Living With An Ipad Pro

For a while I've had an iPad. I started with a 3, moved quickly to an Air. I have really enjoyed using the devices for media consumption, and there are now many tools for media creation, development, sharing and creating ideas. I'll get to that in a second.

I travel, to conferences and such, and usually take my MacBook Pro, the iPad Air, the iPhone, dongles and all kinds of chargers and such. It's an effort. The iPad I use for note taking whilst I work on the MacBook. It's odd because not that long ago I travelled exclusively with the Nokia N900, a truly unique tool that allowed me to do much more with so much less. Sadly no longer (and honestly, my eyes are not up to the wee screen any more, but it seems to me a shade ridiculous to be so loaded down.

So, I needed a solution - something thin, light, good battery, powerful, allowing for a multitude of interaction styles, you know… Oh, and for my sins, or whatever, I'm kind of locked in to this ecosystem. I started using Apple devices many years ago (in around 1987/88 actually, with a wonderful Mac Plus!) and I'm uncomfortable with Windows - don't get me wrong, I am quite appreciative of the strides made in that OS, but it's just not something I want to spend time figuring out (yes, I did just say that… sigh).


On a recent trip to Dagstuhl I tried using the Air as exclusively as possible - note taking, recording thoughts, browsing, searches, presentations… A colleague also had a new MacBook and I played a little with it too (I love the size!). On my return I was all hung ho for the MacBook until I stopped to think… Why would I want to replace my (aging but souped up) Pro for a smaller, slower device, except for size? I wanted those interaction modes, you'll recall (as an aside, sitting on a plane on the way home trying to type on the MacBook with the person in front fully reclined was a nightmare, and again the iPad shown through - stick it on your tray and type away on the screen, no fuss and lots less room).

A luck would have it, the iPad Pro was also available at the Apple Store. A short time after playing with it, and the Pencil (now I have a Pencil by 53 and it's a work of art, but the sheer accuracy of the Apple device won me over. I'll be using both) I walked out of the store with:

  • An iPad Pro, with 128Gb on board
  • A Logitech light up keyboard (liked its feel much better than the Apple one, and when I attach it, it makes a nice case too)
  • A pencil (on back order, still waiting!)

This set of pages is about how I migrated from the Mac, to the iPad exclusively. I will cover the successes and failures, frustrations and rewards, and, since very few people will ever see it, it's written for me, to remember the things I've done and remind me if I forget some of the tricks.

On we go…

First impressions

It's big! I can see the screen even with my aging eyes! And the sound is, to put it simply, superb. Music, movies, gaming, very immersive (I had trouble understanding the various reviews that talk about its immersive properties, but now I get it). Split screen works really well with this size, but it's annoying that I can't run the same app side by side (I imagine there are some technical reasons for this, but I think we can safely assume they are not insurmountable). On screen keyboard is much improved and the number row is a nice addition. Learning curve - none.

The keyboard is very nice. I particularly like that it (a) lights up - nice on planes and such… And (b) forms a very nice case for the machine itself. On the less positive side, firstly (and understandably) it makes the device much larger and heavier, but still I think less than my MacBook. More problematical is that sometimes, the keyboard misses letters when I type - I may be typing too fast, but I don't think I am that fast! LogiTech, I think you can do a little better. As a result, it's a little disappointing, but the feel of it is so much nicer to me than the Apple keyboard for the Pro I am willing to put up with it. On another plus side, it's possible to open it up and fold it out so you can use the iPad as an iPad without removing the keyboard - and the fact that it is powered by the new connector is nice - no more charging the keyboard battery…

When I get the Pencil (Apple, hurry up!), more on that then…

Oh, and it needs an external trackpad…

On Being Slow

One benefit of using the iPad has become the lack of speed. I should perhaps clarify. It stops me being too fast.

In Dagstuhl last November we started talking a bit about 'Slow Computing' — this is where systems recognise they are at 'edge states' where their assumptions and answers may be a little confused, or even wrong, and defer to their human counterparts for direction and 'correctness'. We believe such systems will help avoid such things as Flash Crashes, or worse.

There's something in that, and I've noticed it for the iPad, in reverse: it's possible to do a great many things at once on my Mac, but I have found myself getting distracted by side windows, forgetting what I was doing, not sending the emails I have written and then assuming I had, things like this. It may be old age, or something, but I also put it down to trying to do too many things, too fast.

The iPad has helped. I pick it up, I get instantly to what I was focused on, and because it's more of a challenge to switch, or to be distracted, because I can remove all the periphery, the task gets accomplished, and I move on. I've noticed an upswing in productivity and efficiency as a result — this may be subjective, but since it's me who is the subject, that's okay then.

