A month with the iPad Pro

I thought about writing this blog post on my iPad Pro.

I’m not — I’m writing it on the same place I write everything else, my MacBook Pro. But I could, theoretically, write it on the iPad. It would take me a little more time to actually type – the keyboard is uncomfortable but not unpleasant. But I would definitely be more focused; even now, I’ve written like forty words and switched out of my writing app of choice five times – three times to Twitter, once to email, and once to Spotify.

The iPad Pro is the ultimate aspirational productivity device. Its existence is an argument by Apple that the thing stopping you from being a more productive, more fulfilled person isn’t slightly faster typing speed or a stream of data or yet another layer of complexity 1, but the exact opposite. The iPad Pro, despite its suffix, is a device that scoffs at the idea of a ‘power user’.

The iPad Pro is telling you that the future of the work is in simplicity and in sleekness: that you will be your most productive self when there is no friction between you and what you are trying to do. (The best commercials for the iPad Pro show users who spend just as much time thinking as they do actually interacting with the device.)

And, to be honest, for a lot of things it delivers on this promise. There are many things I do very well on my iPad: responding to email, organizing thoughts, planning software architectures, reading articles and novels. These are tasks where the most important thing is a lack of interruption.

But I spend most of my time in front of a screen developing software, a task which seems fundamentally in conflict with this way of thinking. I consider myself a productive engineer who is smart enough to disconnect from email and Slack when its time to work, but even then I will be jumping from the IDE to the terminal 2 to the internal docs to StackOverflow back to the IDE in the span of a couple seconds. It’s not exactly context switching — the whirlwind of apps does not dull my focus — but there’s an inelegant swiftness in the way I work that feels fundamentally incompatible with the iPad. Even if there was, say, Xcode for iPad and a great terminal system for iPad and enough keyboard shortcuts to make Split View et al an effortless interface, the frenetic mindset with which I create software is something of an anti-pattern for the tablet.

This isn’t an indictment of the iPad Pro. This is a reminder – to myself and others – that Toyota does not design Priuses with the goal of optimizing for the usage patterns of long-distance truck drivers.

Ultimately, the iPad Pro is a device that is not going to make most parts of my life easier or better. But there are a couple of things that it does very well — things like going through a Pocket backlog or emails — small and mostly consumptive tasks at which I struggle due to lack of focus and not lack of ability. Using the iPad for these things is refreshing and easy — it improves not only my productivity but my mindset. I come away from my laptop feeling worn, as if I have spent resources; I come away from the iPad Pro feeling recharged, as if somehow more crystalline.

I wish I could do everything on my iPad — there’s something almost dehumanizing about my productivity being so closely tied to one’s dexterity with a computer. I hope that one day I’m in a situation like the folks in an iPad commercial, armed with my thoughts and a tablet that can transform them into something wonderful, where the tough work is in my head and not in iTerm.

But that’s not where I’m at right now.

Still, though, I feel good using the iPad. “Delight” is the buzzword of the day when it comes to technology, and the iPad Pro doesn’t quite delight me — but sitting in a coffeeshop and using it to read or write gives me a vital sense of clarity and focus. This is important: as we drown ourselves in apps, in engagements, in vertices of various graphs, feelings of clarity and focus are rarer and more fleeting than ever before.

(Plus, it’s really great on airplanes.)

  1. Things that I’ve learned are complex during my time with the iPad Pro: windows, tabs, plugins. [return]
  2. The terminal which has anywhere from three to twelve tabs open, mind you. [return]
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Justin Duke is a writer and developer in Seattle.
He likes good, practical things.
(And writing in the third person, I guess.)