iPad Pro and iOS 11

Alright, I’ve been using iOS 11 on my primary devices (against recommendation, I know) for about two weeks now and I’m feeling ready to share some initial thoughts.

iPad Pro

I was conflicted about ordering a new iPad after the Keynote at WWDC. I’ve gone the last few months without having one at all, and the year before that not really using my older iPad mini 2 for much besides reading Marvel Unlimited, which at a certain point just became faster and more reliable on my iPhone using their smart zoom feature. I ended up donating that old iPad to Rosalee to use in her classroom and choose not to upgrade. Like I wrote a few weeks ago I have a long history of using iPads, since I used the very first one as my primary computing device in my first two years of college.

Since I didn’t really use my iPad mini during the last year it wasn’t too weird not having one to reach to on the rare occasions where I actually wanted to, especially since I could usually just use Rosalee’s iPad Pro. So when I saw the new iPad Pros come out last Monday I was impressed with what I saw on the hardware side of things, but wasn’t initially turned. After iOS 10 came out last year with 3D Touch more heavily integrated into iOS it became clear to me that if iOS was going to be leaning on that more and more it didn’t make sense for to invest in a new iPad until one came out with 3D Touch, since anything else would be treated as a second class citizen by the OS. Once it was clear that these models still wouldn’t have 3D Touch I was ready for the next section of the keynote.

Afterwards however, as I thought about iOS 11 and the new capabilities introduced I realized that iOS 11 was very clearly designed for these brand new iPads, so Apple had probably reduced the reliance on 3D Touch in the system. The more I thought about the iPad with iOS 11 as a truer expression of Apple’s new paradigm of computing the more I wanted to at least experience it and let it grow on me. There was also the “I just bought a new MacBook Pro a few months ago” consideration. I was able to move past that however, justifying it by saying that I could use this to work on personal projects at lunch and on the train much easier than it usually is to set up my MacBook in my lap, assuming I could find some good writing and code editing apps. So after some trepidation I ended up pressing that order button and allowing the simple confirmation of a fingerprint send an iPad my way.

I went with the new 10.5” model with 256 GB of storage and Wi-Fi only. Wi-Fi only was a concession of price, since the device was already getting really expensive especially once I factored in the cost of a keyboard and probably the new iPad Leather Sleeve. The only time I had a cellular iPad was my mini I got on T-Mobile to take advantage of their free 200 mb monthly data, which was a really great deal, enough that it’s useful but not enough that I felt like I was really getting away with something. I really liked the freedoms and I think that if there’s anything I will come to regret about this iPad it will be that. 256 GB seemed about right for me, considering I’m pushing 100 GB used on my iPhone and the iPad would use more space for the same apps with App Thinning factored in, and I wanted to make sure that I’m never constrained by the “You don’t have enough storage” warnings some friends of mine are constantly dealing with on their smaller devices. And the 12.7” model has always seemed too difficult to use in some circumstances. If I was sure that I was only going to use this on a desk or on my lap I may have gone with that size, but I wanted to give myself the opportunity to explore a bit.

It arrived Tuesday so I’ve had an opportunity to play around with it a bit, but not too much. The battery is lasting me a solid two days, and that’s with the initial device indexing going on and iOS 11 beta battery sacrifices, so I feel like I might be able to squeeze three days out of this once I get some stable software on it in a few months. The screen size is a far more dramatic change from the 9.7” Pro than I ever would have expected, but there is one drawback to that. While it was always awkward to hold the regular sized iPad in landscape mode with two hands and try to type, I could usually do it pretty confortably in portrait mode. Now it feels just slightly too large for that unfortunately, but that might be more an issue of my using a mini regularly for the past few years, so I’m willing to give that some time to get used to.

This is also the first time I’ve had an iPad with TouchID, so while it’s nice to be able to have Apple Pay and quick unlocking and App Store downloading I’ve always found that it’s much more awkward to hit the Home button on an iPad than on an iPhone. I used to use the multitasking gestures pretty heavily, but that muscle memory isn’t helping when I need to move my finger to the bottom edge of the device to authenticate. It’s not the biggest deal, but it’s another data point in the “That’s not really the best place for a fingerprint reader” camp (the correct answer is also still not the back of the device, however.)

When I bought Rosalee her iPad Pro last year I also insisted that she get a Pencil to try it out for a while and see if she liked it. She used it enough for those first few weeks that we didn’t return it, but most of the time since it has just sat on our table unused. With absolutely no protest I was able to get her to agree to let me use it and save me a nice $100 bucks, and it’s been a lot of fun. The handwriting in Notes is incredible, and while I’ve tried a few other drawing apps I’m no artist, and I haven’t quite found an app I like enough to really get to learn how to use properly, so I know for a fact I’m not pushing this thing to it’s full capabilities. I still hate charging it with the iPad, but I’ve been using the included adapter (really glad I didn’t let Rosalee throw out that box) so I can just charge it with a lightning cable and that makes for a much better experience.

