In late 2017, I got my first iPad, and started using it as a laptop replacement. I'm sure this would've been surprising to my younger self. When Apple launched the iPad, I thought it was pointless. It's a big phone that doesn't make phone calls, I thought. But then, I didn't think I'd ever be able to use a touch screen. Apple can prove me wrong.
So why did I decide to get an iPad? I'd been using Windows for many years, but never liked Windows 10 very much. My Windows laptop was getting slow, and would sometimes get itself into an endless loop on startup which I usually couldn't exit without sighted assistance, because my screen reader hadn't launched yet. Meanwhile, my iPhone never had that problem. VoiceOver was always there for me, and if my phone ever crashed, it was up and running again within a few seconds. My phone could do virtually everything my laptop could do and more. Since I had become dissatisfied with Windows, and getting another iOS device would be easier and cheaper than getting a Mac, I decided that an iPad would be a good solution.
With the upcoming launch of iPad OS, I'm expecting that the iPad will work even better as a main computing device. For more information on what's coming to the iPad this September, see this Summary of Announcements from WWDC 2019 Keynote and this iPad OS preview from Apple
In the rest of this post, I'll discuss some of the features already available on the iPad before the launch of iPad OS. The next article in this series, to be posted in September, will be about the features introduced in the update.
Why Not Just Use an iPhone?
After iOS 13 and the new iPad OS are launched, the iPad will have even more advantages over the iPhone. But even without it, the iPad has been worthwhile for me. One reason is that it's useful to have two devices, so, for example, I can have a webpage open on the iPad, and use my phone to check that an email has arrived without losing my place. But the iPad does some things that the iPhone does not. The iPad has some extra keyboard shortcuts. I've got into the habit of using command + tab to switch between apps, which is more efficient than using the app switcher. There are other keyboard commands that only exist on the iPad, and, in many apps, pressing and holding the command key will bring up a list of shortcuts that can be used within that app.
Even the extra screen space can be useful. On the bigger screen, apps can present their information in two columns. Mail, for example, has the list of messages on the left and the content of the currently selected message on the right, which makes navigating through emails more efficient. You can navigate between these sections by setting the rotor to containers, or by using the shortcut control + right arrow, or, of course, by touching the area of the screen you want to focus on. If you use music apps, the extra screen space makes it easier to play instruments.
The larger screen also has some disadvantages, compared to the iPhone. As an example, the rotor gesture can be a little more difficult. On the iPhone, I find that the easiest method is to place two fingers on the screen and turn the phone. That's not practical on the iPad, so a better method is to flick up with one finger of one hand, and at the same time flick down with one finger of the other hand. If you find that difficult, the ability to customise VoiceOver gestures in iOS 13 and iPad OS should help. I usually have a bluetooth keyboard connected to my iPad, so I change the rotor setting with the arrow keys.
Can I do serious work on the iPad?
Most of you will already know that the iPad can easily be used for basic tasks like checking email and browsing the web, but what about word processing? There are plenty of writing apps available, but is it practical to use them to write all your reports, essays or articles? If you combine the iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard, you should find it easy to create documents from scratch. I would recommend choosing one of the many plain text editors rather than Pages or Word (see this guide to writing apps for some suggestions). In these apps, you can use markdown to add basic formatting to your text, and HTML for anything Markdown doesn't support.
Some AppleVis users have asked how easy it is to navigate and edit long documents. I have two suggestions for ways to make this easier.
- Add markdown headings to your documents. Many apps have a way to navigate by heading, such as the outline in Voice Dream Writer, so this will allow you to quickly get to the part of the document you need.
- Put each section of your piece of work into a separate file, and then compile them all into a single file at the end.
Using these methods, I regularly use my iPad to write documents of several thousand words. Once I've written the markdown, I convert the document to Word or PDF. If your editor of choice can't convert to the file format you need, CloudConvert is a useful tool. If you use it, remember to save your file with a .md extension, rather than .txt because otherwise your markdown will not be converted to properly formatted text.
If most of your work consists of writing documents from scratch, the iPad should be able to handle everything you need. However, editing existing Word documents with complex formatting can be more difficult. It's possible, but can be a slow process. I have Microsoft Word, Apple Pages and Google Docs all installed on my iPad so I can use whichever app is most willing to cooperate with the document I'm working on. I suggest experimenting with these apps to see which one works best for you. However, if you need to regularly edit complex Word documents, I would suggest using a different device.
If you need to use spreadsheets, the situation is the same, Apple Numbers, Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets are all accessible, and should meet your needs if you only need to use them for occasional basic spreadsheet tasks. If you need more than that, a different device might work better for you.
What if I Need a File System?
iPad OS will bring more file management features, so I'll be covering this topic in more detail in the next article in this series. However, I find that the existing features in iOS 12 meet my needs. Having a dropbox account makes it easy to organise your files into a folder structure, and then work on those files with multiple apps, so long as the apps you're using are compatible with Dropbox. The iOS Files app can also be very useful, because it gathers together all of your files from different locations. One of my frustrations with earlier versions of iOS was the difficulty of adding multiple attachments to an email, but this can now be done by selecting "add attachment" from the actions rotor within a message, browsing for the file you need, and repeating for each attachment.
iPad OS will make it easier to download files, but even without the update I haven't found it difficult. I regularly download PDFs from the web and save them to books so I can read them later, by following a link to a PDF in Safari, then selecting 'Copy to Books' from the share sheet.
Conclusion: Who should use the iPad as a Laptop Replacement?
As of July 2019, I would suggest that whether the iPad will work for you as amain computing device depends on what you want to do with it. If you're using it for writing, you can easily create documents using Markdown and HTML. There are many different Markdown editors to choose from, so you should be able to find one that meets your needs. Those who are interested in working with music and audio will also find a range of apps to choose from, although some AppleVis users prefer the software available for Mac and Windows. If you need to use more traditional office apps, the offerings from Apple, Google and Microsoft are all accessible, but unless you're very patient, I wouldn't recommend using them regularly because navigating through documents and spreadsheets can be cumbersome and unreliable.
On the other hand, the launch of iPad OS may encourage Apple, and app developers, to work on the iPad's weaker areas, including improving the experience for VoiceOver users.
Do you have any tips or questions about using the iPad as a laptop replacement? What are you looking forward to in iPad OS? As always, please share your thoughts in the comments.