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Apple keeps touting the iPad as a laptop replacement, even putting their desktop-class M1 Apple Silicon into their higher-tier iPad lineup. On the other hand, iPadOS has supported keyboard and mouse/trackpad for some time. If the previous article tried to shed a light whether you need a tablet or not, this article aims to answer the next ultimate question: Is iPad ready to be your laptop replacement? Many other reviewers have attempted to answer, but this time, we’ll do it my way.
I had the opportunity to try out the Apple iPad Pro 11” 2020 (third generation) powered by the revolutionary M1 chip, along with the Magic Keyboard accessory. This combination, according to some people, is enough to make your iPad a laptop replacement. Let’s see if those claims are true.
A quick disclaimer, you don’t need a fancy keyboard case to make your iPad a laptop replacement. You can just use a pair of ordinary Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, and an iPad stand.
Another disclaimer is that this piece is of my own opinion. Feel free to agree or disagree on it. We can even discuss it in the comments section below!
Final disclaimer, this is quite a lengthy article, so please brace yourself! 😝
The Magic Keyboard
The Magic Keyboard is truly a marvelous thing. Over the generations, I’ve tried multiple Logitech iPad keyboard cases. While they have more keys (Function and Escape keys), I can attest that typing on the Magic Keyboard is more comfortable. The keys are backlit, clicky and the depth is just right. The trackpad, though small, feels very smooth to the touch, just like on the MacBook, which is still one of, if not the best, trackpad in laptops today. The USB-C pass-through frees your sole USB-C / Thunderbolt port for other peripherals.
However, the absence of function and escape keys (the most annoying one), as well as some narrow keys will take some time to get used to. The case also relies on magnets, which may be unusable if you’re using a regular iPad case. Oh, and did I mention that it was heavy? Combined with the iPad, it might be heavier than the MacBook Air.
For the asking price, you’ll need to ask yourself if you’re okay with carrying this heavy case everywhere you go, or how much are you going to type on your iPad? You may need to invest in an additional case if you think you can’t carry this heavy case everywhere. After all, the iPad Pro is not the most rigid tablet around.
The Laptop Replacement Part
That’s the short review of the Magic Keyboard. In short it’s a great keyboard case that will weigh on both your iPad and wallet. Now, how can you use it to its full potential?
Gestures and Shortcuts
Keyboard and trackpad / mouse support has been supported even since the iPad Air 2 days (around 8 years ago). If you’re a Mac user, some shortcuts will be familiar:
- CMD + Space for launching Spotlight / Search
- CMD + Left / Right Arrow for going to the beginning / end of an editable text line
- CMD + C / V for copy / paste
- CMD + A for selecting entire part of a text
- CMD + Tab for Task Switching. Yes, Task Switching!
And many more. Some keyboards may even allow shortcuts in function keys, such as brightness, volume, quick return to home, and more.
Some Trackpad gestures are also shared with macOS:
- Two-Finger Vertical Scroll for scrolling up / down in pages.
- Two-Finger Click for “right-click” (support for this depends on the app)
- Three-Finger Up Scroll for minimizing apps / showing the recent apps
At this point, you might wonder, why can’t Apple just port the entire MacOS into the iPad, just like Windows in its Surface lineup? They share the same CPU, same amount of RAM and storage, what’s stopping them? Well, nobody except God and Apple knows.
Anyway, the next part is where it gets tricky: Multitasking.
iPadOS is not macOS. macOS allows you to freely open as many windows and position them as you like, while iPadOS does not. Apple only allows a few choices on iPadOS:
- 70:30 Side-by-Side Window
- 50:50 Side-by-Side Window
- 70:30 Floating Window (the 30 part is floating)
A new feature called Stage Manager is introduced on the upcoming iPadOS 16 update, but this feature is limited on M1 iPads for Apple-claimed performance reasons. However, according to the users online, it’s still very limited and not as free as MacOS. Why, Apple, is it because you want to keep iOS different?
Anyway, the good news is that this already-available multitasking feature is already supported by most, if not all, iPad-optimized apps. iPhone-only apps such as Instagram does not support multitasking. But hey, I’ve given up on that long ago, and just use its web app instead.
Oh, and in case you’re not informed yet, iPadOS allows M1-powered iPads connecting to a separate display through its Thunderbolt / USB-C port, and iPadOS 16 allows opening different apps on that separate display through Stage Manager. At least that’s a step in the right direction…
Another critical part that makes your traditional desktop OS is so versatile is the file system. With Windows, macOS, or other desktop OS, you can put your file wherever you want, and you can even “disturb” files used by other apps, albeit at your own risk. On iPadOS, Apple takes their usual “Apple knows best” recipe once again, and unsurprisingly, limits your access to the filesystem. After all, the “Files” app is here solely on Apple’s mercy.
