Raw first impressions of the new iPad Pro

I am all set up with my new 12.9 inch iPad Pro. Here are my gut thoughts on the process of purchasing the device and the first few hours of use.

I ordered the 11 inch device on day one and then immediately regretted it once I heard reports of the 12.9's lightness. This mixed in with the fact that the 11 inch still runs apps in a different size class than the 12.9. For example, when you run Mail and Notes side by side, it is possible to see the list of notes/messages and the contents of the note/message on screen at once in the 12.9 model.

I went in to the Apple Store today with the idea in mind that I would test both out, most likely buy a 12.9, and then return the 11.

Things I tested in the store:

-Holding each device in hand with and without Keyboard Folio attached.

-Running two productivity apps side by side in 50/50 split view on both devices to see how much content was visible.

-Typing an email on each keyboard.

-Looking at sheet music on one half of the screen while taking handwritten notes on the other. (In landscape and in portrait)

-Fitting each device in and out of my back pack.

-Taking handwritten notes in Apple Notes while holding the device in the other hand.

Making the decision

It was a hard decision. I really miss watching movies and reading books on the couch with my current 12.9. It's too big. It is also too heavy for me to hold in one hand at length. Still, I purchased it. Because I don't want to miss out on any software features now, or down the road. The fact that you can put 15 apps on the dock of the 12.9 and that you can run apps with more features in split view was enough to sell me on it. Apple could add those features to the 11 inch later through software. But Apple could also add new features to just the 12.9. Another tie breaker was the keyboard. I just can't type on the 11 inch keyboard as comfortably. I don’t think I will regret this. An honest look at my iPad use over the past year reveals hours and hours a day reading sheet music from far away while viewing a seating chart on the other half of the screen. Can I just have two iPads? The thought crossed my mind and then I realized how needlessly complex that could be. My wallet rejoiced.

First thoughts

The inductive charging pencil that snaps to the device is brilliant. It is going to make the pencil feel so much more delightful to use.

Pencil only attaches to the top while in landscape. Bummer.

It will take some time to retrain myself to swipe up to go to home screen and double tap the pencil to change tools. These are superior methods, but habit is habit.

Using the pencil with Apple Notes is a dream. Combine the higher refresh rate (my first time experiencing this since I own the first gen iPad Pro) with the feel of the new pencil, along with the responsiveness of "tap to wake," and you get as close to paper as I can imagine. Tapping the pencil tip to the sleeping iPad screen instantly gets you handwriting in the Notes app. This feature has existed before, but it is so smooth now, that... you really just have to try it to believe it. It's so good that I am already thinking about how to work Apple Notes back into my note workflow (I can’t ever seem to avoid using less than three or four note apps at once). I was so compelled by this idea that I sketched out some workflow ideas in Apple Notes with the new pencil. I have to conceive of note apps with a healthy dose of metaphor.



12.9 is lighter but still too heavy to hold in one hand with ease. It actually feels grippier to me when the case is on. Less like I am going to drop it.

New Keyboard Folio is way easier to unfold but harder to detach from the iPad.

Apps that aren’t optimized for the screen are currently letterboxed. I don’t mind it as much as I thought I would.

This device is going to feel so much better to use all around, but as many members of the tech press have stated, it is still powered by a limited OS. iOS hasn't seen features to differentiate the iPad since iOS 11. Rumor has it that iOS 13 is going to bring a lot more iPad productivity. Until the other shoe drops, I wait in eager anticipation for what this iPad could become.

Features I would need from iOS to allow me to use my iPad for 99 percent of my work (that are within Apple's control)

-Trackpad and mouse support

-Open two instances of the same app side by side

-Faster animation when I press Command+Tab

-Desktop-ier Safari

-Improvements to the Files app (I need more control in iCloud Drive over which documents are stored in the cloud vs. local to the device. Third party providers like Google Drive do not show up in the search results when I search in Files app or in Spotlight.)

-Default apps. Not just for stuff like Mail and Maps. I need to be able to specify which app a document opens in when I tap it in the Files app.

-Ability to manage my iTunes Library.

-Logic Pro (they have to be working on this, right?)

-Bonus point: Ability to have more than one audio in or out running at the same time.

-Bonus point: some sort of rethink to the home screen. I would love to be able to launch a file or a folder from there. A widget with recent notes wouldn't suck either.

