A status report from August 2021.
When Apple released their M1 MacBook Air, I got one. Fully loaded really, since there’s only a couple of possible configurations (the RAM is actually part of the processor configuration, as it has a unified memory model, so they only have a couple of RAM options). I love the Air: it’s lightweight, it lasts all day, and the Apple silicon version doesn’t even have a fan, because ARM rocks. I should note that I’m mainly a “knowledge worker;” I don’t need to run VMs or use any heavy-duty creative software, so the Air does everything I need.
The biggest gripe I have with it is that you can’t get media streaming apps that permit downloads. That’s almost certainly because, on macOS, I can get to the downloaded files and potentially pirate them; doing so is much harder on iOS and iPadOS. So even though it was briefly possible to download Netflix’ iOS app and run it on the Air, they quickly stopped that from working. But I consume a butt-tonne of content, and I’m often offline when doing so. For example, when we’re going up to our cabin for a weekend, we have to download anything we might want to watch, because the Internet up there is anemic on a very good day, and we have very few very good days.
As a result, I also have an iPad. I actually had an older generation Pro which was doing “fine,” although the battery was clearly starting to show its age. So when Apple came out with the M1 iPad Pro, I thought… huh. Limitations of iPadOS aside, I wondered if I could actually use an iPad as my full-time machine. I mean, it’s the same screen size as the Air, right? Same processor. Same RAM. Different OS, yes, and that’s where the experiment comes in.
I’ve found that… I more or less can ditch a “real” computer and use the iPad Pro. This is in huge part because I don’t run anything especially heavy-duty or that requires a ginormous screen; I’m very comfortable working on a laptop screen, and I honestly tend to run most apps more-or-less full-screen because (a) the screen is small and (b) my eyes are old.
I just finished filing an Allegation of Use with the USPTO for one of my trademarks, and I did it all on the iPad – which involved generating a PDF of an Amazon page in addition to filling out forms on their archaic TESS site. And it wasn’t hard.
The ability for Zoom to continue using the iPad’s front-facing camera while I have another app multitasking side-by-side has been huge. Apple’s offered that special entitlement to the major meeting-app vendors, and it’s an unexpected game-changer. I can now participate in Zoom meetings whilst I have a Google Doc open side-by-side to look at whatever we’re talking about.
My writing and blogging are entirely possible on iPadOS as well. I’ve switched to the Ulysses writing app because:
- It’s got feature-parity across macOS and iOS/iPadOS, something Scrivener (my former app) doesn’t.
- It uses iCloud for sync; Scrivener has a vexing and obtuse Dropbox-based sync that I revile.
- It publishes directly to WordPress (DonJones.com) and Ghost (https://ampere.club).
I can use Pixelmator (which also runs on macOS), and although the iPadOS version is decidedly dumbed-down, it’s enough for what I need in terms of fussing with book covers and making runes for my stories of witchkind series. All my work apps—Zoom, Google Docs, GMail, Google Calendar, Workday, Monday.com, Slack, you name it—all run natively on iPadOS and have decent-to-excellent experiences there.
My one hurdle right now is Vellum, a macOS-only app I use to turn my manuscripts into beautiful print and ebooks. They don’t offer an iPad version, although now that they’ve recompiled it into a universal macOS app (meaning it runs on M1 and Intel machines), I’m hopeful it’ll become easier for them to port it to iPad someday. Their UI is simple enough that I don’t even think it would need much (if any) refactoring, and if it can run on my Air, I presume my iPad would also be powerful enough (although iPadOS does have different restrictions on memory allocation, something Apple is addressing in iPadOS 15).
Apple’s Files app has also been a game-changer. Now that I have an actual cloud-based file system that’s accessible through standard cross-device API calls, it’s VERY easy to save files and call them up. For example, Numbers can export a sheet to a CSV in my cloud-based Documents app, and Socialbee (which I use to manage my social accounts) can accept any CSV file I upload to bulk-schedule posts (like my #DailyLearner tweets). Without Files, that wouldn’t be possible.
I did splurge on the Magic Keyboard, mainly because I like the hardware keys better than the cloth-covered ones of the Magic Folio, and I hate having to pair and charge a separate Bluetooth keyboard. The Magic Keyboard brings the entire system weight to within a gram or so of the Air’s, so it’s not a real weight savings, but I can do almost everything AND have all my streaming-media consumption on a single device. I do find that I almost never use the Magic Keyboard’s trackpad; although iPadOS now has “decent” trackpad support (albeit with a weird disc-shaped pointer), I’m so habituated to touching the screen that I almost never bother. I do like it for scrolling web pages and news articles, though, since I can keep my hand at rest rather than hovering over the screen.
I will also note that I did run VMs on my old iPad. That is to say, I ran them in Azure, which gave me plenty of power in a very lightweight device. I even ran conference session demos that way. There’s a bit of extra cost in doing that of course, but at the time I was an MVP and got a solid amount of free monthly Azure credit that more than covered it. Nowadays, I don’t even know what I’d do with a VM.
So for me, and for at least certain use cases, you can make an iPad into a full-time device. It comes with bonkers power characteristics; I can easily run it on battery for a full work day and then some, which until the M1 Air I’ve never pulled off with any laptop. On-the-go, if I ditch the heavy Magic Keyboard, the iPad is super-light and portable, and it’s soft keyboard is sufficient to get the job done if all you’re doing is texting or Googling or something. I love its always-on nature, FaceID unlocking, and the relatively yooge screen (I have the 12” version). The multitasking is a wee bit “meh,” but because I’d already gotten used to running most apps full-screen and swiping between them, it’s actually not a tremendous change for me. Again, there are LOTS of use cases where the iPad would be totally unsuitable as things stand today… but I’m not in one of those cases.
What I’ve found is that there are tasks which are very familiar and easy on macOS, and I’ve tended to pull out the Air to do those. But these past weeks, I’ve been forcing myself to try and do them on the iPad… and it turns out that while the process might be a bit different, it’s not actually harder or more time-consuming. It’s just a matter of changing my habits a bit. And now when I do grab the laptop, I start touching the screen and leaving fingerprints all over it. So it’s turned off now, sitting in my office and waiting until I need to use Vellum again.
If the Vellum folks manage an iPadOS version… I’ll giggle and put my Air up for sale ;).