If you go to the Files app, and click “On My iPad”, you’ll notice that there’s not many folders there… because, yes, it’s not a full file explorer app. The iPadOS makes sure that each app has its own “partition” that cannot be modified whatsoever by anyone. While this is a more secure approach, this spawns a ridiculous scenario where you’ll have to “Save to Photos” your OneDrive photo that you had set to be available offline, which means that you have already “downloaded” it.
This funny yet infuriating limitations also makes it kind of challenging for apps to open and save files into third party cloud storage, such as OneDrive, Dropbox, or Google Drive (iCloud Drive should have first-class treatment). If everything works well, sync does work. However, it’s up to each app developer to enable support for third-party cloud storage. You can’t also freely create files like in desktop. For example, in OneDrive, you cannot easily create a file with .md extension, which I always use for drafts.
So, yes, please keep the limited filesystem on iPadOS on your mind. On a more positive note, though, iPads with USB-C ports can now read external storage.
Finally, to answer whether an iPad can be your laptop replacement or not, we’ll have to dig deeper into workflows. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll split the workflows into three:
Yes, I understand that there are way more than three workflows, since today’s jobs have become more dynamic than ever. But, hopefully, the three above can cover as much ground as possible.
This workflow basically covers the average office worker. You frequently face documents, spreadsheets, slides, meetings, or similar stuffs. If you’re in this bracket, congratulations. I find that most (if not all) apps that you use in this workflow are already optimized for iPad, such as Microsoft Office, Google Apps, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc.
Even if you’re not comfortable with the native apps, or the apps somehow are not available on the iPad, chances are, the web app experience should match full-fledged Macs or PCs, albeit the smaller screen.
Okay, while the iPad seems fitting to replace an average Office Worker’s laptop, iPadOS’ limited file systems may pose several challenges, though may not be a dealbreaker for most.
This workflow covers workers in the tech scene. This includes project managers, developers, testers, or anything in between (some roles might overlap with Office Worker workflow). If you’re in this category, then the answer will depend on your role.
If you’re a project manager, then most apps should be available on the iPad such as Jira, Confluence, Google Apps, Microsoft Office, although some features may only be available in the desktop (I somehow cannot do SHIFT + ENTER on iPad for Jira, whether it’s web or native app). Other apps may be accessible from the browser, and the experience should be the same as on PCs or Macs.
However, if you’re a developer or someone more technical, then I’m afraid you’ll still need your desktop. Here are some reasons why:
- IDEs are not freely available yet on the iPad without relying on a remote desktop or server.
- SSH Terminal apps might be available, but most are paid. So do FTP apps. iPadOS’ strange and limited file system may also make file transfers more challenging.
- Some specialized apps (e.g. Database browser, Big Data apps), while available on the web, may pose memory issues as today’s web apps can consume more memory than native apps. Loading large files may also pose a problem due to the iPad’s limited memory.
This covers the people who work in the creative industry. Their workflows include, but not limited to, writing scripts, editing photos / videos, and drawing illustrations.
Well, I think this may be the segment that Apple consistently targets for iPads. The Apple Pencil is the best tool for drawing illustrations (or take notes) on the iPad’s large colorful screen. The iPad’s powerful CPU (especially the M1) and color-accurate screen makes video and photo editing a breeze. Abundance of photo and video editing apps should also help make your transition easier.
However, speaking of video and photo editing, the size and resolution of your assets matters. The bigger your assets, the more RAM and storage you need. No need to cower, though, as the most expensive (or I’d say excessive) iPad Pro, the M1 iPad Pro 12.9” with at least 512GB of storage, has a whopping 16GB of RAM. Yes, 16GB. Even casual MacBooks don’t have that much RAM. If you need that much power, go ahead and buy one, but judging iPad’s limitations, I’d have to question why you didn’t buy a 14” MacBook Pro instead?
Despite the setbacks, however, that single Thunderbolt / USB-C port on your iPad has come a long way. Now it supports connecting peripherals and even connecting to an external display, so you can easily edit your photos / videos anywhere. The Apple Pencil and mouse support should also make your editing much more precise.
So, yes, the iPad might just be able to replace your laptops for simple media workflow. Again, I say simple because iPadOS’ software limitations certainly cannot handle complex workflow as good as Windows or macOS.
One thing that the iPad consistently offers is flexibility and versatility. It can be used for media consumption, drawing canvas, typewriter, and more. Apple seems to be hell-bent on keeping this flexibility at all costs, even when they have to sacrifice (or dumb down) multitasking and macOS-like architecture. For some, depending on their workflow, the iPad may be the perfect laptop replacement. However, for others, like myself, the iPad is still a companion device. Yes, I can work on it occasionally, but if I want to do some more serious work, I’ll still look for my Mac or PC.
Well, I guess that’s all for now, Folks. If you’ve reached this point, well, thank you very much, I appreciate it. Hopefully this opinion piece is useful for you. If you have any questions, as usual, please don’t hesitate to ask them in the comments section below. Finally, thanks for reading and see you in the next article! 😆