Discover more from The Technically Challenged Newsletter
Buying an iPad Pro for coding was a mistake
I bought the iPad Pro M1 chip in hopes of a lightweight, fast, multi-purpose device that I could also code on. It delivered in almost all areas.
Why an iPad in the first place?
The #1 reason I started to consider buying an iPad a few years ago was for one thing, and one thing only: to read coding books. I have a kindle and I love it, but for coding books it is terrible. The large color screen especially comes in handy with code snippets as well as for color syntax highlighting. I definitely don't like reading programming books on my computer, and I'm trying to minimize physical book purchasing since my book shelves at home are already maxed out ( my wife appreciates my self-control). So the iPad seemed like a good middle ground.
The #2 reason I considered the iPad was because Apple had announced at WWDC 2021 that their Swift Playgrounds app would be updated to support SwiftUI and be able to release complete iOS apps on Apple's AppStore. This seemed promising and I wanted to learn Swift and SwiftUI better. I also didn’t have a personal laptop to do this on so I ended up pulling the trigger.
What does the iPad do well?
Tons of stuff. You can use it for any form of writing, spreadsheets, music production, video editing. It's obviously great for media consumption and entertainment on the go, or if you're just snuggled in bed with your significant other (😉) and want to watch a quick show together. People even make movies with it all by itself.
It also excels when it comes to things that use the pencil: note taking, drawing, photo editing, and most recently I've been using it with Final Cut Pro to edit my last few YouTube videos (I've been impressed with it to say the least). The precision of the pencil and the jog wheel are 👌🏻.
Thanks for reading The Technically Challenged Newsletter! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Because I planned to code on it I ended up getting the Magic Keyboard. And I have to say it is really nice. Expensive, but nice. It acts as a really nice case to protect your iPad. And as a keyboard it works really well. For the most part I feel like I'm able to use 80% or so of the Mac keyboard shortcuts I use daily (though I wish I could do more complex key remapping with something like Karabiner-Elements.
I wasn’t sure how I’d like the new mouse dot feature which was added to the iPad. But after some use I found it also works really well. While it isn’t completely like a MacOS experience it feels totally fine in the context of an iPad. But this goes to show that the iPad still fees like a separate device category. All of these small differences add up.
Also the Apple Pencil v2 that attaches magnetically and charges automatically was an obvious choice. I've been very pleased with the reliability and the precision of the pencil. It's great for taking handwritten notes with or sketching out a problem I'm trying to solve at work. Or even journaling when I'm feeling introspective. The shear fact that you don’t have to awkwardly plug the pencil into the bottom of your iPad to to charge the pencil it is worth the extra $30 bucks in my opinion!
Performance and Battery life
Performance is snappy and battery life is excellent. The power and energy efficiency of the new M1 series of chips is top notch. Apple really accomplished something special with the chip transition. I can't wait to see how this improves workflows and even brings AAA games to the Mac in the near future.
For battery life, I can reliable throw my iPad in my backpack and not use it for days, pull it out, and be pleasantly surprised that I have plenty of battery life. The M1 chipset really did wonders on my battery anxiety issues especially when compared with my old work computer— an Intel 16in MacBook Pro that lasted 1.5 hrs when not plugged in.
By itself the iPad is incredibly sleek and light weight, but once you add the accessories, especially the Magic Keyboard, the weight (and thickness) increases a lot. The most noticeable of the two is the weight which increases by more than double after adding the Magic Keyboard. But this is replacing a keyboard and a mouse so that is not to be taken lightly, and you save a considerable amount of space compared to bringing a separate keyboard and mouse wherever you go. A tradeoff for sure but worth it in my opinion.
But how does the iPad fare as a coding device? Does it live up to my expectations?
Can you code on an iPad?
Short answer: Yes. Long answer: it really depends on why type of coding you want to do, and what type of development environment you'll be using. If you're just learning Swift in Swift Playgrounds then sure, you can use it for coding, but you could also do the same thing with the base model iPad for a fraction of the cost.
If you're a sysadmin working mainly in SSH terminals, or if you have access to a browser-based cloud development environment, then I could see the iPad fitting into a workflow, especially if you want to pair it with an external monitor of USB-C to HDMI.
But if you need to run Xcode, VSCode, WebStorm, or Intellij than as far as I can tell the iPad is a no go.
For my needs the iPad did not deliver, but that is OK. I still love you iPad.
Why not buy an iPad in 2023?
Aside from the mixed bag regarding coding...
It's expensive. After buying a powerful pro model, a decent keyboard, and a pencil the price ended up being MORE than a laptop I could have used for even more coding activities.
The keyboard shortcuts and operating system aren't quite as power-user friendly as I would prefer. Some of my shortcuts don't work in certain apps because it depends on how the developer coded their app and what they support. And other types of customizations are not available that I would like.
Small screen - to save on cost a bit I opted for the 11in instead of the 12.6in. Even if I went for the 12.6in it would be too small for me. I feel most comfortable with a 15 or 16in laptop so an 11in is just miniscule. But to it’s credit you can add an external monitor.
Would I recommend buying an iPad in 2023? If you have a good use for it, I'd say sure. But it doesn't really do much more than an inexpensive Macbook Air and so I'd probably consider that first. If you need it for the artistic tools with the pencil, or want a multi-functional device that's lightweight, portable, and largely can do real work on, then I'd recommend it if you're considering one.