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Careful Tech 099: Just $349 to make my iPad… worse?

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Careful Tech 094: Second-hand impressions of the new Magic Keyboard

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Careful Tech 092: What’s the best-sized iPad Pro?

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Skipping the iPad Pro

I just can’t justify buying the new iPad Pro.

Don’t get me wrong; Apple’s new tablets are gorgeous. I’m impressed by the edge-to-edge display, the Braun-inspired squared edges, and the overall thinness. And the new Apple Pencil fixes all of my biggest complaints: the cylindrical (roll-prone) profile, the fiddly end cap, and the awkward charging method. Overall, the iPad Pro looks like an incredible upgrade.

But it’s also incredibly expensive. Jaw-droppingly expensive. Prohibitively expensive (at least for me). Not only Apple raise the cost of entry by $150, they also tacked $20–30 onto the price of each accessory. All told, even if I bought even the cheapest model,1 an Apple Pencil, and the new Smart Keyboard Folio, I’d be dropping just shy of $1,200.

That’s some serious cash—enough to buy a beefy Windows PC, ski passes for the whole family, a passable mountain bike, or a long weekend at the beach, steak dinners included.

If I honestly believed that I would use an iPad Pro, I might be been able to justify its exorbitant price tag. Unfortunately, the evidence is stacked against me. I’ve purchased three iPads in the past, and each one ended up gathering dust. I’ve just never found a great use case for an iPad; my Kindle is better for reading, my laptop is better for writing, and my phone is better for everything else. There was nothing in today’s keynote that makes me think this iPad would be different. (You know, like external touchscreen support?)

The iPad Pro is great for drawing, of course. And I do occasionally doodle. But why plunk down $1,200 when a $15 drawing pad works just as well?

So I’m sitting out this Apple launch, despite a gnawing gadget envy. I’m bummed that I can’t take another crack at the “iPad lifestyle,” but I’m excited to save that money for something I’ll almost certainly enjoy more. ■


  1. I’d get along fine with 64 gigs of storage, but it’s lame that only the 1TB models have 6GB of RAM. ↩︎

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Anandtech’s iPad Pro review

Anandtech released its mammoth review of the iPad Pro last week. As the author notes,

Despite [the Pro’s] increased size I didn’t really notice that it had gotten significantly harder to handle in the hands than an iPad Air 2.

I haven’t used the iPad Pro yet, but I wonder if this conclusion applies to using the device in bed. The Air already feels awkward there; wouldn’t the Pro feel even worse?

The problem isn’t so much the device weight. After all, in bed, I can prop the iPad up on the mattress or a pillow. Rather, the tablet feels too big to use while lying on my side. With one arm pinned beneath my body, I’m left with just one hand to both grasp the iPad and to navigate its UI. Reaching the entire screen thus requires some serious finger gymnastics.

In other words, lying down forces me to use the iPad Air 2 like a ten-inch phone. That’s technically possible, but it also feels kind of ridiculous. A thirteen-inch “phone” would border on the insane.

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Microsoft’s “convergence” vs. Apple’s “supersession”

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook made headlines this week when he spurned suggestions that his company might merge its mobile and desktop operating systems:

We feel strongly that customers are not really looking for a converged Mac and iPad. … Neither experience would be as good as the customer wants. So we want to make the best tablet in the world and the best Mac in the world. And putting those two together would not achieve either. You’d begin to compromise in different ways.

Cook’s comments indirectly belittle Microsoft’s Surface line, which combines a mouse-first desktop environment with more touch-friendly elements.

To be fair, Windows 10 is a solid effort, the fullest expression yet of Microsoft’s computing vision. Unlike Windows 8’s ill-conceived “Frankenstein experiment,” Windows 10 converges interaction paradigms with a tempered, desktop-anchored approach.

Use the OS for long, however, and you’ll see the seams: legacy UI that can’t be easily navigated via touch. For example, the new, finger-friendly Settings app in Windows 10 almost (but not quite) replaces the legacy Control Panel, which demands a mouse cursor. Presumably, over time, Microsoft plans to root out such vestiges of the desktop era, replacing them with more consistent, touchable UI.


Tim Cook rejects Microsoft’s strategy, in which computing’s past slowly transforms into its future. By contrast, Apple started fresh when it launched the iPhone and its touch-friendly interface eight years ago.

If we call Microsoft’s approach “convergence”, we might label Apple’s strategy as “supersession.” Over time, the replacement platform (i.e., iOS) matures to the point that it can replace the legacy alternatives (including Mac OS) altogether—or, at least, for the vast majority of users.[1]

I had my doubts about supersession’s viability up till now. iOS felt too small, too hampered, too limited to ever replace a laptop. I’d often feel as if I were wrestling with iOS rather than hitting my “productivity zone.” Drafting a tablet to fight a PC’s battle felt silly. And the market seemed to agree; the iPad’s cratering sales—along with the Mac’s continued growth—cast doubt on Steve Job’s assertion that the “post-PC era” had arrived.

But more recently, Apple’s mobile platform has taken strides that make supersession more viable. iOS 9—with its improved keyboard shortcuts and multitasking support—makes it much easier to do work on the iPad. In fact, I now write most blog posts (including this one) on my iPad Air 2. I’ve enjoyed the experience enough that I just purchased a premium keyboard dock.

The iPad Pro, released just a few weeks ago, further demonstrates Apple’s commitment to mobile productivity. The Pro offers an improved typing experience (via an optional hardware keyboard), vast screen real estate (another mainstay of desktop machines) and a pressure-sensitive stylus (replacing PC drawing tablets). Can the iPad Pro replace your laptop now? For most power users, the answer is “No.” But suddenly it’s much easier to see how that might happen in the not-too-distant future.


Regardless of whether mobile OSes “converge” with the desktop or “supersede” it, one thing seems clear: most people will buy just one non-smartphone computer. It won’t make sense to own both a desktop-class computer (whether a Mac or a touchless Windows PC) and a tablet (whether an iPad, an Android slate, or a touch-enabled Windows option).


  1. In adopting these strategies, both Apple and Microsoft are constrained by their current market positions. It makes sense for Apple to pivot its popular mobile platform into a productivity powerhouse. The Mac, despite its recent growth, remains a minority desktop player. Meanwhile, Windows Phone has struggled to earn market share and developer support, Microsoft would be ill-advised to bet big on that platform. Desktop Windows remains dominant (at least in sheer number of users); it makes sense to start there instead.  ↩

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iPad Pro as PC replacement?

Federico Viticci reviews the iPad Pro, which went on sale yesterday in the U.S. He writes,

The iPad is, for me, a device that combines the benefits of a traditional computer with the intrinsic portability of iOS. I use the iPad at my desk when I’m writing and responding to emails, but my lifestyle also requires moving around with it a lot.

Even before the Pro’s release, Viticci had embraced the iPad as his full-time computing platform. While it’s neat that he can do this, I struggle to understand why anyone would want to. To me, the inconveniences (e.g. no file system, strict sandboxes, and primitive keyboard support) have always outweighed the conveniences (e.g. owning just one machine, computing while standing).

But that’s changing, and the iPad Pro (along with iOS 9’s multitasking features) may signal a shift. Whether spurred on by the Microsoft Surface’s success or by the iPad’s tanking sales, Apple has decided to take tablet productivity more seriously. Now, an iPad-only workflow seems less and less like an impractical experiment. If the platform continues to mature, even power users might someday consider going iPad-only.

Let’s just hope the product line lasts long enough for that to happen.