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Issue #71: Revisiting why iPad

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How are you? I hope you’re doing well. I’m sitting propped up in bed, with chills and a sore throat, as I’m typing this. It’s one of the joys of the iPad, the 12.9” Pro model sitting in the Magic Keyboard at the moment, that portability, it’s one of the things I like the most. However, I could just as well be typing this on the MacBook Air that sits on the sideboard on the other side of the room. It’d work just as well because right now, in the Magic Keyboard, my iPad is a laptop. Literally, a laptop, even, since it’s in my lap.

That got me thinking about why I prefer the iPad, and if that’s still true. I’m in the habit of questioning many things in my life regularly, I think that’s important because it’s all too easy to just accept what you’ve got. Sometimes that’s fine, but if you could change things for the better, wouldn’t you? That includes making hard decisions when need be, and to be okay with things as they are if they’re not worth the hassle.

When it comes to the iPad, and viewing as well as using it as a primary computing device, it’s a fairly simple assessment. I can boil it down to the most common question I get, regarding my choice, which is: Why don’t you just use a Mac instead?

It’s true, more now than ever, that the Mac platform is a tantalizing option. This is thanks to Apple Silicon, the M1 series of chips that also sits in the 2021 iPad Pros. To me, that’s welcoming the Mac to the iPad’s brilliance, in a sense because my 2020 iPad Pro rendered 4K video faster than the i7 MacBook Pro.

Power, as in computer power, not the battery equivalent, isn’t a reason to pick either platform anymore. It can be, if you have serious needs, or if you need Xcode to build apps, but for everyday usage, the basic M1 is fine. I know this because some of the things I do at my agency just aren’t feasible on an iPad just yet. Don’t get me wrong, I can both develop and design on an iPad, and I do both, but when it comes down to it, these are things better suited for the Mac. We’re talking screen real-estate, sure, but more importantly, it’s the development tools. I do a lot of developing and designing on my iPad too, but that’s in a pinch, or conceptual things — not the stuff I do with my team. That’s where the Mac shines. I know this, and I accept it. And I also know that, for what I do, the M1 — the power in the iPad Pro — is more than enough because I’ve got several M1 Macs at my disposal. There’s the M1 iMac at the office, the M1 Mac minis in my apartment and summer home, and the M1 MacBook Air that my girlfriend usually use, but I sometimes borrow when I need top spin up a MAMP development environment quick for something. It’s not that the iPad can’t do those things, power-wise, it’s the fact that it actually can’t spin up that MAMP development environment.

As a developer, I need the Mac, still.

As a designer, I don’t need the Mac, unless I work with a team (which I do), in which case I need it to be productive. Figurative might’ve brought Figma to the iPad, but it’s not ideal, and we’re using Figma in my team. At least for now, but that’s a different story.

So, again, why not use a Mac instead?

Even looking at these two things where the Mac so clearly beats the iPad — designing and developing websites — I still find that the iPad has a lot to give. When I get an idea for a design, a concept I want to try out, or when I feel like just see where a thought takes me, I don’t sit down at the desk in front of a screen. No, I pull out the iPad and the Apple Pencil. And when I want to make a quick HTML mockup of something, I don’t look for a Mac unless I’m seated in front of one, I pull out my iPad and do it right there. This was even more true pre-pandemic, and it’s getting there again, as things start to at least resemble the Good Old Times again.

A lot of the arguments for why the iPad is a better option are falling behind, due to the new Macs. Battery life used to be the iPad’s strength, but now the Macs are way better in that regard. Video rendering and the like used to be better too, but, as mentioned above, that’s not true anymore. Portability is out the window too, at least if you use the iPad Pro in the Magic Keyboard. While small, it’s a pretty heavy package, especially if you get the 12.9” model. The MacBook Air is a lighter alternative compared to that last one, which is nuts when you think about it.

Still, here I am, in my bed, typing this on my 12.9” iPad Pro, and while I think the M1 MacBook Air is a lovely device, it’s just not the same for me. The screen is one reason, but more importantly, the versatility of the iPad still does it for me.

I can’t sketch or take notes with the Apple Pencil on a MacBook Air.

I can’t ditch the keyboard and use the Mac in portrait mode.

While I can pinch and turn on the trackpad, it’s a sub-par experience compared to the iPad’s touchscreen.

And I can’t feel excited about macOS, it’s just a fresh coat of paint on an old paradigm that, while familiar and (somewhat) trustworthy, was created for a different mindset.

Thinking about this, it’s not why don’t you use a Mac to me, it’s why do you?

— Thord D. Hedengren ⚡

PS. I’ve got something brewing. It’s not related to the iPad, but you might like it anyway. 🐴 Sign up for The Bored Horse.

In the wild…