Can the iPad Pro Work for Business Use?

Apple introduced the iPad Pro this week and states that it “lets you be more creative and more productive — at a whole new scale.”  The size of the screen on the new Pro model is 12.9” diagonally, making it bigger than the 12” MacBook laptop Apple introduced in April, 2015, and sporting a total surface area of 104 square inches, compared to the previous top of the line iPad Air 2 at 62 square inches (an increase of 167%).  All that says this new iPad Pro is BIG.  It is thin, thinner than original iPad from 5 years ago, but about the same weight at 1.57lbs.

In calling it the iPad Pro, Apple is positioning it as a professional system and more capable of creating content than previous iPads.  You may think the “Pro” moniker is referring to graphic designers, especially when you include the pencil.  But the vendors that came on stage at the launch were Microsoft to demo Office applications, and Adobe for document layout and image editing. Adobe even added their typeface library in the tools they were showing off, something they have never included in a mobile device. These are office PC type use cases, and have traditionally been done on a Mac OSX or Microsoft Windows based system.

Personal note: I have carried an iPad almost daily since 2010, and have had 4 different models.  I have 4 external Bluetooth keyboards and several styluses.  I use it for real work.  But the question is, can the iPad Pro work for business use?  Could it be my only device I carry, and leave the laptop at home?  Is the iPad Pro a possible replacement for your laptop with a traditional PC operating system? I do not think so, and here are five reasons why.

Applications are always a single document interface

Microsoft demonstrated the three office apps we most use to do professional content creation work: Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.  They showed the ability to copy and paste between them to create content that looked awesome.  But most users do not work with these applications like this – they tend to work in one of them and have two or more windows open at the same time, for example two Word documents at the same time, to allow comparing, referencing, copy and paste, etc.  This is not possible on an IOS based iPad Pro, where only one instance of Word can be open, hence only one Word document. So the way most people work is not supported.

Lack of a document centric file system

Apple’s IOS does not have Apple Finder or Windows File Explorer, instead each application can see its files but not another application’s files.  I have noted that most users group files together in a way that does not have anything to do with the applications they use.  They have a folder for a client, or a project, or a fiscal year – not folders for Word docs, Excel docs, etc. While the application’s support folders in the cloud, like OneDrive or Dropbox) that can mimic this topic centric organization, the local device does not do that, and there is no native way to search and store documents this way. Once again, the way most people work is not natively supported.

Usability Issues when Creating Content with a Keyboard

While I have not tried the new iPad Pro, I have tried similar keyboard and stands with an iPad.  The Apple Smart Keyboard costs $169, but has two flaws compared to other options: there is only one viewing angle (and the top of the keyboard is right against the screen), and it would not work well on a lap.  I think of two uses:

  • Walk in to a coffee shop or conference room and get to work on a table – the viewing angle and usability of the keyboard and screen angle is severely limited, especially when compared to a MacBook or MacBook Air, or even a Surface Pro 3. Long stretches of work can become uncomfortable.
  • Sit in a chair or on a couch and try to use it on your lap – the way the iPad Pro keyboard is designed I suspect there will be usability limitations here, and the potential to tip over especially when you have to use your finger or Apple Pencil on the screen.  A traditional laptop like a MacBook does not suffer from this, and even a Surface Pro 3 with the kickstand is usable.

For these reasons, I suspect the usability of the iPad Pro is less than desired. Other vendors like Logi or Zagg will no doubt provide options for the iPad which may improve this.

Lack of a Mouse or Track Pad Pointing Device

One of my complaints over the years is lack of mouse or track pad support on an iPad. I would not use it often, but there are two places I would love the capability if my iPad was the only device I carried. The first is the selection of text and objects on the screen.  Selecting text is tedious task in IOS, with tapping and holding, zooming the area, moving the finger, and then doing it all over again at the other end. And far too often it loses its anchor point and you have to start over. It would be far easier to simply move a mouse, click and drag, and be done with it.  The same is true of resizing objects, like an image embedded in a Word document. The second use for a mouse is when I connect to a remote system using a tool like Jump Desktop or Wyse PocketCloud.  I cannot expect to have everything I need when on the road with an iPad, so applications like Microsoft Project or Visio, or even opening shared Calendars in Outlook are only possible if I connect back to a remote system where these are installed. But when I connect from my iPad, I have to use odd ways to select menu options, select text, etc.  A mouse would make it far easier.  I love that the iPad works so well without a mouse, except for where it doesn’t, and for that reason a traditional laptop is a better professional tool.

When fully outfitted, cost and payload approaches small laptop devices.

In order to get the full benefit of the iPad Pro, you would need the iPad Pro, the keyboard, and the Apple Pencil.  You still will not have any of the things I listed previously, but you will have some tools that help. But now you have more to carry and more to pay for.  A quick review of the payload, the cost, and some key capabilities is below. I have all of these devices, except the iPad Pro (but do have an iPad Air 2).

  iPad Pro (128Gb WiFi Model) 2015 MacBook 12” (1.1Ghz, 256Gb HD) Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Intel I5, 256Gb HD)

Weight (with keyboard and Pen or Pencil)? 1.88Lbs

(iPad = 1.57 and estimated keyboard and pen at 5Ozs)

2.03Lbs 2.43Lbs
Total Cost (with keyboard and Pen or Pencil) $1,217 $1,299 $1,279 (currently on sale)
Multiple viewing Angles when propped up by keyboard hinge or kickstand? No Yes Yes
Can work on lap? Unknown / Not well Very well Acceptable
Multiple documents open concurrently? No Yes Yes
File System to collect documents by topic? No Yes Yes
Mouse or Trackpad? No Yes Yes


So, Can the iPad Pro Work for Business Use?

In many respects you are paying the same and carrying very close to the same when using an iPad Pro as you would using a MacBook 12” or Surface Pro 3.  I think the iPad Pro is limited in key areas of productivity compared to the other two devices, and for that reason I do not recommend consideration as the only device you would carry when leaving home for a day of traditional knowledge worker tasks like Word Processing, etc.