I Switched From a Windows PC to an iPad Pro as My Main Computer. Here’s What I Learned.
There were two days remaining before jumping on a plane from Colorado to Spain for good. With still so much to do, I hastily swapped out the aftermarket battery in my HP Spectre x360 convertible laptop. That aftermarket battery only lasted four months before it would prematurely die at 50%.
I inserted the warranty replacement battery. Due to my rush, I did not realize that the connector for the new battery was keyed and reversed. Then I connected it to the computer… backward.
Long story short: I fried the computer. My most important possession was dead. I took consolation that I had gotten nearly four years of daily use out of it. But I had just a couple of days to replace it lest I gamble and try to find a new one in my new, but foreign, country.
I decided to do something I had been pondering and researching for months: switching to the Apple ecosystem. But not over to a Mac.
Instead, the next day I went out and bought the latest iPad Pro with Apple Magic Keyboard.
Why the Switch?
I have been an unabashed Microsoft fanboy for the last 10 years. Why the change?
The reasons are as follows:
- My parents have an iPhone and have often needed help with it. So it would behoove me to become familiar with iOS.
- My girlfriend has only Apple computing products. I wanted to be able to use things like AirDrop, Facetime, and Apple Maps with her.
- I’ve long admired Apple hardware design. A recent trip to the Apple Experience Center in Cupertino confirmed that.
- After Microsoft abandoned Windows Phone and then Live Tiles in Windows 11, I lost enthusiasm for Windows. It seems like Microsoft wants to make Windows look more like Android and iOS.
- I wanted to try something new.
Why Not Get a Mac?
I used Macs in the computer lofts at Stanford University in the 1990s and owned various iBooks in the 2000s. Therefore, I was already familiar with macOS.
My principal objection to the Macintosh is that it still does not support touch input.
I have used and appreciated touchscreens for the last 10 years, starting with a Windows Phone and then the original Microsoft Surface. The lack of touch support was a dealbreaker.
Meanwhile, every technology publication agrees that the touch experience on an iPad surpasses that of any other operating system. YouTube videos had also convinced me that iPadOS has progressed enough to accomplish 98% of the things I did with Windows.
Why Not Use a Mac AND an iPad?
All Apple enthusiasts seem to own an iPhone, a Mac, and an iPad—and often several models of each. While that is great for Cupertino, that is not so good for the environment or people’s wallets.
As a minimalist, I do not want to have more than two computing devices. In the last few years, I have happily used solely a convertible laptop and smartphone. I even gave away my workstation computer, and I have not missed it.
Why an iPad Pro 12.9?
I have been using laptops with screens of at least 12.3 inches since 2015, so I wanted an iPad at least that large. Therefore, the iPad Pro in its 12.9-inch variant was the only option.
I bought the latest, fifth-generation iPad Pro 12.9 because that is what was available in stores. It features Apple’s M1—the same chip used in MacBooks—and an XDR display that uses mini LEDs.
In hindsight, if I needed to save cash and had more time to look for deals, I think I would have been perfectly happy with a third- or fourth-generation iPad Pro 12.9. Apple’s older chips are still super fast and I don’t think I would have missed the better display or cameras. I hardly use the latter.
An intriguing alternative that became available in March of this year is the fifth-generation iPad Air, which is significantly less expensive than the Pro. It has the same M1 chip, but shorter battery life and only an 11″ screen. Considering that I thought the 10.6″ screen of the Microsoft Surface RT was adequate, 11″ might be fine. The iPad Air works with the 11″ version of Apple’s Magic Keyboard.
Advantages of an iPad Pro Over Windows Devices
- Instant-resume, like your phone. Windows takes 2-5 seconds to resume from sleep.
- FaceID is much quicker and more reliable than Windows Hello.
- There are no fans and therefore no noise. There are only a few ARM-powered Windows machines that do not need active cooling.
- The M1 chip is faster than an Intel i7 and is much more efficient.
- App launching is quicker (see App Switching section below).
- Longer battery life. An iPad Pro 12.9 can get 10.5 hours of real-world use, whereas my HP Spectre x360 (late 2017 model) would last 7.5.
- Since one battery charge cycle is so much longer, the iPad’s battery should last for more years before suffering from noticeably degradation.
