My Number 1 Complaint with Working on the iPad

Bar none, the biggest issue I run into on the iPad is dealing with local storage. Like, by a mile.

I'll give you an example that happened to me tonight. I recorded some video of the new Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 Remake this evening and wanted to cut together a video in LumaFusion. Should be easy, right? Usually you'd be absolutely right, but tonight I ran into an issue; my iPad showed 5GB of available storage in the Files app. Huh, that's not a lot, and I've got 35GB of footage I want to load on here.

So I do the only logical thing and look for some files to delete to make space. I find nothing, I'm not storing anything large in the "On My iPad" section of my iPad.

The next step is to check the Storage section in the Settings app to see what it thinks I have available. It says I have 146GB free and that "On My iPad" is using less than 2GB of local storage.

Try as I might, the Files app won't let me add more than 5GB of files even though the Settings app says I have tons of space (this is why I bought a 256GB iPad, after all). I can't delete anything else because there's nothing showing up in Files for me to delete and the Settings app doesn't let me do anything because it tells me I'm swimming in free space. And yes, I've gone to "Recently Deleted" in Files to actually remove the things the system hadn't purged yet.

I'm sure there is some explanation as to what's going on, but it's completely opaque to me the user. As far as I can tell, there is 141GB of space on my iPad that's being used but my iPad won't tell me what it's being used for or how I can get it back. I'm stuck.

I've rebooted, I've Googled around, I've done everything I can think of to get my space back, and I can't get it.

If this was the first time this had happened, I wouldn't write this post, but this is at least the third time I've had a remarkable discrepancy between how much space Files and Settings say I have left. It's actively preventing me from getting work done, and that's the worst thing any pro machine can do. I love the iPad because it takes care of a lot of this storage management for me, but when I need to get something done, the system is holding me back, and I can't fix it, that's when I need to be able to do something, anything to take control of my device.

Add this to my list of iPadOS 14 feature requests, I suppose.

Apple’s Exceptional Product Messaging

I tweeted out a link to Joshua Vergara’s well-made review of the new Samsung Galaxy Book Flex, because one bit stood out to me. He says:

There’s wireless power share in the touch pad. Talk about being nimble, if you’re watching something on the screen[...] and you’re not really doing any inputs on there, you can just turn on wireless power share and have any of your other wireless charging capable devices sitting on there so you can top it up while you’re doing anything else on the display.
It’s this level of thought that Samsung put into the laptop that is honestly pretty refreshing.

The whole time he was showing off this feature, all I could think of in my head was this:

Yes, you can wirelessly charge your headphones or phone on your laptop, which is cool, but the cost is not being able to use the trackpad. And I’m not sure where your fingers are when you’re typing, but this would block me from using the keyboard as well. It’s also limited to working on a flat, stable surface, so watching TV in bed, on the couch, or on a plane are all out. Not to mention that you could bring a cable in your laptop bag and charge up way faster, way more reliably, and not force yourself to stop using your laptop at the same time. I would bet good money most users try this out once, think “that’s cool,” and then never use it again.

I bring this up not because I’m super interested in this laptop, I’m not, I just watched it because I enjoy Joshua’s product videos. No, what I think is worth thinking about is how we review products and features from different companies.

I am far from someone who thinks the tech media is biased against Apple, but I do think that we talk about Apple stuff, and sometimes Google and Microsoft stuff, differently than other companies’ products. Those criticisms that immediately jumped to mind in this product were completely glossed over. It was basically, “this is new, this is novel, and there’s some good you could get from it, so it’s good.” There’s no way that’s where this would end if we were talking about the same feature in MacBooks. I mean, look at the thousands of words and hours of video spilled on the new Magic Keyboard for iPad. Seriously, it’s just an accessory, but we treat it to lavish video productions and nitpick every little implementation detail. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy this world, but it does illustrate how we talk about things between different companies.

