Back to the Mac

I’m writing this on a refurbished, 13-inch MacBook Pro (2016) and after a couple of years using an iPad almost exclusively, it is glorious.

I eagerly awaited the release of the new Summer 2017 iPads. Before their release, a 9.7-inch iPad with a Belkin keyboard case had been my main computer, but I was never 100 percent happy with it. Several times a week, I’d run into a task that couldn’t be completed on the iPad. I had high hopes the new ones — in whatever form they took — would alleviate that. So on release day in June, I unboxed a new 10.5-inch 256 GB iPad Pro. With its slimmer bezels, Promotion display and built-in LTE, it was to be my One True Machine.

iOS is great for about 90 percent of what I need to do on a computer. For everything else, I need something more powerful. For example, iTunes track information can only be changed on a Mac.

Once the shine wore off — the figurative shine, of course — I found myself in a familiar place. Whether trying to write and format a piece like this here on Medium or tweak the metadata and manage my thousands-strong iTunes music collection, iPad just wasn’t up to the task. And believe me, I tried.

I made those around me mental trying to decide between the awful Logitech Slim Combo and Apple’s overpriced Smart Keyboard. I fretted the lack of back protection for the new size before the mostly Chinese Amazon sellers caught up. I made compromises and excuses. I wanted to love the new iPad and use it as my only computer.

Following the release of the new iPads Pro, there was a lot of noise about whether iPad could replace a notebook and, despite my experience, I was firmly in the “Of course it can” camp. That was a case of confirmation bias. I wanted it to be true.

I switched to Macintosh in the OS 9 days. I remember early OS X and bought boxed copies of new releases. I’ve strayed though. After iPhone, iOS became my favorite operating system. Then came iPad, which quickly took over as my primary computer. By the time the iPad Air became a thing, I was only using my Mac for relatively heavy stuff, such as filing income taxes and health insurance open enrollment. A Mac was the “truck” Steve Jobs talked about. For everyday stuff, I just needed a car.

After only a few hours on a modern Mac, I’m quickly realizing what I’ve been missing for the past few years. Remember the “King of the Hill” episode where Hank resisted replacing his trusty old pickup? Eventually circumstance found him behind the wheel of a new one. He couldn’t help smiling when discovering all the niceties which came with that new truck. “The rearview mirror has a compass? Mind… Blown!” Well that’s me with this new MacBook.

This is my first Retina Mac and wow! I knew my 2011 iMac’s screen was gross next to the screens on my iPad and iPhone, but what a difference a high-res screen makes. I know. Not exactly news.

My aged iMac was almost unusably slow at times. This new MacBook has an SSD. Moving photos and links from my iPad to my old iMac involved email or iMessage. With this new MacBook, “woosh — ” AirDrop. Black magic!

While iPad as primary device was death by a thousand tiny cuts, being on a full-fledged computer again is happiness by a thousand smiles. Of course, I realize I’m firmly in the honeymoon phase, possibly under the influence of the Reality Distortion Field. Still, when the songs blasting through my AirPods cross-fade… Count it. Another smile.

Other little niceties subtly present themselves at different times while using this machine. The second generation butterfly keyboard, shallow and clacky, is actually a very satisfying arena for typing. Of course, as a former journalist and lifelong touch-typist, I didn’t mind the shallow, clacky keys on the Apple Smart Keyboard either. While some people are very particular about keyboards, my 80-plus words per minute don’t fluctuate much whether on a modern notebook or the shared, crumb-infested Dell monstrosity on my desktop at work.

It has been a bit of a transition getting used to the trackpad after a couple of years of direct manipulation. The first couple of days, I smudged the screen with my greasy finger by reaching up to touch it a couple of different times. Now that I’m fully appreciating the roomy, glass trackpad on this MacBook, it’s pretty awesome to use hot corners and features like Mission Control to manage windows and workspaces. And while managing windows and workspaces might sound onerous to iPad aficionados, the power that comes with traditional multitasking outweighs any mental overhead.

As was the case during my flirtation with Android a couple of years ago, the biggest pain point in going back to the Mac from the walled garden that is iOS is in software quality. I’m happy to have Reeder and Tweetbot on the Mac App Store, but more than a week in, it still feels weird to be using those two applications with a pointer. The gentle right-to-left swipe to send an article in Reeder to Instapaper is perhaps my most-used daily gesture. It does work with the trackpad on a Mac, but it’s not direct manipulation. It feels disconnected because it is.

There have been some unexpected joys. The menu bar applet Trip Mode allows me to monitor my data use, so crazy background processes (hello iCloud) don’t slam my data cap while tethering. 1Password is a stunner everywhere and deserves a shout-out for simply existing. And Flume is a better experience for Instagram than even its increasingly ad-stuffed native mobile experience.

Without the handy and essential Trip Mode applet, most of my 15GB of shared AT&T data for the month would’ve been taken up by background processes like iCloud housekeeping and Software Update. iOS devices smartly behave differently when using LTE. Macs, shockingly in 2017, still do not.

In closing, being back on a “real” computer is everything I thought it would be. There were just too many trade-offs trying to do everything on iPad. Sure, there are some frustrations using a Mac, too. But the benefits make it worth it.

I haven’t abandoned iOS. Not even close. My iPhone is still, by any measurable standard, my primary computing device. It’s the first thing I reach for in the morning and the last thing I touch before bedtime. And I trust iOS 11 is just Apple’s first monumental leap towards making iPad a full-fledged bicycle for the mind. As the line is blurred between what a Mac can do and what can be accomplished on a tablet-sized slab of glass, I have no doubt I’ll own a cellular-capable iPad again.

As I said in wrapping up my iOS vs. Android piece, both choices offer an embarrassment of riches and this is a good time to love this stuff. It’s not a one size fits all situation. Determine your uses and choose the tool that will help you get things done.

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