Apple's iPad finally comes of age as a productivity tool
Generally speaking, I don’t get too excited about software updates. Apple’s operating systems come and go but I tend to accept the changes and get on with things. So it was that I hadn’t taken much interest in iOS 11 which arrived last Tuesday. I dutifully upgraded both my iPhone 7 Plus and 9.7in iPad Pro and delved into straight using the new systems. Initially I wasn’t overwhelmed. But as soon as I opened the iPad I realised that something important had changed.
For the first time there is now divergence between the iPhone and iPad in terms of usability. For too long the iPad has been hobbled by the need to maintain compatibility with the phone with its variety of smaller screens and more limited opportunities for productivity advances simply because of size. There’s been little choose in terms of productivity between the iPhone Plus and the iPad except the bigger screen. Now it’s different and, at last, the iPad is coming into its own as a serious competitor to the lower-end Macs such as the MacBook.
On the surface
I understand that this new emphasis on the iPad has been forced on Apple by the success of the Microsoft Surface, a device which is much closer in operability to a Windows computer. Many of us, while willing to give the iPad a try, were ultimately disappointed by the lack of functionality compared with a Mac portable.
The first thing I noticed about iOS 11 on the iPad is the Mac-style dock which, as on the Mac, shows apps that are loaded and in the background. There’s even the vertical line to differentiate between permanent dock applications and those that are currently running. This alone makes switching between applications so much easier. The split-screen function, allowing simultaneous display of two applications has been tweaked and is now much easier to use. It’s a boon for writers, in particular, who often like to keep a reference source open at the same time as the text being worked on.
Another important productivity boost to be found in iOS 11 (in this case for the iPhone as well as the iPad) is the Files app. For the first time this provides direct access to iCloud files, including useful items such as the Mac Desktop. Never again will you leave home road before realising your left a vital file or reference on your Mac and be unable to access them. On the iPad alone, in addition, there is a new drag and drop facility which enables you to drag selections from one open app to another. Again, this is a productivity move in the right direction and narrows further the gap between iOS and MacOS.
The one area that continues to raise concern is photo handling and processing. As I’ve mentioned many times, I find it very difficult to wean myself off the Mac and Lightroom. Could I get by with Lightroom Mobile when travelling? Would backing up my RAW files to the iPad be as satisfactory a solution as having the MacBook on hand? Most of the time this isn’t a big or problem because there is always a Mac in the office or at home. But when travelling for longer periods I can see that it might become a worry. It’s something I will have to suck and see. What I do know is that many photographers are happy with the iPad, so some experimentation is demanded.
In the past, not for the want of trying, I have never really gelled with the iPad as productivity tool. It is just fine for web browsing, watching videos and fiddling with task lists; but it has definitely been lacking as an advanced productivity device. The changes in iOS 11 are a powerful inducement for me to give it another try. Could it be that the iPad, perhaps in the form of the latest 10.5in Pro with Smart Keyboard, could become my travel companion of choice? I shall be reporting further on this as I gain experience. In the meantime I would commend you to the customary brilliant iOS 11 review on MacStories (below) and other interesting reading material on the same subject.