A few months ago, I got a great deal on an 11” iPad Pro, and I just couldn’t pass up getting something with an M1 chip.
My iPad Mini 5 is great and I love it to bits, but I have been feeling the need for a bigger screen for a while (my high myopia offsets age-related presbyopia a bit, but every Winter I find it a little harder to look at small screens in the evenings), and even though the iPad Air might have been cheaper in a regular situation there was also a little pressure to get something that could tide me over during the looming recession.
But feature-wise, the Pro’s amazing ProMotion display and Thunderbolt support really sealed the deal.
Picking a Keyboard
Since I needed a cover and something with a trackpad (I have plenty of portable keyboards and mice, but wanted less moving parts) I got a Logitech Combo Touch with a standard US layout, which I had to order direct from Logi since Apple only seems to sell the Spanish version and I prefer the US one for coding and writing1.
I ended up getting the light “Sand” one because the darker version wasn’t in stock, but the color is actually pretty OK, and I find Logitech’s approach to be better value for money than Apple’s Magic Keyboard due to the protective case.
And although the keyboard needed a little getting used to, that was only within the first couple of days. Key spacing is almost exactly between my normal laptop keyboards and the cheap compact one I have been using, and I find it plenty good enough.
Both keyboard and trackpad-wise, the overall feel is very similar to the Surface keyboards (partly because the textured feel reminds me of the Alcantara covers I used). And, like the Surface Pro, the Combo can be a little challenging to prop up on my lap, but I’ve grown used to that.
As to this as a case, the Combo feels very sturdy and protective, and has only two drawbacks:
- It significantly adds to the weight of the iPad (I guess that’s because both the keyboard and fold-out stand are pretty much 2mm thick solid slabs of material).
- It does not have an Apple Pencil holder (it relies on the charging magnets to hold it in the gap laid out for it, which feels like a bit of a cop-out).
My Experience So Far
Well, it’s an iPad. Most people familiar with them don’t need a plethora of adjectives to describe the experience, and the only two that occur to me are smooth and fast, which are plentiful in any account of the Apple Silicon revolution.
So far I like the Pro a lot, although I decided not to take it with me on Summer break (I took the mini instead, which was more than enough computer for a few days at the beach), and in between my return to work and an urge to spend some time at my desk setting up some things has significantly cut down on couch computing.
And one of the best uses I’ve found for it so far is indeed laying back on the couch/bed, removing the keyboard and writing replies (from short notes to nearly complete e-mails) using the Apple Pencil. Scribble has come a long way and now has great support for both English and Portuguese, but the real difference is that the Pro’s bigger size makes it easier to write on.
Another use I have for it is music:
I still entertain the dream of having enough time to practice and enjoy playing, and although I have not yet had a lot of time to play with DAWs, I do appreciate the added screen estate and headroom. The sheer amount of stuff I can plug into an AUM session is staggering, and the Pro can run literally dozens of DX7 instances, which makes my dabblings with MiniDexed seem rather quaint3.
However, again thanks to the Combo, it is heavy enough that I am still picking up the mini every morning to read news and take some notes over breakfast.
And let’s be honest here–in the broader scheme of things, the iPad Pro competes with both my iPad Mini and a laptop without replacing either completely, and that is largely due to Apple’s handling of the platform.
But I can still accomplish a heck of a lot of stuff with it.
Remoting to Other Systems
I’ve long been using an iPad as a thin client (it’s actually fun to realize my iPad mini setup is well over six years old), so the big change for me is about screen real estate (which will even bigger when iOS 16 comes out with more scaling options).
That, coupled with things like Blink Shell‘s
link-files command, allows me to run VS Code locally to edit (and, depending on language), test and deploy) a fair amount of stuff. It is an (almost) no-compromises solution and I quite enjoy it, although I still wish we could have a proper sandboxed Linux VM on an iPad2.
For the rest, I have my various remote desktop setups – I can access my corporate WVD service and my GNOME desktop and have a full blown, low latency desktop experience on either.