A reason for this is also because of how focused someone like Apple is with their product lines. Apple is very good at messaging their updates, so without looking at a press release, you can probably tell me right now what new features the 2020 iPad Pro had over the 2018 one. You can tell me what kind of switches are in each MacBook Pro released in the past decade. You can tell me what model iPhone dropped the home button. Apple iterates on their products in a clear, and focused way that makes it so you can easily tell what’s new and you can easily draw a straight line from one product release to the next. Where does this Samsung laptop compare with the last model? Oh, the name is different and it’s technically not a direct follow up to something else? It’s adding some things and removing others? It’s priced the same as another laptop that has some trade offs but is better in other ways? It’s just more complicated.

Your takeaway here should not be that the tech press as a whole is out to get Apple, although I know some of you already think that. I hope the takeaway is a better understanding of this difference in how we talk about products from different companies. Know that it’s a thing and consider it in your consumption of product criticism. Also, understand that the increased scrutiny that Apple products tend to get is specifically caused by their excellent product focus and linear iterations of product lines. We understand their products as more than just spec sheets, so we talk about them like they’re more than that. Apple’s success, both financially and product-wise, is what earns them this level of scrutiny.

Buying Into a Philosophy

What if Apple built Windows?

Out there question, I know, but stick with me on this one. If Apple made Windows, would you like it more than you like it day? The features would be the same, and maybe it would work more smoothly with Apple’s iCloud services, but in every other way it would be the Windows 10 you know and love today. Would you like it more? Would you critique it more? Would ask why you need to buy into the Windows philosophy to use it over macOS?

“I feel like I need to buy into a philosophy when using an iPad,” is a statement I’ve seen permeate the Apple blogosphere recently, and you know what, I totally agree. Choosing the iPad means buying into the philosophies of the iPad’s software.

But so does using a Mac. So does using Windows. If you switched to a Windows machine today, you’d have a million things about the system that you would disagree with and would drive you mad. You wouldn’t have the apps you know and love. You could do what you typically do, but not always in the same way. There will even be things you simply can’t do, too.

How about if you gave up your iPhone and went to Android today? All of the same things apply: your apps won’t always be there, your muscle memory won’t be there, you’ll feel less productive, and you’ll of course think it’s worse.

You choose the Mac if you believe in beautiful UIs and maybe even UNIX in general. You use Windows for choice in hardware and maximum flexibility. You choose Android because you value customization, being able to side-load apps, and options to buy the best phone of each year, no matter the manufacturer.

Buying into a philosophy isn’t something unique to the iPad, it’s fundamental in how we pick our software platforms across the board.

What’s my philosophy for a computer? I want something that’s flexible, allows me to do amazing work, and that runs the best damn software that lets me achieve those things. Of course I landed on the iPad! If I valued terminal access, software development, and 30 years of muscle memory, then sure, I’d prefer the Mac.

I think that choosing to use the iPad as your computer requires you to have a different philosophy than a Mac user. I’d also say the 2% of computer users who chose a Mac for decades in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s also had a different philosophy that meant they could only use the Mac.

This all makes me wonder if the fact that Apple makes both macOS and iPadOS makes people feel like they need to like both of them equally. We don’t get think pieces every couple weeks about how “Android requires you to buy into a philosophy” or that “Windows can’t do all the things I do on my Mac,” because of course they don’t.

The Mac community, one that I’ve been in and enjoyed for…25(!) years at this community is built on buying into the Mac’s philosophy. The iPad has tons of things wrong with it from a software perspective, but to dwell on those constantly omits the things that are genuinely great about it (number of iPad users have rage-uninstalled Zoom or Dropbox for shady install tactics…zero). I also know that there are fewer people out there doing “real work” on an iPad vs a Mac, but you would think long time Mac fans would have a little more excitement for a smaller platform that thinks differently about what a computer can be.

What is the iPad to You? Let Me Count the Ways (Magic Keyboard Review)

What is the iPad to You? Let Me Count the Ways (Magic Keyboard Review)

I think the iPad Pro’s new accessory, the Magic Keyboard, has helped bring some clarity for me as to what makes the iPad so special for me. This is why critics seem to not be able to agree on how good the keyboard is, and it’s why I think Tech Twitter is struggling to talk about this disagreement and why there are so many thoughts.

