iPad Pro: Impressive, But Not a Laptop Replacement for Dr. Mac

| Dr. Mac's Rants and Raves

Dr. Mac’s Rants & Raves|
Episode #160


I’ve been testing a decked out 128GB iPad Pro with the new Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard for a couple of months.

The new iPad Pro is big, beautiful, and available in three flavors (colors).
Photo courtesy of Apple, Inc.

With its svelte profile (just over a quarter of an inch thick), high-performance A9X processor, huge 12.9-inch Retina display, and optional Smart Keyboard, it could easily be considered as an alternative to a new laptop. And many people I’ve talked to are considering it as just that. So, for as long as I’ve had it I’ve been picking it up instead of my usual on-the-go computing device —an 11-inch MacBook Air.

The first big test was spending a week in Florida with my family. I considered leaving the MacBook Air behind and relying solely on the iPad Pro for my computing needs, but I chickened out just before leaving for the airport and brought ‘em both.

For a few days I didn’t touch the MacBook, but when it came time to write and submit a column, I spent an hour struggling with it on the iPad before I switched to the MacBook Air to finish and submit it in record time.

The problem was, in order to write the column I needed to refer to multiple web pages as well as email messages and notes stored in Dropbox and Evernote, all while writing the column in Pages. Therein lies the rub. While the iPad is as good as (or almost as good as) a notebook at many tasks, it falls apart at multitasking. On my Mac, I can arrange the windows from multiple applications to make it easy to bounce from one program to another; on the iPad, it was an exercise in frustration, swiping back and forth and trying to get Split View and Slide Over to work the way I wanted them to.

See, iOS doesn’t support overlapping, movable, resizable windows from multiple apps (and is unlikely to ever support them). So an iPad is unlikely to ever replace a Mac in my workflow.   

This experience led me to a theory about what kind of people will be happy using an iPad — Pro or otherwise — as their main computing device: If you’re typically the kind of user who opens an application and uses it exclusively for a long while, the iPad may be just the ticket and you may never need another laptop or desktop computer. If, on the other hand, you’re like me and prefer to multitask by keeping a dozen or more programs running and switching between them with great regularity, you’re not a good candidate for ditching your laptop and using an iPad as your main computing device.

On my Mac, everything I need is one click away… (click to enlarge)

Then, of course, there’s my preference for working with multiple displays—another thing I don’t foresee the iPad supporting.

OFF TOPIC: On the other hand, the iPad Pro (or almost any iPad for that matter) makes an excellent external monitor for my MacBook Air or MacBook Pro. When I’m anywhere but my desk, I usually use a very cool app called Duet Display to connect my iPad to my MacBook Air or Pro and use it as an external display. It works with most iPads and Macs, and is currently on sale for $7.99 (I think I paid $15) in the App Store; whatever I paid, it was worth every penny. If you have an iPad and like the idea of having an extra display for your Mac, check out the video.

And now, we return to our regularly scheduled programming…

In spite of not being a suitable MacBook Air replacement, at least not for me, I have to tell you that I liked the iPad Pro a lot. Enough, in fact, that a Pro will probably be the next iPad I buy.

That being said, I’m out of space, so you’ll have to tune in next week to find out what I thought of actually using an iPad Pro.

And that’s all he wrote…

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I thought about an iPP to replace my MacBook, and I’ve come to the same conclusion. Currently I do about 70% of my computing on my iPad Air but that last 30% just doesn’t work well. Editing involves selecting text, shuffling it around, putting it here, trying it there, moving this paragraph ahead of that one. iOS just doesn’t do that well. Same with video editing. iMovie on iOS just is harder to use than on OS-X. So I’m looking at updating my 2012 MacBook Pro (Not many people know this but I famously said it would be my last Mac. I thought I’d be going iPad from then on.)

One question, If you are using Duet Display can the iPad be doing other things? For example, can I be playing music and then use the iPad as a second display for my Mac with the music still playing?

