The iPad is finally starting to grow up.
Despite the device becoming an instant sales phenomenon upon launch, iPad in its earlier years of life was never a legitimate PC replacement – nor was it meant to be. From birth the iPad existed not to cannibalize the Mac, but to supplement it. Steve Jobs called it a "third category" of device, fitting snugly in the space between a laptop and smartphone.
In recent years, however, the iPad has gone through a stark transition. If you want an iPad to supplement your iPhone and Mac, you can still get one in the $329 "just call me iPad" model introduced last spring. But the bulk of Apple's iPad efforts of late have centered on making the device a capable replacement for the traditional computer. The iPad Pro and iOS 11 represent a new vision for the iPad. This vision puts the iPad not next to the Mac, but instead squarely in its place. It's a vision embodied by the question, "What's a computer?"
I made the iPad Pro my primary computer when it first launched in late 2015. The transition pains from Mac to iPad were minimal, and the device has grown even more capable since that time thanks to improvements in iOS. My need for a Mac is now extremely rare.
My desire for a Mac, however, still exists in a few specific use cases. There are things the Mac has to offer that I wish my iPad could replicate.
Now that the modern iPad has many basics of computing covered, here are the things I think it needs to take iPad-as-PC to the next level.
One of the longstanding frustrations with the iPad Pro's Smart Keyboard is that it contains no place for holding the Apple Pencil. Last year Apple released separate accessories – the Leather Sleeve and Pencil Case – that could house the Pencil, but many iPad users still wanted something simpler: a Smart Keyboard with Pencil holder.
Twelve South, with its new PencilSnap accessory, appears to have made that possible.
The PencilSnap is a small leather holster, very similar to Apple's own Pencil Case, but with one significant difference: it includes magnets for attaching to other accessories, including Apple's Smart Keyboard and Smart Cover, and Twelve South's own SurfacePad. While we haven't been able to test the product yet, Twelve South stresses the strength of the magnets and tight grip of the Pencil holder – in other words, they're confident the PencilSnap won't get easily disconnected from its attachment point, nor will the Pencil come loose when you don't want it to.
PencilSnap is available for $29.99 in two colors: Black and Camel. If it works as advertised, it may well become the new go-to Pencil storage solution for iPad Pro users.
For a long time, Apple's App Store review guidelines prohibited apps from downloading executable code from the Internet. The company's original stance resulted in IDEs that couldn't sync scripts and programs across multiple devices – a serious limitation for the emergent movement of programmers embracing the iPad Pro as a portable workstation.
Fortunately, Apple started relaxing their rules earlier this year, allowing "apps designed to teach, develop, or test executable code" to download and run code. Pythonista, the popular Python IDE for iOS (and one of the best pro apps for iOS, period), has been updated this week with the ability to sync scripts with iCloud and edit external scripts in-place using Files' document picker.
As someone who used Pythonista heavily for years and remembers previous rejections based on old App Store guidelines, this is fantastic news. I moved my existing script library to iCloud, which means all my code is now shared between the iPhone and iPad – no workarounds required. Pythonista now supports the iPhone X and drag and drop for importing scripts, but, even better, the app can open scripts and edit them in-place (saving changes back to the original location) just by opening them with the built-in Files picker. This feature makes it possible to, say, use Pythonista as an editor for script files stored in GitHub repositories and managed by Working Copy – all entirely on iOS, and natively integrated with Files.
Version 3.2 of Pythonista gets rid of the most annoying limitations imposed by the old Apple, another sign that the company's approach to professional iOS software has changed over the years. While I don't use Pythonista nearly as much as I did a few years ago (you can imagine why), I plan on playing around with Pythonista 3.2 over the next couple of weeks.
I first linked to Louis D'hauwe's pixel art editor for iOS, Pixure, in March, when he introduced PanelKit in the iPad version of the app. If you've never played around with Pixure and PanelKit, imagine the ability to grab iPad popovers or sidebar panels and detach them so they're floating onscreen like tool palettes would on macOS. I was skeptical of this idea initially – I feared it would overcomplicate the iPad's UI – but it works surprisingly well on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. I know that after using PanelKit months ago, I tried a few times to grab popovers in iPad apps like Omni's, realizing that they didn't support PanelKit.
D'hauwe is back today with Pixure 3.0, another excellent update that, among various enhancements, brings a version browser (a feature more apps should offer on iOS), drag and drop, and advanced export options. With today's release, Pixure also includes PanelKit 2.0, a major update of the framework that now supports pinning multiple panels to the side of the screen as well as resizing them. Plus, your custom panel configuration is now saved across multiple app launches, so once you set up your workspace in Pixure, the app always remembers it.
