I watched with much interest the product launch of the 12.9″ iPad Pro back in Autumn 2015. Here was a fast iPad with a huge display, an intriguing super-accurate stylus and a simple to attach external keyboard. I began to wonder: perhaps an iPad Pro could serve as a single multi-purpose computer for a teacher, rather than relying on the Mac plus iPad combo. With leaner financial times cutting into school budgets ever deeper, could this be a viable option?
There was only one way to truly find out: go ‘iPad Only’ with the iPad Pro. So from May 2016, that’s what I did! I passed on my MacBook Pro to our new technician and got myself a 128gb 12.9″ iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil and a Smart Cover.
Here are my thoughts, one year on…
The 12.9″ iPad is certainly big. I still get children asking me, “Mr Lings, why is your iPad so big?”, even though I’m sure they’ve seen me wander around the school with it all year. The screen size is literally twice as big as a ‘normal’ iPad, meaning you can comfortably fit two full sized apps next to each other when doing split-screen multitasking. This generous amount of screen estate is great for when you’re sitting down to do some work at a desk. Developers are beginning to take advantage of the size too, such as how iWork apps now can have an on-screen formatting panel rather than relying on a pop-over. However, it does feel a little bit too big for using the iPad when teaching lessons. It’s not impossible, but a slightly smaller iPad would be better for day-to-day classroom teaching.
This has been a feature of the operating system since iOS 9 and requires a newer model of iPad (iPad Air 2, iPad mini 4, iPad Pro and iPad 5). And it’s really useful! The productivity gains of being able to have two different apps up at once is hard to understate: whether that’s Notes and Keynote when creating a presentation, Safari and Numbers when doing some data crunching or just having Documents by Readdle open on the side when moving files around. The fact the 12.9″ Pro has such a big screen means that both the apps have plenty of room each.
The A9X chip is fast. Coming from an iPad Air (and an iPad 2 before that), this makes using the iPad so much more enjoyable. Apple’s iWork and iLife apps can be quite intensive to use at times, but the Pro handles them all fine. It truly does feel like ‘desktop class’ processing power, which makes a big difference to productivity.
Ever since we had started using iPads instead of Interactive Whiteboards in my school many years ago, a decent stylus was something that the iPad was missing. With the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, that decent stylus is here! It’s really nice to use, particularly when modelling any form of writing when teaching. It really does offer that pixel-level accuracy and has a lovely feel in your hand. Charging using the lightning socket on the iPad is really fast, although it does seem a little precarious. You can use an adaptor to charge it with a normal lightning cable, but it’s much slower that way.
I use a back cover from STM, which includes a little slot to store the Apple Pencil. The only downside to this is that the Pencil stays in Bluetooth connection to the iPad all the time and so discharges in about a day, even when it’s not being used at all. Hopefully there’s a fix to this coming in future…
There an app for that
Part of the journey this year has been discovering and making use of new and existing apps to ‘get jobs done’ on an iPad. With a bit of creativity, you can do most things!
- Documents 6 – FREE: this allows you to manage documents and files on your iPad as well as easily access a range of cloud and network storage. The most useful way to use it is a bit like the desktop on a Mac: you put stuff stuff there whilst you’re working on it. Because it makes use of ‘Document Providers’ in iOS, files can accessed in other app, allowing you to easily upload files on Safari or quickly email multiple documents.
- Word, Excel & Powerpoint – Office 365 Subscription: I’m still a big fan of Apple’s iWork suite, but sometimes you just need to edit and create native Microsoft Office files. They’ve done a really good job with it and it definitely comes in handy.
- Screens – £19.99: a VNC app that allows you to remotely connect to a desktop computer. I use this for keeping tabs on a couple of Mac servers, but it’s also useful for those pesky websites that just don’t work on an iPad (Apple School Manager and Mathletics Dashboard I’m looking at you!).
Print Preview and the Share Sheet
One really great ‘Easter Egg’ hidden in iOS 10 is the ability to generate a PDF wherever you can print. When printing something on iOS, it should bring up a print preview below. If you pinch out on it, it opens full screen and has the share button to then do what you like that PDF. This little trick opens up loads of possibilities!
To conclude, going ‘iPad Only’ isn’t for everyone, but it definitely is a viable option. Using iOS all the time makes ‘legacy’ desktop operating systems just feel so overly complicated and time consuming. In a sense, the iPhone is the ‘post-PC’ device, with over 1 billion of the hand-held super-computers sold so far. Because the iPad uses iOS too, it can benefit from that world of apps and workflows too.
Apple Distinguished Educator