And if I think of something half way through a task? Simply ask Siri to remember for me, using a side channel of speech that doesn't distract me from the focus on the window in front of me. Since I have a phone, I can do it on that, without Siri getting in the way of the iPad. As a side note, wouldn't it be nice to have this ability without Siri taking over the whole screen, so I can dictate my reminders, or whatever else is on my mind, at the same time as still typing or whatever on the screen. Don't see what that shouldn't be possible…

Presentation Tools

I love Keynote. Just what I need, when I need it, and cross-devices means editing on the Mac, iPad, whatever, then plugging the phone into the projector and just walking around. The one big bugbear with Keynote on iOS is still the lack of ability to adjust backgrounds that you have on OSX. Shouldn't be a problem. After all, I can use Powerpoint on the iPad and it will do it for me: I've resorted more than once to saving to Powerpoint from Keynote, opening up Powerpoint, changing the background, and reopening on Keynote. Silly…

Update… see below on Explain Everything!

The Pencil

Oh, my. The pencil finally arrived a couple of weeks ago. I had tried one out in the Apple Store when Imbought the iPad and liked the feel. I forgot that feel until it arrived, I unboxed it, plugged it in to pair and got started. I know it's just a thing, but for the first time I am able to sit with the device and take real honest to goodness notes like its a real notebook. This may not sound like mich, but the feel of the pencil on the device is just right - there's a friction that mirrors pencil on paper, and there's no lag. I use Notability for note taking, and the flexibility of the app, coupled with the pencil's precision, allows for some tremendously powerful idea capture: audio capture, zoomed in notes, real thoughts in real time. I love my notebooks and the freedom I get from the pen/pencil on paper, and now I have it with the device I use all the time. I have taken to using Notability and Paper by 53 for impromptu presentations in my lectures. My writing is as bad as ever, and my drawing sucks, but the spontaneity is incredibly powerful.

I have tried styluses on Samsung and Surface, and they work. I have no doubt they are as spontaneous and powerful. I'm going to say now though that the feel is important. The pencil feels right, works very well, does palm rejection as if I had no hand on the screen, and makes the experience natural. We can get into all kinds of discussions about Apple and innovation and who was there first, but to me it's about a tool I personally can use. So far the pencil is the only stylus I have ever used, and I have used many, that allows me to forget it is one.

I believe that the new iPad Air, when it comes out, will be compatible with the pencil. The Pro is a tremendous device in many ways, including the size! The Air may be the perfect 'wander round and take notes' device…

Granted, I am a technophile, but I am very quick to abandon what doesn't work, for me. Time is in short supply, and the things that help me use it best are those that stick around. The Pencil is looking like one of those things.

What Makes it Work!


Oh, I love LaTeX and BibTeX… One of the things I missed most at the start of the iPad thing all those years ago was the lack of such tools. Simple editing, powerful typesetting, small footprint (well, not really, when you think about it, but whatever, it depends on how you think about it!). I was therefore very happy when TexPad TexPad came out. It handles bundles well, the typesetting is very nice, images are well managed, the editor is okay, but a few templates for frequently used styles might be nice… It's a joy to be able to work with LaTeX and have my (large) BibTeX files available as they were meant to be. Life is good.

Cons: It's a nice app, the interface at front is a little weird, but I can see what they're aiming at with recently used files, and the requirement to use the Apps folder in Dropbox is annoying at times…


How did I manage before this? Take notes, annotate pdfs, make voice annotations, sync across devices, even to iPhone and Mac, share ideas, make presentations, sketch, wildly imagine (use Apple's Pencil!), and still have time for tea.

My usual set up these days is a split screen with Notability always on one side and other apps on the other, usually TexPad, Keynote, Mail or Safari. It makes for a very productive time.

As an aside, I have found myself in the past paying lip service to reading on a screen. And then printing everything out, scribbling on the paper and filing it away to be re-remembered at a much later date. It just wasn't worming otherwise. Even with the iPads previously, there was a disconnect between me and idea because if the device. Now, I put the docs into Notability, work with the content and the ideas, including scribbling my odd little thoughts with the pencil, am able to properly index for searching, and keep the ideas to hand. I have found myself not printing things any more because I really, for the first time, don't need to. It's really rather liberating. What's missing? A hyperlink between the documents, in case of linked odd thoughts. I am sure it is possible, I'm just not sure how to do it yet.


I couldn't do it without. Hands down the most useful cloud provider for my purposes. I keep some space on iCloud too, but the terabyte on Dropbox is well used and well valued, and so well integrated into iOS it is second nature. Enough said.

Returning to the topic, after a year

So, it’s been that long since I posted on this topic. As they say, we should talk. A few things happened: I got a macbook pro, because, well, it’s really a nice machine, my dog(s) broke the ipad screen, I changed clouds, Apple updated iOS… Where to start?


