Tim Cook is (Almost) Right About the iPad Pro Replacing a PC

There is a lot to like about the Apple iPad Pro, even if it still won't let me run my one killer app and maintain my workflow.

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It’s here.

The monster iPad I’ve been wanting to test for years is finally in my hands. Before Apple actually announced this one, I dreamed of a more powerful iPad with a bigger screen and enough chops to handle my daily routine of writing, editing photos, checking email and Slack, and browsing the Web. I often do all of those activities concurrently with all of the apps running, so I’ve been curious if a “business ready” tablet from Apple would really meet my needs.

Before I get too far into my review, a few quick things. I’ve run a battery of tests already, but I need to spend a few more weeks testing the iPad Pro before I give you my final verdict. I want to use it on a plane, at a hotel, in a coffee-shop, and in my office. I plan to test out multiple keyboard add-ons, connect up to an HDTV, use one at meetings to take notes, and live with it for many days in a row. I feel it’s important to give you my first impressions, though.

Also, here’s why this is so important. I visited an office recently where every employee had a Surface Pro tablet. Every single one. They used them at meetings, at their desk, propped up on stands, connected to a keyboard and mouse, and everywhere in between. I didn’t see any laptops. That’s curious, because it means that company is likely not alone. If the Surface has changed how they work that much (no laptops or desktops), it means maybe the iPad Pro can have a similar impact in business that the iPad Air has not.

You might wonder if Apple intends the iPad Pro to change business. A few readers have pointed out that the iPad Pro is supposed to be for creative types, people who use the Pencil and need to sketch out ideas. Nope. Even Tim Cook thinks the iPad Pro is a PC replacement.

And, in case you haven't heard the sad news, sales of the iPad have been declining. My theory is that everyone who wants one has one. A friend of mine has the original iPad and loves it--he sees no reason to upgrade. I firmly believe the iPad Pro will give him some reasons.

The specs are compelling. With a 12.9-inch screen, you can see more detail, especially in photos but even when you are browsing online. The screen runs at a stunning 2732 x 2048 pixels. The A9X processor that’s about twice as fast as the iPad Air felt snappy to me, especially when I had two apps running (a movie on one side and Mail on the other); I never noticed any slowdowns. Photos with the 8 megapixel rear camera looked clean without any weird artifacts or shading.

My favorite features so far have to do with my desk arrangement. I can set the iPad Pro in the Smart Keyboard, use a DisplayPort adapter and connect to my 30-inch monitor, use a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, and I’m set. I just replaced my laptop. In about five minutes, I had duplicated my apps as well. I loaded the Chrome browser, Outlook for iOS, my Adobe apps, Evernote, Freshbooks, Word for iPad, Google Docs, and Slack.

Away from my office, I tested the new Logitech Create for iPad Pro, which gives me a keyboard that feels incredibly similar to a Macbook. The keys are springy and the iPad Pro fit snugly into the cover, although the two together weigh about the same as a thin laptop (about three pounds).

Now, let’s talk about the first elephant in the room. The only mission critical reason I even use a PC laptop at all these days is because I rely heavily on Adobe Photoshop. As a journalist, I often think about the fact that I’m probably just like everyone else. I mean, obviously an engineer needs a full CAD program and artists need multiple desktop apps like Adobe Illustrator, but in terms of just the average knowledge worker creating business docs, there are multiple Web-based options that run just fine in a browser on a tablet with a Bluetooth keyboard. When I travel, the “gotcha” for me if I use a Chromebook or a tablet is always Photoshop.  

So, the first place I started with the iPad Pro was editing photos. Not good. I haven’t found any app that really provides the same quick workflow of Photoshop on a computer. I know about the Adobe apps like Mix and Lightroom, I know about the other apps. I can load my photos easily enough into the Adobe Creative Cloud, but I’m not seeing an easy way to set a specific resolution for my photos as a crop (not a resize) and then save them back to the cloud. (If you know of an easy way to do this, let me know.) LogMeIn could work but that’s defeating the purpose of using an iPad--it just means I tap into Photoshop remotely, which is a pain.

The second elephant is the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 tablet. It may be oversimplifying the issue, but the Surface runs the full desktop version of Photoshop. That means it can replace a laptop. The iPad Pro can't run Photoshop; it's not a laptop replacement.

I tested the iPad Pro and the Surface Pro 4 side-by-side, and most movies -- including San Andreas and Birdman on both -- looked about the same. A trailer for the movie No Escape sounded just as loud and crisp on both (despite what you may have heard about the iPad Pro speakers being so loud). I listened to a few songs by Amos Lee (a folk artist) but it wasn’t until I tried some songs by the alt-rock band Anberlin that I noticed a big different. The iPad Pro sounds much more distinct and has better bass. It’s good enough quality to consider skipping headphones. The song Boston by Augustana was rich that it didn’t become annoying; on the Surface Pro it was a bit distorted. You feel like you want to turn it off.

Business folks don’t buy tablets for movies and music, right? Sure we do--it helps on flights and at the hotel room. When it comes down to a choice between the iPad Pro (which costs $799 for the version with 32GB of memory and Wi-Fi) and the Surface Pro (which costs $899 for the 128GB model), you’ll likely end up liking the quality of the media playback better on the iPad Pro.

For the stylus, I wrote the same notes on both tablets. I used Adobe Sketch on the iPad Pro and Fresh Paint on the Surface. I didn’t notice a ton of difference. My palm didn’t cause any problems, and the notes looked accurate without any of the streaking lines I’ve seen before. The only ding here against the iPad Pro is that, on the Surface, a magnet holds the stylus in place when not in use. I’ve heard iPad Pro users deciding to wear the Pencil on a string around their neck.

What else is there to talk about? Plenty--because we’re in a revolution of the office. The laptop is on notice at some companies; some switched to the iPad Air a while ago and others are using the Surface. The iPad Pro is a step closer to more mobile-friendly computing. But it’s not quite perfect as a laptop replacement. Stay tuned.

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