Reservations on going iPad-first: Impressions of the 10.5″ iPad Pro

I recently got a 10.5″ iPad Pro–an upgrade from my iPad Air 2. My Air 2 was a device reduced to being a consumption device: watching YouTube, Netflix, reading content, etc. The Air 2 had was noticeably slow, and I’ve mentioned previously {Find previous mention and insert here} how I found the screen just a little too small to comfortably type on. I’d had my eyes on the iPad Pro since a while (9.7-inch, at the time) and my primary use would be jotting notes with the Pencil while watching/reading some educational content such as a WWDC video. This was roughly back when the 9.7″ Pro was mid-way through its lifecycle and rumours of a larger-screened iPad were afloat. I decided to wait it out for the new iPad.

Come 8th of July, I was pulling a 256GB 10.5″ Pro out of the box, with an Apple Pencil that would follow. I was delighted to find the on-screen keyboard was the perfect size–for me–to type on. I loved the display(firsts for me: P3 colour gamut, True Tone, and ProMotion), and the faster TouchID. Everything is so fast on this iPad–faster than any computing device I have ever used.

Soon enough, my brain came over the pencil-on-paper to Apple Pencil-on-iPad chasm too and I was taking notes in Goodnotes opened in Split View alongside the WWDC app. This particular workflow has become second-nature for me. But I was still missing one accessory: The Smart Keyboard.

In anticipation, I connected my old Magic Keyboard to the iPad Pro to test how Swift Playgrounds behaves on the iPad with a keyboard attached since I am really averse to the way Playgrounds tries to autocomplete everything on your part1. I was relieved to find that Playgrounds isn’t pushy about helping you out if you’re typing on a physical keyboard. Using Playgrounds on the iPad is important to me because I want to actively use the iPad for development as much as possible.
Why? And why do I not want to stick to the Mac–a platform that is very mature for the kind of use cases I am looking for? I don’t know. I could tell you that my Mac feels really slow2 (especially when working on the iOS app I make), that it doesn’t have the display chops of the iPad Pro, that it lacks the portability, etc. But I won’t want to work on it any more if the Mac did offer those things to me. I suppose it does subconsciously come down to not having a direct-manipulation interface but I can’t say for certain and I’ll reserve commentary on that bit.

Coming back, I had multiple reasons to be looking forward to the Smart Keyboard for the Pro and I was lucky enough to finally find one a couple of days ago. My immediate thought after using it for a few minutes was that it is nothing like attaching the Magic Keyboard to a propped-up iPad and working that way. It comes down to the difference between being a part of your work machine, vs. an accessory that’s being tagged along. It’s a world of a difference to me.

Before I had the Pro, I thought my primary use-case for this device would be note-taking with the Pencil–given how much I (used to) constantly jot things down in a notebook. But ever since the Smart Keyboard, the ‘default-mode’ for the Pro, in my mind, has become the docked-onto-the-keyboard mode. I thought I’d be fiddling with the Smart Keyboard’s Origami-ish nature and very rarely–and with determined intent–want to dock it that way to type on. Now, though, the docked-onto-the-keyboard mode has become default. I have to actively pause and think, and be faced with the Smart Keyboard’s origami-ish fiddliness to set the iPad in the resting-flat-on-desk mode to jot down notes with the Pencil.

Quick word on the QuickType Suggestions: I think it’s super useful. When using Playgrounds on the iPad, the suggestions offered are ones of code autocompletion. I actively rely on them for completion of whatever I’m typing. And the placement of the bar right above the Smart Keyboard, assisted by the thin side bezels of the iPad, make selecting a suggestion as easy as making a mistake. This, compared to the TouchBar on the MacBooks, is a better approach. You can’t see the TouchBar’s prompts if you’re slumping in your chair given that it lies flat with the keyboard, and selecting anything on the TouchBar is harder still. Contrasted with the Pro where the QuickType suggestions bar is facing you, you can always see the suggestions and they’re easy to select. But I digress…

They Smart Keyboard really is the reason why I titled this article ‘Reservations on going iPad-first’. I can’t be iPad-only because I’m an iOS developer and I need Xcode–at the very least–to write apps with. But that doesn’t prevent me from being iPad-first. Apart from Xcode–or something tangentially related such as the Terminal–I use my MacBook extremely rarely. Gruber mentioned having the feeling of ‘a hand being untied from behind his back’ when using iOS 11 on the iPad Pro. That’s precisely how I feel when using the Smart Keyboard on the iPad Pro. Having the ability to control an app’s UI with the keyboard lets me blaze through tasks3 . But I am hesitant of getting used the iPad’s way of doing things with keyboard shortcuts because there are some notable differences from those on the Mac.