A few months ago, I had placed my iPad somewhere very safe, honestly. One of our dogs, Charlie the German Shepherd, proceeded to show me that in fact safe is relative when you have a hundred or so pounds of silliness running around, and knocked it to the floor. Now, it does have a case, the logitech keyboard one, and by the way that still works wonderfully after 2 years hard use, and I highly recommend it as a case and as a solution to turn the iPad into something special, but I digress. The long and short of it was that the screen cracked in one corner and it quickly spread across the entire display. This is clearly not a satisfactory situation, but I had to go to a conference the next week! Quick visit to AppleCare site, verified status (I’d paid for AppleCare and it was less than 2 years) and I was told by the nice man that I just needed to take it into the service centre and they would replace screen, digitizer, etc. for the $50 ‘you had an accident’ fee. But I needed it pronto, and I rely on this thing (I may have whined). So, they shipped me a replacement (free shipping) within 2 days, gave me the week to back up and restore to the new device, and had me ship the broken one back (also for free). Up and running in no time, for the $50. I am, as you can tell, happy.

Long and short of it: buy an Apple device? Get AppleCare.

iOS 11

Upgrading to this gave me a whole new iPad and answered my greatest needs on the device: the Files app makes every problem I had with storage and with integration and sharing across devices of any kind go away. It even works, although not totally, with Sync (more in a minute). Multitasking is much nicer, and the experience just feels better. I feel more productive, which, regardless of if I am or not, is not a bad thing.

I am using the machine for note-taking, marking assignments, presentations, recording, playing media, writing (even Overleaf is not behaving better online (I had some issues for editing at one point), but the TexPad app does LaTeX nicely offline). Do I code on it? No, but with Pythonista I could. Coding is something I really don’t do much of these days, but there you are.

iOS 11 allows more control, better synchronization, and a better experience on this machine. It gave it an extra few years of life, just from a software upgrade…

SPeaking of which, Keynote on the iPad now does just about everything that it does on the Mac (including editing backgrounds and such) which was an issue before. Sold!

Explain Everything

If you want to create presentations, you can use Keynote or Powerpoint on the iPad. If you want to engage people, create recordings, collaborate effortlessly, have fun with presentations, and really shine, you can use Explain Everything. Enough said, except I would recommend this app to anyone, of any age or capability. And I do. Since you can also get it at least for Android, it’s well worth the try there too (have not but there you are).



I decided late last year to look for a cloud solution that respected privacy and was Canadian, for various reasons. Fortunately I found Sync, a zero-knowledge solution encrypted end-to-end which meets the location requirement. 2TB for $100 or so a year, plus online storage (a Vault that doens’t get synched but is still there) and worth it because of the security, privacy, all the important stuff. Migrated Dropbox, all good. The one issue I have, because of, probably, the way the zero-knowledge encryption works, is that it doesn’t integrate quite so well with Files as I’d like. There’s an app, which is also fine (and which the Files app ultimately calls up, but the looks of things) but there are a few hoops to jump through to open files, and whilst that’s okay, what I usually do it work live on iCloud, then transfer the results to Sync at day’s end, a process which I can do on the iPad but which is considerably more straightforward on the Mac. Speaking of which…

Macbook Pro

Quite apart from being an extremely tactile device, the 13 inch touchbar macbook pro is capable, solid, and as you may have spotted from above, sometimes fills a couple of gaps in the iPad armour simply because some things are ‘easier’ (but then I’ve been using a Mac for nigh on thirty years, and many things just ‘are’). I bought it with the expectation of falling in love and abandoning the iPad, and I do indeed enjoy using it for many reasons, but my primary device remains the iPad, and I could get through those holes easily enough if I needed to if the Mac wasn’t there. That said, the iPad, thanks to the iDisplay app (there are others too) becomes a fantastic second screen for the Mac whenever I feel the need (my primary task for this is with Overleaf, and editing on one screen with a live preview on the other - it’s a remarkably nice arrangement and I can do it on the road with just carrying an iPad and a Mac together, for a weight penalty sure, but functionality that’s well worth it).

On Travel

Since I mentioned it, let’s quickly look at that: the iPad, with the keyboard case, is a durable traveller, with plenty going for it and very few drawbacks. What I usually do is pack a smart screen cover (which takes no space) so that at conferences or such I can take notes in freehand using the Pencil without having to lug the keyboard around too (it’s a little bulky and adds weight) - for this Notability is my go to.

Yes, there’s a need for Dongles: I carry the VGA dongle, primarily, because you can always find a VGA connector on a projector. The Dagstuhl setup with the Apple TV (look for the Apple TV to Air Display, and you can project wirelessly) removes the need for that and I’d love to see more of that (and am working towards it in my office and research lab, but there are a couple of hoops regarding wireless networks that must be jumped through where I work which are nothing to do with the devices themselves). I use the Apple TV arrangement at home too with good results. I like it.

