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Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Working from home: The future of business is remote

iPad Pro at work: What people get wrong about the Magic Keyboard

Can the iPad with Magic Keyboard replace a notebook? That's the wrong question. The right question is: What does it do for iPad Pro usability, over and above the Smart Keyboard? And is that usability worth the additional cost?

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Let's get the obvious out of the way: a Magic Keyboard and an iPad Pro costs as much as a MacBook Air. So why would a well-heeled user spend as much for an iPad Pro + Magic Keyboard instead of a more flexible MacBook Air? To understand that you have to understand the basis of the iPad Pro's appeal to serious users.

Also: Apple updates 13-inch MacBook Pro, adds Magic Keyboard  

I consider myself a serious and experienced user, with over 40 years of active computer use on a dozen different operating systems. While I gladly use the latest and greatest, I don't geek out over feeds and speeds.

Appliance or general-purpose computer? 

On the other hand, I'm not extremely picky either. If the wrong shade of Space Gray drives you nuts, I'm not your guy.

Functionality is my focus. As a writer my bottom line is to capture keystrokes. As an easily distracted human being, I need all the help I can get to focus. For the last two decades that has meant a 13-inch or smaller screen, sitting at a table, with perhaps a cup of coffee for company. 

Which brings me to this two-part review. The first part is about the larger question of an iPad Pro with a fancy/expensive keyboard and trackpad. The second part, coming tomorrow, is about the Magic Keyboard itself.

Also: Apple's new Magic Keyboard aims to make you more productive | One of Apple's most ridiculous ideas ever | Tablet sales are still in decline | Why 'Can iPads replace PCs?' is the wrong question | CNET Review: The iPad Pro 2020: Working at home with a trackpad, AR and more

Why iPad Pro?

Why have tablets in general, and iPads in particular, attracted a devoted audience and a growing $12 billion annual business for Apple? My theory is that there are two iPad markets: the casual consumer user, who just wants simple and accessible; and the pro user, who wants simple, accessible, and powerful. 

Simple means a device that requires almost no management, that boots in seconds if a boot is needed, is secure, and can adapt to whatever application the user desires. Powerful is equivalent to a high-end notebook.

Almost no management means the user doesn't need to concern themselves with file system details unless they want to, updates are low-overhead and automatic, and there's a single curated place to find apps. Low friction.

The many distraction-free writing apps point to a simple time in personal computers: when the OS only did one thing at a time. You wanted to play Doom, that was all the system would do. No email, texts, or social media updates to divert you from slaughtering monsters.

In the days before graphical user interfaces you had to focus and be intentional. When in email, that was all you saw. Quit email,  choose another app by typing out its name. The friction of switching apps, while not excessive, helped me focus on one thing at a time. 

A motorcycle for the mind

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There's something to be said for the one- or two-pane interface, and the iPad is saying it. I don't want the iPad to replace my desktop. I want it to complement my desktop by being always available and well adapted for the few tasks I spend most of my time on. 

With the incredible library of iPad OS applications, an iPad Pro user can focus on video, research and writing, audio production, medical aid, research, and more, while helping you organize all that effort. It's a motorcycle for the mind.

A notebook is a minivan.

The take

The point of building a high-end accessory for this cyber polymath is not to turn it into something it was never intended to be. It is to make the iPad an even better iPad for what the user intends. 

Coming up tomorrow: Part II will discuss the value the Magic Keyboard adds, its failures,  and tips on judging its utility for you. 

Comments welcome. Do you want the iPad Pro to replace your notebook? Why or why not?