iPad Limitations (and Solutions)

The Mobile Computer Blog mainly discusses the merits and advantages of the Apple iPad Pro. This includes its uses, applications, accessories, and solutions. However, it goes without saying that the iPad Pro, and tablets in general, are not perfect. This article discusses the iPad limitations and offers some suggested solutions.

A) Foundation (philosophical!)

Before delving into the details, it is important to understand the role that the iPad (and the tablet) is designed for. Simply put, the iPad is designed to hit the sweet spot between capability and mobility. It is not designed to be the most powerful computer (capability), nor is it designed to be the most mobile-focused computer (mobility). It is a computer that is easy to carry around and could do most of the tasks that are asked from it.

If you consider the desktop computer, you will see that (with price considerations) it could go as high as possible in the fronts of processing power and screen size. It does not have battery issues (since it is attached to a power outlet), so it could be as powerful as possible. It also permanently stays on a desk, so the screen size could go as large as needed.

The tablet, on the other hand, has to focus more on mobility; the ease of carrying and using the device away from a fixed desk location. This means that the screen is smaller (but not too small), the weight is light, and the battery is long lasting to minimize the need to carry a charger.

A device like the iPad Pro would have two general use scenarios:

1- A main (light) computer:

This is for individuals who do not need major computing tasks, like seniors, children, and some creatives/artists.

2- A supplementary device to a desktop computer:

An individual would keep a computer fixed in a location, to handle heavy computing tasks, and would use the iPad as the mobile computer on the go. (Check the article, Is the iPad a Serious Laptop Replacement?)

Some use scenarios that the iPad can do very well are:

– Writing and editing (with a physical keyboard)

– Document viewer/annotator

– Presentations

– Research (searching, organizing, and reading papers; and writing and reviewing)

– Internet browsing and social media

– Communication (email ++)

– Note taking (with a physical keyboard and/or with the Apple Pencil)

B) Limitations (& Solutions) of the iPad

Having laid the important foundation above, it is possible to discuss limitations of the tablet category. Here’s the general list:

1- Limited screen size

2- (Relatively) less power

3- Limited physical keyboard size

4- Lack of (or limited) USB drive reading

5- Absence of some specialized software

6- File management limitations

For the iPad Pro specifically, the following could be added:

7- Apple Pencil has no permanent and easy placeholder

The first three limitations are expected from a mobile computer. Being mobile and light necessitates a smaller screen size and limited physical keyboard size. Considering the iPad Pro though, I feel that the 10.5″ screen hits the right balance. It is large enough for your mobile computing needs, yet the device is very easy to carry around, especially with a suitable carrying bag. As a supplement computer (or a laptop replacement), I believe these limitations are within the acceptable range for most people. [Update: the 11″ iPad seems to be even better]

Limitation #4 and the related #6, though, are worth a further discussion. You see, the iPad cannot (natively – apart from handling photos) access external USB (or SD) drives. This means that the main way of exchanging files from and to the iPad is wireless. Quick file transferring with other Apple devices is easily done through AirDrop. If you do not use other Apple products though, you are mainly left out with cloud storage solutions. iOS support is strong for all major cloud solutions; iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive, One Drive, etc. With the iOS Files app (and a good internet connection!), handling files in the cloud is straight forward. You could also use good third party file management apps to help in this regard, like FileBrowser. You could then easily drag-and-drop files between these apps, or with other apps (like email clients).

Ok, now to limitation #5. I remember the days when the iPad did not even have MS Office or iWork apps (Pages, Numbers, & Keynote). Thankfully, those days are behind us. Apart from these main apps, there are also many third party office apps available, like Mellel – my favorite word processor. In addition, one research tool I use for managing journal articles is Papers. The point is that even though there are still numerous desktop-only apps, the gap between the desktop and the iPad is ever shrinking. Each user would have to check and see for himself/herself what important applications they need on the go, and whether they are available on the iPad. If there are such apps, then the iPad would probably not work as your sole computer, and might not work very well as your mobile computer. The good news, however, is that there are currently good solutions for remotely controlling your desktop, including Microsoft Remote Desktop, and the popular and more powerful Jump Desktop. You could be surprised by how useful these tools are!

As for limitation #7, lack of a good and native placeholder for the Apple Pencil. Yes, bro/sis, I’m with you on this one!! We could speculate about Apple’s justification, but this is an important issue that would hopefully be resolved with the new iPad Pros coming. Yes, the Apple Pencil is a truly marvelous tool, but if you don’t know where to place it, you could see a (somewhat significant!) investment easily vanish! The solution is through third party accessories. You could either buy an iPad case that has a good Pencil placeholder (like, this, this, or this); or you could get a nice clip to attach to the Pencil (like this, or this). I go with the second solution for working times, and I use a normal pen/pencil holder in my carrying bag when moving around. [Update: This limitation is now fixed with the new 2018 iPad Pro models. Thanks Apple!]

C) Conclusion

Yes, the iPad is not perfect! Like all devices, it has its limitations. These limitations are largely caused by the hardware and software design choices that are meant to create a powerful mobile computing solution that carefully balances the device’s capability and mobility. Most resulting limitations, though, have solutions and workarounds that – with patience – would lead to an overall solution that is customized to a user’s particular needs.

For some users, the iPad Pro is capable enough to be their sole computer. For others, it works very well as a laptop replacement, such that a more powerful desktop computer is available. Of course, there will be people who would not be able to fit an iPad (Pro) to their workflow and lifestyle.

The main premise here is that the iPad (Pro) is currently the closest that a truly mobile computer has ever gotten to that sweet spot between capability and mobility. With some mindful setups, and with the right apps and accessories, you could turn the iPad into a device that works perfectly for you.

3 thoughts on “iPad Limitations (and Solutions)

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