I often also take along the Macbook. It adds weight but that dual screen thing is nice when I’m sitting working in a hotel or wherever. That said, it’s not vital and the iPad travels nicely, and presents itself as the idea work tool which can also show a mean movie (those speakers are awesome).

Other Stuff


I got a pair of Bose QC35s, I will admit, for travel, too. The noise cancellation is peerless, and the comfort works extremely well for me (your mileage may vary: advice? Try on several different kinds, read reviews, and try the n/c yourself. What works for me will not be what works for everyone.). Of course, as Bluetooth devices they integrate nicely with the iPad package, and again, life is good (even at home when the family is around ;-)


Apple Watch? Sure. Apart from the integration with the rest of the ‘ecosystem’ (I have nothing against ecosystems, and I’m cogniscant of the lock-in and such arguments, but really, I’m getting old, don’t need to or want to fight devices to make stuff happen, and want to turn it on and have it just work… If that means buying Apple devices, so be it. I’d challenge anyone to show me who does it quite so well.

The fact is, I can wander around a lecture theatre or conference room with the iPad (or indeed the iPhone - see below) plugged into a projector and control a Keynote presentation with the watch. That alone is worth the price of entry. The Series 3 watch is much more, and the ability to ditch the phone occasionally is a bonus.


Yep, of course (see the bit that says I have an Apple Watch). I don’t have an X (right now I can’t justify a nearly $2000 phone, really!) but do have a 7. It’s a great device with ample capabilities, integrates well with the iPad/Macbook/Watch thing, and to be honest, is the tool for choice for presentation control not becausr the watch is bad at it but because I got used to it a while ago and I often forget I’m wearing the watch.

But, here’s what I’ve started to do: create presentations using keynote on the iPad, saved of course in iCloud (as well as Sync), then left it behind, to make last minute changes on the iPhone and, because the VGA dongle works with both devices, plugged phone into the projector and wandered around with the watch as a remote. It’s sometimes changed the workflow: I can take notes on the iPhone and Notability which synch to the cloud and show on the iPad when I get back, but I do mss the freehand with the Pencil at that point and this is a problem (hey, perhaps an iPhone which works with the Pencil is something that I could use!). Ayway, I love that arrangement - much less to carry through a quick meeting or the like, or a lecture theatre, for instance, and it must be said a little bit snazzy (everyone likes to show off).

Conclusions, at (almost) the end of 2017, two years down

The switch to the iPad Pro was a conscious decision, to see if it could work, and to figure out the bumps in the road. It wasn’t without its bumps: getting used to a different workflow is always interesting, but there are some things that I honestly don’t know how I did before - note taking, marking, feedback, presenting - with such ease and pleasure.

I know there are alternatives - colleagues love their Surfaces, for instance, although I’ve yet to hear the same praises sung for Android tablets (I am sure some people love them though) and whilst Chromebooks are widely loved (perhaps because they’re forced on students at school?), the privacy aspect of giving data to a company whose raison d’etre is to use it to market back to you in some way, directly or indirectly, rather sticks in the craw. I am aware of Apple’s failings, but happy to accept them for the benefits.

Has it made me slower, as I talked about earlier? Yes, but in a focused way, so I think productivity-wise I am better off. With the iOS11 upgrade this has been much more of a noticeable thing - I can get more done, better, without the clutter. This makes me happy.

The Pencil is fantastic. It’s also eminently lose-able. I am on my third and, they are expensive. This is a problem. But… They are also indispendible. Get two, so when one is lost or stolen, the backup is ready. Some of the smaller iPad Pro cases have holders. That’s a good thing. Design-wise the Pencil isn’t a perfect thing in this and only this respect: it’s just too easy to lose. Perhaps a proximity alarm…? Anyone?

The iPad Pro was not cheap, but it was cheaper than a ‘fully fledged’ computer and it does everything that the computer can (at least that I need), just differently in some cases. For me it has been a successful experiment and whilst I can’t recommend it to anyone if I don’t know what they do, I recommend that anyone try something in this vein. The Surface Book is, for instance, a very neat idea in the same vein and, whilst there are the usual schoolyard jibes about ‘real’ computers, I’ve tried them and they don’t work for me. With the iPad, the integration with the ecosystems works for me, the apps work, the interface works, and the design works (and man, whilst it has its issues, that Pencil hands down beats any other stylus, period.)

That’s okay, try them for yourself, try lots, think about how it will work with what you already have or do, and think about what others around you do, and what the infrastructure supports.

That’s what I did. It worked for me

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