly through software, a dedicated device can have less restraints and offer better quality.

Bottom line: The iPad – and we’re talking iPad Pro only because it’s comparable to iPhone 11 Pro, other models are struggling to be taken seriously here – isn’t a great camera because of its size. Photographers and videographers won’t be happy with the experience, thus an iPhone Pro would be a reasonable complement.

Universal apps

Another bonus when going with an iPhone alongside your iPad are universal apps. More often than not, you can use the same apps on your iPad and your iPhone. Not all apps though – Affinity Designer isn’t available for iPhone for example – but most will be one-time purchases and work across both devices.

This is great, because it means you can get things done on your smartphone too, without having to worry about moving things between devices and not being sure of what’s the latest version and whatnot.

There are no downsides to this, not really. I do want to lift the case for a smaller phone though, because if you can do iPad things on your iPhone, you can do iPhone things on your iPad too. So why be constrained by a small screen that’s a bit too big to sit comfortably in your pocket, when you can use your iPad instead, and have a phone that’s a lot less cumbersome to carry?

That’s why I’m going with the iPhone 12 Mini. The only thing I’ll miss will be the Pro cameras, and possibly the screen size when reading articles and ebooks, for the times when I’m not carrying my iPad.

What about a dumbphone then?

If you’ve got an iPad, you don’t really need an iPhone. The iPad is a poor phone substitute when it comes to making phone calls, but that’s the only thing it doesn’t do well. You can have your iMessage conversations (no green bubbles here!) on your iPad just as well as on your iPhone – better even, thanks to the larger screen and keyboard. Camera withstanding, the only thing that makes you have to have a phone is, well, phone calls.

So why not get a phone with a week’s (or more!) battery life, costing a tenth of an entry level iPhone? A dumbphone, if you will, a phone of the past. There are several available in different prize ranges, from Punkt and Lightphone that are making a stand against the addictiveness of our smartphones, to the good old Nokia 3110. They’re cheap, have great battery life, and can make calls. There are no apps worth your time, but hey, you’ve got an iPad for that, right?

Pairing an iPad with a dumbphone is cost-effective. You can even add a proper camera that’ll outperform the most expensive iPhone, for less in total.

An iPad Pro 11” 256 GB with wifi is $900, the iPhone 12 Pro 256 GB is $1,100, which brings us to a total of $2,000 – without accessories, chargers and so forth. But if you go with the same iPad Pro 11” 256 GB, a Nokia 3110, and the Fujifilm X-T200 with a 256 GB SD card and a bulldog lens, you’re only at $1,800, a full $200 less. Which means you could bump your iPad storage, or get a keyboard for your iPad, an extra lens for the camera, or just be glad for saving some money.

It’s a tantalizing idea for many, but most won’t make the plunge. I haven’t, but maybe you would and could. It’s worth considering, especially if you’re on a budget.

So no, you don’t need an iPhone to go with your iPad, but you probably have one, or want one at the very least. Apple’s ecosystem is built around the iPhone, the Apple Watch requires it – you can’t connect that to your iPad – and there are plenty of benefits.

I’d like to talk a little bit about what’s coming up in the next couple of weeks, but not necessarily in this order. I’ve been working on a couple of letters about doing design (web and print) and development (web) solely on the iPad, which I know will interest some of you. I also intend to share my note-taking method, relying on the Apple Pencil, which I’ve been using for years now. I will go into recording, both sound and video, at some point too, as well as workflows for publishing online.

But most of all, I’d like to hear what your problems are. Drop me a line (hit reply if you’re reading this in your mail client) or tweet to @tdh and tell me! Maybe I can help.

As always, thank you for your support. Until the next one, take care!

– Thord D. Hedengren

In the wild…