Using an iPad for “Real Work.” No, Not Blogging, my Actual 9-5 Job.

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 4 min read

Can I let you in on a little secret? When it comes to “iPads can do real work,” I’m putting my money where my mouth is. I have been using an iPad for 99% of my website and design work at home (including the redesign of this website a few months ago), I have been working on a Dell laptop at my 9-5 job. In the past week, that’s starting to change.

We have a 2017 iPad at the office that we use for testing1 and I decided a week ago that since I’m the only person who uses this device, I should just load my email, calendar, Slack, and a few other work apps on it. So for the last few days I’ve been using the iPad for most things.

The Good

Meetings are a million times better with the iPad than my Windows laptop. Instead of using OneNote or Evernote for my notes, I’m using Apple’s own Notes app and it’s going much better for me. Maybe it’s what I’m used to, but I feel like Notes introduces less friction than any of the apps I’ve tried on Windows. I would love to have a new iPad with Pencil support so I could draw inline in my notes, but this still works.

The reduced bulk is a game-changer. Part of this is because I have a 15” laptop, which is pretty substantial, but going down to a 10” screen and like 1/3 the weight is so liberating. As I move from meeting to meeting throughout the day, it’s great to carry something smaller.

Most of my workflow is just as good as it is on the desktop, and some elements are even better. Jira, for example, is a slow-as-molasses experience on even my quad core Kaby Lake laptop, but the in app experience is smooth and actually kind of enjoyable sometimes. Slack is also far better on iOS than the desktop, and so is most of my web browsing. Likewise, Office documents are just as easy to work with on iOS, and I even SSH into our dev server many times throughout the day to do things and it all works just was well as on iOS.

Email is more manageable for me. We use Gmail at work and I have to use it in the browser because I can’t find an email app for Windows that is both secure and worth a damn. On iOS I’m using the Gmail app, and it’s a better experience than the browser. I get about 50-100 emails per day and I feel like I have a better grasp on them on iOS.

Notifications crush Windows, which means I get the information I need right when I need it. Slack notifications are essentially broken on Windows (for me and everyone I know), and since more things are happening in native apps, I am able to control exactly what notifications hit me. Windows has notifications too, but the control just isn’t there.

Speed is an unexpected win as well. Despite being a $329 tablet, iOS feels faster for most tasks than my nearly $1,000 Windows laptop.

Unlocking is way easier since I have Touch ID and not a keyed password like I do on Windows. Like on all iOS devices (pre-iPhone X) I just press the home button for a moment and I’m logged in and ready to work.

The Bad

As much as wish they were, not all the apps I need are on iOS. Photoshop is the big one right now, as it’s something I spend an hour or two in everyday2.

Some apps are worse on iOS than Windows, which just makes me sad. Google Sheets is a good example, as it is much slower to use with a keyboard than it is on Windows. This is really the only service I can think of that’s notably worse than it is on the desktop, which is good, but it’s still a step in the wrong direction.

10” is a smaller canvas than is ideal. My Windows setup is a 15” laptop screen with two 27” monitors attached. Dropping down to 10” simply changes how I work. I’m pretty sure the 12.9” iPad Pro would make this better, but sometimes it’s nice to just be able to see things on a larger canvas, and outside of AirPlaying to a Mac or Apple TV, there’s no way to do this3.

I miss my clipboard manager. Only being able to copy and paste one thing at a time is a pain for my workflow. Sometimes I have times that I copy 3-5 things in succession and then paste them somewhere else. Or maybe I copied something yesterday and want to get that back, I can do this on Windows and macOS, but not iOS.


So far the experience has been very positive overall, but with a few minor issues. So far this is going better than I expected and I will be sure to report back later once I’ve been doing this for a few more weeks. Maybe there are things that are problems I just haven’t run into yet. There also could be more benefits that I’m not noticing yet, but will become more clear in time.

  1. Not a pro, mind you, just a $329 one with a simple Logitech keyboard case. 
  2. Which is why I was very happy to hear that Adobe is bringing a full version of Photoshop to iOS next year. 
  3. Not that AirPlaying is even the same thing.