- Only a little screen wobble upon touch, thanks to the Magic Keyboard stand. Only the Microsoft Surface and its clones are more solid to touch due to having a kickstand. But those are less “lap-able.” (Note: other keyboards with a kickstand, such as Logitech’s Combo Touch can be used with the iPad Pro 12.9.)
- More ergonomic to look at, since the Magic Keyboard elevates the screen. (With my old laptop, I used a MOFT laptop stand to do the same thing.)
- More ergonomic to touch, since the Magic Keyboard places the tablet screen closer to your fingers and keyboard buttons.
- Screen, cameras, speakers, trackpad, and microphones are superior. The keyboard would be if it wasn’t lacking keys like Page Up, Page Down, and forward Delete. (Note: the control-D key combo serves as a forward delete key on iPad.)
- The Apple Pencil is reputedly the best stylus for art. It also has wireless charging.
- After two months of use, I prefer the iPad’s 4:3 screen ratio over the 16:9 ratio of a standard laptop or even the Microsoft Surface’s 3:2. It has the closest length:width ratio to a U.S. letter-sized (11 X 8.5″) or European A4 (29.7 X 21 cm) piece of paper.
- iPadOS is better designed for touch.
- All software is installed and updated through the App Store. Downloading software is much more secure and convenient than on Windows. Moreover, the apps are generally much more modern are fun to use than their desktop or web counterparts.
- It can run any iPhone app, making it possible to use a service’s web app and mobile app on the same device. For example, I installed the Progressive Web App (PWA) and iPhone app of Duolingo and Instagram on the iPad because there are instances when the PWA is better or vice-versa. On Windows, you can use only the PWA or website.
- An iPad integrates better with an iPhone than a Windows PC does with an Android phone.
What I love most about the iPad is its hardware. The first 13 advantages above are hardware-related.
Apple products carry a premium price tag, but they maintain higher resale value. Therefore, their cost may not be more than competing mid-range products in the long run as long as you do not lose or break them.
App Switching: The Reason the iPad Seems Way Faster
Benchmarks show that Apple’s M1 chip outperforms most Intel ones despite sipping much less battery power. The chip, coupled with mobile software that is usually much less resource-intensive than their desktop counterparts, makes the iPad performant.
But there is another reason why an iPad seems way faster than a PC: app management. With a PC, to save battery life, RAM, and CPU, you need to manually close unused applications. Then you need to re-open them when you want to use them again. In my experience, if you kept the applications open, battery life could be reduced by hours.
In contrast, an iPad is like your phone and designed so that you don’t need to keep closing and opening apps. Unlike on a PC, force-closing apps on an iPad (and iPhone) uses more battery power, not less. Instead, an iPad “tombstones” unused apps so that they do not use battery, and quickly resumes them when you switch back to them. Resuming is far quicker than reopening. So app switching on an iPad is instantaneous.
iPad Pro Disadvantages
Some people bemoan an iPad’s lack of USB-A ports, SD card readers, or even a headphone jack. But not I. To me, all those things are relics of the past. I have yet to miss them using the iPad Pro full-time.
My gripes with the iPad Pro have to do with software.
Files app needs much improvement
Apple’s Files app is the file management system for iPadOS. It debuted in 2017. It was a good start and at least supports third-party cloud services like OneDrive. But it still lacks functionality that Windows and Mac users take for granted with File Explorer or Finder.
Below are examples.
- Although you can search for files in the Files app, you cannot select and manipulate the search results in bulk. For example, you can find all the files with the word “hamburger” in their filename, but then you cannot copy those files to a new folder at once. You have to copy each file one by one. (Edit October 2022: This has been addressed with iPadOS 16.)
- Sometimes if I open a folder containing photos, not all the thumbnails appear. There doesn’t seem to be a way to refresh the folder except by re-opening the folder after clicking on a different one.
- When you sort files by date, the Files app sorts by the modification date, not the creation date. If you do something as basic as rename a file, it changes the modification date. This is annoying because often for photos, you want to sort by when the photo was taken, not the date you renamed or modified the file.
- There is no way to display the size of a folder. (Edit October 2022: This has been addressed with iPadOS 16.)
- I have not been able to uncompress Zip files over 4 GB using the Files app. Maybe this is because the iPad Pro limits app usage to ~5 GB despite having 8 (or 16) GB of RAM.
