The iPad Pro Doesn’t Have to Be a Laptop Replacement

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I have been reading a few of the pre-release iPad Pro reviews, and I can’t help but pick up on the recurring theme. That theme is…but. The constant refrain is the iPad Pro is great BUT it isn’t a laptop replacement.

Here is one such comment from Nilay Patel of The Verge’s review:

This little Lightroom vignette is basically the story of the iPad Pro: either you have to understand the limitations of iOS so well you can make use of these little hacks all over the place to get things done, or you just deal with it and accept that you have to go back to a real computer from time to time because it’s just easier. And in that case, you might as well just use a real computer.

As a long-time iPad user, I know all too well its limitations. However, I still take issue with the last statement for two different reasons.

Why?

Why does the iPad Pro have to be a laptop replacement? I know that Apple flirts with this messaging, but that alone doesn’t define the device. They also spend time downplaying this concept, as well when it doesn’t suit them. I also look back to Steve Jobs’ original framing of the device as a purpose-built machine that was perfectly suited to particular tasks.

Forget what Apple says for a moment and look at Patel’s last sentence. If this sentence applies to the iPad, then why not the iPhone and other smartphones, as well? There are plenty of things that a smartphone can do that a laptop can do better or more efficiently. A modern smartphone also costs more than many less expensive laptops. What exempts devices further down the food chain from this scrutiny?

I admit there is a more natural argument for the phone as a different use case, since it is so much more portable. The smartphone can do certain things far better because it’s always with you, and even more importantly, because it’s always connected. The same arguments can be made about the Apple Watch, as there is little it can do that a smartphone can’t. Despite that, it is more convenient for many small tasks because it is always right in front of you and easily accessible.

While the iPad Pro may be a larger device that has screen sizes in common with many laptops, that doesn’t automatically require that it has to be a replacement for one. Like the smartphone and the smartwatch, the tablet is another product of the increasing divergence and distribution of computing power. As processors get smaller and more powerful, they find their way into all types of devices. This naturally leads to the creation of more purpose-built devices created to handle specific tasks well.

The ability to further distribute computing power gives users the option to delegate tasks to the most appropriate device.  In my case, there are plenty of times when I prefer to use an iPad Pro and a good keyboard to my laptop. Writing, notetaking, annotating documents, and watching movies are just some of the tasks that will have me reaching for my tablet over a traditional computer. I have a Surface Go, and I have to say that the iPad Pro is also going to win out over it in the categories above, as well.

As long as I perform tasks that the iPad Pro is the best machine for, then it doesn’t matter to me that it doesn’t replace my work laptop. I don’t ever expect that it will. That doesn’t matter to me. Going back to Nilay Patel’s closing comment, I don’t see laptop replacement as some blanket disqualifier for the iPad Pro as a platform. I could use my laptop to write, take notes, watch  movies, and do lots of other things. I choose not to because the iPad Pro works better for me.

Who?

I know I’m picking on Mr Patel, but I have another issue with his closing statement- it reeks of tech snobbery. It is correct to say that there are many technical professions who would have a difficult time replacing a laptop with an iPad Pro. However, I know several less technical workers and family members who have done this very thing successfully. Neither my mother in law or father own a computer anymore. Both use iPads as their primary computing devices today.

While my dad and MIL are users with more “life experience,” my 17 year old son also uses an iPad as his primary computing device. I think the juxtaposition of age is interesting here. Many of my older family members who are just doing basic computing tasks at home are primarily or exclusively using iPads and smartphones for them. As for my kids, they seem to gravitate toward mobile devices, including the iPad Pro, over a computer whenever possible. I see them being more willing to engage in the kinds of workarounds that Mr Patel mentioned to get something done over using a traditional computer.

All of the people I mentioned above do not fit the narrative that Nilay Patel’s article illustrates. His perspective naturally leans toward tech professionals and journalists. I can certainly imagine that, like me, they would find it somewhere between difficult and impossible to do all of their work tasks on an iPad Pro. However, those people don’t represent ALL people, and those I describe above fit a different narrative where the iPad Pro is a much better fit as a primary computing device. While the Pro may not be a suitable laptop replacement for Mr Patel, it works just fine as one for my son, my father, and many others.


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