What Makes the iPad Great

What I love more than anything else about the iPad is how it adapts to you. Steve Jobs once said the iPhone’s all screen design lets the iPhone become that app while you’re using it. When you go to another app, the iPhone completely morphs into that new app too.

Similarly, I think the iPad does this same thing, but it does it at a hardware level. I can use the iPad as a drawing tablet, plop it into a keyboard case to make it more of a laptop, connect it to a monitor to use it like a desktop, and I can wirelessly connect a mouse and keyboard to make it work exactly like a desktop. When I’m tired of that, I can unplug it and start using it like a tablet again.

And not only does the hardware allow for me to change the physical context of the device, the software comes along for the ride as well. Apps work differently depending on if you have a keyboard attached, if you have a mouse/trackpad available, or if you’re using an Apple Pencil. Oh, and it is completely fine with you turning the iPad on its side, flipping it upside down, and using it however you want. Occasionally I find myself reading on the iPad Pro in portrait mode and it takes me a long time to realize I’ve been holding the device upside down. Does it matter? Not really because iPadOS just came along for the ride with me. “Upside down” is just like, your opinion, man.

How This is Distinct from PCs

At this point you may be asking “how is this different from a Mac/PC?” You reference something like the Mac Pro and how you can configure it with different hardware and different accessories to make it the exact platform you need. I would counter and ask “ok, what if I want to use the Mac Pro totally different than normal? How long would it take to use it on my couch?” Obviously it’s not going to do that, to which you would tell me to get a laptop instead.

Ok, now I’ve got myself a MacBook Pro and it’s plugged into an external monitor so I can work at my desk on a big screen and I can take it anywehere else because it’s portable. Better, for sure, but what if I want to read a book? What if I want to draw? What if I want to hold it in portrait orientation? What if I want to use it as a digital board game? The MacBook Pro can’t do any of that, while the iPad is never more than 2 seconds away from adapting to those use cases.

Now you think you have me cornered. “Get a Surface then,” you reply, thinking you’ve got me. And in fairness, this is a close as you’ve gotten so far, but this isn’t the product for me. It doesn’t run the apps I want, the apps it does run are old-school in comparison to iPadOS, and the touch experience is way, way worse than the iPad. But if you like Windows, then yeah, the Surface line is pretty comparable to this quick context switching, although I really feel that the touch stuff still feels hacked into Windows.

A Diversity of Users and Use Cases

Myke Hurley recently posted this photo of his iPad Pro setup. This works great for him, but it looks nothing like my iPad setup, which I’m guessing looks nothing like your iPad setup. The freedom to switch between use cases I mentioned above doesn’t mean that everyone needs to use every use case; you pick and choose which ones you care about and are free to ignore the rest.

I personally use my iPad in a keyboard case 80% of the time, with the other 20% being completely out of the case and using it like a more “traditional” iPad. That 80% time is broken down between at my desk, at the kitchen table, on the couch, on the road, and at coffee shops. Portability is huge for me, as is the ability to start using the iPad as “just a tablet” at the drop of a hat.

Most of my time is spent writing, so a good keyboard holds more value to me than other elements of a keyboard case. This is what works for me, it may or may not line up with you.

The Magic Keyboard

I spent almost 1,000 words talking about everything that isn’t the Magic Keyboard, so now it’s time for the nitty gritty details in the review, right?

Nah.

Many other people have reviewed the technical specs of the Magic Keyboard, and there’s no reason for me to rattle off specs or say the things you already know in slightly different words. No, instead I I’ll say that if you read everything to this point, you can probably finish the review for me, you don’t need me to write it. With that in mind, I’ll say that the way I use the iPad Pro lines up very nicely with what the Magic Keyboard enables.

The keyboard is solidly constructed, which comes with the downside of being notably heavier than I was expecting, but is a necessary trade off to get the stability and solid typing experience this thing provides. It allows for both of the viewing angles of the Smart Keyboard Folio I was using before, but also allows all angles in between, so it’s more often angled perfectly for me. The keyboard itself is better than the Folio’s, and is maybe the best “laptop keyboard” I’ve ever used. The inverted-T arrows alone are a welcome return to usability over symmetry! And the trackpad is small, but gets the job done and is as responsive and accurate as you’d expect from Apple.