As far as apps go, I’m really hoping that developers start taking advantage of the new hardware to add some more hardcore code editors for the iPad Pro. I have found a few workable apps, Terminus for SSH connections to my server, Dringend for iOS and Swift editing, and I haven’t quite found anything yet for the JavaScript work I’m doing for my job, but I’m still looking. Dringend is a particular dissapointment, because it specifically addresses my desire to find a decent app to fill the need for Xcode on the iPad (which I still think would be absolutely incredible) but hasn’t been updating in about a year so I’m not convinced I’ll be using it for very long if I can find something better.

I was actually all set to move on to the next section of this review when I was listening to the most recent ATP and remembered that the core feature of this device was ProMotion, which allows it to reach a 120 gHz display referesh rate. The fact that I almost forgot to mention it should speak to my experience with it. It seems very cool as a technical achievement, and if I focus on comparing with a MacBook display or my iPhone 7 I can see that this is distinctively better, but for my and my awful eyes this may just end up being one of those quality of life improvements that I never particularly focus on or notice.

Smart Keyboard

Because I’m hoping to really push the limits of this device I finally gave in and decided to get a keyboard for it. I was considering a few different options, either the Apple Smart Keyboard, the Logitech Slim Combo, or a Magic Keyboard with a Canopy case. I quickly ruled out the Logitech option once I saw just how much bulk it would have added to my iPad, making it thicker than my 2015 MacBook. I was already hesitant to put a shell case on the iPad, but the size of the keyboard sealed the deal. Which is a shame because I was really eager to have the backlit keyboard and the action keys at the top row.

So now it was a choice between the Magic Keyboard with a essentially a glorified kickstand or the Smart Keyboard. Again, the Magic Keyboard has the function rows, and although the icons are intended to match macOS most of them can be used for iOS functionality. I have no idea why the Smart Keyboard doesn’t have these keys, especially since the original iPad Keyboard Dock did feature them. In the end however I was won over by the Smart Keyboard, both because it didn’t have a separate battery to keep charged, and because I could attach the Smart Keyboard to my iPad so I could just carry a single item, rather than the iPad and the keyboard with it’s case.

Despite not having the action buttons I’m really loving this keyboard, which I’m writing this whole review on. The keys are a great size and I’m quickly getting used to some of the quirks, like the really narrow ] key. Having access to the usual text short cuts I’m used to as well as app specific short cuts is awesome, although I would love it if the ‘home’ shortcut behaved like it did on the iOS simulator, where it simulates an actual press of the home button rather than just going to the home screen and not doing anything when it’s there. I find myself trying to double tap that shortcut to launch multitasking quite a lot. And the way it folds over isn’t nearly as awkward as I expected it to be, although I’m still having trouble adjusting my muscle memory of how I used to open my Smart Cover with older iPads. And the fact that there’s no gaps between the keys and the case, because of the fabric covering the keys, is an excellent reassurance. There is nothing worse than feeling a key get sticky because some crumbs got in it.

iOS 11 - iPad Build

My only experience running this iPad with iOS 10 was the time it took me to accept the AirDrop with the iOS 11 provisioning profile and start the upgrade from Settings, everything else has been on the new beta. I went back and forth whether to bloat this brand new device with the beta OS so quickly, or if I should wait until a public or later beta instead. But eventually I figured that iOS 11 was the reason I got this iPad, why spend any time without it?

So far I’ve found that the iPad build of iOS 11 Beta 1 is far less frustrating to use than the iPhone build, until things go really wrong, which they have.

To start though, like I mentioned earlier the battery does last me a solid two days. Because I haven’t been using a newer iPad before this that’s still much better than what I was getting from my mini. My perception has only been an increase in battery life, and I look forward to pushing it even further as the betas become easier on my battery. I have noticed that when I’m using it for more powerfull tasks that it does drain noticiably faster, so I’m curious to see whether it will last this entire weekend, where I intend to really push it to it’s limits. I’ll post again Monday with some further battery details.

Unlike the iPhone build of the beta I haven’t noticed any lag in animations, particularly in Springboard where it’s been very painful on my phone. The only exception is in a place that for various reasons I’ve never actually seen work well on an iPad, even going back years, which is splitting the keyboard. If you don’t know iOS on iPads allows you to split and move the software keyboard around the screen, so you can position it better for typing with two thumbs and arrange it where it’s most comfortable to hold your device. The easiest way to trigger this feature is to touch your two thumbs to the keyboard (wherever they fall naturally) and pull them apart to the edges of the screen. The keyboard should animate with your thumbs, splitting into two smaller pieces. For whatever reason I have never seen this animation go smoothly. Either I’ve been on old hardware, or on betas, but every time it’s a jankey animation that drops a bunch of frames. Haven’t really tried it in a few years, since it was so easy to type on the mini without doing this, but it’s a dissapointment to see that it’s still not working, although I will reserve full judgement for after the beta period.

