iPad Pro is a Swiss Army knife, not a surgeon’s scalpel [Opinion]

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The iPad Pro is the perfect tool for many people.
The iPad Pro is the perfect tool for many people.
Photo: DP Spender/Cult of Mac

By DP Spender

The launch of the new 2020 iPad Pro brought a plethora of articles from tech journalists asking, “Is this Apple’s laptop replacement?” That question is so open-ended, it might as well be an infinite loop. It’s like asking a toolmaker, “Is your new hammer a suitable replacement for last year’s wrench?”

It is in many ways a pointless question — and one that in my opinion totally misses the point. The question should be, “Does the 2020 iPad Pro get your job done?” To which my answer is yes, but then so did the 2018 model.

Let me elaborate. For more than a year now, I have been exclusively using a 12.9-inch 2018 iPad Pro with a Smart Keyboard and an Apple Pencil. Total cost: around 1,300 pounds. My much-loved 15-inch MacBook Pro had died on me and was going to cost 500 pounds to repair.

I needed a replacement immediately for a new business I was starting and had to make a decision. Fix the MacBook and risk it breaking again? Spend over 2,000 pounds on another MacBook? Or go all in on the iPad?

Now, when we read tech journalist reviews of these products, they like to bandy around terms like “power user” and “pro user.” Of course, there are many many good folk working in the media and creative fields who require super-fast and powerful video-processing capability. And some of those tech journalists need to sit at a fully functional keyboard and type for 10 hours a day.

While there is no doubt these people are indeed pro users, they are by no means the only “pros” out there.

iPad Pro: Surgeon’s scalpel or Swiss Army knife?

In the real world, the one that exists outside of the tech journalist bubble of glossy product launches and free review units, there is another world of small and medium businesses trying to get things done as effectively and efficiently as possible. Many of us are working from home or are on the road a lot. We need easy-to-use, easy-to-maintain and easy-to-transport tools that will allow us to operate in as many locations as possible.

People like me don’t need the surgeon’s scalpel that is the high-end MacBook Pro. We need the Swiss Army knife that is the iPad Pro.

Vital tools for the real world

The iPad Pro is a perfect tool for taking and quickly annotating photos to show to clients.
The iPad Pro is a perfect tool for taking and quickly annotating photos, for yourself or to show to clients.
Photo: DP Spender/Cult of Mac

In my version of the real world, I run a business (Blind Revolution) supplying high-end window dressings to domestic and commercial customers. This means visiting clients at home, on building sites, in offices and factories, or meeting them at trade shows.

I need to be able to use my iPad to present photos and videos to the clients, to draw up ideas, to write up quotes and to send out invoices. I need to plug it in to AV equipment to make presentations at meetings and shows. And I need to edit videos and photos to create said presentations.

Often, I need to hand over a device to a customer to watch something while I measure up a job. Many times I will be on a building site, negotiating ladders and scaffolding while carrying my iPad in a tiny backpack. I can hold the tablet one-handed to show customers what they need without the cumbersome effort required with a laptop.

The simplicity of being able to use the iPad’s camera to capture an image of the client’s home, and to then whip out the Apple Pencil and start drawing immediately on the captured image, is fantastic. The experience is not easily replicated on a laptop when you have nowhere to sit.
The reality is, I have now run a very successful and growing business exclusively from my iPad and iPhone for more than a year. Every aspect of the business, from dealing with customers to ordering and accounts, is handled on the iPad, using Apple’s own software and various third-party apps. I enjoy a seamless workflow, which is only getting better with the various iOS updates that have happened along the way.

iPad Pro is more than just for work

During that time, my iPad has been my work tool and also my pleasure toy. I have watched hours and hours of video content on the iPad. (That’s something I wouldn’t have done as much on the MacBook.) Not to mention my hobby of playing guitar, which has come on leaps and bounds using Fender Play on the iPad and recording with GarageBand.

Every day, I am delighted with some small detail. I can’t tell you how may times a day I use the Universal Clipboard feature to cut and paste from iPhone to iPad. This is the closest thing to a magic trick I know.

I also like how my AirPod Pros allow me to switch seamlessly from iPad to iPhone. I am even a big fan of the Smart Keyboard — I type a fair bit, and find the experience to be absolutely fine for my needs. (I’m very keen to try the upcoming Magic Keyboard so I can use its trackpad with my iPad.)

Only one regret

Adding a keyboard makes iPad Pro even more powerful. (Adding cellular would, too.)
Adding a keyboard makes iPad Pro even more powerful. (Adding cellular would, too.)
Photo: DP Spender/Cult of Mac

My only regret is not going the extra mile and getting a cellular-equipped iPad Pro. At the time of purchase, I decided that since I carry an iPhone with me all the time, it was just as easy to use that as a Personal Hotspot when I was not in a Wi-Fi zone. While doing that is by no means a problem, the very minor inconvenience is enough to make me think I should have taken advantage of something MacBook users have no choice over.

With the addition of cellular (and if WhatsApp ever sorted out an iPad app), I could almost do without my iPhone altogether. My plan now is to wait for a 5G-equipped iPad Pro before updating.

So back to the original question. “Is the 2020 iPad Pro a replacement for a laptop?” I would say that in the vast majority of cases, and for the vast majority of uses, it absolutely is. The key is to use one with your other Apple products and services to get the absolute most utility and functionality. But isn’t that what Apple has always been aiming for?

DP Spender is a Scotland-based, real-world Apple user since 1984, a full-time Blind Revolution guy and a part-time guitar geek.