In the wake of the outbreak, everything has changed. Travel is virtually non-existent, anything not essential is closed and we’re sheltering in our homes. Working out of them, too. That last fact alone has meant thousands of individual changes for many of us as we transition to fully remote operations. One tiny change in that vein that I noticed and mentioned last week was an unexpected spike in usage of my iPad. A few of you have asked me about that, so here’s the longer answer.
Prior to the outbreak, I had several “primary” machines with more or less fixed use cases (I’ve got a bunch of other gear at the office for testing but not day to day tasks). Besides my phone, these were, in order:
- Office: A 27″ iMac with the horsepower and screen size to do anything computationally difficult or requiring more screen real estate.
- Home: The 12″ Macbook, one I’ve been waiting five years for an adequate replacement for (and no, the new Macbook Air which clocks in at an offensive nearly three pound weight is not it). This was my machine for working and writing at home.
- Travel: The USB-C, 11″ iPad Pro. The only machine I travel(ed) with.
Basically it was one machine per setting: iMac at the office, Macbook at home and iPad everywhere else. With rare exceptions, those patterns were not deviated from. So rigid were the patterns, in fact, that the iPad almost never came out of my bag.
These days, it’s a workhorse I rely on for hours a day. Here’s why.
- It’s a Phone:
An iPad is not, pretty clearly, a phone. But for all intents and purposes it has become one during a time in which we at RedMonk – along with the rest of the known world, apparently – have migrated to Zoom. Prior to that switch, I used VOIP services sparingly, and most of my calls were made via a phone to dial-in numbers. Now, basically everything is over the network, which has meant that whatever I use for Zoom is, effectively, my new phone.
Now, I could use the Macbook for Zoom, but there are two problems with that. First, there’s a headset problem. I use Jabra 65t’s for my calls, and that can only pair with two devices at a time. My phone and iPad come first, so no Zoom on the Macbook.
Even if that weren’t the case, however, there’s the processing power issue.
My Macbook weighs a tick over two pounds. You’ll note that Apple not only doesn’t make my machine anymore, but they don’t make anything lighter than just under three pounds. One reason for that is presumably processing power, which two pound machines don’t have much of.
Normally this isn’t much of a problem for me. The Macbook will run Chrome (as long as I restart it once a day), Excel, RStudio, VS Code and a terminal window. So, most of what I need. But there are occasionally things it struggles with. One of these, funny enough, is Zoom. Here’s what I get when I try to enable Virtual Backgrounds on the Macbook:
The iPad, however, has no such problem. I’m old enough to remember when laptops – even five year old, anemic and underpowered laptops – were more powerful than tablets.
This one is partly what the iPad does well, and partly that the Macbook is really old. Taking the latter one first, the battery in my five year old Macbook is not in great shape.
What this means in practical terms is that once the laptop is removed from a power source, I’ve got minutes before it suspends. Sometimes not even that. With the iPad, I don’t have to think about the battery for the most part. As long as it’s charged overnight, it’s good for at least the day.
And when I have no dedicated office space or even desk here at the house but am instead jumping from kitchen table to couch to guest bed, not being tethered to a power cord is important.
I haven’t used it much historically, and I really can’t draw to save my life, but sometimes a picture – or hand drawn diagram, as it were – is worth a thousand words. I’m spending more time with the Apple Pencil as a result. I’m not likely to ever equal my colleague’s hand drawn diagrams, but the Pencil can be useful and is unique to the iPad.
In these packed days of working from home with kids, sometimes the best thing a device can do for you is sacrifice itself to buy you a few minutes. The iPad’s kid navigable UI excels in this capacity. Need fifteen minutes to wrap up a post about how you’re using the iPad more for work? Throw Wild Kratts on the iPad, stick it in front of your kid and revert to the Macbook to finish up said post.
As with many of the other changes that have been wrought, it remains to be seen how much of my increased usage of the iPad is a transient phenomenon versus more permanent shift. But for now, it’s been an enormously useful tool in sustaining what productivity I can muster.