iPad - The Evolution of the Companion Device

There are a number of Apple products that have really transformed personal computing. Top on my list is the Apple Airport, as many may not know Apple was the first company to really bring WiFi to the masses with the original Airport.

The flying saucer had a PCMCIA Lucent card

The flying saucer had a PCMCIA Lucent card

There are lots and lots of others though. To me, the iPad was one of those devices as it really wasn’t like anything else. I owned every iPad since the original iPad and have struggled to really figure out “which iPad is the right iPad”. It really comes down to how much of a “companion” it is…. a companion to your PC or Mac or your Phone. 

Many choices

Many choices

And that’s the category it’s always been in: a companion device.

But that’s not the destiny of the iPad. the iPad is really a vessel for iOS growing up to tackle the needs that desktop operating systems have been playing a role in for the past 20+ years. There is a simplicity to how Apple is approaching growing up iOS to move into the tactile world of keyboard, pen and perhaps mouse. The iPad is gaining additional capabilities with the new lightning to USB accessories like the Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter which allows you to connect lots of traditional “PC” devices such as microphones, ethernet cables, etc.

Apple has clearly signaled that the iPad has clearly moved to standalone device.

I’ve been using the 12 inch iPad Pro since it was announced, and recently procured the smaller iPad Pro. So I thought I would offer my thoughts about what each is good for. I’ll also mention I also have an iPad Mini 4, that I’m not sure what to do with now.

iPad Pro 12

When I first saw one I laughed. It’s not a something I can say I’m used to seeing. It’s large. When coupled with a keyboard and case it’s bigger than both my main workhorse machines, a Surface Pro 3 and a MacBook. It’s also heavy and awkward to use.

But it’s an incredible device when you are sitting there, running apps like Outlook, Slack, Safari, Office, Lightroom, PowerBI and others. Over time I found that:

  1. The performance of the devices is impressive
  2. The screen is incredible
  3. The keyboard is nicer to type on than the MacBook, but not as nice as the Surface Pro 4 keyboard
  4. Battery Life is truly “all day” and perhaps more
  5. With LTE it's really always connected

This had me thinking.

Someone at work told me, we are the last tech support generation. By “we” I mean Generation X - those of us born in the 70s and 80s. We knew how to program the VCR and quickly adopted DVRs and Tivos. But let’s face it, while my parents can competently use a computer, they can’t survive without the tech support that we provide.

But everyone can competently use an iOS device, and tech support is largely not needed. If yo have a problem, there are very simple and predictable steps to remediate. Uninstall the app, restart the phone, reset the phone and restore. It all works very well. Ask anyone around you. The "tips and tricks" for how to do things are everywhere and everyone has mastered and is competent in how to use this piece of technology.

The overlap with the iPad is going to be its biggest strength in the long run. Knowledge transfers perfectly. How do you buy a movie? music? do email, share photos? It's all the same.

I really think that this is where Android and iOS differ a great deal. I rarely if ever see anyone using an Android tablet or Chromebook as a device "to do work" and so you learn everything and it's different from Windows and iOS, the thing people who have any level of familiarity with will struggle using. Google Chrome is the best bridge Google have if they stick to metaphors people learn to navigate the web.

This is the same reason I recommend parents stay away from the Amazon Fire devices for their kids. They have gone off into their own weird land of horrible usability and confusing world of "Kids UX" with different content licensing terms that would make your heads explode. Sure they are cheap, but your time is not.

The iPad Pro 12 is a perfect primary computing device. Not a companion. But your main device. This will only work if the iPad can do everything that you would otherwise use a PC for. And the reality is that for my Mother, this was a true statement, and she has been using an iPad Pro as her primary computing device for a few months now. 


Printing works. Facebook works. Email works. It works great with her iPhone. Her photos appear everywhere. Data roams easily. And any problems? The Apple store is down the street to provide concierge service. Break it, loose it, get a new one and restore your data to pixel perfect state.

For millions of people, this is their destiny in the next few years as Apple continues to make iOS more and more capable, and the apps themselves bring more and more features from their desktop siblings - or even define new and better ways to work.

These devices are inherently "mobile" - they have all such qualities. They are appliances. Disposable. And they will also follow the same upgrade path as PCs - replacement every 3-4 years, as unlike phones, they are cared for better - and are not evolving as quickly. 

I’ve been reading with great interest in people who are pioneering using the iPad Pro 12 as their primary machines. I highly recommend you read these two articles to understand the depth of insight:

Both these articles are very alpha geek - you should pay attention and learn to question how the future of personal computing will evolve and how the various platforms of software + hardware + developers will transform things.

And this is the reason I won’t be keeping the iPad Pro 12. I don’t need an iPad as a primary device as too much of my work is still in the desktop world. And as a companion, the iPad 12 is too large and awkward to carry with me.

iPad Pro 9

Who is the iPad Pro 9 for? Well, it’s still a companion. It’s far more comfortable to carry and use in addition to your Mac or PC. It’s a shy smaller than is really comfortable for full time use, and it’s not got some of the beefy features of the larger iPad (less RAM, USB2 not USB3). 

For most people, they already have an iPad and another PC to do work on. So the iPad Pro 9 is a very easy way to start to gain familiarity. Maybe on your next vacation you will just take the iPad and see how it goes. You can see where this is going.

But the iPad Pro 9 is an incredible and purposeful evolution of the iPad, with broader appeal than the 12. More people will buy and experience this iPad, and will appreciate the keyboard and pencil, which in my opinion are must have accessories.

iPad Mini 2 and 4

This one is the most confusing for me. This device is falling into tweener category. It cannot reasonably used for typing, lacks pencil support, and competes with the dedicated Kindle e-Readers for reading. 

When I observe what people are using when I travel, I see that adults have iPad 9s, Macs, Surfaces, and Kindles. I see very few Android tablets and I see lots of kids using their parents phones, or iPad minis or Kindle Fires. 

iPad Minis are perfect devices for kids and people with a small iPhone. 

Final Thoughts

It’s complex to really navigate the choices. The easiest choice to make is about the kind of companion device you need.


But if you are spending most of your time using an iPhone, and can do most of your work on it, you may find that the iPad Pro 12 would suit you perfectly well as your primary computer. 

You may need to get yourself an AirPrint compatible printer to handle such tasks, as well as the requisite Apple dongles and cables. But it’s really close, and for many people iOS has grown up from a phone and music player platform to something capable enough to do it all.