Why the iPad Pro Probably Can’t Replace Your Computer

Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

When Apple introduced the iPad Pro, chief executive Tim Cook predicted that people would begin to use the super-sized tablet in the place of a PC. Many reviewers were enthusiastic about that idea as they tested the iPad Pro, but most rejected the idea that it would be able to replace a laptop for their particular workflow — though, as The Cheat Sheet reported, that didn’t stop many of them from speculating that there was some other type of user for whom the iPad Pro would function perfectly as a laptop replacement.

But even months after the tablet’s debut, that group of users has yet to materialize. Brian X. Chen reports for The New York Times that a panel of creative professionals who have integrated the iPad Pro into their workflows still “cling” to their personal computers. Despite the iPad Pro’s exceptionally large 12.9-inch screen and its support for the pressure-sensitive and angle-detecting Apple Pencil, which can be helpful for tasks like mocking up illustrations or delivering presentations, the professionals interviewed all needed to turn to a computer for more powerful apps.

Tablet apps can’t (yet) compete with desktop apps

Stephen Gates, a design director for Citigroup, told the Times that he purchased an iPad Pro on the day that the device was released because he’d been waiting for a tablet that supported a more capable stylus, like the Apple Pencil. Gates reports that around 30 of 80 designers at Citibank are using the iPad Pro, and in creating a new design for a Citi app, used the iPad Pro to sketch out and present mockups and discuss where they should place images and buttons. However, Gates noted that a major part of his workflow still involves a computer.

That’s because, while the iPad Pro helps designers to conceive ideas, it isn’t as capable when it comes to creating final products. Gates moves his initial ideas to a computer to use desktop software like Adobe Photoshop. The apps available for the iPad Pro are limited, and so far focus on the beginning of the design process, like sketches and rough compositions. Desktop apps, on the other hand, are able to complete tasks like complex image manipulations or animations. Gates told the Times, “A lot of the app makers need to look at this as a pro platform and be able to deliver more desktop-class apps.”

Multitasking is more difficult on the iPad Pro than on a computer

Jennifer Daniel, a graphic designer for The New York Times, reported trying unsuccessfully to complete her job — which involves talking to journalists about how to tell their stories visually, researching topics on the Internet, interviewing experts, sketching out concepts with Adobe Illustrator, and writing and publishing code — on an iPad Pro. She found that it was extremely difficult to multitask on an iPad Pro, even though Adobe offers a suite of mobile apps including Photoshop and Illustrator. Those apps don’t replicate a computer’s ability to easily multitask on different projects, and they aren’t compatible with colleagues’ desktop apps.

While Daniel reported that drawing on the iPad Pro was a major upgrade over her laptop’s trackpad, it’s very limiting that the iPad Pro can only run two apps at the same time side-by-side. Like many other creative professionals, Daniel prefers to have more apps open in multiple windows, which makes it easier to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously. She explained of the iPad Pro’s limitations, “It forces me to focus on one thing at a time, which is just not how my brain works.” Additionally, the incompatibility of the iPad Pro’s tools with the ones used by other staff members who are using computers exclusively presented issues for collaboration. The iPad Pro can replace a part of her workflow, but Daniel reports that that ends when she has to conform to other people’s workflows.

The iPad Pro is limited as far as input methods and controls

Larry Anderson, a chief engineer at architectural engineering firm Teecom, reports that his company bought iPad Pros last year to present drawings to clients and carry digitized blueprints to construction sites. “When I go to a meeting,” he explains, “I don’t grab my laptop — I grab my iPad.” Teecom’s engineers use extremely powerful Windows laptops with 3D modeling software to design technology systems like data centers for corporations and hospitals. And while they use the iPad Pro to mark up blueprints and look at drawings, the firm won’t phase out computers, since “Engineers still need that high-powered laptop for the mouse and the ability to have a big screen connected to it.”

Other limitations that even willing iPad Pro users will bump into include the tablet’s limitations when it comes to standard computer functions like cut and paste, which Tim Bajarin reported for PC Mag does not work on the iPad Pro “as easily as it does in Windows 10 or Mac OS X.” But in his assessment, that limitation is “minor” compared to the other abilities of the iPad Pro, which he tested with relatively lightweight tasks like email, text messages, note-taking, word processing, editing, and consuming videos, movies, and music.

If you don’t need the power of a desktop or laptop PC, and don’t rely on any software that hasn’t yet been optimized for the tablet, then the iPad Pro may be able to occupy a central place in your workflow. But as Brandon Russell reported for TechnoBuffalo, the iPad Pro doesn’t really feel that different from Apple’s other iPads. It can’t match the capabilities of a laptop, and is often held back by iOS and the distance that Apple maintains between it and OS X — like the lack of a visible file system, which Ben Lovejoy reports for 9to5Mac makes it difficult to find files and to stay organized like you would on a traditional computer. While an iPad Pro could be a terribly expensive replacement for your laptop if all you do is email, browse the web, and send messages, it isn’t going to be an adequate replacement for you if you need sophisticated software, rely on traditional multitasking features, or want precise control over what your device is doing.

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