Buckle in, this is a longer post based on a couple of very interesting iPad-related conversations I’ve had recently. It begins with an email from Justin Harter, who is a graphic designer, teacher and writer. We had an enjoyable exchange largely focused on our workflows for image processing and file management on iPad. I had a look at his blog and knew immediately that I wanted to mention some of his recent iPad posts.

Right off he caught my attention with a post that expresses something I rarely see from fellow tech enthusiasts: A concern for the environment. Why is this so rare? I appreciate that he is writing about it and that his environmental ethics are a part of his decision making in regards to his consumption of technology.

His post, I am deeply dissatisfied with my computing life, get’s right to the point:

Juggling an iPad, phone, MacBook, and whatever else feels decadent, consumptive, and bad for the earth

His intent is to constrain himself to just one device and he discusses various considerations in choosing what device to use. He’s tried several and in this post he compares the iPad to the Surface Pro 9.

So I am trying to work more from the iPad to find its limitations that I just can’t work around. The Internet is full of people trying to make an iPad work like a laptop and coming away unhappy. I, for one, increasingly think maybe it is possible once you recognize it won’t adapt to you, you have to adapt to it.

This point about adapting to the iPad reminded me of a an interesting conversation I had on Mastodon the same day. Ernie Smith, publisher of Tedium, wrote about the iPad experience:

The thing is, it is a device that in a productivity mode forces you to have to work in its own context. If you like that context, great. But many people feel left out.

And when I say “left out,” I don’t mean they only see the iPad as a media consumption device. I mean that there is a context to using an iPad that seems to want to intentionally push you against your natural context. Traditionally, the lack of trackpad was a great example of this.

I responded to Ernie:

I began using the iPad in 2010 and for the first 7 years it was a Mac compliment. I used it a LOT though. I’d found the Gusto app which was a code/text editor with built in FTP for updating/managing websites. It was released in the first year and I used it all the time to update client websites. 2017 was sort of the turning point where the iPad gradually became my primary device. By 2020 as Apple was ramping up iPadOS I was only using the iPad.

All that to say my switch over from the Mac to iPad was a long and gradual process. By 2017 I’d worked through most of my frustrations with that more limited context you describe. There was no forced attempt to make myself adopt the iPad way of doing things. My natural, gradual switch was more enjoyable than frustrating. The many changes since 2020 (trackpad/mouse support, improvements to Files, Stage Manager, etc) were just icing on the cake.

I think my unintentional, gradual process addresses the frustration that so many Mac/Windows users experience when trying a quick switch to the iPad. The internet is filled with stories that ended in frustration because users thought it would be an easy quick switch. It was even worse 5-6 years ago when iPadOS was even less capable than it is today. Regardless, many quit because the approach began with a deliberate attempt to switch in a forced way requiring quick adaption. It’s an approach that sets the user up for added stress right from the beginning.

As I mentioned, Justin is a graphic designer and much of this post is about the benefits of the Surface as a convertible device that runs Windows capable of running full Adobe apps. He offers no conclusions in the post, it’s more an exploration of the aspects of the Surface and iPad in terms of hardware and software.

It’s actually in another recent post that he digs into a bit more detail on the Surface and iPad:

My opinions are exactly the same as they always were about the Surface Pros: I want to love this because the hardware is nice and the form factor is perfect and it’s everything I want an iPad to be. iPad OS is so frustrating to use (I still don’t understand why I can’t figure out how to consistently open lots of different file types from the Files app.)

Yep. The Files app remains a frustration for many coming from macOS or Windows. Even with all the improvements to Files it can still be tricky. Unlike the Mac there usually isn’t a default app that will open a file. This dates back to the origin of iPadOS in iOS and Apple wanted users to start with apps, not files. The Files app and file management has improved a lot but there’s more to be done.

He goes on to offer specifics on why he finds the iPad frustrating:

Why can’t I get fonts into my iPad?

Agreed and this is totally on Apple. The Mac has FontBook and that app or a similar font management app is long overdue on iPadOS. There are a few third party apps that allow for font installation/management but it’s a terrible process. This is a huge miss that Apple needs to fill.

More from Justin:

Why is Google Docs so bad on an iPad? How is it possible in 2024 that an iPad can’t have even half the feature parity of Word for PCs? It’s a word processor!

In this case there’s not much Apple can do as these are third party apps. But it’s often true that a lot of developers are providing a subpar app for the iPad, especially when users compare the experience to the desktop apps they’re used to.

In a third post, It’s not ‘can’ an iPad replace a laptop, but ‘how’ to replace a laptop, Justin writes about learning to use the iPad for web and graphics design. I’ve been using the iPad for exactly this for years so I have thoughts!

He does everything from graphic design to WordPress centered website development as well as teaching graphic design so he’s grading student projects done in Adobe apps. And on top of that he mentions client-related email, file management of attachments, spreadsheets, and documents. Last, he’s a writer and historical researcher so there’s quite a bit of ground to cover and much of it overlaps with the sorts of things I do on the iPad.

So, that’s the context of what he does and would like to do with the iPad. His post is far too long for me to dig apart in this already longish post. Rather than attempt that I’d encourage you to just read and enjoy his post.

I’ll leave you with this. He begins the post with the recognition that the iPad represents a different computing paradigm. This shifts the conversation from the usual and overdone question of “can the iPad replace a laptop” to a more thoughtful question of how does one compute from a touch first computer?

It’s a thoughtful, honest post that really explores the process and constraints but doesn’t stop there. He makes the jump to the adaptive solution that comes with the iPad paradigm shift.

THIS is the kind of commentary that really goes somewhere helpful.