All-in on iPad Pro

I've been wanting to do this for five years now and it's finally happened. I sold my MacBook Pro to go all-in on iPad as my main personal computer. Yesterday, I packed my 2015 13" Retina MacBook Pro back into its box and sent it off to a new owner.

People have lots of questions about this so I thought I would write a bit about the thinking and experimentation that went with this.

Firstly, some people thought when I tweeted about this that I meant the iPad Pro would be my only portable computer and that I would still have a desktop computer. Not so. My intention is that the iPad Pro will be my only personal computer.

What I mean by that is that 99% of my computing will be done on my iPad Pro or my iPhone.

There will always be Macs around but not one that I regularly sit down at and use for any task. I have a headless 2010 Mac mini that acts as a Plex server at home and a 2010 Mac Pro at school that we use for Apple Configurator. I can, of course, use these Macs but they're not really set up as machines for me to work on. I suppose you could say I have access to Macs in the same way that I have access to a printer.

The point is: my days of spending £1500+ on a Mac laptop just because are over.

I want to address three other questions here:

  • What changed that made this possible?
  • How did you decide that you could make the shift?
  • Aren't you worried about the future?

The answer to "what changed" is, to first order, quite simple: iOS 9 and the iPad Pro. Really, it was iOS 9 that made the big difference and the iPad Pro was the icing on the cake.

The introduction of multitasking in iOS 9 has made a significant difference to the way I work on iOS. I don't need to rehearse the actual features here but suffice to say that I now find iOS extremely easy to get almost any task done. In some scenarios, it's even better than the Mac.

The iPad Pro was just the icing on the cake. It took everything that was good about iOS 9 on the iPad Air 2 and made it much, much better. The iPad Pro is fast, capable and packs a screen basically the same size as the laptop I just sold. This is how I want to work.

That said, there have been many small things that have matured sufficiently to allow this shift to happen.

Document Providers, introduced in iOS 8, have improved significantly. A while ago, I fully switched to using cloud storage for every document I work on. Having been all-in on Google Drive for a couple of years now, I feel confident in saying that adopting cloud storage is the best way to make a wholesale platform shift like this. I find that colleagues who still carry a lot of local state on a laptop just aren't getting the best out of their iOS devices, compared to those teachers who have moved wholly to Google Drive.

Similarly, the increased utility of the Share Sheet in iOS has made most forms of inter-application data transfer a whole lot easier than in previous versions of the OS. It's now trivial to move things around in iOS - from most apps. Looking at you, Microsoft Office!

iTunes U is a big part of my work at school and it has consistently improved to the point where the experience of running a course on iOS is, in fact, better than managing it through the web interface.

Another thing that unlocked more productivity for me was the release of Microsoft Office on iOS. Now, I don't particularly care for any Microsoft products but I am obliged to work with organisations who have yet to figure out this newfangled PDF format is going to be a thing. As a result I am sometimes sent Microsoft Word documents and a way to open them as faithfully as possible is always useful.

Two further small features that have solved showstopper problems in iOS 9 are: Mail's ability to pick an attachment from any Document Provider and Safari's ability to pick a file upload from any Document Provider. These two features have taken things that were awkward or impossible in iOS 8 and made them trivially easy in iOS 9.

When deciding whether I could make this change, I started a simple experiment: I stopped taking my MacBook Pro to school. While doing that, I kept a list of all the times where I had to go and find a Mac to do something I needed to do.

Note: the criteria was something I needed to do, with the emphasis on both I and need. When I tweet about this, I always get slightly grumpy replies from people who need to do different things and can't do them on iOS. These people almost always use CAD/CAM software or Final Cut Pro X.

Quickly, I ran into a few things that I couldn't do.

  • Rip a set of DVDs.
  • Had to create a FileMaker Pro database from a CSV file.
  • View and edit an Adobe Dynamic XML form (although this can't be done on anything not from Adobe on the Mac either).
  • Inspect detailed headers in an email - couldn't do it through the web as gmail won't show desktop UI.
  • Downloading and installing iOS 9 GM seeds. Public betas can obviously be installed OTA.
  • Had to edit pages in school website CMS which required Flash.
  • Uploading multiple files to iTunes U. iPad can do it slowly one at a time but not in a batch.
  • Editing a google form. No app for it and Safari not supported. It works but crazily.
  • Using IMPORTRANGE() function in Google Sheets (Amongst others).
  • Using google vault - completely broken on mobile Safari.

There were also some things that were hard at the time but I have since discovered apps that do these things

  • Recording the podcast
  • Editing the podcast

Ferrite Recording Studio by Wooji Juice has solved this. What a wonderful app this is.

  • Had to extract iOS icons from iTunes for wall display.

I created a Workflow script to do this for me.

  • Copy a file simultaneously to four Macs using Remote Desktop. Of course the same result could be achieved using other means, such as Google Drive.

This is a legacy workflow that will go away at the end of this school year.

  • Write a script in Pythonista then upload to iTunes U. Open In is barred by policy.

The solution is to copy and paste into a text file and upload that way. Lame, I know, but that's App Store policy for you.

  • I had to convert an Access DB to CSV and did it on my Mac.

I since discovered ACCDB MDB Database Pro for this.

  • Printing from Google Docs.

This was a bug in Google Apps under iOS 9; since fixed.

What was most interesting to me was that, after an early flurry of additions to this list, the list stopped growing. That was when I realised that this transition might not be as difficult as I thought it might be.

So I just kept on leaving the MacBook Pro at home. Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. By the time I sold my MacBook Pro this week, I hadn't taken it to school since early October.

At some point, I just came to realise that I hadn't used my Mac in anger in a very long time. When you have a nearly-new £1400 computer sitting on your desk doing nothing more than depreciating rapidly, it tends to focus the mind.

So, am I worried about the future? Not really. iOS isn't going anywhere. The days when we worried that mobile would be a fad or have limited appeal are over. Mobile devices is already how the world at large computes. Organisations that have incompatible legacy processes are the ones with the problem, not me.

Yes, I've certainly worked hard to arrange things in my work and home life so that I can make this transition right now. I'm not the only one making this move. Many other friends and acquaintances online are doing the same thing. Really, I'm just like you - but I'm you from 10 years in the future.