Tech Resolutions #1: why I'm swapping my MacBook for an iPad Pro

Is 2017 time to ditch the notebook and go full tablet? Craig Grannell thinks so

From the moment I clapped eyes on the original iPad in Steve Jobs’s mitts, I was smitten. Where others saw limitation, I was excited by possibilities.

Naysayers slammed the iPad for being a massive iPod touch and not running OS X. But I loved the iPod touch and iPhone and was thrilled at the prospect of similar innovative touchscreen apps and games on a bigger canvas. I reasoned we didn’t need a MacBook with the keyboard sawn off.

I bought an iPad immediately, importing it from the USA. And despite an Icelandic volcano attempting to thwart swift shipping, I eventually managed to write two books about the tablet, while gorging on apps and games.

Few days passed when the iPad wasn’t in use, and I upgraded several times. But as productivity apps arrived – despite people claiming “you can’t do real work on an iPad”, having moved on from “you can’t do real work on a Mac because control requires a DOS command line” – I never fully made the switch.

Mac back

I still sit before an iMac to do the bulk of my writing work. When on the road or away on holiday, a wheezing old MacBook Pro in desparate need of an upgrade is wheeled out.

In part, this is down to habit. I know Macs inside out, and I’m fast with them – something that’s important in the increasingly demanding and competitive world of journalism. I weld all kinds of workflow cruft to macOS – utilities designed to make me more efficient.

At least, that’s the theory. Recently, three of my four Macs (an old iMac, about to be put out to pasture; its new and shiny replacement; and a curmudgeonly old Mac Mini) went to the local Mac doctor, for some SSD installation magic.

Suddenly, I had a weirdly empty desk, but also a morning of work to do. With the old MacBook Pro being in the hands of my wife and my iPad practically screaming at me for attention, I figured it was time to experiment.

Change of scenery

I plopped my iPad Air 2 in an old Griffin A-Frame stand, atop a small pile of books, thereby ensuring it was at eye height. (Years of RSI and back pain means I wasn’t going to flip the bird at ergonomics, even for a single morning.) I quickly connected my new iMac’s keyboard via Bluetooth. And then I got to work.

I store current work in Dropbox, and so that was all readily accessible. As for writing – the vast majority of my day job – the iPad is more than ably catered for by some seriously good apps. Want to write long-form text? Try Ulysses (£18.99) or Scrivener (£14.99). Tapping out shorter articles? iA Writer (£2.99) or Byword (£4.49) do the business.

Focal point

What hit me the second I started properly working (rather than just faffing about with a game or entertainment app) was that way in which the device becomes the app. Yes, there’s full-screen mode on a Mac or PC, but it still doesn’t compare to the iPad experience.

On Apple’s tablet, there is just enough friction to stop you wanting to flick between apps all the time. Split View enables a two-up view for working while checking out research, but procrastination options are nonetheless reduced.

By contrast, I realised my Mac is in reality a machine of distractions. The menu bar alone is peppered with icons that demand attention. And it’s so easy to switch to Tweetbot or Safari, and then fall down an internet rabbit-hole that consumes hours of my day.

With the iPad, I blazed through an entire commission in half the time I’d have expected – and I imagined this wasn’t novelty, but the nature of the device itself.

All work and some play

Beyond writing, there are admittedly challenges. I still design and manage the odd website, and while Coda (£18.99) is fine for coding, I’m not sure I’d want to do a great deal of graphics work on the iPad. Although if I had a Pro and a Pencil, there are apps that have enough power, and they again emphasise focus rather than trying to shoe-horn in a million features I’ll never use. So: hmm.

Elsewhere, I’m already heavily immersed in iOS use anyway. I don’t want to cart a MacBook Pro around in the evenings. I’m far happier surfing the web on the iPad, catching up on news in Reeder (£3.99), and reading comics in Chunky (free). I’ve since my teens been a keen musician, and have written more in a couple of years using Korg Gadget (£14.99) than in a decade with GarageBand and Logic.

iCan

Of course, it’s not just about apps – the device itself is pretty important. The iPad is light and robust, feels good in the hand, and is way cheaper than any Apple notebook. Most importantly, it optimises itself for you, rather than you grappling with interface models that seemed pretty cutting edge in 1984, but are now long in the tooth.

Holding the iPad upside down? It doesn’t care – the app flips. Try that with a MacBook! You might say: yeah, but what about the Surface? Sure, but what about the apps?

So any notion of buying a new MacBook Pro has gone out of the window. I just don’t see the point. And although Microsoft offers a perfectly decent toaster fridge, it doesn’t appeal without the apps I love using.

Instead, then, I’m in 2017 going to make do with an iPad – preferably an iPad Pro, with its extra power and speakers over the Air 2 I currently use – instead of an Apple notebook.

The thing is, my office experiment means I’m now not only thinking about a resolution to replace a Mac when mobile, but at other times, too. That morning when the Macs were all away might just become permanent.

Five insider tips for switching to iPad

Stand up

For extended work, you need your iPad in a stand. Ideally, the iPad should sit almost vertically and also at eye level, to stop your back exploding. Options include Lavolta’s laptop stand (£20) or a something like a solid Griffin stand (£13) propped up on some books.

Type it to ’em

Typing on glass? Nope. You need a proper keyboard for long-form wordage. If you’re a coffee shop type, Logitech’s Create (£110) should do the trick. Mostly working from home? Go for Apple’s own Magic Keyboard (£99).

Back it up

So all your work’s now on an iPad. Great. Now what happens if it breaks, or gets stolen? Ouch. So back the thing up – twice. Use (and, if necessary, pay for) iCloud Drive, and periodically manually back up to a Mac or PC running iTunes.

Make some noise

The iPad Pro has surprisingly good speakers for a tablet, but if you’re a music fiend, you’ll want a great external wireless speaker. And the Naim Mu-so Qb (£595) is certainly great: AirPlay; Spotify Connect; ports for your other kit. Lovely.

Under cover

Unless you’re a massive klutz, your iPad should be safe enough in your house. When out and about, your iPad needs protection. A pouch like Caison’s (£9) will do. If you want a case/stand combo, try KHOMO’s (£16). Prefer a keyboard case? Go with the aforementioned Create over Apple’s, which is weird to type on.