The solid construction of this device means I can use it at my desk and everywhere else I use it, including on my lap, very well. It’s heavier in my bag than before, but it’s not the end of the world. And while I can’t flip this around to put it into a tablet mode, I can pretty easily rip it off the keyboard and it immediately is the thinnest, lightest tablet out there. I do have to find a place to put the Magic Keyboard when I take it off on my kitchen table, at the coffee shop, or on the couch, but again, it’s not the end of the world, and the iPad experience I’m left with is excellent, so it’s a cost I’m willing to pay.

Value Proposition and Final Thoughts

The Magic Keyboard is a $299-349 accessory to a ~$1,000 computer, so it’s going to get a lot of criticism, and rightfully so. When you pay 88% the cost of a new iPhone on an accessory, you had better be getting a ton of value from that device. For me, the value is clearly there. The amazing keyboard is a major benefit for me since I do so much typing on my iPad. The trackpad being built into the keyboard is a major benefit to me so I can use things like Figma and other apps better than before, all while sticking with touch and the Apple Pencil for other apps where those work better for me.

But this is not universal, and if you need to prop up your iPad a little bit to draw on it then this is not going to do that for you. If you want something as light as possible, this isn’t going to do that either. If you think that iPadOS is still a baby OS for content consumption only, then this isn’t going to convince you either, although I think it’s another body blow to an outdated idea.

I can’t tell you if the Magic Keyboard is right for you, but if your values for what you want the iPad to be line up with what I laid out above and this pandemic has been kind to your pocketbook, then yeah, you may really enjoy this product and get serious value from it.

Update on the iPad Pro Magic Keyboard Charging Speed (45W charger tested)

Update on the iPad Pro Magic Keyboard Charging Speed (45W charger tested)

TLDR: The 45W charger was faster in both the iPad Pro’s built in port, as well as the one in the Magic Keyboard’s hinge, but you lose about 25% of the speed when using the Magic Keyboard’s port. Both ports are still faster than the stock 18W charger, though.

Finally, a more interesting chart! While I found no difference between charging the 12.9” iPad Pro through the iPad directly or via the plug in the Magic Keyboard, that initial test was only using the stock 18W charger that comes in the box. The iPad Pro can charger faster than that, so I wanted to find the limit on how fast the new Magic Keyboard USB-C port could go if given more power.

After thinking I didn’t have anything more powerful at hand, I realized my wife’s laptop (a Dell XPS something-or-other) had a perfectly capable 45W charger I could use, so I was back into Fortnite to try and kill my battery a few times to get some readings.

Again, these were two hour charges using a 45W charger from Dell. The results?

Well, as you can see from the graph above, the gray line, which was using the higher watt charger in the Magic Keyboard’s port, resulted in marginally faster charging than the previous tests with the 18W charger. The real difference is when you see how it fared using the iPad’s built in port, which was about 25% faster than using the keyboard’s port. It was so much better that it hit 100% before the end of the test, which is fantastic.

Does the Magic Keyboard Kill iPad Battery? (or: Another Boring Chart)

Does the Magic Keyboard Kill iPad Battery? (or: Another Boring Chart)

Look, one of these tests is going to produce interesting results eventually…

I charged my iPad Pro up to 100%, turned the screen to 100% brightness, opened a Numbers document, and comitted to typing a little gibberish every minute for 2 hours to make sure the keyboard stayed active and screen stayed on (with the backlight on about half brightness).

Two hours later, the results were remarkably boring. The battery drained about 10% faster with the Magic Keyboard, which if we extrapolate out from my 2 hour test (I ain’t doing this all day…twice) we’d hit zero after 9.67 hours with the Magic Keyboard, and 10.7 hours with the Smart Folio. That’s certainly a difference, although it’s kind of within the margin of error since I was not able to totally isolate background network access and that sort of thing.

I’ve heard other people comment on degraded performance with the new keyboard, but I didn’t notice it anecdotally when I was using my iPad like normal, and my “controlled” test didn’t show a notable difference either, so I’m completely happy with the battery life on this thing.

