For years, I’ve been using a laptop in the evenings when writing blog posts and what not, using an iPad for most of my other computer stuff at home (at least most of the other consumption-oriented stuff, though I did some of that on the laptop in the evenings too), and I have an iMac upstairs for situations where I want to archive data or where I want to do some programming. Which is probably one device too many; I’d been thinking for a while that I might switch to using an iPad as a laptop, since it’s my favorite of those three computers, but I’d held off, mostly because I wasn’t sure there was an iPad keyboard that I thought would work well in lap usage.

When Apple released pointer support and announced their iPad Magic Keyboard, I got curious again. And my iPad Air 2 was finally showing signs of being too old, so I was ready to replace it as well. (It lasted for most of 5 years, though! That was a really good machine.) So, when the reviews of the Magic Keyboard said that yes, it not only is as good as it sounds but it’s stable on laps, I went and ordered one; and I’ve been using the iPad instead of my laptop in the evenings for the last month or so.


And it’s really good! It’s really good with the caveat of it being an 11-inch laptop with narrow bezels, which means that it’s not particularly wide; I’m okay with the width of the keys themselves, but I’m finding it works a little better on a pillow in my lap instead of flat on my legs so that the keyboard doesn’t start to fall into the gap between my legs. (Part of me wishes I’d gone with the larger iPad size, largely for that reason; I’m honestly not sure which would be better for me, and I’m certainly not about to swap sizes now.) But it’s an entirely credible laptop setup; and yeah, it turns out that having a trackpad on an iPad really does work well, much better than I would have imagined before iPadOS 13.4 was released.

There was still an issue of psychological resistance, though: I’m just used to pulling out the macOS laptop in certain circumstances. So I’ve been forcing myself to use the iPad even in the face of that resistance, so I can figure out when it arises, what I can do about it, and if it’s pointing out a real situation where a traditional laptop works better.


For starters, I needed to be able to switch the iPad into laptop mode quickly! I’d been in the habit of leaving my iPad locked in portrait orientation; every once in a while, I’d experiment with leaving rotation lock turned off, and every time I do that, I quickly come to the conclusion that, no, I really do want rotation lock turned on when I’m using the iPad in handheld mode and not watching a movie. But I’m getting past my resentment of Apple removing the physical rotation lock switch, at least, so now I flip into landscape when that would be better. And the other part of laptop mode is, of course, the keyboard; I’m leaving the keyboard lying up against the side of the chair where I’m in the habit of typing. This all works: I now get the iPad into laptop mode quickly and regularly.

The next bit of psychological resistance was using web pages where I needed to log in to do stuff. I store all my account information in 1Password, and for not-very-well-thought-out reasons I’d never set up Touch ID or Face ID for 1Password on my phone or iPad. I’m still a little nervous about using biometric authentication for 1Password on my phone, but I decided that the same threat considerations don’t apply for the iPad (because it spends almost all of its time in my house), and, even with the keyboard to type the password on, the friction of having to type the password on the iPad really is very large. (Especially since, unlike the Mac, you don’t have to unlock 1Password once per session, you have to unlock it every single time that you use 1Password.)

So I switched to allowing Face ID for 1Password on the iPad. And it’s great! It now feels lower friction than on the Mac: I never have to type my password, Safari usually figures out when to offer on its own to fill in with 1Password and the share sheet action is there for situations where Safari can’t figure that out. So that reluctance has almost entirely disappeared, and I’m logging into stuff with abandon on my iPad. The one exception (for now, at least), is Google websites: I’m not logging into those on the iPad (and basically not using them other than Google search). I read my personal mail through, if I want to check on my work calendar while I’m away from my work laptop then I look at that through the Google Calendar app on my phone, and I just don’t use other Google stuff that requires login very much, it turns out.


I’d already been writing blog posts like this in Byword using Markdown on the Mac; and Byword has a quite credible iPad app. So that part of the transition was easy: I’m using it to write this post, it’s great for that. (Or at least good: I’m a little worried that Byword doesn’t seem to be getting actively updated, so it might start bitrotting.) And I’m using Byword for some amount of other random text file editing as well; it works fine there too, maybe a little bit more annoying than I’d like switching between directories where I spend time, but I can live with that. (The files in question are in Dropbox; my guess is that I’ll move to iCloud Drive at some point over the next year, but who knows.)

I write shorter blog posts straight in the WordPress editor, and there I actually did run into an issue: when I’m there, I like to write in raw HTML, and the iPad insists on inserting curved quotes instead of straight quotes. Which is, of course, better most of the time, but not in that circumstance. Maybe I should even write short posts in Markdown; or maybe I should use the WordPress visual editor? Not sure.

Speaking of keys behaving differently on the iPad, I’m doing what everybody else is doing and remapping Caps Lock to Escape; I was worried that would clash with my fingers’ habits, because I have Caps Lock mapped to Control on my other keyboards, but it’s fine. I haven’t done anything else that would make me miss the function key row, so that’s also not a problem. The main thing that I miss is actually forward delete: it turns out that I use that surprisingly frequently in macOS (by typing fn-delete); ah well.


One idea that I had in the back of my head is that I might use this to remotely connect to my iMac; I haven’t tried that yet, though. But I have used it to ssh into the Linux server that hosts this blog; I haven’t done any super serious work there, though, but right now my take is that it works well enough but there’s probably some potential friction lurking?

I’d had a copy of Termius around, but for whatever reason I’d convinced myself that the free version wasn’t going to be good enough: I think I’d misread it as not supporting authentication via ssh keys, but actually that’s there in the free version. Anyways, the paid version was super expensive and had some network sharing of keys that I didn’t want to figure out whether I should trust or not. So I googled around and came across Prompt: it also has network sharing of keys, but they’re quite upfront about exactly how it works and why it’s safe, and it’s from Panic, which is a company that I trust.

Prompt isn’t great, though. I’m not sure exactly what I want out of an ssh client, but Prompt doesn’t have the feel to me of an app that’s trying to be great, it feels more like an experiment that Panic didn’t decide to invest in? The basics are there, and it’s largely fine, but it’s problematic for Emacs users, because it doesn’t pass through the Option key as a meta key, it instead treats it as a way of inserting non-ASCII characters. Which is bad when using Emacs, but also a problem when just using bash, because my fingers are used to using option commands for a fair amount of shell navigation. The escape key is, of course, there, but a lack of Option support feels like a pretty basic oversight in a terminal program?

So I should probably give Termius another try; and in retrospect I probably should have looked harder at Blink instead of just assuming that Panic would do a good job, Blink looks quite a bit more focused on being a quality ssh client / terminal application.


Anyways: current iPad Pros are great machines (even though the most recent update wasn’t even a speed bump update), and the Magic Keyboard is also great. Basically, for the price of a MacBook Air, you can get a mix-and-match computer that behaves like a laptop when that’s best, behaves like a tablet when that’s best, and that has a CPU that’s quite a bit more powerful than the CPU in the Air. There are usability plusses and minuses, but for me they’re turning out mostly plusses: I like using the iOS share sheet when getting stuff between apps, I like having the device in portrait mode when I’m just reading stuff. If I were doing serious programming on a laptop, then yeah, the iPad would almost certainly not be what I wanted. But that’s not how I use my laptop at home; so right now I’m thinking it’ll probably be a while before I get another macOS laptop for personal use…

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