Rethinking the Value of the iPad Pro and Surface Pro

on February 3, 2016

Ever since 2-in-1s were introduced about five years ago, I have been cool to this form factor. The idea of marrying a tablet and a keyboard was a disconnect for me. Part of the reason is I am a diehard laptop user and my history with laptops probably skews my thinking. My love affair with laptops goes back to the early 1980s when I used a pseudo-laptop, the Tandy TRS 80, as a portable word processor. Then in 1984, I was asked to work with IBM’s research group on what became their first full-fledged laptop. Ever since, a laptop has been my go-to computing device. I have used desktops from time to time but since I travel so much, a laptop really became my primary computing tool.

My initial foray into the 2-in-1 concept was Lenovo’s Yoga. Since the screen did not detach, I just used it as a traditional laptop, never using it in tablet mode. My first real experience with a tablet/keyboard combo came through Microsoft’s first Surface product. That experience was so bad, it put me off this type of device for a couple of years. I have to admit, I did use a Bluetooth keyboard with an iPad from day one and liked the mobile flexibility it gave for things like email and note taking. However, given my computing needs, it never replaced my laptop since I couldn’t do the kind of heavy lifting a true laptop can deliver.

Over the last two years, the technology to deliver a more robust 2-in-1 experience has gotten much better. There are two products on the market I think might be pointing us to the next major shift in portable computing. Microsoft’s Surface Pro and Apple’s new iPad Pro are, at the moment, the best of breed 2-in-1s. I will probably be dragged, kicking and screaming, toward these new designs. But after using both for some time now, I am starting to warm up to them.

I like the design and even the keyboard on my Surface Pro 3. Windows 10 makes this 2-in-1 a good mobile computer. It delivers the power of Windows and, even with its lack of touch-based apps, I can see how it could be a laptop replacement for some people.

But I still struggle with its layout and smaller fonts that come standard. I’m not convinced it could replace my Dell XPS 13 or my Lenovo Yoga as my full time portable computer. Call me old school when it comes to the Windows platform but traditional laptops still seem a better fit for my needs.

As for the iPad Pro, at first I really struggled with such a large iPad and its keyboard case. Although I am a power user on the Mac OS platform, I spend most of my mobile digital time on an iPad Air and am even more proficient with iOS. As I said, I used an iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard so I sort of knew what the experience would be like. But to be honest, I was not a big fan of Apple’s keyboard case and could never become comfortable using its keyboard. And since I am artistically challenged, even the pen was of little use to me. I did try to take notes using the pen but I can’t read my own handwriting so that was not a big draw either.

But by using my favorite Bluetooth keyboard, the iPad Pro started to live up to its potential for me. The 13″ screen is equal to the ones on my Dell and Lenovo laptops and, since I use iOS so much, using touch to navigate was very easy for me. Apple making iOS a rich mobile OS and adding great new features to it makes the iPad Pro a powerful alternative to my MacBook and Windows laptops.

When Tim Cook announced the iPad Pro, he said it could do as much as 80-90% of what anyone could do on a traditional laptop. On a recent trip, I decided to try that theory out. I only took my iPad Pro with me and used it as if it was my MacBook or a Windows laptop. I found, in general, Cook was right. I wrote email, texted, took notes, wrote and edited my columns. I used it for video, movies, music and Skype videos with clients. My only problem is it does not cut and paste as easily as it does in Windows 10 or Mac OS X, but that was minor compared to is actual ability.

Intel and Microsoft have a goal to make 2-in-1s and convertibles, or products like Lenovo’s Yoga, as much as 50% of the overall laptops shipped by the latter part of this decade. They are convinced the flexibility a tablet/laptop combo gives a person is so valuable that they, along with their OEM partners, are working hard to make these devices sleeker, more innovative and flexible so that even diehard laptop users may want to move over to this new form factor at some point in the near future. While I was skeptical of this goal at first, I am now starting to come around to this way of thinking and can see that perhaps a 2-in-1 or convertible really is the future of mobile personal computing. The jury is still out on how successful Microsoft, Intel and their partners will be in getting the majority of laptop users to move to these new form factors. But, after resisting it myself for some time, I can now see the value of 2-in-1s and convertibles and how they could become an important mobile computing hardware platform in the future.