I've been testing the iPad Pro for the past week and a half now, using it not only as a go-to tablet, but also as an alternative to a notebook for as many day-to-day tasks as possible. I strapped it inside a Logitech Create keyboard and brought it as my sole computer for a weekend work trip to LA. There's a lot more testing to do--my Apple Pencil hasn't even shipped yet--but I wanted to share with you my thoughts on how the device performs, and where it fits and doesn't fit into my work and home use. Specifically, I want to discuss how it, along with other devices, are changing the conversation and role of what are typically classified as mobile and desktop-class computers.
The release of Microsoft's new Surface devices (Surface Book and Surface Pro 4), along with the release of the iPad Pro has renewed the idea of mobile vs. desktop. You can find many reviews that boil their evaluation down to whether the iPad Pro can replace a laptop, or whether Microsoft's Surface laptops can replace the need for a tablet. I'm not interested in that head-to-head comparison--the products are set at different price points, and in my mind serve different purposes. Their hardware and software design illustrate different priorities for Microsoft and Apple for their respective families of computing devices. It's those priorities and design approaches that are really interesting; I want to compare what the iPad and Surface lines stand for: a future that's mobile first vs. one that's desktop first.
To do that, we should first define our terms. So much of this discussion can get muddled in pointless semantic disagreements. When talking about the iPad and Surface, what categorizes one as mobile, and what categorizes the other as a desktop device? Is it the physical formfactor and size? Having a built-in keyboard? Long battery life? Processor architecture? Touchscreen? App selection? All of the above are important to varying degrees, but I think the difference currently boils down to windowed applications and input models, and how those implementations affect how you can use those machines.
Windows and a Desktop: Multitasking for Productivity
For me, the biggest difference in the way you currently use a desktop-class device (eg. a notebook) and a mobile device (eg. smartphone and tablet) depends on whether the operating system employs a desktop model of running programs and file management. As opposed to runnings apps full-screen, Desktop OSes allow for windowed applications to run alongside each other, on top of a virtual and visualized desktop surface. It's a really simple concept to understand, and yet there are grey areas. For example, the home screen on iOS doesn't count as a desktop--it's just an application list, like the Start Menu in Windows. Simple. But on Android OS, being able to arrange files and shortcuts around a launcher screen and run apps in windows makes those devices more akin to desktop OSes, even though Android is typically classified as a mobile OS.