How iPad Pro became my favorite device for writing and coding.
Love at first touch
I had a sneaky suspicion that the moment I got a close look at the iPad Pro, I would want it badly right then and there. I also had a sneaky suspicion that I would get deeply frustrated if a Pencil wouldn’t be available for purchase right at the same time. This gut feeling was so strong that I went online and ordered the Pencil first. Then, when it was delivered a couple of weeks later, I dared to visit the Apple Store. And sure enough, I became instantaneously smitten by the 13″ iPad Pro and invited it home with me.
Oh how right I was that I would fall in love with it, and oh how wrong I was about what would make me fall so in love with the beast of a tablet.
Since that first meeting in the Apple Store, I’ve enjoyed the iPad Pro daily. I really, really like it. But I have used the Pencil only once. What I have used it for daily though, is what I didn’t expect to use it for at all: Writing and coding.
Since I believe many assume the same thing I assumed — that the iPad Pro is a waste without a Pencil — I want to take this opportunity to share my thoughts on the matter.
How iPad fits in a cloud future
For some 20 years, I’ve used Macs in various shapes and forms to make a living. First as a programmer, and later as a manager of programmers. Way back when OS X 10.1 was released, I switched from Windows to Mac because of how the LAMP stack code behaved somewhat different on my Windows laptop compared to how it behaved when I later deployed it to UNIX servers. Moving to Mac let me work in a UNIX like environment similar to my web servers, that — as a bonus — also could run Photoshop.
This was right around the time when Apple identified the Mac as the “digital hub” of your work, music and media. If this idea of having your Personal Computer be the center of your computing Universe had lasted, the iPad would never have been much more than something you consume media on. Luckily, this wasn’t how the computing future played out.
Now defunct Sun Microsystems was arguably the coolest company on the planet for a solid few years back in the mid 1990’s. They invented Java, proclaimed that “the network is the computer” and that the future was thin clients accessing a network of servers doing the heavy lifting. As correct as their prophesy was, they were ahead of their time and didn’t manage to stay in business long enough to see their vision fully come to fruitition. Apple and others kept pushing their vision, and as technology and internet speeds and availability improved, eventually we stopped syncing our iPods, iPads and iPhones with our Mac, instead moving our data to the cloud.
Thanks to this new cloud based reality, the iPad in general, and the large iPad Pro in particular, is already an exceptionally good device for programming. While it isn’t possible to run local web servers on an iPad without jailbreaking it, doing so would miss the whole point of cloud computing.
Supercharging the iPad
Enter companies like Linode and Digital Ocean. They offer virtual servers for a monthly fee equivalent to only a couple of Starbucks lattes. Setting up your own virtual machine running Linux may seem like a daunting task for some, however both Linode and Digital Ocean makes it superbly easy to get a machine up and running. Both also offer great customer support and great help documents on how to configure your VM with the most common options. Finally, having set up your own Linux machine and being comfortable using a terminal won’t ever look bad on your resumé.
Combined with terminal apps for iOS such as the excellent Prompt from Panic to clone code from and push to your Git repositories, we’re in great shape. And with Internet access being ubiquous in most cities, for all intents and purposes, there’s no difference whether what you see in the terminal window runs locally on your laptop or on your virtual machine.
Panic also offers the third leg of the equation to make coding on the iPad not only feasible, but highly enjoyable; Ther superb editor Coda lets you edit remote files from your virtual machine as if they were present on your local file system.
While this post in broad terms applies to all tablets, my love for Prompt and Coda for iPad makes a huge difference for me in wanting to bring out the iPad Pro instead of my MacBook Air. And the Smart Keyboard for the 13″ iPad Pro is a joy to type on, making me prefer it for coding and typing compared to on the somewhat crammed keyboard for the newer 10″ iPad Pro. The smaller iPad Pro’s keyboard feels like it’s solidly positioned as a laptop addition, not a replacement like the 13″ iPad Pro has the potential to be.
As rosy a post this is, I need to whip out the Pencil more often though and give myself the chance to love the iPad Pro even more than I do. After all, if I’m to replace my laptop one day, I will need to figure out a workflow as well for everything I do in Photoshop CC today. But that’s a different post, for a different time...