Gruber’s iPad Pro review and the quest to replace the laptop

I’m struggling to get the placement of the iPad Pro. Certainly, it’s easy to understand what a tremendous boon the iPad Pro/Apple Pencil combination is for artists, graphic designers.

My struggle is in overcoming the notion of the iPad Pro as just a really big iPad. Can an iPad running iOS ever replace a laptop running OS X? Will the iPad ever become my primary device, as opposed to a supplementary portable device?

John Gruber’s thoughtful iPad Pro review helped move that conversation along for me. It did not resolve it, but it helped me see a little bit further down the road.

Some bits from the review:

We’ve now reached an inflection point. The new MacBook is slower, gets worse battery life, and even its cheapest configuration costs $200 more than the top-of-the-line iPad Pro. The iPad Pro is more powerful, cheaper, has a better display, and gets better battery life. It’s not a clear cut-and-dry win — MacBooks still have more RAM (the iPad Pro, in all configurations, has 4 GB of RAM, although Apple still isn’t publishing this information — MacBook Pros have either 8 or 16 GB), are expandable, and offer far more storage. But at a fundamental level — CPU speed, GPU speed, quality of the display, quality of the sound output, and overall responsiveness of interface — the iPad Pro is a better computer than a MacBook or MacBook Air, and a worthy rival to the far more expensive MacBook Pros.

I see this as a check box, a necessary condition for the iPad to replace my laptop. Not a sufficient condition, but a necessary one. The iPad Pro is now powerful enough. The question remains, can the iPad Pro fill the other requirements.

The iPad Pro is “pro” in the way MacBook Pros are. Genuine professionals with a professional need — visual artists in particular — are going to line up for them. But it’s also a perfectly reasonable choice for casual iPad users who just want a bigger display, louder (and now stereo) speakers, and faster performance.

Anyone tying themselves in knots looking for a specific target audience for the iPad Pro is going about it the wrong way. There is no single target audience. Is the iPad Pro meant for office workers in the enterprise? Professional artists creating content? Casual users playing games, watching movies, and reading? The answer is simply “Yes”.

I think this addresses the questions, “Will the iPad Pro succeed, will it sell enough units to earn its place in the Apple ecosystem?” I’m still struggling with the issue of the suitability of the iPad Pro as a laptop replacement.

If you don’t type much, or don’t mind using the on-screen keyboard when you do, you’re probably already sold on the iPad-as-primary-portable-computer lifestyle. If you do type a lot and want a hardware keyboard, the appeal of the iPad Pro is going to largely hinge on your affinity for the Smart Keyboard.

That’s one core issue. If you type a lot (and I do), the question is, “Is the Smart Keyboard good enough, can I get along with it well enough to type at a reasonable speed?”

I’ve written this entire review using it, Federico Viticci-style. I went into it thinking that my biggest complaint would be the keys themselves — I like my keyboards clicky, with a lot of travel. But I adjusted to it pretty quickly, and I kind of like the way it feels, as a tactile surface. It almost feels like canvas.


When the iPad Pro is open with the keyboard attached, holding your arm up to touch the screen for anything longer than a moment or two is ergonomically uncomfortable. Apple has stated for years that this is why they don’t make the displays on MacBooks or iMacs touchscreens (that, combined with the relatively tiny click targets of Mac OS X, which are designed for very precise mice and trackpads, not imprecise finger tips). Scrolling through a long document using the iPad Pro touch screen is uncomfortable when it’s in laptop position. Going through a slew of new emails, likewise. In laptop mode, I want to use the keyboard for these things — and in most cases, because of bugs and/or software limitations, I can’t. That the keyboard falls short in these cases is even worse on iPad than it would be on a MacBook, because a MacBook has a trackpad. The point is, if my fingers are on the keyboard, I don’t want to move my hands. With a trackpad, I don’t have to. With the iPad Pro, I do.

Ah, there it is. John put into words what I struggled to. There’s something about having my laptop anchored with my hands completely free to move between the trackpad/mouse/trackball and the keyboard. That and the ability to effortlessly change the angle of the screen to adjust for glare.

More than anything else, for me the tradeoff is between portability (the grab and go offered by my phone) and ergonomic comfort (like sitting in a well laid out cockpit). This is a second checkbox. For any iPad to replace my laptop, it has to solve that ergonomic issue. I realize that for many people, this is not a necessary condition. For a more casual user, the iPad Pro is likely a home run.

Go read John Gruber’s iPad Pro review. There’s much more to it than these bits I’ve quoted here and the review is well worth your time.