Literalists: The iPad Pro is Not a Laptop Replacement—And That’s a Good Thing

Analysts and bloggers have been all over Apple’s new iPad Pro. Headlines scream “It’s a Laptop Replacement!” or alternatively, “iPad Pro Will NEVER Replace my Laptop!”.

What’s a person to think?

Well, of course, the answer is somewhere in the middle.

There are 2 major categories of people for whom the iPad Pro really shines:

  1. People whose workflows are not primarily keyboard-driven, and
  2. People who are creatives, and will make great use of the Pencil

Over the next few days I’ll have more posts diving into more detail, but I just wanted to get this out there to provide an overview.

Let’s Go Back in Time

For the first group, let’s go back in time 15 or 20 years in a time machine. We’ll land in the middle of a very similar argument about desktops vs. laptops. Laptops really started getting small and powerful at that time, and smart people were saying how laptops were going to be the future. Back then, desktops had the majority of sales; nowadays, in America at least, laptops outsell desktops 3:1. So the smart people were right.

What were the arguments agains laptops? How could people be so wrong? In a word, the people who were wrong were literalists. Their arguments were basically picking apart every last little thing that a laptop couldn’t do—and they were right about that part—but couldn’t see that those things just don’t matter to most people.

For example, they’d say, “You can’t put high powered video cards in a laptop”. That is a literally true statement. But as mobile video GPUs got better, it just didn’t matter.

They’d say, “You can’t buy a custom keyboard” (Dvorak style, or one with nicer key-click or whatever). That was also literally true, but, again, it didn’t matter to most people.

They’d say, “You can’t replace your monitor every 2 years with a bigger one.” Again, literally true, but monitors have gotten about as big as they can, and people don’t replace them very often. So it doesn’t matter.

The moral of the story? Don’t worry about literally true statements that just don’t matter. Another example, from further back in time? “You can’t hug your car!” probably said by people who thought horses would never go away.

The iPad Pro and Today

Fast forward to today, and there are plenty of literally true statements about the iPad Pro that just don’t matter.

For example: “A laptop keyboard has better key feel than an iPad Pro.” Well, OK, probably true, but as we’ve seen with the new Retina MacBook, even laptops have very little key travel nowadays. Not really important.

Or how about: “iPad Pro can’t have multiple windows open that are user sizable!” Again, literally true, but does it matter? We’re talking about a sub-13” screen. Most apps, including Office and Adobe Creative Suite have long since moved to a single window interface. When I use my 13” MacBook Pro, I mostly have a screen dedicated to each app and I Option+Tab or Option+Arrow to each app or screen. Sure, a 27” monitor could use 3-4 windows on a single screen, but a 13” screen? Other than two-app windows which iOS 9 and iPad Pro support, I’m not sure I see the point.

Other examples: “There’s no USB port! I need app X which doesn’t have an iPad version! I can’t print to my HP LaserJet IV!” Well, OK, there are just certain use cases that don’t apply well to the iPad Pro. And that’s OK. Remember, even though most people buy laptops today, 1/4 of the PCs sold are desktops. And that’s OK. Similarly the iPad Pro will not replace every possible use of a laptop. It can’t, and no one’s promising that. Buy a laptop and move on.

The iPad Pro Excels at Touch

The second group of people for whom the iPad Pro is a great device are those who don’t use a keyboard as a primary input.

It seems silly to have to say this, but:

The iPad Pro is Primarily a Touch Device

There, I said it. People seem to forget this. It’s not a laptop.

Yes, it has a keyboard accessory. That keyboard accessory is very nice, but it’s missing the top row of keys (for good reason; I’ll explain why in a future blog post). It’s not backlit. It doesn’t have a trackpad. Blah blah blah.

But consider this: the iPad Pro’s screen is bigger than the Surface Pro 4’s screen (forget inches—their screen aspect ratios are different and that makes a huge difference). The iPad Pro’s screen is even bigger than the Retina MacBook’s screen! Yes, let that sink in. Bigger both in inches (12.9 vs. 12) and by screen aspect ratio (4:3 vs 16:10). (Again, I’ll talk about this more in a future post.)

The iPad Pro begs to be touched. The Retina MacBook begs to be typed on.

So who doesn’t use a keyboard much? Well, the obvious answer is creatives: designers & artists.

But there are plenty others. In education, an iPad Pro would be ideal for students—young and old—who are learning how to assemble things or what the human body is made of, or how to dissect an animal.

Photo and video editing could be huge on an iPad Pro (and as I mentioned in a recent blog post, I’m waiting for Apple to release their own software solutions in the next year).

Any educational or creative software that involves viewing, creating, and rotating 2D or 3D objects is a fine use for an iPad Pro.

Have you seen the app that shows you how an orchestra plays songs? You can learn a lot just by watching. It shows the placement of each member of the orchestra, and animates their position when their instrument is played. It has another window that scrolls through the music annotations in realtime, and a third window shows the orchestra playing the piece. Another fine example of software that isn’t keyboard driven. (This app is available and works great on the Apple TV, too.)

Any kind of reference material like an encyclopedia with photos and 3D models is a great use for an iPad Pro.

But if you type for a living? Move on. This device doesn’t concern you.

(Sure, you can use it, and Federico Viticci famously lives & works on his iPads, but if you feel it doesn’t work for you, just move on.) (Did you know that if you type “Viticci” in OS X Safari’s search bar, comes up as a suggestion?)

Is the iPad Pro a Failure?

The next time you hear someone gripe about how an “iPad Pro will never replace my laptop!!!”, ask yourself this: Is this person wanting an iPad Pro because it’s cool, or because it fits their uses? Would they be better off with a laptop? Apple would happily sell them a laptop.

iOS will undoubtedly continue to grow and change and adapt. But even today it allows the iPad Pro to be a phenomenally productive device for many people.

Don’t let “experts” and their limited use cases (most people are not bloggers or software developers) color your perceptions. Sure, maybe they need a laptop, but do most people? Are they the desktop users of 2005? Are their literalist arguments relevant now and in the future? Probably not.


One thought on “Literalists: The iPad Pro is Not a Laptop Replacement—And That’s a Good Thing

  1. Pingback: Compromise: How Apple designed the best keyboard cover for iPad Pro | Lou Miranda

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