So long Surface Pro 4, I'm going with the iPad Pro

After buying and using both devices full-time for several weeks, I'm finding that iPad Pro can meet my own needs better more often, even with the current limitations found in iOS.
Written by Kevin Tofel, Contributor

Early last month, I decided to see if any 2-in-1 style products could take the place of all, or mostly all, of my computing activities.

I tried, Microsoft; I really tried.

I bought both a base model Surface Pro 4 and current Type Cover, using it exclusively for the better part of three weeks. For my own personal work purposes, it did everything I asked of it, as you'd expect. But at the end of the workday when it came for a more casual experience, I found it greatly lacking for what I like to do.

So I put the Surface Pro 4 away when the iPad Pro I bought arrived. I've been using it ever since then; roughly the last two weeks. I can still get nearly all of my work done with it - which admittedly does include a few workarounds such as keyboard shortcuts since there's no mouse or trackpad - and it's far better for me during non-work activities.

As a result, I've found the 2-in-1 or hybrid device that's suiting my needs more of the time: It's an iPad Pro. My Surface Pro 4 is still within the return period so it's sitting in a box on its way back to Microsoft.

Of course, my needs aren't the same as yours, and vice versa. I'm not suggesting people drop their PCs and buy an iPad Pro right this second. That would be an ignorant, disrespectful statement on my part. Instead, I'm sharing my thoughts for those who might have similar computing needs as I do and are wondering if an iPad Pro can work for them.

Most of what I do during the day is write and I've used the iPad Pro to write at least 10,000 words since it arrived.

iPad Pro: 5 things I like (and 5 I don't)

I can do that in a browser of course, which is why I've bought and used a number of Google Chromebooks in the past few years. Reading and researching for articles online can also be web-centric. It helps that I just found Sidefari: A $0.99 app that allows you to view two browser windows at once on the iPad Pro's large display.

Indeed, the larger screen of the iPad Pro is like working with two iPads at once; provided you don't mind working between only one or two apps at a given time.

To be honest though, I'm actually in the browser less than I was before because there are some great iOS apps that help: As I've noted in the past, I write my content in a text editor called Byword and I generally browse through sites and feeds using Newsify with my Feedly subscription.

Photo editing for posts is actually a strong suit for iOS, given how many superb photo editing apps there ranging from those by Adobe to a number of third-party developers.

During my downtime, all of my "fun" content consumption software, social networking apps, light games and such are all available on the iPad Pro. That's the scenario where the Surface Pro 4 was lacking for me.


Granted, most people are buying a Surface Pro 4 because it runs Windows and they can, in many cases, get more work done. Even after being a Microsoft MVP in Touch and Tablet PCs for a number of years - and working in Windows-centric enterprises for a decade and a half - I've come to the conclusion that I just don't need Windows any longer. Apple's iOS platform -- as well as Google's Android system -- further abstracts away much of the inner workings of a computing device and I'm fine with that. So too are many other mainstream computer users, which is why I think the future of computing is based on mobile platforms, not legacy ones.

Don't get me wrong; Windows PCs have far fewer limitations and can do so much more, in general. The thing is: I don't need the "so much more" bits.

If you do, the iPad Pro - or any other iPad, for that matter - isn't for you unless you're looking for a companion device. I'd highly recommend looking at the Surface Pro 4, the new Dell XPS 12 or similar recent offerings from Lenovo, HP, and the like. You'll be far happier.

When I started looking at various 2-in-1 options, I really wanted to focus on the "1" part, meaning I want one single device for all of my work and play computing activities. Put another way, I wasn't looking for another companion device. And that's part of Apple's tough sell for the iPad Pro.

Aside from enterprise workers who don't see Apple's tablets fitting in the workplace, the iPad Product is priced like a primary device, not a companion tablet. I don't see many people - unless money is no object - spending $799, $949 or $1,069 for an iPad Pro to use mainly on a part-time basis. Heck, I wouldn't be keeping the iPad Pro I bought just to use it for a handful of hours each day. Luckily, I can use it all day.

I figured that out by actually tracking the number of minutes I spend on a weekly basis where I can't use the iPad Pro and have to turn to a PC running Windows, Mac OS X or Linux. It turned out to be a scant hour or so per week. And I use my devices for roughly 12 hours a day, nearly every day. One of out 84 hours, then, the iPad Pro works for me.

That hour, by the way, is for editing the weekly MobileTechRoundup podcast I do with my ZDNet colleague, Matthew Miller. We've done the show for a decade and I've always relied on the open-source Audacity software, which doesn't run on iOS. However, a recently launched iOS app called Ferrite, pretty much replicates the functionality of Audacity, so it looks like even that limitation will be gone.

As for iPad Pro in the enterprise, I think the jury is out way too soon to write it off.

Another one of my ZDNet colleagues, Jason Perlow, makes a case for the iPad Pro simply being too big and unwieldy for execs to carry and use. I agree and disagree at the same time.

For the first three or so days of using an iPad Pro, I felt like it was a massive device that I'd never get used to. Guess what. I got used to it and my old iPad Air - donated to my daughter - feels small and has me thinking: "How did I ever use this thing?" when I pick it up now.

I think part of Jason's issue is that he chose two of the bulkiest and heaviest iPad Pro cases available in order to protect his tablet. I generally go sans case on my phones and tablets - regardless of who makes them - so the Apple SmartKeyboard is it for me. That option, while expensive at $169, would also alleviate several of Jason's pain points when using the iPad Pro. Instead of propping the tablet on a pillow as he does, the SmartKeyboard can be used as stand with roughly a 30-degree angle, or it can prop up the tablet for traditional laptop use.

And I don't agree with him that the iPad Pro's display is significantly larger than that of the Surface Pro 4. This picture of the two devices explains why: Yes, the Apple tablet is bigger - it's thinner and lighter, too - but I'd say the more accurate statement is that it's slightly bigger; not significantly so.


Ultimately, it doesn't matter what either Jason or I think about the iPad Pro and where it will be used. It's up to each individual and enterprise buyer to chose the device that best meets their needs. There's no magical, perfect device that fits everyone and comprises are often made.

Instead, it comes down to which compromises you want to make. I felt that I was making compromises or lacking apps for nearly half of my waking hours; web apps and services are decent workarounds for "missing" native apps but the iPad Pro works for me more of the time; iOS limitations and all.

Regardless of my own personal buying decision, the real thing to watch for going forward is how many developers add to the growing number of iOS apps that can be used in the enterprise. That's what will make or break Apple's iPad Pro in the workplace and I think Apple knows that.

What it didn't know was what people might use an original iPad for back in 2010. Even then, it simply put out hardware with a few native apps and then waited to see what developers would bring to the device. I suspect much the same strategy is going on with the iPad Pro: Now that Apple has its most powerful tablet on the market, what apps will make it a more compelling device at work?

For now, the iPad Pro to many is just a big tablet. If the apps come, though - and I think they will - iPad Pro will instead become a big thing for tablets, both for personal computing and for the enterprise of the future.

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