Two weeks ago I did something I would’ve thought unthinkable even a month ago, I replaced my personal laptop with a new Apple iPad.
After more than 20 years with either a desktop or a laptop I wasn’t sure what I would think about this setup but, so far, I’m finding it far more capable than I would have anticipated. It isn’t perfect but, for the most part, what most people are listing as shortcomings such as iPadOS limitations, I’m finding to actually be quite a benefit for how I like to work.
Why Another iPad?
To be fair, this isn’t my first iPad. I had the first generation iPad Pro in 2016 which I gave to my wife at the end of that year. It was OK but, even with the keyboard case, it was too small and too limited to be useful at anything that my phone couldn’t already do.
This machine doesn’t even feel like it’s in the same ballpark of that early iPad Pro. I bought a 2021 12.9” iPad Pro with the M1 chip and 1TB of storage (due to the 1TB models getting an extra 8GB of RAM over the smaller machines). To it I’ve added the keyboard case, a regular cover and the Apple Pencil in order to go “all in,” if you will. In the past I’ve skimped on accessories, sans the keyboard case, and this time I decided I would get all the accessories right from the start and I think it’s helping make the machine feel more like a computer so far.
As for using the machine, it’s both extremely fast and pretty much the perfect size for what I wanted. The intention of the machine, long-term, is to use it as a travel machine where I don’t need a bigger, more powerful laptop and to use it around the house comfortably. This is actually what I had hoped for in iPads in the past but they were really too small to fit the role well. The screen on this new machine makes it feel just like a real laptop and, although the keyboard isn’t great for actually using in my lap, it’s perfect for writing at a table or a desk. The only piece I haven’t use much yet is the pencil, though that’s more because I really haven’t had the chance to take notes with it or anything else yet. While traveling it should be the perfect accessory.
That still doesn’t answer why I went back to iPad though. That’s a bit more complicated. In January I switched back to iPhone from Android. I made that choice to get away from FitBit (I bought an Apple Watch) and because the Google Pixel 5 didn’t have an XL variant and I strongly prefer the larger phones.
Going back to iPhone made it easier for me to get a personal computer made by Apple as they really do work better together. Beyond that though I have a history of looking for the perfect writing and travel machine. After my last iPad I tried a Chromebook that was so slow it wouldn’t even run WordPress and an Asus Zenbook that was almost perfect until it died after 14 months and the repair was going to cost more than the computer was worth.
In addition, while the Asus was almost perfect it was that “almost” that was the problem. What I want in this machine is something I can use to write without too much distraction. The Chromebook handled that role well as it simply couldn’t do that much else but, on the Asus, however, it took all of a day or two before I started using it just as I would my primary development machine. As a result writing sessions quickly became coding sessions as the slightest distraction would lead me down a rabbit whole that I usually wouldn’t make it back out of. The more limited software on this iPad solves that problem and does so well. It’s still fast and it can still do almost everything I need it to, except for writing code. That’s a very good thing for the way I work.
Finally, I’m back on an iPad, and will be getting a MacBook Pro when the 16” models are refreshed, because they work for me. I’ve spent the last 3 years beating my tech into something I could work with. I’ve found some great solutions over that time but no matter how close it came that type of tech never felt sustainable while my family is already all Apple. All isn’t lost though. If nothing else I’ve learned that I can avoid going too deep into an ecosystem like I had been with Apple back in 2017. This time, while I plan for my devices to be Apple, that’s where it ends. Sure I’ll have some of their services but I’m not giving up on things like Signal and numerous other services and accessories I’ve moved to over the last few years.
Trying to escape big tech has taught me that there are downsides when it comes to support and resale value as well. Apple, for all its faults, is easier for me to get repaired given I don’t have the electronics skills to repair pretty much any computer myself and, when I’m done with them, I can still get a few dollars to trade them up for a newer model. The trade-in is, in fact, so much better than any of the others I’ve tried that I definitely lost money on the experiment as a whole. All the non-Apple devices I traded in combined got me around what I paid for the keyboard for this machine whereas, had I kept my 2016 MacBook Pro, I could still get over $1,000 for it today.
Using The iPad
So how is it working out with the iPad? As I mentioned above this machine is the perfect size, speed and capability for what I want in a personal machine. If it wasn’t for code I do outside of work I really wouldn’t need another computer at all. As I write this post from it’s keyboard I feel like I’m working on a slightly more comfortable Mac thanks to the shorter keyboard on my table. That’s a major win for me.
Beyond the size, though, I’ve actually found the software to be quite capable for what it is. Safari works great, as do most of the Mac apps. Where native apps can’t do what I need I’ve added Prompt for SSH access to what servers I still keep, Tweetbot for Twitter, Toot for Mastodon and Reeder for keeping up with the sites I still pay attention to.
I’m trying to think of something I would change if I could with this setup but, so far, I’m pleasantly surprised to say that I really can’t think of a single thing. That’s pretty amazing for a machine I’ve been searching for for over a decade. Here’s to hoping it means I can finally start writing more and getting out of code for a change when I’m not at work.