Two Weeks with Just an iPad

iPad with Smart Keyboard

I just returned from two weeks of business travel with just my 9.7-inch iPad Pro as my main computing device—no laptop. I’ve been traveling this way for about a year now and each time it gets a little bit easier, and I get more and more confident that it will satisfy my needs. It’s also consistently liberating; when I’m on the road, carrying fewer cables and less weight, and bypassing the overhead of managing a desktop operating system, these feel like priceless advantages. I’d much rather be sitting in coach with an iPad than in first class with a laptop that I’d have to lug around for the rest of the trip.

It’s not all smooth sailing though, I have to admit. There are still some speed bumps that can disrupt workflows. They are mostly (though not all) minor, but when I come across them, they can be irritating and time consuming.

For instance, on occasion, I’ll come across a web site that’s not particularly tablet-friendly, which is not exactly the same thing as being mobile-friendly. Everyone’s encountered the latter; sites that don’t present well on phones or tablets, rely on desktop-specific functionality like hover states, or use very small touch targets that make it impossible to use them on a multitouch screen.

Tablet-unfriendly web sites, on the other hand, make an incorrect assumption that phones and tablets can be treated exactly the same way. There’s a lot more screen real estate on an iPad, even on the 9.7-inch model. There’s enough to do real work, or certainly to use the request desktop site feature in mobile browsers to see what you’d see on a “regular” computer. But a lot of web apps, including Google Drive apps, actually break that feature, so there’s no way you can get to functionality that should be available to you.

Google, in fact, was the source of one of the more difficult problems I had with native apps too. Their otherwise excellent Sheets app does not allow Google Apps for Work users, like myself, to create publicly viewable links. I wanted to share a spreadsheet outside of my company by allowing anybody with the link to view and edit it, something that’s easily done in a desktop browser. But neither the iOS nor the Android versions of the Sheets app make that possible. In the end, I had to resort to requesting the desktop version of the Sheets web site on my Android phone (apparently the site works that way with Android but not with iOS) and pinch and zoom my way to the necessary controls, which were uncomfortably laid out for desktop usage.

Finally, it’s still a disappointing fact that it remains difficult to do real, production-grade design work on an iPad. I actually used Adobe Comp for some lightweight design tasks over the past two weeks, but it’s still not realistic to take on a big project with it. I still believe that this will change one day soon (we are still chipping away at the problem at Adobe), but that day is not here yet.

Until then, I generally reserve intensive design work for when I’m back at my desk, which, while inconvenient, is not exactly debilitating—even in the days before I carried around a laptop on flights I never did a ton of design work on the road anyway. And, for better or worse, the work that I do while traveling these days is principally managerial—“office stuff,” like the aforementioned spreadsheets, word processing documents, Keynote slides, note-taking, reviewing PDFs, Slack chats, video conferencing, and tons and tons of email. All of that is eminently possible on an iPad right now; in fact it’s my preferred way of doing this stuff, whether at home or away.