- After uninstalling the OneDrive app and reinstalling it, the OneDrive icon no longer showed up next to the drive. The only solution was to do a hard reset of the iPad.
- There’s no way to change a file extension; e.g., from .txt to .csv. (Edit October 2022: This has been addressed with iPadOS 16.)
- You cannot change file metadata (like Author) for photos or music using Files. You must use a third-party app.
- Sometimes trying to delete a file yields an error or a temporary “phantom” file. In the case of the latter, the file was deleted but is still showing. These issues seem to occur more with cloud services like OneDrive.
- Files cannot search for files in OneDrive, unless you had already opened that file in Files previously.
On the other hand, Files on iPad is much more responsive than File Explorer on Windows for navigating through OneDrive folders. File Explorer seemed to get even slower with the Windows 11 update.
Two problems with app switching
An occasional side effect of that fast app switching on the iPad is that it doesn’t always remember where you were in an app, especially if you haven’t used it in a while. This is usually only a problem in a third-party app.
For example, I could be reading an HTML email in Microsoft Outlook, switch to another app, then go back to that email two seconds later… and Outlook shows the email back at the top instead of where I was last reading. That never happens in Windows. (It is also a reason I now use the Apple Mail app instead.)
Another issue is that sometimes when I switch away from an app and then switch back to it, the keyboard stops working. To get it to work, I either have to switch between apps again or force-quit and re-open the app. Sometimes undocking and re-docking the keyboard gets the keyboard to work again. This bug is my biggest complaint about the iPad because it is a productivity killer.
- It is inconsistent for highlighting text. Sometimes you need to press and hold a word. Sometimes you need to double-tap. Sometimes clicking-and-dragging with the touchpad does not work. I still haven’t figured out what works 100% of the time.
Cursor and keyboard Input
- Sometimes on a web page, the page will stop scrolling partway down a page, but then inexplicably work again some 10 seconds later. (Edit December 2022: I have not experienced this in a long time, so maybe it was fixed.)
- Sometimes clicking on a link with the touchpad and ball cursor doesn’t open a link. The link only opens if I touch it with my finger. (I have not experienced this in a while. In hindsight, I think it was related to the “keyboard sometimes stops working” problem.)
- In a Safari-powered PWA (take Duolingo, for example), sometimes the return and arrow keys on the Magic Keyboard stop working. It only starts working again after a reboot of the tablet. (I have not experienced this in a while; maybe it was fixed with an update.)
Some Microsoft applications do not work as well as they do on Windows
Most Microsoft applications are pretty solid on iPad. When there is reduced functionality, there are workarounds. See my article “How Well Do Microsoft Apps Work on an iPad in 2022?“
That said, Microsoft apps can be more enjoyable to use on iPad due to being designed better for touch. Hopefully, Microsoft will reduce the functionality gap between their apps on iPad and Windows over time.
Some things are just impossible to do natively
There are a few things that are impossible to do natively on an iPad. Here are examples of what I’ve encountered so far.
- Do you have a music collection on an external drive, an Android phone, or the cloud? If so, it is impossible to transfer it to an iPad’s or iPhone’s Music Library without using iTunes on a PC or Mac.
- Need to move or copy email from an IMAP account to an Exchange ActiveSync one like outlook.com? It’s easy to do with a PC if you have the Outlook desktop app. You might even be able to do it with Thunderbird. But it’s not possible to do so with Apple Mail or Outlook for iPad.
- Do you need to use professional software like Autodesk Fusion 360? Most likely, it isn’t available for the iPad.
The good thing is that you can do all of the above with an iPad using a virtual machine (VM). I’ve done all of the above using a Windows VM I quickly set up on Microsoft Azure. The VM was inexpensive—less than 15 cents an hour for the VM, disk space, and bandwidth. Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Mobile app for iPad works amazingly well with the VM. With a good internet connection, the experience almost feels native. It’s like running Windows on an iPad.
I described how I did #1 in another article. It involved using the iPad, a VM, iTunes, and Apple’s $25 iTunes Match service.
iPad Apps Aren’t Always Better than Websites
Being able to use any iOS app on iPadOS is an advantage over Windows—which has comparatively few apps—or Android, whose phone apps most often aren’t optimized for tablet devices. Most of the time, the apps are more performant (quicker) than using the same service in a web browser.