Simulating a Local UNIX environment
This is where my experience is off the beaten path for most people, and where I have been making the most of the Pro and some niche apps.
a-Shell has become my de facto prompt for many things, since it lets me run Python, Lua and
vim, and that covers a huge amount of the stuff I need to do for my personal projects. And, as usual, I remapped
Caps Lock to
Escape for the sake of sanity when using iOS terminal emulators and the
Thanks to file providers, I can edit
git repositories inside Working Copy, shared sync folders in Möbius Sync, and generally have a productive (if restricted) CLI environment.
I could do some of this on the mini, but doing it on the Pro is much faster – in particular, committing a post like this to
git and pushing it out would take nearly a minute in Working Copy on my mini (that
git repository, which spans 20 years of posts and content, is well over 2GB by now), but the Pro can deal with it in in just a few seconds.
And, best of all, I can actually build binaries for a-Shell. The first one I decided to tackle was
sqlite, which I managed to compile to Web Assembly with help from Nicolas Holzschuch and his
wasi-sdk – it now works well enough for me to tweak my home automation metrics, which are stored in a
a-Shell on the iPad Pro is enough of a game changer than even my usual workflow for drafting posts (use whatever plain text editor is around, then throw everything into a SyncThing folder and do the final editing inside the
git repository using VS Code is now something I can do entirely with local applications–including optimizing images or using a Python script to build a small image montage.
But it isn’t a full Linux environment, so I’ve also been using iSH quite extensively. And, again, the M1 makes it vastly more useful by considerably speeding up its x86 emulation comparatively to what I have been used to.
I have been able to use its Alpine userland well enough to build Go binaries, run Janet, and even cross-compile Arduino projects (although only very simple ones, since I have to bring in libraries manually, and that is somewhat of a pain).
The only thing I’m missing right now (thanks to my renewed interest in 3D printing is a completely local, zero cloud dependencies CAD program. I am also very sad that Shapr3D is only available in a subscription model, which I refuse to be trapped into.
I can remote to a Linux machine to do that (which I do, of course), and I can’t blame Apple for the way software has evolved into cloud-based subscriptions, but it rankles a bit.
I like the iPad Pro. It was every bit as excessive an acquisition as my MacBook, but I think it’s going to keep me in good stead in the long term.
It’s still metaphorically stuck in the middle of nowhere as far as personal computing is concerned, but at least it is insanely powerful to the point of making a sizable dent in that continuum, and one of the reasons I decided to get it now is to experience first hand where it’s going from here and figure out how to paper over the cracks in its computing model–partly because it still feels somewhat ahead of its time, partly because most computers may well look like it in a few years, and partly because it still has some infuriating drawbacks.
It may seem odd, but contrary to most people, I don’t see iOS 16 and Stage Manager as being a proper solution for turning the iPad into a productivity tool–what it needs is more desktop features that go deeper than window handling, like better file management, better development frameworks that incentivize developers to bring over more Pro apps, and, in general, a smoother transition point between the iPhone and the Mac.
Right now, as I said, it’s stuck bang in the middle of nowhere as far as personal computers are concerned, but I have to be optimistic and consider the signs of increasing visual and UX convergence with the Mac as promising (even though it still feels like hobbling the Mac more than enhancing the iPad).
And I hope that in four years or so, when it is time to replace my MacBook, I will likely go back to having a powerful desktop Mac and be sure of being able to take all I want with me on an iPad – Pro or mini, I don’t know yet…
But why not both?
As far as I can tell there are no Portuguese versions, but Logitech insists on having separate sites per territory in this day and age, so finding the product you want is a bit of a crapshoot… ↩︎
I do have iSH installed, and the M1 makes it run… adequately. But I still wish Apple would get off their high horse and allow us to run a proper local VM, they could sandbox the living daylights out of it and make a fair amount of people very happy indeed. ↩︎
I’m not holding my breath for Logic to be ported over… But Apple really needs to figure out how to make the iPad Pro a better proposition without impacting the Mac. ↩︎