Make mine a Mac

Stephen Hackett
7 July, 2012
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At the January 2010 keynote in which Steve Jobs introduced the iPad, he said that for a device that was somewhere between a smart- phone and a laptop to be successful, it would have to be “far better at some key things.” These key things, according to him, included Web browsing, managing email, looking at photographs and videos, listening to music, playing games, and reading ebooks.

But at the same event, Apple showed off iWork for iOS. The company had rebuilt Keynote, Pages, and Numbers for the tablet, with new menus and tools that brought much of the desktop versions’ power to the iPad. With iWork (and later iLife), Apple made it clear that it wanted prospective customers to view the iPad as a device for productive work, not just for consuming media.

With Apple’s apps and their myriad competitors in the iOS App Store, there are countless ways to get work done on the iPad. And my iPad is always in my bag, ready to go, like a good little assistant. Yet I still find myself sitting down at a Mac when it’s time to get the “real” work done.

From App to App

Day to day, my workload isn’t so different from that of other people who work in IT: I troubleshoot hardware, support software, attend meetings, maintain budgets, and so on.I do most of this on an iMac at my desk. A MacBook Air is always within quick reach as well. Yes, I’m spoiled.

My complaints about the iPad aren’t physical ones. I can type quickly with the on-screen keyboard, and I enjoy the fact that it has a better battery and screen than my MacBook Air, in a smaller, lighter package.

Rather, my issues are with iOS. It makes my normal workflow painful on the tablet. For example, when I’m on my Mac and I need to read a PDF—say, blueprints for a construction project I’m overseeing—I use Preview. I can quickly find and open the file via Spotlight, and then zoom in, crop, and even make notes in Preview. It’s fast and powerful.

On the iPad, I can’t do any of that without first syncing the PDF to my device. Getting files on and off the iPad seems more fragmented than ever: Some apps use Dropbox to sync data between devices, while others rely on iCloud. Apps like Evernote have their own baked-in sync solutions. Good.iWare’s GoodReader for iPad and similar apps include Bonjour syncing over Wi-Fi, which can be too fiddly for nontechnical users.

Once the PDF is on my iPad and I’ve edited it in whatever app I’m using— Smile Software’s PDFPen or Evernote’s Skitch usually—I then normally email the PDF to a coworker, contractor, or vendor with my notes and questions. Again, on the Mac, this is easy to do; but within iOS, it can be difficult. While well-written apps like PDFPen have a slew of export options, there’s no consistent set of systemwide tools—or interface, even—for emailing a file.

Where Was I?

Moving files from app to app isn’t the only time the iPad is clumsier than the Mac. On my Mac, I can flip between open applications quickly, knowing that they’ll be right where I left them when I flip back. I can leave an image open in Photoshop, minimized in the Dock, for hours. While iOS 5 has multitasking, it can be slow and may spring some surprises on you. If they aren’t well designed, apps sometimes revert to their default states. Even with multitasking gestures enabled, switching between apps on the iPad isn’t as fluid as it is on the Mac’s desktop.

Over the course of a workday, running into these limitations again and again gets pretty frustrating. That’s why I’d rather just work on a Mac, where I know I can do just about anything I need to do, and do it quickly, without navigating through menus or relying on Clipboard for all interactivity between apps.

With data stored in individual apps, the iPad feels more like a collection of isolated silos than a modern computer with apps that can communicate and interact with each other easily. I think iOS would greatly benefit from a single, centralized file manager that could handle these chores.

There’s no doubt the iPad is a great tool: It’s powerful, fun, and easy to use. But to me, it still seems best as a sidekick. It’s not quite ready for full-time superhero work yet. And it won’t be until it learns to act a little more like OS X.

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