Jason Snell, Travel, and the iPad

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 3 min read

Jason Snell: Giving Up the iPad-only Travel Dream

My productivity needs are clearly unlike those of most people, but the truth is that everyone’s got different productivity needs. The problem with the iPad continues to be that as it builds functionality, it has failed to build in flexibility—or at least the flexibility offered by a platform like macOS.

There’s a common refrain whenever you comment on the iPad’s functionality. Someone inevitably will say:

“Well, your use case is specialized and 80% of people will never run into that.”

This is of course impossible to argue, of course the 100 things I do on a computer are a unique combination of things that no one else in the world has exactly. My counter to this argument is that everyone has things they do on a device that falls in the 20% (or lower) minority of users.

So yes, if you happen to fall into the exact set of use cases that work best on iPadOS, then absolutely you should be happy and enjoy it, but it’s worth understanding that as soon as you venture outside of what the iPad is built to do, you run into pain very quickly.

Compare this to macOS which is open enough that someone has likely solved your problem for you.

  • Don’t care for Spotlight? You can install a whole host of alternatives on the Mac and get something more to your needs. Can’t do that on the iPad.
  • Need your password manager to work in apps and other browsers? Better hope Apple adds support for this, meanwhile Apple has done nothing on macOS to allow this, but 1Password was able to do it anyway.
  • Want a better screenshot tool because screenshots are a part of your job and you need the best tool possible here? You can replace the system one on macOS, you can’t on the iPad.

The list goes, on but I think that it’s telling that even 13 years into the iPad’s lifecycle, effectively no companies issue iPads to their employees as computers. Absolutely, you may had an iPad as a second device that you take with you in the field, but you’ve also got a laptop that you’re expected to use as well.

I guess my feeling is that the iPad is great to a point, and as soon as you stop out of bounds a little bit, it becomes quite challenging to deal with, as your options to override system behavior are basically zero. If you don’t need that, awesome, but I think the challenge of the iPad all these years is that everyone has at least 1 “20% thing” that they can’t do as well as they’d like on the iPad, and they don’t really have any good options due to the nature of the system.

I’m tired of waiting. I’m tired of creating more inconvenience for myself in order to push the iPad past the boundaries Apple has set for it. For the cost of an extra 2.75 pounds in my backpack, I can travel with a MacBook Air knowing that more or less anything I need to do while on the road can be accomplished without requiring weird workarounds or risking a catastrophic tech failure.

Agreed, I took only my iPad on a trip recently and I was editing photos. Lightroom is my editing app of choice, and Adobe does a really nice job of keeping features in sync between the Mac and iPad versions of their app. However, I took some really high ISO shots on the trip and wanted to denoise them using Lightroom’s relatively new AI denosing feature. That’s on the Mac but it’s not on the iPad version, so some of my photos weren’t able to be edited until I got home. The end of the world? No. Another example of the iPad version of apps not quite being up to snuff? Sadly, yes.

Quoting myself from last year:

I think iPadOS has a place, and I do still use it daily for more casual things, but I'm not convinced it's going to achieve what I dreamed of it achieving for me for years.

I have an 11” M1 iPad Pro, and I use it daily. It’s a good device for doing a number of things in my life, but I sadly think it’s going to always live as a secondary device. I’m happy to have it, but yeah, I was an iPad-only guy from 2018-2021, and for me, life is better on the Mac + iPad train.

Written and posted from a Mac, for what it’s worth.