It’s really impressive how good the larger iPad Pro is — and how suddenly the machine and its software have improved. At last Apple seems to have gotten serious about building on the strengths of the iPad’s larger screen, and the 12” iPad Pro has become a real productivity machine.1

This keyboard doubles as a viewfinder. Photo: Say Cheese by Ted McGrath

I’ve been using one of the larger iPad Pros since February, after trying out my architect-spouse’s. She loves it for quick design sketches, which often require tracing over PDFs. But I type for a living — code, mostly, and prose — and the Pro seemed to be an expensive way to replace my paper notebook. Or so I thought until I started to type on the bigger screen.

That larger screen gives the 12-inch iPad Pro a full-size onscreen keyboard. This is a huge boon, which has a couple of surprising implications —

You can now touch type on an iPad!

In landscape orientation you can easily touch type on the 12-inch iPad. I find I type about 45 words a minute on the onscreen keyboard — that’s slower than the 70 I get with a physical keyboard, but not impossibly slower. Practice and autocorrect reduce that gap.

Size and software have changed how I use the iPad.

  • Because of slide-over multitasking and that touch-typing keyboard, iPad Pro is now a landscape-only machine for me2
  • In landscape orientation the Smart Cover actually works as it is designed — and quite well (I had always used the 9-inch iPads in portrait orientation, to maximize screen space. The Smart Cover works much better in landscape, where it can tilt the iPad for typing.)
  • Weight also makes the 12-inch iPad Pro a landscape-only machine; it’s too heavy and too big of a lever to comfortably hold in portrait orientation

Room for ten-finger typing is one thing, but the software behind the larger keyboard makes the big iPad Pro shine. Two-finger text selection from the keyboard is incredible — much better than any hardware keyboard.

iPad keyboard text selection tips

  • Hold two fingers on the keyboard to switch to trackpad mode, where you can move the cursor around
  • Tap two fingers on the onscreen keyboard to select the current word
  • Tap again to select the current sentence
  • Tap a third time with two fingers to select the current paragraph
  • Once you have a text selection, the cut, copy and paste icons just above the number keys speed other text operations

Working with text on the iPad is now So Much Faster. These selection gestures become second nature in no time at all, which means I am working through my text and thinking through my text much more directly.

And all of this comes with the built-in onscreen keyboard — so these shortcuts work in any app: Mail, Ulysses or any app that has been updated for the larger iPad Pro screen size.

With iOS 9 and the iPad Pro, Apple has shown that it is serious about iPad. Let’s hope that this investment in software for their secondary product line continues.

Recommendations

Lots of folks are finding productivity gains from the iPad Pros. Bloggers and writers like Federico Viticci and David Chartier have completely switched to the iPad. Steven Sinofsky, past leader of Microsoft’s Windows division, now uses his full time instead of a laptop, and prefers the portability of the 9-inch model.

If you’re considering one of the new iPad Pros, either as a replacement for a laptop or an older iPad, I do have a couple of recommendations.

  • Skip the Smart Keyboard for the 12-inch iPad Pro. It adds ¾ of a pound and an origami challenge, and I find it too flexible for typing in my lap. With the big Pro, the onscreen keyboard works better.
  • The three-fold Smart Cover improves typing in many situations. The felt holds the iPad in place on your lap, and the triangle-tilt comes in handy for tabletop use.
  • If you want the portability of the smaller 9-inch iPad Pro, consider a Smart Keyboard. Unless you have skinny fingers, this is the best way to enable touch-typing for the smaller iPad.
  • Cellular is cheaper than you think. Apple does charge for the hardware, but with the built-in Apple SIM, T-mobile offers 200mb of free data a month for life. If your area has T-mobile coverage, that’s enough for mobile email forever.
  • With the Apple Pencil, this setup can replace a paper notebook — just add an app like GoodNotes

So yes, architects and artists love drawing with the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, but the combo also works great for handwritten notes. And the onscreen keyboard makes the 12-inch iPad a workhorse.

While I won’t be writing much code on the iPad any time soon, it is the machine I turn to for just about everything else. And even when I code on the big screen, I keep my iPad and Pencil beside me, the way I used to keep a paper notepad.

  1. My point of comparison is an iPad Air and a Mini 2, both of which have no fingerprint reader and seem to lag while launching apps. The 12-inch Pro hardware is faster, the fingerprint reader a huge timesaver. And the machine can now multitask. In fact, I’m writing this while running update scripts for a couple of my servers — something that would have been impossible on my previous iPad Air.

  2. Because portrait orientation uses the same keyboard layout as landscape, with the wide tab and caps lock keys on the left, there’s only room for two-finger typing in portrait.