On the the major new feature of iOS 11, iPad multitasking. When iOS 9 came out my iPad didn’t support split view, only slide over, so while that was neat novelty it was rarely actually useful, so I never spent much time getting used to the feature. I was able to play around with split screen on my employer’s iPad Air and later iPad Pro, so I was able to become familiar enough with it to understand how it worked and understand the limitations. The iOS 11 capabilities are a distinctive improvement, to no one’s surprise I’m sure.

Being able to put the secondary app on either side of the screen means that there is no longer the awkward dance you have to do when you have Notes open and want to share the screen with Safari, but if you want Safari to take more screen space you would have to switch to Safari to make it the primary app and pull in Notes as the secondary app. You can now just move the app divider a bit more past the 50% divide on the screen without jumping through any hoops.

There is something to be said about the simplicity, if not discoverability, of the multitasking in iOS 9 and 10. As it is right now I have a lot of difficulty with the various multitasking gestures. When I have two apps in split screen for instance and I want to drag in a ‘Slide Over’ app, I often have to focus on dropping the app icon right on this app splitter between the two split view apps, otherwise the app I want in slide over just replaces whichever app it’s dragged over. And the old slide over gesture still works if you’ve dismissed an app that was in slide over, but if you didn’t open one or if you brought into one of the split screen panes the slide over gesture does nothing. The gesture for bringing a slide over app into split view is also really frustrating. I know there is one because I’ve done it, but I can’t for the life of me tell how. That being said, I’m really looking forward to learning how to do these things with a bit more exploration, and who knows, maybe I’ll even reinstall the Tips app.

While my general experience using iOS 11 on my iPad has been better than on my iPhone I will say that when things go wrong on my iPad they really go wrong. For instance, earlier today I remembered the various four finger gestures I used to use a lot on my iPad that I completely forgot about. I decided to try them out by swiping with four fingers across the screen to switch apps, and I almost cursed out loud during my team stand up because I saw the re-spring animation appear when everything crashed. Thankfully everything was fine (although I was able to reproduce this twice), but I was really worried because yesterday I looked at my iPad and noticed that same re-spring animation while it was just sitting next to my computer doing nothing. I gave it a while to start back up, but it never finished. So I tried hard resetting the device, and ended up stuck in a boot loop that I needed to do a full restore to get out of. As frustrating as day-to–day stuff has been on my iPhone, I’m at least glad that consequences haven’t been disasterous.

iOS 11 - iPhone Build

Moving on from my new toy, I’ve been running iOS 11 on my iPhone 7 for almost two weeks now and while I haven’t had any devastating crashes or had to restore it, I’ve definitely encountered some strong annoyances. LIke I mentioned above SpringBoard is incredibly slow to launch apps, weather from the home screen, spotlight, or the multitasking view. There is a noticeable half second delay every time I select an app before the animation to actually launch it begins.

I also haven’t gotten used to the new navigation concepts around the Notification Center. I rarely actually clear my notifications if they don’t clear automatically after taking an action, so I usually have a pretty long list of old notifications that I probably won’t want to see again. For that reason I actually like the new paradigm where ‘notification center’ only shows you recent notifications, with the rest of my stack tucked away. But it’s not very discoverable, and it breaks the gesture where you drag down to show Notification Center and drag up to dismiss it. Now when you drag up you see a list of older notifications, and you have to press the home button to return to what you were doing. Very annoying, but I will probably get used to it just like I did when Apple removed ‘Swipe to Unlock’ in iOS 10.

I don’t really like the half step of the new Dock as well. They removed the app names, just like on macOS and the iPad, but the dock still has the same visual design as it did in iOS 10, which in my opinion create really annoying inconsistency between the platforms. I’d like if it at least appeared like the iPad version, and also that it would appear when you enter the multitasking view. Even if the iPad is a more powerful and capable device we could at least have a consistent visual experience between the two platforms.

Watching the Keynote my only concern about control center wasn’t related to the new design, which everyone around me was freaking out about, but rather that HomeKit controls seemed to be completely missing. Once I installed the beta and realized that those controls were one of a dozen or so new controls you could optionally arrange into Control Center though I was very relieved, and I’ve quickly come to love the new control center. The new capabilities, like screen recording and being able to jump to Wallet, are incredible, and having a full Apple TV remote handy at all times is a far better experience than finding and pulling open that app.

watchOS 4

As for watchOS 4, my concern about being able to run it on my Series 0 hardware a few weeks ago turned out to be unfounded. watchOS 4 definitely still runs on the Series 0, however I would honestly prefer if it didn’t. This is a slow ass watch. Nothing much else to say about watchOS 4 until I get a new watch this fall.

Fun fact, while writing this review I needed to charge my watch, since the beta can’t get through a day when I track a workout in the morning. I left it on my charger for about half an hour, noticed that it wasn’t charging, and gave it a restart. That was half an hour ago, I’m still waiting on it to turn back on.

All in all it’s been quite an interesting two weeks on these betas, and I’m looking forward both to watching them get better over the coming months and getting to explore the capabilities of my new iPad some more.