Daydreaming of an iPad-only future

Unification is a powerful principle in personal productivity. The less splits between devices and software you have to perform for your tasks, the easier and quicker you can complete your work. That's a premise that strongly shapes my own approach. It's at the core of what I have been writing about on this blog.

Why depend on hacky solutions like cloud sync to justify a multi-OS setup? It's better to be bold and pick a side. Today, iOS is where the action is.

I recently switched away from my Mac to work from iOS only. Today, I conduct my digital work from my iPhone and my 12.9 inch iPad Pro. The latter is my stationary - at home and at work - device. For any mobile task, I refer to my iPhone.

The switch has so far worked out smoothly and I don't see myself reverting back anytime soon.1 No future MacBooks for me, despite all their allure.

Recently, Tim Nahumck made the case for an iPhone Pro as he does all his work from only his phone only. His approach resonated quite a bit with me.

Ben Brooks is now about to sell his Mac since his move to iOS as his only operating system seems to have been quite fruitful. These days, he conducts most of his work from his two iPads.2

In light of these guys, I am daydreaming about my own setup: Why have two devices, the iPhone and the iPad, that have so much redundancy between them? Could I settle on just a single device? If so, how and which device for that matter?

So far, I would have chosen the iPhone over the iPad. It's the obvious choice, isn't it? It's Apple's flagship, it's more portable and it's the phone. How could I possibly do without it? Looking ahead, however, I wonder whether my preconceptions could change. iOS 10 and the latest iPad hardware might make me reconsider.

As of today, there is no true feature parity between the iPad and the iPhone. Because the iPhone is so much more popular than the iPad, it's the device that receives new blockbuster updates, first. Some features like 3D Touch might continue to be iPhone only.3

But, man, I really love to work on the iPad. It's so much more enjoyable than working on a traditional computer and it's not as cramped as working on the iPhone. Couldn't I do more of my work on the iPad? Could the iPad become my only device?

Portability

Portability is a strong argument against an iPad-only setup. Do I really want to be the guy who always lugs a 12.9 inch iPad Pro around? Probably not. But then there is the 9.7 inch iPad Pro. After a while with the big Pro, the smaller one becomes somehow ultraportable.

In almost every setting through my days in which I have my iPhone with me, I am able to bring an iPad as well. If on foot or on my motorcycle, I almost always have a backpack or a messenger bag with me. If not, I probably came by car and carrying space isn't a consideration at all. If I switched to the 9.7 inch Pro (which I won't for the time being), this would be even more so the case. While I was still using an iPad Air 2, I carried it with me almost everywhere.

A notable exception being summertime. On really warm days and in outdoor activities or sports, I greatly prefer the small form factor of the iPhone as I can easily carry it in my pocket and don't need an additional carrying bag. Speaking of outdoor activities, there is no considerable way of using the iPad as an action cam or as a navigator on a motorcycle, two things that I have used my iPhone for in the past.

With the increasing prominence of Siri, it will probably become easier to perform tasks on an iOS device without directly touching it. I do like Siri and if the parsing and understanding keep getting better, I am looking forward to extending my use of voice input on my devices. Handholding the device and its grip factor will be perhaps be less of an issue in the future.4

To me, the strength of the iPhone's smaller size lies in the fact that it's instantly pocketable. I can take it out of my bag, do something on it and put it back in the blink of an eye. Using an iPad instead makes it obvious for others to see that I am interacting with it. Depending more on the Watch for notifications and short interactions could be my way to go. The upcoming improvements in watchOS 3 and an as of yet absent full iPad-support for the Apple Watch5 might bridge this gap.

Communication

Communication is what the phone was originally designed for. However, these days I rarely ever make traditional phone calls. Most of my communication is messaging and messaging is handled almost as well on the iPad as it is on the iPhone.6 Even more parity between devices in this regard is likely in the near future.

Despite its dependence on stable network connections, for the rare instances that I have to make a phone call, I can go by with VoIP options like Facebook Messenger and FaceTime, both of which work on the iPad. They also work just fine abroad.

