Pros and Cons of Using an iPad for Productivity
A few months ago, during a bout of the quarantine blues, I began watching a lot of videos about the iPad. Previously, while I thought such a device might be fun, I never really saw much of a need for it. That was until I started to see more people talking about the enhanced keyboard and cursor support for the tablet that could effectively turn the iPad into a full-fledged computer… but could it really?
Long story short, we ended up buying an iPad for ourselves and, little by little, I’ve been testing it out in hopes that it can be my prime work device when I’m traveling. Along the way, I’ve picked up on some things I really like about using a tablet for such tasks and a few things that might be dealbreakers for some. So, let’s take a look at what I think are some of the pros and cons of using an iPad for productivity.
What I’m Working With
These days, Apple’s iPad lineup has plenty of options to choose from along with several accessories for each that can certainly influence its productivity prospects. Thus, since I’ll be relying on my own experiences when highlighting potential pros and cons, I figured I should detail exactly what I was working with.
Recently, my wife and I purchased an 11″ iPad Pro. Additionally, we sprung for Apple’s Magic Keyboard as well as an Apple Pencil. In total, the whole bundle came in at a price that put it in the same realm as some MacBooks — which is why I think it’s worth exploring whether this set-up makes sense as a laptop replacement.
With that out of the way, let’s get to it.
The Advantages of Working on an iPad
One of the first things I noticed when I started working from my iPad was that its battery lasted significantly longer than my MacBook Pro. Even with the Magic Keyboard drawing some energy from the main machine, I can go a few solid hours without even needing to think about plugging in. On the contrary, as my laptop ages, I don’t want to be far from an outlet if I’m going to need more than a couple of hours of work time. Should I maybe look into replacing my laptop battery if it’s that bad? Probably — but the iPad’s battery life is superior to whatever my laptop’s ever was.
To call my 13″ laptop anything less than portable would be pretty ridiculous. Yet, the 11″ iPad Pro is even easier to carry around. Granted, with the hefty Magic Keyboard attached, this set-up doesn’t weigh a whole lot less than the MacBook Pro, but is still slightly lighter nonetheless. If I can save any weight or space in my bag while traveling, that’s a win for me. For the record, this is also why I’ve been so adamant about making the iPad the productivity machine I need it to be, allowing me to leave the laptop at home.
Variety in workflow
The iPad Pro also boasts another type of portability in that it can be easily detached from its keyboard case and carried to a different room or wherever. This is one aspect of the tablet I’ve really been enjoying. While I definitely prefer using the keyboard and a desk for writing, if I’m just scheduling social media posts or even doing a rough cut of a video, it’s nice to mix things up by grabbing the tablet itself and taking up residence on a couch or bed. In fact, this can often lead me to be more productive as the change of scenery saves me from feeling the monotony.
If I’m doing a lot (or sometimes not much at all), I can always count on hearing my laptop’s fans winding up. Normally this isn’t a big deal — but, when it comes to recording podcasts, video voiceover, or other audio, this added noise can actually be quite annoying (and picked up on mic). That’s why I was excited that these issues don’t exist for the iPad seeing as they don’t have cooling fans. In theory, that means it could overheat in certain situations, but that hasn’t been a problem for me at all. Plus, since the “guts” of the iPad are elevated when using the Magic Keyboard, I don’t have to worry about a toasty touch like I sometimes do with my computer.
I’ll admit that I’ve never really been a fan of the Face ID concept. That’s partially what led me to recently purchase the iPhone SE, which may well be the last gasp for my preferred Touch ID. However, while I think I still prefer Touch to Face on a smartphone, having the latter on the iPad has proven immensely convenient. Not only do I enjoy unlocking the device itself at a glace, but I can also magically enter my various passwords for different sites without lifting a finger — literally. If forced to choose, this may actually be among my favorite perks of working on an iPad versus my current laptop.
The Downsides of Working on an iPad
Balancing mobile and desktop functions
Even though I’m attempting to use my iPad as a computer, it still strays closer to a mobile device in terms of the operating system. If you’ll recall, iPads even used to run iOS before Apple spun-off iPad OS to make it feel special. Still, this middle ground can be difficult to navigate at times. For example, there are some tasks that work better for me in the browser while others are better in their app counterpart. Most confusing and annoyingly, I have to use the Airtable app to easily browse tasks but need to then head to the Airtable site to view calendar mode as this isn’t supported in the app (ugh). Somewhat similarly, I also need to keep dismissing Google Docs request for me to download their app as the functions I need are only available via the site. While I’m mostly adjusting to these quirks, I also fear finding more instances in the future, which is both concerning and frustrating.
Not all apps/programs are available
In addition to the workarounds I mentioned, there are some apps that are just straight-up unavailable for iPad. One of the most notable examples for my needs is TweetDeck (although, back to workarounds, I can use the TweetDeck site to do what I need). Meanwhile, there’s also no Premiere Pro, which is what I use to edit my videos. There is, however, Premiere Rush, which can at least help me make progress on a project but I have a hard time using it exclusively. I’ll actually do a follow-up article about video editing on an iPad down the line but, for now, I’ll just note that you may not be able to use all of the tools your laptop boasts on an iPad.
As Apple grows ever more minimalist with their designs, the number of ports on their devices continue to dwindle. This could be an issue depending on what you need for your work. Personally, this is a big reason why I sprung for Apple’s $300 Magic Keyboard over other options: it has a pass-through charging port. With that extra capability, I can at least attach an external hard drive and charge my iPad at the same time — something that’s key if I’m editing. Meanwhile, if you need to connect more than one thing, you’ll need to look for additional accessories or solutions. Plus, I hope you have wireless headphones as there is, of course, no headphone jack on the iPad Pro.
Keyboard can feel cramped (and no function keys)
With portability comes compromise — and, for as much “magic” as the iPad’s optional keyboard has, it can’t do everything. Easily the most common complaint you saw among reviewers when the accessory was revealed is that the Magic Keyboard has no row of function keys. Honestly, I thought this would really bother me, but hasn’t actually proven to be too much of an issue since I can do things like adjusting the volume via the rockers on the side of the iPad or by swiping down to access those controls. Of course, even with the omission of a function row, the keyboard for the 11″ model can feel a bit cramped and the trackpad is quite tiny. Yet, once again, I feel I’ve mostly gotten used to this. Regardless, I put this in the “cons” category as I could certainly see it being an issue for some others.
Lastly, while I truly appreciate that the iPad Pro allows me to connect external devices such as hard drives and cameras, the general consensus is that the Files system on iPad OS leaves something to be desired. I actually haven’t had too much experience with moving files over from other devices just yet but, even with saving items to the machine, I can see how it can be annoying. Once again, however, this seems like an obstacle that can be overcome with some time and practice.
I won’t lie and say that attempting to make my iPad Pro a machine that I can work on exclusively while traveling has been an easy task. Indeed, there have been some challenges and upsetting surprises as I’ve put the tablet to the test. That said, with most (but not all) of these hurdles out of the way, I’ve also been able to find some aspects of the iPad that I really love for productivity — some that make it even better than my laptop for certain tasks. On that note, I’m still glad I purchased my iPad set-up and look forward to taking it on future travels or to a coffee shop eventually. Meanwhile, if you’ve considered trying to make an iPad your main work machine, hopefully these observations can help you determine if such a dream is possible.
Also published on Medium.