What Matters in a Phone?

The new iPhone SE officially comes out today, and I have had strange feelings about this phone since it was announced last week. That strange feeling? “Why the hell isn’t this my phone?”

See, I’m currently using an iPhone 11 Pro, and have been spending $700-1,200 on a new phone every year for the past half decade. I know this is wasteful, but it’s my financial vice, and I’m otherwise quite frugal, so I can justify it without breaking the bank each year. I know this is silly for most people, but I enjoy it.

But I look at my brand spanking new iPhone (which I of course will likely replace in 5 short months) and while I love how it looks, how fast it runs, Face ID, and how good the cameras are, I keep wandering over to the iPhone SE page on Apple’s site and keep looking for the “gotcha” moment. What is the Achille’s heel that makes this actually a bad phone for someone like me who likes the best in phones?

So far, I can’t really find one.

Yes, the bezels are chonky, Touch ID is a regression from Face ID (for me), and there are no telephoto or ultrawide lenses, but that’s really it. And when I ask myself if those three features are worth the $800 premium I paid for those, the answer is simply…no, not really.

Now buying isn’t an emotionless game, so the fact that I can’t objectively justify it doesn’t mean I’m going to never buy an expensive phone again, but it’s made me see in clearer light than ever how silly some of this smartphone rat race is.

I need a phone to do work. I need a phone to communicate with friends, family, and work colleagues. I need a phone for entertainment. I need a phone that’s easy to use. By those measures, the iPhone SE checks all the boxes.

Tech reviewers, myself included, have had an obsession with thinner bezels and bigger screens forever. I’ve seen a few YouTubers talk about mid-range Android phones you can get instead of the iPhone SE and they show how those phones have smaller bezels and bigger screens. They don’t mention as much how those phones are slower out of the gate, how they won’t get software updates for more than 1-2 years, or how you simply can’t even buy them in the US without jumping through hoops.

So when I see the $399 iPhone SE with 5 years of likely updates, with a really good single lens camera, and with it’s processor that’s faster than all 2020 $1,000+ Android phones, and will likely still be faster than all 2021 Android phones…well, it just looks like a damn good phone, and it makes it look like we’ve been frolicking around in excess for years now.

I will continue to get the expensive iPhones because I will pay much more for the best cameras possible, but yeah, it took a global pandemic for me to get a little perspective on what this smartphone market looks like and what’s really important in a phone.

How Fast Does the USB-C Plug on the Magic Keyboard Charge the iPad Pro?

How Fast Does the USB-C Plug on the Magic Keyboard Charge the iPad Pro?

The answer is kinda boring, actually. It’s effectively the same as plugging into the iPad itself.

Setup

  • 12.9” iPad Pro (2018)
  • Stock 18W charger
  • Stock USB-C to USB-C cable form the box

Basically, I’m charging with the plug that comes in the box.

Methodology

I wore the iPad down to zero, plugged it in, and counted it every 10 minutes for 2 hours. I did it through each plug twice, so I measured 4 times total.

If you were at all interested in killing an iPad battery quickly, open up Fortnite and just jump into a game and leave it. It’ll kill the iPad pretty quickly, but this process still took me all day to do.

The Results

This is a really boring chart, because over two runs, the numbers were basically the same. As far as I can tell, the power-only plug on the Magic Keyboard case is as good as the standard charging I was already doing.

Magic Keyboard for iPad First Impressions

Magic Keyboard for iPad First Impressions

It’s a keyboard case…it’s an accessory…so let’s hit things quickly.

The Elephant in the Room (no pun intended)

In a recent episode of the wonderful Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a certain corgi is referred to as a “thicc king.” I didn’t know it at the time, but I think that is pretty good way to refer to the new Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro.

This keyboard case makes the iPad Pro a comparatively heavy device, if not an objectively heavy one. I’m glad all the early reviews mentioned the weight because even with them, I was surprised how hefty this made my iPad. I’m coming from the Smart Keyboard Folio, and it feels like going from a 12” MacBook (RIP) to a 15: MacBook Pro. No, the MBP isn’t bad, but it’s a notable difference.