Photography

The iPhone is a great camera. It's always with me and it takes great pictures. It has everything that I need for my image processing workflow.

However, I still see the need for a traditional camera besides the iPhone, especially for travel photography. The Fujifilm X-Series is the system I prefer.

If just for one thing: You take more photos with less hesitance using a traditional camera over the iPhone. Maybe it's the form factor of the phone, maybe your subject's fear of ending up on YouTube that let people behave differently in front of the iPhone than in front of a traditional camera. This pictures in the images.

As I have the privilege of owning a Fuji camera7, I have become less dependent on my iPhone for photography. If the iPad became my future only-device and it was always with me, I would probably be fine taking pictures with it.8 Even more so with the recent camera updates on the 9.7 inch iPad Pro. Today, I don't take any pictures on my iPad, except for the occasional scan. I use it as my main tool for image processing and storage, however.

Productivity

Everything from writing to task management can be done equally well - if not better - on an iPad when compared to the iPhone. I love full screen unitasking- it's the way I always used my Mac - and the big screen on the iPad is perfect for it. Split screen multitasking in iOS 9, however, is what sets the iPad and the iPhone miles apart.

As I don't work from home and hardly ever have my iPad with me while on the road, I often miss its multitasking capabilities when I have to get work done on my iPhone.9

I miss the Pencil when I'm working from my iPhone. I use it for annotating PDFs on the iPad Pro all the time as I have to read quite a bit of medical literature and scientific studies on a daily basis. Also, it's the perfect tool for journaling, even more so if you keep a running journal on your desk that you fill with scribbles as your day passes along.

Health tracking

I use my iPhone as my health tracker. I am not so much focused on step counts from the phone as I am on tracking my sleep and supplement intake. The Apple Watch is more accurate than the iPhone in tracking movement, anyway. The iPad Pro does have an M9 coprocessor, though I am not sure whether it allows for a comparable device-based motion tracking. I use Health.app on my iPhone as the hub for most of my health-related data. Sadly, there is no Health.app on iPad. 10

Entertainment

I am a heavy user of speaker audio on my iOS devices. It's how I consume most of my audio entertainment.11 The iPad Pro with its great new speaker system is so much better at the job than the iPhone. It has become my go to device for listening to podcasts around the house and it has replaced my need for portable Bluetooth and AirPlay speakers. If the rumors about an iPhone without a headphone jack are true and wireless audio is the future for iOS, it will only get easier to use the iPad as the primary device for audio entertainment.

Outlook

I am confident that the iPad as it is would hold up just fine as my only device. There are a few crucial shortcomings, though, for which I still depend on my iPhone today. Most of these could be mitigated by incremental OS improvements and a more powerful Apple Watch which I have yet to integrate into my workflow.

Going all in on iPad-only? The question for me today is when rather than how.

 

  1. I working on a few questions that still need to be fully resolved. I haven't sold my MacBook for these reasons, yet, even though I only use it for backup purposes these days.  ↩︎
  2. I don't buy the reasoning behind the recent multiPad fad. Just confess your FOMO and GAS, guys. ↩︎
  3. I do use 3D Touch a lot.  ↩︎
  4. Personally, I prefer the ergonomics of holding an iPad in landscape mode over holding an iPhone in portrait. I also prefer two-handed over one-handed use. ↩︎
  5. You can't configure an Apple Watch from an iPad, can you? ↩︎
  6. Whatsapp is still missing from the iPad and this is a big thing in Europe.  ↩︎
  7. For those of you who have followed my recent struggles against camera GAS, I have bad news: I lost the fight. I have switched from the X100T to the X-Pro 2. I will keep you posted.  ↩︎
  8. Go ahead and judge me for it. The giant view finder is nice, though.  ↩︎
  9. For instance, this post was entirely written and published from my iPhone. It's possible and it's fun to write on the iPhone, but I prefer the iPad for longer stretches of work that require at least some amount of web research. ↩︎
  10. There isn't, right? ↩︎
  11. I believe I am not alone in this regard. A lot of people use the iPhone speaker for audio playback. Maybe additional speakers in the next iPhone are the reason why the headphone jack has to go away. ↩︎