Adapting a Photographer’s Mindset — Why I’m Warming Up to iPad Pro as MacBook Replacement

The writing is on the wall. Moore’s law. Everything tech gets better and faster. Desktops become a thing of the past as notebooks and tablets offer incomparable convenience and ease of use. Now Apple declares the end of the PC, with the iPad Pro being a replacement for a notebook or desktop for many people. When Tim Cook announced the A4-sized iPad, he said it could do as much as 80 to 90 percent of what anyone could do on a traditional laptop. That might be 80 to 90 percent true. In the case of Apple, hardware mobile devices develop faster than 3rd party software. Nevertheless, is it time to switch?

Not to mince one’s words, and I’m no Apple fanboy, even though everything around here is Apple, but for reasons only known to Cupertino the iPad Pro in fact is an oversized iPhone, not offering the functionality and flexibility needed. We’re waiting in vain for OS X in an Apple tablet — something Microsoft does right. Their Surface Pro and Surface Book lineup — Amazon and eBay — features full Windows 10 OS. And not Windows Mobile.

iPad Pro vs. Surface Book -- which one's the photographer's more capable tool?
iPad Pro vs. Surface Book — which one’s the photographer’s more capable tool?

With OS X under the hood the iPad Pro would be a no-brainer. Meaning, many people who don’t need their hardware for just email correspondence, Web browsing and snaps are now using at least three devices each, two of which are desktops or laptops, one at work and one at home. The third device is a smartphone. Cut that all down to one, that’s the aim.

The iPad Pros — now with a 12.9-inch and a 9.7-inch model available on Amazon and eBay — are the most capable tablets Apple have ever produced, as a well as a massive canvas for creative types. But let’s not kid around here — they’re not even in the same category as Microsoft’s Surface models. Whether you gel with Microsoft’s 2-in-1 vision for Windows 10 or not (or Lenovo’s Yoga lineup for that), there’s no denying that they offer a much more capable and flexible solution than the iPad Pros.

The iPad Pro 12.9-inch and 9.7-inch models.
The iPad Pro 12.9-inch and 9.7-inch models.

Microsoft is making a big deal about going after Apple. Surface sales still pale in comparison to iPads, but Microsoft seems to be envisioning a future where their hybrids are a real alternative to the market leader. Specs are only half of the story, yet Microsoft’s Surface tablets are a full power laptop with detachable screen. So, are the iPad Pros competing with the Surfaces? Again, iPads don’t run a traditional desktop OS. Surface is rather competing with the MacBooks.

Microsoft's 2-in-1 hybrid Surface Book offers fully-fledged Windows 10 OS.
Microsoft’s 2-in-1 hybrid Surface Book offers fully-fledged Windows 10 OS.

From a photographer’s point of view, a Surface is something that you might consider replacing your laptop or even desktop computer with, under certain circumstances. The iPad Pro is something you might consider replacing your aging iPad with.

Both are great devices, and Apple’s peerless app ecosystem and cross-device hardware integration continue to impress. But Apple made the wrong decision here. The iPad Pro is a tablet. It doesn’t quite match up to those laptop-replacement marketing pitches. A fully functional OS simply offers the more capable, flexible and downright useful device. And to be honest, the UI neither looks rewarding nor entertaining designed for much smaller phone devices. A lot of potential wasted.

As with many things about the iPad Pro, the superior hardware is waiting for the software to catch up. Additionally, am not a RAW shooter myself, but the lack of RAW support in iOS hinders pro and enthusiast photographers from developing workflows that avoid duplicating work or depending on a Mac to get started.

On the other hand, be open to new workflows and reinvigorate a dusty mindset!

In terms of photo editing, everything is available on the Surface, and bit by bit iPad Pro apps are catching up. In fact, just think outside the box. Plenty of apps let you edit photos, such as standouts like Google’s Snapseed, Adobe’s Lightroom Mobile, VSCO and of course Apple’s own Photos app.

Support for the Apple Pencil, though, adds another level of editing. Adobe’s Photoshop Fix senses pressure and angle using the Pencil for precise adjustments. For example, when you need to lighten just one area of a person’s face, or discreetly erase some age wrinkles, you don’t need to wait until you’re back on your Mac.

Lightroom and Photoshop Fix can run side-by-side, and they can both access the same libraries via Creative Cloud Sync, enabling you to send an image from Lightroom to Fix to perform some spot healing, a feature missing in Lightroom.

