iPad Pro... the follow up review!

Studio Insights

BY Mike Hesketh

It's the moment, i'm sure, you've all been waiting for... the follow up review of the iPad Pro. What are my thoughts now and how does it stack up against my hopes and dreams for this product from back when it was first announced?

Well let's get stuck straight in shall we? Has it replaced my laptop... No it hasn't... BUT it has most certainly become an irreplaceable tool within my design process. You will remember that I wanted to take a bold step by not replacing my ageing MacBook Pro with a new shiny MacBook Pro but instead replacing it with the shiny new iPad Pro... I had mixed feelings about it then and I have mixed feelings about it now. I still haven't replaced my MacBook Pro with a shiny new MacBook Pro but I can't honestly say that it's because my iPad Pro has successfully filled it's shoes. It hasn't... it lacks the software to allow me to do that and it arguably never will have the software to do that. I may have been stupid to assume that that could be the case but everything seemed to be so hopeful when it launched.

You know what... I can't lay all the blame solely at the door of Apple for the short comings of the iPad Pro. It was only ever going to be as good as the applications it could run and although developers would argue that it lacks the power to run more complex software with the sort of features that I would need... I do get the lingering sense that there's been a lack of effort put in by certain developers who shall remain nameless (Adobe). There are some fantastic apps on there and the split screen mode on the iPad pro makes it a very versatile machine for working on and when it comes to drawing it is fantastic to be able to keep an eye on other content and still remain involved in my work. In fact, lets look at some of those processes I used my laptop for and how the iPad Pro stacks up.

Typing

Seems like a fairly straight forward section but any content creation that isn't a drawing requires typing so this needed to work well. I think the drawback of the previous iPads was that, for the most part, keyboards had to appear on the screen and with a limited amount of pixels to begin with this was just a nightmare for anything you were trying to create or type as it left you with a tiny letterbox to work within. With the release of the smart cover that incorporates a keyboard, this whole problem has been solved. The whole screen is freed up for you to use and this has successfully allowed my laptop to remain in my bag. Not to mention some of my favourite keyboard shortcuts from my iMac and MacBook have made their way to the iPad as well.

Coding

It seems logical to look at coding right after looking at typing because, barring some kickstarter invention I haven't heard about, you can't telepathically write code yet. Trying to code (and with me it is the most basic of code) was always awkward on the iPad... mainly down to the screen size and the on screen keyboard getting in the way. The larger screen of the iPad and the keyboard smart cover allow you to easily type up code and with the spilt screen function you can even test it side-by-side... to a certain extent. The only downside is the software. There just doesn't seem to be that great a selection of apps to allow you to code on the iPad and my app of choice never seemed to want to acknowledge that the iPad Pro had been invented and as such the resolution of the app remained the same as if it were being used on an old iPad. This meant the UI had to be scaled up and as a result left it big and clunky and not the easiest coding environment, which was a shame. I can't criticise Apple for this but it is a shame that something that would work really well with the iPad Pro is overlooked because the app developers aren't playing ball.

Layout

This is a more specific piece of functionality for the graphic designer and web designer and it is definitely the reason I haven't ditched the MacBook just yet. In the studio we would generally use Adobe InDesign for print layout (brochures, flyers, etc), Adobe Illustrator for intense/detailled vector work (Illustration, Logo creation, etc) and Adobe Photoshop for web design mockups, image editing and additional illustrating. The Adobe apps for the iPad Pro don't do what their 'big brothers' do and I wouldn't expect them to. There's countless different features and integrations between within the applications in Adobe CC that really only belong in a desktop/laptop, mouse and keyboard setup... but none the less I still expected more. Layout just doesn't work well on iPad. With my laptop in my bag that I can use at home, it is infinitely quicker and easier to take it out and make an edit to a flyer or work on visuals for a website. Wireframes (or something that Adobe argues is more than just that but not really) just don't cut it. So unfortunately proper layout just hasn't been possible for me.

Vectors

Again this is specific piece of functionality for the graphic designer or illustrator but is sort of a strange twighlight zone for the iPad Pro. When it comes to logo design, the process begins as a hand drawn concept that is then worked up and experimented with in an application like Adobe Illustrator. I have found that the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil have become a very useful tool in this regard. Some of our logos require a hand crafted feel and whereas previously this would have involved several drawings on paper, overlaying with pen, scanning, editing, retracing, touching up and finishing in Adobe Illustrator, the majority of this process can now be condensed by using the Apple Pencil and the Adobe Draw app on the iPad Pro. That being said, more detailed editing of points that is necessary for any logo design can't be done within Adobe Draw and although it is a fantastic tool it has its limitations. There are alternative apps that do offer a greater scope for point editing and suggest that they could be used to create fully fledged identities all within the iPad, but although the amount of tools and abilities are impressive they aren't anywhere near as easy to use as a mouse and keyboard. That is a huge shame but I am willing to admit that with a bit more practice and perseverance perhaps I could master making a full identity on the iPad pro but as we all know... we aren't often afforded the luxury of time that would allow us to re-learn a skill we already have.

Illustration

Ok, so THIS is the game changer... at least it is for me. I had no idea how much of an essential tool my iPad Pro and Apple Pencil would become when it comes to illustration. All of my illustrations are now entirely carried out on the iPad. The control and precision of the Apple Pencil is better than I ever thought it would be and, as I mentioned above, the multiple steps involved in digitising an illustration have been condensed down into 1 or 2. Plus there are a whole myriad of drawing apps to chose from and you can achieve truly amazing things, which has opened up a tonne of new creative doors for me. For the most part I would, again, find myself using Adobe Draw on the iPad as it allows me to easily create complex vector illustrations that are best for their versatility when it comes to using them in print. My only complaint is that the performance of my iPad Pro and Adobe Draw seems to be so good that my 27in iMac struggles to handle illustrations that I create. Any limitations, in terms of features, with drawing on the iPad can be easily overcome when in the studio environment by using an app called Astropad which allows me to connect and share my iMac screen to my iPad Pro. This enables me to use the full desktop software suit of Illustrator and Photoshop with the benefits of the Apple Pencil. This is useful for in studio work where it can have a connection (lightning cable or wifi) but obviously doesn't help me on my quest to ditch my laptop.

So in summary it does sound like a bit of a mixed bag review. It hasn't managed to replace my laptop yet and it may never do that, but it has become an irreplaceable tool within my design process. You could argue that it has become just an expensive graphics tablet and in that regard there would be cheaper alternatives or even better (and more expensive) alternatives if that is what you find you are using it for. That may be the case, but I don't know the alternatives and have become very comfortable and happy with my iPad. It is a very capable, precise and intuitive digital drawing pad and at the end of the working day it still has all the enjoyable features that come with it being an iPad.