However, I have encountered a few instances where I prefer the corresponding website or Progressive Web App more. Below are some examples.
- Duolingo: The app does not support Keyboard Mode for lessons, unlike the web version. Keyboard mode is more difficult than Word Bank mode—the only mode available in the app—and is thus superior for advanced learners because it forces you to really know how to spell, place accent marks, conjugate, and come up with words out of thin air. The app also has a “heart limit” for folks not paying for Duolingo Plus, unlike the web version. This means you cannot make more than five mistakes on new lessons before you either have to wait for some hours, or do review lessons, to replenish the hearts. (Edit October 2022: The app does support Keyboard Mode and I have entirely switched over to it now.)
- Instagram: The mobile app is unoptimized for a large-screen iPad. The Progressive Web App is much better for viewing. However, the editing tools are not as good. So for posting, I use the iPhone app on the iPad; for viewing, I use the PWA.
- Quizlet: The iPad-optimized app does not seem to allow the deletion of flashcards, even empty ones. Worse, unlike the website, it does not allow non-subscribers to add Google Image-powered images to the flashcards. (Edit 2022-12-12: The app is so much more performant than the website that I use the app nevertheless. It’s great to have the option to do so on iPad, unlike Windows.)
Tip: Unlike Microsoft Edge for Windows, Safari currently cannot make just any website behave like an app, including opening them in their own chrome-less window; they have to be PWAs. But you can turn any website into a full-screen app using Shortcuts!
The Types of Tasks I Do with the iPad
- Messaging on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Instagram IM, Google Voice, Google Messages, HelloTalk
- Practicing languages with Duolingo
- Email using Apple Mail
- Teleconferencing with Zoom or Google Hangouts
- Create or edit spreadsheets and documents with Microsoft Excel and Word
- Note-taking with Microsoft OneNote
- List-making with Microsoft To-Do
- Scheduling with Apple Calendar
- Photo organizing/editing with Apple Photos and exporting/resizing with Adobe Lightroom
- PHP editing with Kodex or, more frequently, using the web editor in CPanel’s File Manager
- Website debugging using the excellent Inspect Browser app (since Safari/Edge/Chrome for iPad do not have the developer tools they have for PC)
- Blogging using WordPress in Safari
- Create PDFs (Share->Print->Share->Save to Files from almost any app) and sign PDFs using Adobe Acrobat Reader
- 3D modeling in Autodesk Fusion 360 using a Windows VM and Microsoft’s Remote Desktop, as explained in the previous section
- Create videos using iMovie. iMovie has been good enough for my purposes. There are dozens of YouTube videos that show an iPad Pro is excellent for professional video creation using the paid LumaFusion app.
One criticism I have seen leveled at the iPad is in regards to multitasking and windowing. You cannot display more than two or three windows at once, and you can’t freely overlay them freely like you can in Windows or MacOS. (Edit October 22: This has been addressed in iPadOS 16 with Stage Manager.)
My take on multitasking is more subdued. I am perfectly content with the iPad’s Full Screen, Split View, and Slideover functions. Split Screen is a more visually appealing and efficient use of screen real estate than overlaying windows, and Slideover works as an overlay when Full Screen is only available for an app like Duolingo.
It would be great, however, if an iPhone app that is not optimized for the iPad can be used in Split View instead of only Full Screen mode.
I used the iPad Pro 12.9 as my only computer for two months before writing this article. I had stopped using Apple products around 2006 and have only used Linux, Windows, Windows Phone, and Android since then. You can imagine, then, there was a learning curve and some frustrations to overcome.
Yet I was determined to give this experiment a fair shake. I’m now not only comfortable but enthusiastic about using the iPad as my only computer—with an Azure-powered Windows VM as fallback for the infrequent times I must use a PC.
I hope that Apple continues to develop iPadOS and particularly the Files app. The software is the only thing holding the iPad Pro back from cannibalizing Mac sales. The hardware is virtually perfect as it is.
Later in the year, I plan on swapping my Google Pixel for an Apple iPhone 14 Pro. Since I am now adept with the iPad, I expect virtually no learning curve with an iPhone. Then my transition from PC+Android to Apple-only will be complete.