And that RAW deal? iPads still don’t offer system-level support for RAW formatted images. If your don’t shoot RAW, this won’t hold you back. RAW files transfer to the iPad, but any edits made are applied to the thumbnail preview the camera creates to display on its LCD. So, when you edit on the iPad, you’re not taking full advantage of the editing possibilities RAW formats offer.

Overall, as a photographer trying to migrate to the iPad Pro, you’re basically covered with the two free apps Snapseed and Lightroom Mobile plus Pixelmator ($4.99) which fully supports Apple Pencil.

Again, using the iPad Pro as a photographer’s tool is more about attitude and approach, and less about hardware and software capabilities. You will be able to find your ways — and develop new ways, with the likelihood of making traditional ways redundant over time.

No, the iPad Pro is no toy. Yes, it is an oversized iPhone. And that’s a great device, a device one can adapt to. So down the road, there may be no need for OS X.

iPad Pro is available on Amazon and eBay, Surface Book on Amazon and eBay.

  • I am a long term Apple user, and what prevents me to use/buy an iPad Pro is right its lack of OS X. I shoot raw, I work on raw files, I understand there are alternatives such those you mentioned, but still Snapseed “destroys” the image, there are limits to the resolution of files, and the iOS versions of Adobe software simply pale compared to their Windows/OS X versions.
    I really wish Apple would release an OS X version of iPad, something like a Macbook Air but without keyboard.
    I’m actually surprised they haven’t thought about it..

  • jcespite

    I think they thought about it but don’t want to canabilize sales from the Macbook lineup. I’m alone time Apple user and Windows user. Maybe once Microsoft eats more into Apple’s market share will you see Apple make the switch. The one thing with Apple that really bothers me is there us always some limitations they instill to get you a half baked solution. Remember IOS 8 and the new iCloud solution without fully rolling out the latest OS onthe Mac. Also as you pointed out the raw size limitations on IOS. If I has to start over, or getting into the market today, it would be the surface pro all the way.

  • Agree with both of you. Well Apple sure has thought of making an OS X iPad series, but either they’re overly confident that iOS is perfectly capable of delivering comparable functions further down the road, or it’s a pure marketing gamble they take, to sell as many different devices as possible. Ideally three devices per user: desktop/laptop, tablet, phone. I therefore vote for the latter theory.

    The question therefore rather is: should Apple sacrifice sales to improve specs and drop prices?!

    Raise the price, drop the specs. And market it as a reinvention of the wheel… Only once we start buying Windows machines again, maybe then they’ll improve specs and drop prices… Thereby admitting that Microsoft got it right.

    There are several caveats though an OS X iPad would have to beat. Having a desktop operating system designed for the mouse and keyboard used on a device with a touchscreen leads to a user-experience failure. But that’s what foldable keyboards are for, aren’t they.

    Should Apple merge iOS with OS X for iPad Pro? One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to imagine the iPad Pro could be so much more…

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    iPad Pro: Can it replace your road warrior MacBook?

    Is the new iPad Pro a MacBook replacement, asks Daniel Kestenholz of Theme. He looks at it from a photographer’s point of view and, frankly, this is one of the main reasons I cannot work solely from an iPad. Also, in my case, I really need OS X for Macfilos. Sure, an iPad can do maybe 90 percent of my work, but it is the processing of photographs, in particular RAW files, and in creating web page layouts for Macfilos that holds me back.

    Daniel reaches more or less the same conclusion but he is probably rather keener than me to consider the iPad as a road warrior. He gives it the benefit of the doubt:

  • T N Args

    It’s raw, not RAW.

  • Raw is raw.

    RAW is RAW.

    JPEG is JPEG.

    On this site, we make a point of correct grammar.

  • T N Args

    Well, I think a 50% convention for RAW has unfortunately fallen into place, so I understand your position, but the R, the A, and the W don’t stand for anything, unlike say JPEG or GIF, and no company or body has trademarked a file with the name RAW (except for a certain Canon sub-file that ironically isn’t a raw image file). We could cross swords with conflicting references, but in the end I think the Wikipedia article titled ‘Raw image format’ is correctly written.

  • You got a valid point there.

    JPEG, PSD, etc. all are acronyms which is why they are capitalized. RAW (oops… raw) isn’t, as it’s just the “raw data,” the untouched, unprocessed data straight out of the sensor.

    So it would make sense to just say, “I shoot in raw,” rather than, “I shoot in RAW”, but then again, while not an acronym or proper name (each brand has its own RAW format and name), it’s the name the covers all the brand specific RAW formats.

    As JPEG, TIFF, GIF, PSD, CPT, etc. have all capital letters, so does RAW — certainly making a whole lot more sense than naming all the different RAW formats?