Even if you're not interested in editing pixel art graphics, I recommend checking out Pixure 3.0 just to play around with PanelKit 2.0. Support for multiple panels on the side is particularly impressive – try, for instance, to resize and stack the Color Picker and Layers panels on top of each other. It's fun and intuitive, and I bet you're going to wish more pro iPad apps offered this kind of flexible, customizable UI. You can find Pixure 3.0 on the App Store and read more about PanelKit 2.0 here.
In a new video posted on YouTube called ‘What’s a Computer?’, Apple follows a girl as she leaves home on a bicycle and travels around a city with her iPad Pro. Set to ‘Go’ by Louis the Child, the girl uses FaceTime to chat with friends, marks up a screenshot of her chat, and sends it via Messages. Later she’s seen writing a report in Microsoft Word. In the middle of writing, she sees a praying mantis, swipes up to access the Dock, and takes a quick photo of it.
In the next scene, the girl draws with Procreate using the Apple Pencil. Later, she’s seen sitting in a park taking notes on ‘Bugs in the City’ using GoodNotes, and then reads a Wonder Woman comic book on the subway ride home. The video ends in the girl’s backyard. She’s lying in the grass typing away on her iPad Pro. When a neighbor asks her what she’s doing on her computer, the girl replies ‘What’s a computer’ making the not-so-subtle point that an iPad Pro is more than enough computer for many tasks.
In the summer of 2017, I wanted to know what it would be like to use an iPad Pro as my main computer. I found out that it can actually work, thanks to an iOS app called Blink, an SSH replacement called Mosh, iOS 11 and running stuff on a server.
As is tradition, I will first explain myself and tell you about the why.
This is a technical, fascinating look at turning the iPad Pro into the primary computer for a web backend engineer. It's always interesting to read how other people with different needs are taking advantage of iOS and the iPad's app ecosystem.
There's something about the screen of the new 10.5” iPad Pro that feels immediately novel but quickly becomes normal, and something that seems obvious at first but reveals itself as a deeper change after a few days. As a heavy user of the 12.9” iPad Pro, I've been pleasantly deceived by this new iPad, and the more I think about it, the more I keep coming back to the display and the story behind its new form factor.
Earlier this week, The Iconfactory released version 1.1 of its iPad sketching app, Linea. The highlight of the release is iCloud syncing for all drawings stored in the app. This is a welcome addition for the sake of having safe backup files in the cloud, but it is also important because of a related app debut from this week.
Alongside Linea's 1.1 update, The Iconfactory has also released a companion app for Mac called Linea Link. Ged Maheux shares the details in a blog post:
This new app is the easiest way to get sketches drawn on your iPad onto your Mac. Using iCloud sync, your work is instantly available for use in your favorite macOS applications.
Start a new Photoshop document using Linea’s layers. Reference a quick design idea while working in Xcode. Transcribe meeting notes into a Pages document. Or just tap the spacebar to preview Linea documents using Quick Look. Linea on iOS works great to get an idea started, and Linea Link on macOS lets you take the next step toward making it a reality.
Linea Link is a perfect bridge between the iPad and Mac for those who use both devices to get their work done. Third-party app support includes Sketch, Acorn, Pixelmator, Affinity Designer & Photo, and the above-mentioned Adobe Photoshop.
It is still the early days of Linea's life, but it's comforting to see continued investment being made to the app by The Iconfactory. As John shared in his initial review, Linea is an excellent example of an app that blends elegance and usability with just the right amount of tools and power needed to get creative work done.
Pixure is Louis D'hauwe's excellent pixel art studio app for iOS that lets you create retro-styled illustrations. Pixure was already best suited for the iPad's bigger display, but the latest version 2.2 adds PanelKit – a UI framework created by D'hauwe himself to turn traditional iPad popovers into floating panels.
Popovers are a staple of the iPad's interface, and I was skeptical when I saw the first details of PanelKit in February. After testing Pixure on my 12.9" iPad Pro, though, I think D'hauwe is onto something – when the app is in full-screen, it's nice to be able to re-arrange a palette of tools so it doesn't hide your content. The best part, in my opinion, is that panels can be converted back to sidebars by snapping them to the edge of the display, which is a fantastic use of the iPad Pro's large screen. There's an argument to be made about PanelKit bringing the cognitive load of desktop window management to the iPad, but I believe that, for some apps (such as graphic editors like Pixure), floating controls that you can re-arrange around the canvas are necessary.
I'm testing a few iPad apps that try to optimize for the iPad Pro's screen with additional popovers and sidebars, and none of them feel as flexible or as intuitive as D'hauwe's app. If you're an iPad user, you should check out Pixure.