My iPad Pro Setup

Using the iPad Pro as my Travel Laptop

Since going out on my own full time, my tech stack has been a bit of a revolving door. In the quest to find the perfect set up I went from a MacBook Pro to a PC / smaller MacBook for travel. Less than a year later and I’m not too happy with that setup. Nothing against the PC, but living in two-thirds Apple land makes having parity between machines very hard (plus, Camtasia, my main video editor, is a hot mess). So when Apple announced the new iPad Pros, I made a decision to go with that and only that as my travel machine.

So first, as much as I like the idea of an iPad-only lifestyle, I simple can’t (not yet anyway). The video and audio editing tools are not nearly as good on iOS as they are on macOS, and doing local development is much much easier.

Primary Machine: The iMac Pro

So what does 2019 have in store for my tech setup? Well, last year I cheaped out because I though a PC would be just as good as an iMac Pro. So I’m selling both my MacBook (sold) and my PC (still working on that one, if interested), and I’m buying an iMac Pro as my primary machine. This will bring me wholly back into Apple’s ecosystem and allow me to use all the tools I currently use on iOS, like Spark, Omnifocus, Ulysses, Drafts, etc. But more importantly, I will have one of the only truly great macOS devices Apple has put out in recent years.

This will allow me to do all of my important recording and editing, and heavy duty development from my office, on a machine I’m comfortable with, and one I know will work. That leaves the travel machine.

The 12.9” iPad Pro

I ordered the latest 12.9” iPad Pro right after Apple’s October 2018 event. The budget was  $1500 for the iPad, a keyboard, and the rumored new Apple Pencil. I was happily on budget, but with a very small margin because Apple raised their prices across the board.

As an aside, yesterday Apple revised and lowered its 2018 Q4 forecasted earnings citing lower than anticipated iPhone revenue. I can’t help but wonder if it’s because of the increase in prices over the last couple of years.

That said, I’m incredibly happy with the purchase. The Apple Pencil in particular is better than ever – it sticks right to my iPad, is always charged, and I use it for note taking, signing documents, and sometimes just navigating. The device is nice to hold; perhaps too big for hand-held reading (which I still use my 10.5” iPad for), but perfect for multitasking, and getting focused work done. Speaking of…

My iPad Home Screen

My iPad Workflow

There are several things I do during my day:

  • Read & Write
  • Email & Task Management
  • Code
  • Record Videos and Audio
  • Create and Edit Images
  • Accounting and Other Business Management

The iPad Pro lends itself really well to some of these things. I write almost exclusively on the iPad for the focused experience. Similarly, email, task management, and business stuff are all done almost exclusively on the iPad.

Strong iPad Apps

The apps I use for these tasks are Ulysses and Evernote for writing, Spark for email, Omnifocus for task management, and Siri Shortcuts to connect everything. I love Siri Shortcuts.

MindNode for Mind Mapping

I also use tools like PDF Expert for signing and creating PDFs (I love signing documents on the iPad Pro), Adobe Spark for creating images, and Mind Node for mind mapping.

All of these tools make the iPad a pleasure to work on.

Weaker iPad Activities

However, there are a few things that are a bigger hassle than on a desktop. I mentioned them earlier: coding, video editing, and audio editing.

These activities are not impossible, and in some cases, I need to give them a good, honest shot. For example, I’ve heard very good things about Ferrite, an audio editor for iOS. In particular, it has great Apple Pencil support. So perhaps I’ll try recording and editing on the iPad.

Ferrite for Audio Editing

That said, I can’t see myself switching completely until the iPad can support my pro recording setup – preamp, interface, and all.

Similarly, I’ve heard great things about LumaFusion for video editing. However, because I put such a big priority on quality (4K, easy to view, cursor control) I won’t be switching that process any time soon. I can see myself supplementing content though. Doing iPad screencasts, or in a pinch, recording talking head videos on it. We’ll see.

That leaves coding.

Coding on the iPad

There have been countless articles written on coding on the iPad (this one is especially deep), and they all boil down to needing a few tools:

  • A Code Editor (preferably with SFTP support)
  • Something to help connect you to git/version control
  • A CLI like Blink
  • A VPN to connect to

My own environment uses Coda, Blink, and Linode. The whole process took about an hour, and I did at Starbucks. I’m also using Inspect as my browser because of the dev tools.

Coda (in dark mode)

That said, I can’t see myself doing super deep stuff on the iPad yet. The inertia needed just to get a simple development environment set up is fine, but for bigger work with, I’m still not convinced I can overcome the iPad’s i limitations.

WordPress Testing

A common use-case for me is using Local by Flywheel to quickly spin up a WordPress dev site to test something. There’s not a whole lot of “quickly” using the iPad and dev environments.

The Verdict: I’m Happy with the Setup

I’m convinced that I can use the iPad Pro as my travel machine. My day-to-day doesn’t see as much code as it once did. And if I really wanted to, I could get my own work done. The stuff I do most when I travel: write, email, read, record, and edit, can be done on the iPad Pro.

In future articles I’ll dive deeper into some of these processes, but for now I’m happy with what I’ve got going. As you can see from the features image, I’ve even set up the iPad Pro on a dock my wife got my for Christmas, connected it to my monitor (which lets you easily switch inputs), and my bluetooth keyboard (which also allows you to switch between devices). Now…if we only had simple pointer support for iOS.

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