-Bonus point: three apps 33/33/33 percent at the same time.

-Extreme bonus point: keyboard intent to allow TextExpander to work.

-Extreme bonus point: extension for apps to put a window in the middle of the screen that allows for viewing or editing content. Example: a quick note function, or the ability to add a task to OmniFocus.

I think about half of the things I did not label as Bonus could happen in the next year. I would be disappointed if they don't, but fortunately, I bought the new iPad for what it is, not what it will be. And what it is is an extremely powerful iPad that is 100 percent more delightful to use in every respect. I can't wait to test this thing out in the classroom tomorrow.

Brief Thoughts on Apple’s Education Event

Well it has taken me long enough… This past week, Apple held an education event. Below are some brief thoughts on the subject. Chris Russell is coming on my podcast later this week to talk about all of the details. Keep in mind, I do not work in a school with 1:1 iPads or any kind of deployment strategy. But I am very seriously invested in Apple’s role in education and their vision for how their products fit into the classroom.

New iPad

This device looks great. Adding the Apple Pencil to this model will be an asset for schools. But will schools really pay 89 dollars for a pencil after just having purchased numerous 250 dollar iPads? 

The thing that gets me most excited about this device is its consumer potential. I am tempted to buy one for myself as a (more) mobile counterpart to my larger 12.9 inch iPad Pro.

iWork Updates

Apple Pencil support. FINALLY. This was my favorite announcement of the day. I anticipate editing Pages documents, scribbling on bus attendance lists made in Numbers, and annotating Keynote slides at the front of the classroom on a daily basis. I hate to be cynical (which the rest of this post will be), but Microsoft Office for iPad has had the ability to write on documents with an Apple Pencil since the Apple Pencil launched, two years ago. 

iBooks Author

Seems like the Mac app is no longer going to receive development. All book publishing features have been moved to Pages for iOS and Mac. It doesn’t appear that the new feature does everything that iBooks Author can do. Hopefully this is like when Apple rewrote Final Cut Pro X, took away some features, but then eventually added them back. Or when iWork was rewritten to be the same for iOS and macOS, stripping AppleScript features from the Mac, but eventually bringing them back. I would hate to see iBook authors unable to use workflows they have in the past using iBooks Author for the Mac. 

Classroom App for Mac

Apple’s learning management system comes to the Mac. Great! But what took so long? And can Apple keep up with the vastly more mature and flexible Google Classroom? (See conclusion below)

School Work App

An app for teachers to give assignments to students, check their progress, and collect it back. School Work can route students to other apps to do their assignments using the ClassKit API which is very cool. But why is this separate from the Classroom app? And where does iTunes U fit into all of this?


Apple is making a lot of solid efforts here but a lot of it it feels like too little too late, especially the student and learning management software. I really do hope they can keep up with Google Classroom who has been eating everyone’s lunch for years. Apple will have to be aggressive about adding new features to all of these new apps and making sure that their app ecosystem is flexible enough to compete with Chromebooks which use browser based software. Yes, there are way more apps on the App Store than there are Chrome based apps, but in education (and especially in music education) a lot of the big players are writing for Chrome OS. To me, the draw of Chromebooks in education is not their price, but the flexibility of web based software.

Apple’s software engineers seem spread very thin and unable to balance the release of various applications, consistently over time. This is true of many of Apple’s consumer apps. Mail and Reminders, two tentpole productivity apps have fallen way behind the competition. Calendar has not seen any more than a few major feature updates since I started using the Mac back in 2006. Apple’s apps are part of the “nice” factor of being in the ecosystem. Sometimes an app like Notes will get some major new features, but then we won’t hear from it for a few years. Google’s apps, by contrast, lack the same design sense, but are constantly being updated with new features. And they are not locked into annual OS updates like iOS is. In my opinion, this is Apple’s biggest problem right now.

Ironically, software is still my draw to Apple products. Even though their hardware is the most indisputably good thing they are doing right now (I am nearly without complaint of my iPhone X and the iPad 10.5 is perfect), it is the software that locks me in. In other words, I am much more committed to macOS and iOS than I am Mac and iPhone. This leaves me with some long term concern about my interest in continuing to use Apple products. And great concern about any educational institution who jumps on the iPad bandwagon just because apps are bright and colorful and demo well on stage. Apple has to show continual support for their education software if their dream for the classroom is to come true.