I still can’t do design work on an iPad

September 8 2015

Last week, Apple made a big splash with its latest iPad offering, the iPad Pro. Featuring a massive screen with insanely high, pixel-perfect resolution, a nearly-perfect don’t-call-it-a-stylus digital pencil, and an incredible amount of computational power than surpasses the overwhelming majority of laptops in the wild, the new iPad should be a no-brainer for a creative professional like myself. I want one so badly. But I still can’t use it for design work.

With that explosive, perhaps controversial lede out of the way, I should clarify: I think a growing number of people can use the iPad for work, particularly with the split-screen features of iOS 9. If you tend to work a lot in the Office suite and send a lot of email, I think the iPad could easily replace your laptop.

But for the creative pro that Apple is pitching this to, I think it’s a dud.

To begin with, there’s a dearth of applications in the creative industry for the iPad. Adobe has made a couple, but they’re designed for mobile and meant to get us started with our ideas. If we want to finish them, Adobe is pretty clear that we need to do so in a desktop application. You still can’t run Xcode on an iPad. You still can’t make a proper mockup on an iPad.

Part of the problem is the App Store. My preferred mockup app on the Mac, Sketch, won’t be coming to the iPad any time soon. Emanual Sa explains:

But the biggest problem is the platform. Apps on iOS sell for unsustainably low prices due to the lack of trials. We cannot port Sketch to the iPad if we have no reasonable expectation of earning back on our investment. Maintaining an application on two different platforms and provide one of them for a 10th of it’s [sic] value won’t work, and iPad volumes are low enough to disqualify the “make it up in volume” argument.

Yikes. I don’t believe that app trials would fix everything, but I think it’s time Apple threw developers a bone. Unsustainable software businesses won’t entice great software developers to invest in your ecosystem.

The other problem is that iOS is still a sandboxed environment. You can have a great app like Coda running on iOS, but it’s pretty limited: no external servers, limited language compilers, etc. I spend a lot of my day coding in text editors. When I can’t do half my work on a device because there’s no possibility of an app in that product category being available for it, that’s very constraining.

With all that being said, even when there is an app available for iPad that I could use in my workflow, I’m not sure I want to use it.

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with the beta of an app called Protosketch. It’s similar enough to Sketch that I can get some work done with it. But doing some of this work without the precision of a mouse is cumbersome, particularly on my first-gen iPad Air (whose single gigabyte of RAM is really beleaguered while running the app). The larger iPad Pro might make it better, but it’s not worth spending $1,000 to find out.

If you want my hot take on when iPads will kill off desktops, it’s pretty simple: desktop computers lose their usefulness when the software available on the iPad becomes more valuable than its hardware. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I hope the iPad Pro helps spur us along. Like I said, I want one.

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