Quick note, I think I’ll be fine with the weight, and the product justifies it in other areas, but I think the dismissiveness some have around people saddened by the heft of this thing is misplaced. There are compromises with each of Apple’s keyboard options for the iPad Pro, and there are going to be people who can’t get the perfect one for them because of these trade offs (more below).

The Typing Experience

Ok, this will be quick! The keys feel great! The inverted-T arrows are a delight to have back, the spacing of the keys is perfect for figuring out where you are without looking at the keyboard, and the backlight is stunningly good.

And the base this keyboard sits on is solid as hell. There is no bend in this thing and on a lap it is better than the Smart Keyboard Folio, although it’s not as good as a Mac laptop. It’s fine, don’t get me wrong, but it gets a more hollow feeling when there’s nothing right below the keyboard.

Why No Function Keys?

Well, because there simply isn't room…with this design, at least. See, even with what’s there now, my fingers get dangerously close to hitting the keyboard when it’s leaned back as far as it will go. Another row would technically be accessible, but it would be somewhere between uncomfortable and unreachable.

I miss them, but having lived without them for years now, it’s not a deal breaker.

The Trackpad

It’s definitely small, but considering you’re likely not going to be doing everything with this all the time, it’s completely fine. The acceleration on this cursor movement is a little different from when I paired a Magic Trackpad with this, and it took a little getting used to, but again, shall be fine.

Gestures work great, and as a Mac-users you’ll know how to do some of the basics right away. It’s all smooth and quite frankly, a delight.

As for clicking, the trackpad is the first one Apple has shipped in many years that actually moves. After years of force touch trackpads that simulate movement, it’s technically a notable difference, but because the MacBook ones fake it so well, it’s hard to tell the difference in practice. As a bonus, you still get the ability to press anywhere on the trakcpad to

The Floating Design

I’m not sure what I think about this yet. It certainly looks cool, though.

The worst part about this is that it makes the screen sit higher, and therefore be further away from my fingers for touch input. Despite the addition of a trackpad, iPadOS is still a touch-first operating system, and I touch the screen all the time when using my iPad, so making that a little more difficult is an odd choice.

Charging

The keyboard has a new USB-C post on the side that lets you charge the device. I’ve only used it briefly, but I had it plugged in while doing a 2 hour Zoom call last night and it appears to have charged the iPad up slightly faster than it was burning battery.

This will require more testing to see the speed difference from the main port.

Initial Thoughts

I think this accessory is exceptionally well made and feels like a very natural fit with the iPad Pro. Everything about it from an execution perspective is top notch and the few issues with weight, lacking function row, and limited angles, all have to do with fundamental choices the product team for this made.

If nothing else, this product shows there is room for more accessories in the iPad lineup. The Folio excels at minimum weight with an acceptable typing experience, but lacks full keys and a trackpad. The Magic Keyboard has those full keys and a trackpad, but loses the ability to flip around and adds some heft. Depending on your desires, you might find one of these to be perfect today, but there’s a good chance you’ll want a compromise solution, and that doesn’t exist yet.

Regardless, the trade offs are worth it to me so far and I expect to keep using this thing for the duration of owning this iPad.

Magic Keyboard for iPad Angles

Magic Keyboard for iPad Angles

I just got my Magic Keyboard in the mail, and first impressions are pretty good. Before I spill more words on yet another review of this thing, I'll share the thing that stood out to me first: the angles.

The above photo overlays the 12.9" iPad Pro with the Smart Keyboard Folio angles highlighted in red and the new Magic Keyboard's furthest back angle in green.

The Smart Keyboard Folio has 2 angles, both of which I use pretty regularly. The new Magic Keyboard has "infinite angles" and the furthest back angle is just about even with the Folio's further back angle.

An eariler version of this article indicated that the screen went less far back than the Folio, but that was not accurate. After pushing the screen back harder than I felt comfortable doing, the lid "popped' back a little more, bringing it to where you see it now. I have no idea if it had a weird manufacturing quirk or if this is how every one is, but it's definitely better now.