Too much for an iPad?

In the Mobile Computer Blog, I usually speak highly about mobile computing in general, and about the iPad Pro specifically. For me, the iPad (especially the iPad Pro 11″) hits the sweet spot of mobility and ability, which makes it the best mobile computer today.

However, I have previously alluded to the fact that the iPad Pro is not perfect, has limitations, and would not always be the ideal tool to use. In this post, we will explore when it is too much for the iPad to handle.

# Advantage iPad (Pro)

The first core advantage of the iPad (Pro) is in the area of mobility; the combination of weight, size, battery life, and overall design is simply unmatched by any laptop. A case in point: Just as I entered a coffee shop to finalize this article, the barista pointed me to a table next to an electric socket. She accurately assumed I came to work and thought I had a laptop that needs charging. I thanked her and went to another table I prefer, since my iPad would surely have no need to be charged!

Secondly, its usability in mobile situations is superior to any laptop. It is an always-on device launching and closing faster than laptops; its touch-screen-optimized interface is more suitable to computing on the go; and it feels closer, more personal, and more joyful to use. In a nutshell, it makes mobile computing better than ever.

# Disadvantage iPad (Pro) – Hardware

As discussed in another post, while a mobile computer should balance mobility and ability, a desktop computer does not have to worry about mobility at all. This puts it in a position to take the ability level as high as possible, where the iPad simply cannot match it.

In terms of hardware, computers are traditionally more powerful, are able to handle more peripherals, and have more memory and storage. (With the 2018 iPad Pros, however, these advantages are somewhat mitigated!)

One issue that is clearly lacking from the iPad is the screen real-estate. Again, the iPad Pros compare well with laptops in this regard, but run clearly behind desktop computers. You could easily hook a desktop computer to one (or multiple!) external monitor(s). The iPad Pro could hook to a monitor, but the added functionality is relatively minimal.

To better understand the value of external monitors, let’s use the analogy of working with multiple documents. Having one screen is like working on one paper/document. Multiple screens, on the other hand, enable one to work on the equivalent of multiple paper documents at the same time. It is true that the iPad has split-screen functionality, but the overall experience is notably lacking. More on this is discussed in the case scenario section below.

# Disadvantage iPad – Software

In terms of software, tablets in general and the iPad specifically run operating systems that are less capable than those running computers.

This particular issue is at the center of the criticism that Apple is receiving when claiming the iPad to be a laptop replacement. For one, the USB-C on the 2018 iPad Pro (a good hardware feature), is far less capable than it aught to be (because of software limitations). The most obvious issue here is the inability of the iPad Pro to read/write/manage USB storage devices.

The other important software disadvantage is the absence of some specialized applications from iOS. This gap, however, is slowly closing with more and more specialized apps coming to iOS – and with remote desktop capability).

# Disadvantage iPad – Case scenario

This case was the trigger that inspired the article!

As a university instructor, end of an academic semester is a highly busy period. Since I require my students to do comprehensive written project reports in place of traditional sit-in exams, I end up having to grade hundreds of pages worth of reports, and only a few days to do so. To do this in the best way possible, multiple monitors are needed. In my home office, I have an iMac (21.5″) plus two 19.5″ LG monitors. These are used as follows:

– The iMac screen is the main screen, holding one full report at a time, and the Numbers spreadsheet (Excel equivalent) for inserting grades (section by section, suitable formulas in place).

– The monitor on the right has project instructions and the grading guide/rubric.

– The monitor on the left holds Finder windows with the list of reports and other relevant files.

– The iPad serves as a pad for taking relevant notes.

Workspace for grading papers (documents concealed)

In other words, for optimal and efficient operations, three monitors are needed. One monitor holds the primary role, and the other two hold quick support info.

It is worth mentioning that the iPad Pro could partially carry on this work, though at a notably slower pace, showing a max of three apps, and not being able to open two documents with the same app at once. I had actually used my iPad in few occasions where I needed to be outside my office. In a way, despite not serving as the ideal tool for this job, the iPad Pro still managed to give a helping hand when needed!

# Conclusion

The last paragraph above summarizes the main point of the article. The iPad (Pro) is not meant to be a full-fledged desktop computer for most people. There are cases where it is no match for a computer, especially a loaded and multi-screened one.

This conclusion is not a win for the Anti-iPad crowd nor is it a loss for the Pro-iPad (!) crowd. It is just the reality of needing to understand the merits and limitations of a new tool as opposed to those of an old one.

Yes, the iPad might not match a desktop computer in terms of functionality. However, the overall value of the ability-mobility balance needs to be an important consideration, especially for those whose jobs/careers do not require them to always be sitting at a desk.

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