On the Mac, I use Alfred to open pretty much anything. I trigger it with Option+Space, type what I’m looking for and press return to open it. On the iPad, I am forced to use Spotlight (not that I mind because Spotlight on iOS actually works) by tapping Command+Space. Switching between two full screen apps on iPad is Command+Tab; on the Mac, I prefer using Spaces and switch between them with the four-finger swipe gesture. These are just a few of the ways that being a fluent keyboard navigator on one platform stops me from being fluent on the other. If I had to ditch one device of the two (given that I had Xcode on the iPad at least), the Mac goes. iPad is the future of computing, its present state is also really nice and makes me want to use it almost always. But the current situation of both devices makes it so that I can’t get completely comfortable with either of them.


All this might give you the impression that I don’t like my Mac at all. I do, a lot, specially because I still have the impression it imparted on me when I switched from years of using Windows. The Mac will always hold a special place in my heart that maybe nothing can ever replace. It’s just that I like the iPad as a day-to-day device way more (for the tasks it can perform) and it’s way less challenging.

While we’re at it, here’s a few more thoughts on the Smart Keyboard:

  1.  I was in disbelief when I noticed the lack of an Escape key on this keyboard since my Desktop sensibilities have me hunt for the Escape key to dismiss a screen I’m looking at. But it’s probably better off this way since the iPad is ushering in a new paradigm and it doesn’t make sense to bring over legacy technology just for the sake of familiarity. Bringing over Command, Option, and Control makes sense because they aid in using keyboard shortcuts.
  2. Probably my biggest complaint with the keyboard is that I don’t have a way to tell whether Caps Lock is on, or not, without actually typing away in a text field first. Would I like the Caps Lock key to have a green light indicating ‘You have Caps Lock turned on’? No, that’s a Mac thing.
  3. When typing in the message field in a text field, you can’t type the text ‘iPad’ as your first word. iOS auto-corrects it to ‘IPad’ all the time if it’s the first word: Super irritating.
  4. I’d absolutely like a tiny track surface around (on?) the Smart Keyboard that allows me to a) Select text and move around the cursor, just like iOS does on the software keyboard and b) Pan around in a view that can be scrolled–A web page in Safari, a list of items, etc.
    This would drastically reduce me being forced to interact with the touch screen, without bringing in the confusion of a pointer.
  5. iPad, docked in typing mode, is incredibly sturdy. Poking at the screen doesn’t have any give to it. The same can’t be said of the viewing mode (when the keyboard is tucked away behind-and-against the iPad). The angle just doesn’t seem right and it feels like the iPad will just topple forward on its screen.
  6. I hate the fact that the micro-fibre material that lines the under-side of the keyboard and rests directly on the iPad’s screen when folded up in ‘off’ mode, also rests on the surface when in ‘docked-to-type’ mode. Thinking about the micro-fibre catching all kinds of crap (and, god forbid, liquids) from the surface it’s resting on is the stuff of nightmares.

  1. It’s a 2014 base-configuration 13″ Retina MacBook Pro–not the best Mac to be writing apps on anyway. ↩︎
  2. I understand why Playgrounds on the iPad does this–to make touch-typing easier for beginners. But I’m not the intended audience for this feature: I have muscle memory and habits ingrained in me from the Mac paradigm. Playgrounds’ aggressive auto-completion works against this habit for me.  ↩︎
  3. As a result, I have become very cognisant of Apple’s apps that don’t support keyboard shortcuts. Most notable culprit: Apple Music. ↩︎

In Uncategorized by Mayur Dhaka