Bob LeVitus

geoduck: Excellent question and one I never even thought of trying (since I usually listen to music on my iPhone or Mac, not my iPad). So… I’m trying it now and it works. (For what it’s worth, I’m listening to Big Brother & The Holding Company’s Piece of My Heart, which is coming out of the iPad Pro acting as an external display for my MacBook Pro.)

Duet Display is the first one of these things that works well enough that I keep the iPad connected as a monitor whenever it’s not being used elsewhere.


Any chance you guys could get an artist to review the iPad Pro? Most of the reviews I’ve seen have been like yours: deciding if it was a laptop replacement or not, or comparing it to a Surface Pro. After playing with an Apple Pencil and an iPad Pro at my local Apple Store I was stunned with how amazing and game changing it was as a tool for digital art. With some real artist apps like ProCreate I could see the iPad Pro pretty much snuffing out Wacom’s Cintiq line. I’m weighing getting one just for the drawing possibilities. I’ve been struggling with the cognitive disconnect of a tablet and Painter for years and have always reverted to traditional media, but drawing on the iPad Pro actually made digital art fun.

Bob LeVitus

I’m not an artist but I did stick the iPad Pro into the hands of several people who are far more proficient with art and we all agreed it’s the most usable and realistic-feeling stylus-on-a-screen system we’ve used.

I’ll talk about art a little bit in next week’s column, but I think you’re right - a full reveiw from an artist would be a whole different story.


Thanks for the review, I love the real world use experience. I could probably replace my home laptop with an iPad Pro as it’s mostly used for home finance, web surfing and e-mail. I’d have to update my printer though as my laser does not support air-print.

As to how an artist feels about it, there are several reviews. This article (not a review) had some interesting comments. But the same site did a proper review. Again, the fun is in the comments section.


“Therein lies the rub. While the iPad is as good as (or almost as good as) a notebook at many tasks, it falls apart at multitasking.”

And herein lies the irony: the surface doesn’t.

“On the other hand, the iPad Pro (or almost any iPad for that matter) makes an excellent external monitor for my MacBook Air or MacBook Pro. When I’m anywhere but my desk”

$799 for a mobile external monitor?  Are you kidding? 2 years ago I bought an asus windows detachable and a $79 mobile monitor. Got it all for $350 less than the iPad pro. Seriously,  this is reaching for justification.

Bob LeVitus

A-thought: I beg to differ. What can your $79 monitor do in addition to being a crappy monitor? I didn’t get an iPad to use as an external display… but when it’s not being used for other stuff, why not?

As for the Surface, I’ve never tried one and have no interest (mostly ‘cause it runs my least-favorite OS). 

One last thing: You’re not a troll, are you?


Bob:  I think you missed my point. I was able to get a set up that allows me to have a tablet, laptop, or extended display workstation, for $450, with one device streamlining my data. The authors point is to spend $2000 on a Mac book and an iPad Pro.  Why anyone would spend that much only to end up with a tablet where you still have to carry around a laptop, then use the tablet as a monitor, is beyond me.

I happen to have an opinion that an iPad Pro is not worth the money. Stating such and challenging other opinions doesn’t make me a troll. I find that title is often thrown at people by others when they don’t like the point that The person is making.  It’s very one sided.  You made a point that you would never use a surface because it’s your least favorite OS. Stating that doesn’t make you a troll, just a person making an argument.  As am I.

Bob LeVitus

A-thought: Sorry for the misunderstanding. I only asked about the troll thing because, well, this _is_ The Mac Observer and we don’t cover much Windows stuff around here. Ergo, it sounded troll-like (which is why I asked it as a question rather than stating it outright). In any event, sorry about that.


Bob:  Not a problem, and thanks for the reply.  It’s not the first time I’ve been suspected of (or outright called) a troll simply because I don’t think the iPad Pro is a value proposition as a productivity device.  But despite my detractors, this is not trolling…I speak as a user of a windows tablet, iPad 2, and an iPhone.

A pleasure speaking with you.

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