Still Full Time iPad Only — Eight Years Running

Thoughts on my continued love of using an iPad as a primary/only computer.

I switched over to the iPad Pro as my full time, or primary, computer back in December of 2015. I kept a personal Mac around until August of 2016, though I rarely used it. While there are Macs in our home, none are mine or used by me (other than to help troubleshoot them, which I am losing my skills for). It wasn’t until 2019 I would have regular access to another Mac, when I was issued one for work.

Even now, eight years on, I use a Mac only a handful of times each month — mostly to get around shortcomings in Microsoft’s Office suite of applications. So, given how long it has been, and how infrequently I blog about this topic these days, many have been asking me to touch base on this.

What better way to do this than a very blogger-esque listing of eight thoughts on eight years of iPad only use.

1. Stage Manager

A lot of more casual iPad users have a hard time understanding why this is such a big change, but it’s a boon for productively using the iPad for a lot of things. There’s a huge context switch which used to happen on an iPad when moving between apps. So if you worked on a spreadsheet using Safari and Mail as references, each swap to those apps completely took you out of context and was rather jarring as the screen completely shifted to another app. Running the apps split on the screen was annoying and tedious at best, as you never could have the apps at sizes which made sense for how you were using them.

Or think of it like this: on your Mac/PC, when you are using more than one app constantly, you are not running each app full screen.

With Stage Manager you can stack those apps all together aan quickly move between them without losing your context. It instantly feels faster, so much so I only have my iPad Pro in this mode now. Apps are getting much better at supporting all of this, and it’s a tremendous boon to productivity. This is one of the best features Apple took from Macs and added to iPadOS.

2. Keyboard & Trackpad

I wish iPadOS logged time spent using the device connected to a keyboard and pointing device, versus without any. I would guess my iPad is attached to a keyboard and trackpad about 80% of the time. The OS has become a beast at supporting this setup, and really made the iPad vastly more productive. If you don’t use a trackpad with yours yet, then you really are not giving it a fair shake at replacing a traditional all-in-one computer.

I use a Mouse with mine at home, as it works better on this wonky and shitty dining room table I am told we like. But I love using iPadOS with a trackpad as it feels very natural and the gestures mostly translate over. Using it with a mouse, is really odd and certain things don’t work well. Pro tip here is to do a lot of right clicking on things, as Apple has gone to a lot of lengths to make those menus great.

3. External Displays & Studio Displays

If you are not attaching your iPad Pro to an external display, you are missing out. Being able to screen extend and have a true second display is absolutely wild. I spent a long time using a 24” Dell 4k monitor for this and was perfectly happy.

Recently, I moved to the Apple Studio Display at work, and I am completely blown away by how much better it feels on that display. The system feels very cohesive with that display, and it’s hard not to tap that display as it almost looks like an actual iPad display. Pretty wild.

Coupling an external display with Stage Manager, and I feel like there’s no advantage my work MacBook Air holds over my iPad Pro. So I mostly use the Mac once a month to make sure it will actually work in a reasonable amount of time when I want to use it.

4. I Forgot About Other Options

There’s a lot of other computing options out there, but I don’t pay attention to them. I don’t know why I would, as there’s not likely something better for how I work and think.

I suspect this is because I don’t use my device for compiling code, or for doing a lot in hopes that doing that makes me actually do a lot. People tend to ask me about this the most. Which iPad should I get, is it better than XYZ thing. The truth is: I have no clue. I buy the top end iPad Pro when I want a new one, otherwise ignoring what Apple releases. Mac releases could not be more boring these days — Gruber can wax poetically about it, but compute power became meaningless with the M1. Everything is faster than what I need now, likely for you too.

Non-Apple tablets are trash, no matter what anyone says. And while there are interesting dual screen notebooks out there, you’ll be forced to use Windows, which is a laughable idea at best these days. So yeah, I don’t even bother thinking about options these days, and that’s why I don’t blog about it either.

