My project was ambitious: work without a laptop or desktop computer for all of 2019.

Turns out that while the iPad definitely supercharged me in many ways, it had two major issues that forced me to abort the experiment after three months.

Here’s what I learned.

Issues

The biggest roadblocks were:

Ergonomics: After a few weeks of iPad only, I would get this blistering headache all day long. Turns out it was because the muscles in my neck were overworked by craning the neck a weird way.

The iPad isn’t that much smaller than a laptop, so this surprised me. But I think it’s because you can’t modify the angle of the screen very easily. Causing me to sit in weird postured.

I tried to push through. But eventually I couldn’t work. My body refused to even pick up the iPad because of this pain.

Collaboration software: In a remote team, the speed of using our internal tools is key. There were three big sinners here:

  • Airtable
  • Notion
  • ClubHouse

These are all fast moving, smaller companies that haven’t got their core product on mobile yet. To the point where it was pretty much unusable.

Honestly I was expecting more. “Mobile first”? Not really. Airtable doesn’t let you edit inline. Notion doesn’t let you use arrows to navigate up and down a document. Yes, really!

Gmail stands out as the exception. They started 2019 with a terrible iPad app. But in the following three months they launched a full redesign, iPad 11” support, keyboard shortcuts, snoozing, priority inbox, and much more. It’s a joy to use now.

What was better?

  • Drawing, drawing, drawing. So freeing to just insert an illustration. I love the Apple Pencil.
  • I was less tired at the end of a work day. More centered in myself. Only using one app a time is helpful… The iPad feels very focused.
  • A faster experience, generally. The iPad didn’t freeze or hang on me a single time. Very snappy.
  • Cellular connectivity built-in was great
  • Touch screen!
  • Really smooth phone and text integration

What did I learn?

  • That I’m an artist. Or, well, at least an illustrator. And really the extension of that insight is that we’re all illustrators. The way most people say “I can’t draw” will sound ridiculous in the future as the tech keeps getting better. Who’s saying “I can’t send a text message because I’m not a writer” these days? No one. Same thing will be true here.
  • How remarkably limiting keyboard + mouse input is compared to the pencil and touch screen. Going back to desktop felt so backwards.
  • The power of constraints. Apple have really succeeded in making app developers build mostly really smooth and beautiful experiences that very often top their desktop equivalent. And a lot of it is because of what you can’t do on the platform. This is contrary to the idea that more choice leads to better results. Not here. Very cool.
  • ScreenTime on iOS didn’t really work in limiting my digital use. I just hit “Remind me later” and kept on using it. It had a marginal effect but it’s way too easy to circumvent at this point.

Conclusion

I’ll still use my iPad as a complementary device and it still follows me around wherever I go. But it’s back to the Mac for me for all the heavier work.

And before you say: I told you so, I’ll tell you that I agree with you. I suspected it would end this way. But this experiment taught me so much that I’d probably do it all again…

Oh hey, look! The Oculus Quest just came out.

zips off