The iPad Pro as an iPad

You know, like not as a laptop, but as an actual tablet — as you would with a larger iPad.

When I wrote about the iPad Pro as a laptop replacement the other day, I talked about it in a very specific sense: propped up like a laptop screen with some sort of keyboard attached to it — as you would a typical laptop. This time around though I want to talk about using the device as just an iPad, which means no keyboards connected to it.

Looking at it this way gives us three different setups to talk through: flat on table/desk/lap, propped at an angle on a table/desk/lap, and held in your hands. For the sake of brevity I am just going to talk about these placements in the sense of a desk, but know that I mean any flat surface you sit or stand working at. And for the sake of further brevity you can assume the iPad Pro works the same in your lap, with much less comfort overall. So if say the iPad works great flat on a desk, it would just be OK in your lap like that.

Flat on a Desk

The first few days I had the iPad Pro, I used it laying flat on my desk about half the time. The iPad Pro is much to big for most of the stands I have, and I didn’t have anything to really prop it up in a stable way.

I’ve also talked to a few others with iPad Pro’s and they have mentioned how much they enjoy using the iPad Pro laying flat on a desk. And I have to admit, it is a pretty neat way to use the iPad Pro, but it wreaks havoc on your neck and posture.

If you are writing with the Apple Pencil, there is simply no better way to use the iPad Pro — just like a piece of paper, flat on the desk is the best. It is also true that this is a great way to set the iPad Pro up if you are typing on it with the software keyboard, but there is a big catch to all of this: it’s uncomfortable to use the iPad Pro this way.

I have problems with my back and neck, and if I am looking too far down at a device for too long, I start to have a lot of neck and back pain. Using an iPad Pro to type like this, flat on a desk, is a recipe for disaster.

Perhaps your body will hold up better than mine, but I can assure you it is simply bad posture. Yes, the iPad Pro is highly useable in this manner, but you shouldn’t do it for long sessions, or for the majority of the time you spend using it.

The only time I find myself using the iPad Pro flat on a surface is when I am using the Apple Pencil with it — and that’s likely the only time you should be using the iPad Pro like that too.

Propped at an Angle

I have no good way to prop the iPad Pro up at a slight angle, like you can with a Smart Cover, but I did find many make shift ways of accomplishing this, because it turns out this is an awesome way to use the software keyboard. This also has slightly better viewing angle than completely flat, while still allowing you to type really well on the software keyboard.

This is likely how I will use the iPad Pro most of the time when I head out to coffee shops, and is indeed how I prefer to use the device when no keyboard is attached. That said, it’s not a great way to use the Apple Pencil on the iPad Pro, unless your prop is very stable as any rocking of the iPad Pro defeats the accuracy of the Apple Pencil completely.

I’ve written before how I loathe editing, but when I am editing articles on the iPad Pro, this is my preferred setup — I even remove the iPad from the Smart Keyboard in preference of a propped setup.

The reason for this is because I reduce arm fatigue tapping against the screen to highlight and fix typos, and I can also make use of the two-finger cursor insertion on the software keyboard to speed up the editing process. There’s something about actually touching my text, as opposed to scrolling and using the arrow keys to edit it, which is just far more compelling.

Of all the ways I have used the iPad Pro, by far my favorite way is with it slightly propped up on the desk. Alas, this is a poor configuration for video calls, and still poor for your posture and my neck. Because of these limitations I have tried to limit how often I work like this — choosing to reserve it for just editing and when I am away from my desk.

In Your Hands

One of the biggest wonders most of us had at the introduction of the iPad Pro, was whether or not you could still use it in your hands. Can you still hold it for long periods of time, and can you still type on it with your thumbs? A typical evening (when I am not trying to publish an insane amount of words) for me is to grab my iPad Air and kick back on the couch. I play games, read, and do a little link blogging. I’ve always done this with my iPads as it is just a great device for this type of activity.

The iPad Pro is simply less great at all of these things. Having the screen real estate is amazing, but the added weight and the awkwardness of the large size makes it a much harder device to work with in your hands. Typically, I end up resting the bottom of the iPad Pro on my body, or a pillow, so I can work with it more easily. Even at that, it isn’t just a hand movement to select far away UI elements — it’s an arm movement.

The experience of using the iPad Pro in the evening is far less intimate than it is with an iPad Air or iPad mini. This is all to be expected, and honestly most people buying the iPad Pro won’t be buying it to use it this way. The very fact the iPad is still mostly useable this way, is just a bonus for people trying to use as few devices as they can.

This has also lead me down the road to thinking about getting an iPad mini 4 to replace my iPad Air with, but I do have the iPhone 6s Plus, so that makes such a decision harder for me.

Still, the iPad Pro remains useable as an on the couch device, but given the other iOS devices I have on hand (mainly the iPad Air) it is still not my preferred device.

Thumb Typing

Apple has done away with the split keyboard for the iPad — bringing this back would go a long away to improving usability when holding it in portrait for quick notes. As it is, there is no way to easily hold the device and type with any reasonable speed or accuracy while doing so. Something I can even accomplish on my iPad Air.

If you use an iPad a lot for thumb typing while holding the device — this is simply not the device for you. Unlike the other iPad models, there is just no way to do this without a fair amount of frustration. To get a sense of what I mean, go pick up a wireless keyboard and try to hold it in your hands while typing — that’s basically typing on an iPad Pro. Fantastic when you have a surface to rest it on, and comical when you don’t.


Beyond that, there are two things which I think could really be a boon for the device.

  1. A kickstand, like the Surface. Only instead of holding the device up like a laptop, I would have it work to lift the top edge of the iPad 1″ – 2″ off the flat surface and provide a stable and workable platform for writing with the device at a slight angle. This would be a killer feature, but highly unlikely to be added. Still, I will dream.
  2. Get rid of the chamfered edges and adopt the iPhone 6 design of the rolled glass edges. This is such a great feel and look for the devices, and I really miss it on the iPad. The chamfered edges aren’t bad, they are just beginning to look a bit dated.

Oh, and why not mention this too: the new Touch ID sensor would be really swell. Let’s get on that one for sure, this current one is a lot slower than my iPhone 6s.

Using the iPad Pro is Different

This isn’t your — erm — your five years ago (?) iPad, it’s something completely different. It’s also not a Mac. Or a laptop. It’s a really big iPad, which is similar to a normal sized iPad in the same ways that an iPhone is similar to an iPad — meaning not really at all.

And so as many people like the iPhone, but don’t like the iPad — there will be the same type of people who like iPads, but not iPad Pros. And that’s ok, because the iPad Pro was architected to be different.

The iPad Pro is a workhorse and the fact that many of the people I talked to about using the iPad Pro flat, or slightly inclined, tell me they might switch to it and not use a keyboard will tell you a lot about this device. I could get my work done with this iPad Pro and no stands or keyboards. Many of the people I have talked to are just one or two apps away from the iPad Pro being a preferred main machine for them. That’s rather astounding for a first generation product from Apple.

The software keyboard is that good.

The device is that good.

Don’t be scared that the iPad Pro isn’t an iPad because it very much is still an iPad — it’s just a workhorse now too. And it’s big — like really big.

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