5. Cellular Connectivity

I used to recommend not getting the cellular option on the iPads, but I have since changed that. With 5G cellular, there’s a massive upgrade getting it built into the device natively. I really love having it, and stopped thinking about or worrying about WiFi because of this. Tethering is really great in a pinch, but you never quite get the throughput and blissful ignorance you get when it is built into the iPad.

It’s wild to me that Apple isn’t shipping 5G modems in their laptops. That connection is often faster than your average AirBNB WiFi, and not very expensive to keep around. It’s a little staggering actually that Apple doesn’t have their own MVNO for iPads and Macs. That would be great. Anyways, it is easy to forget how big of a deal this is, until I grab my iPad mini which is WiFi only, and am instantly confused when it has no connection — feels ancient when that happens.

6. Damned Peripherals

The iPad peripheral market is pretty shit. There’s a few really good options, and then a lot of cheap shit. As far as I can find, there’s no mouse actually designed to work perfectly with the iPad. In fact, only Apple’s trackpad works perfectly with iPadOS (and the trackpad on the Magic Keyboard). There’s no other options. That’s wild to me.

Most keyboards work well, as long as they support a Mac layout. But iPadOS has some weird hang ups. If you connect the keyboard via bluetooth, all is well in the world. Connect it via USB-C and things get weird. There’s a startup lag on a wired keyboard connecting to the iPad which triggers the iPad to change your external display from being extended, to mirroring. That’s beyond annoying, even when the keyboard is connected through Apple’s own Studio Display this lag exists — thus confirming my suspicions that there’s like one person at Apple caring about all this and fighting the good fight. iPadOS really needs a little wiggle room here.

I think the market is begging for more high end iPad peripherals. If you know of them, or make them, reach out to me please.

7. Things Started Working

I used to write a lot about how to accomplish certain tasks on an iPad instead of a Mac, but at some point in the last few years, it stopped being hard to get most shit done on the iPad. Apps have matured, the OS has matured, and things are rather easy.

Most of my time troubleshooting used to be in finding and downloading some random app utility to do a specific task. But I cannot remember the last time I had to do that. For most of the weird shit, Files, or Readdle’s Documents will handle it. I am not really confident on how to express how easy things have become. Now my troubleshooting time is spent wondering why Apple cannot get rid of the floating text controls UI bar that is in the way 99% of the time, and useful about 3 times a year.

Even the websites which historically would refuse to work well on an iPad, typically work without any issue now. It’s great. (Thought I credit that to the iPhone, as you are dead in the water if your shit doesn’t work well on any iPhone. Even for this website, it’s like 70% iPhone sized readership. Wild.)

8. Instant Computing

The biggest nuanced thing I notice about being a full time iPad user whenever I head back to a Mac, is that the iPad embodies instant computing, while a Mac is anything but instant. I tested this across three different Macs, one which is used nearly daily, another a few times a week, and the last is used very rarely — all I did was open the lid of the MacBook, enter the password, and see how long it took for the computer to be able to open the web browser and load a website.

It was staggering how long it took the Mac.

I tested that against my iPad Mini, the slowest iPad I own, and didn’t use the iPad for a week before testing: typed in the password and tapped on Safari. It was ready to go nearly instantly, whereas each Mac was a wait which would allow you to make it half way to a bathroom.

During that wait on a Mac, I was also greeted with a litany of:

  • Out of date notifications
  • Error messages, some would disappear, others would not
  • Prompts for passwords
  • Prompts for nonsense where I had to click OK
  • Endless dialog boxes and windows opening and closing
  • Even on the apps which were open and on screen, the information was stale and took a while to refresh — some even required a restart to get them going.
  • Many little noises which might mean something, but meant nothing to me.

It’s wild to me that Mac users think this is ok. The amount of cruft and bullshit to do a simple thing on a Mac is absurd. That’s not the case on an iPad, and the longer you use an iPad as your computing device, the less acceptable this bullshit on Macs becomes.

So yeah, you should switch to an iPad, it’s pretty great over here.

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