Using an iPad Pro as a Laptop Replacement

April 04, 2021

A few days ago I purchased a 12.9 inch iPad Pro, an iPad Magic Keyboard, and an Apple Pencil. I’ve wanted he large iPad for some time for, mainly as a device for digitizing my sheet music. With the addition of the Magic keyboard is is also, it turns out, a very respectable laptop replacement.


12.9” iPad Pro

I bought the 12.9 inch iPad Pro, in space gray, with 256 GB of storage, and WiFi connectivity. Like all Apple hardware products, the device is superbly constructed and finished. For such a thin tablet it is surprisingly dense and solid feeling.

The screen has a different aspect ration than my 15” MacBook Pro. The MacBook Pro screen is 2880 by 1800; the iPad Pro screen is 2732 by 2048. The laptop ratio is 16 x 9 while the iPad has a ratio of 4 x 3. I don’t notice the squareness of the iPad screen until I watch a letterbox video. Even then it isn’t objectionable. For anything text-based: mail, browsing, terminal windows, the square screen is perfect.

###iPad Magic Keyboard I debated for a long time about getting the iPad Magic Keyboard. At $349 for the large size, it is more expensive than an entry level iPad with 32 GB of storage. My wife has the new 4th generation iPad Air with the Smart Keyboard Folio. The most visible difference between the two is the trackpad on the Magic Keyboard. After a field trip to the local Best Buy (the nearest Apple Store is 125 miles away) to try both keyboards side by side, I decided I wanted the Magic Keyboard. Having the trackpad is a wonderful addition. I use a trackpad at work with an iMac, and on my MacBook Pro. I make heavy use of gestures, so having those available on the iPad was an easy decision to make. I also like the key feel on the Magic Keyboard.

Having the iPad mounted to the keyboard gives it the form-factor of a laptop, albeit one that is top heavy. My MacBook Pro, and every other laptop sold, has the majority of the weight in the base and only a little weight in the screen. The iPad/Magic Keyboard combination reverses that. Most of the weight is in the screen (the iPad) and only a little weight is in the base (keyboard). Apple has done a very good job of limiting the range of motion the iPad has, and the angles it can assume relative to the keyboard, to reduce the potential for tipping the device over. On a table or other hard surface it is very stable. In my lap it is slightly less so, but not enough to make you constantly worried about it falling over.

###Apple Pencil With only a few days use under my belt, I haven’t used the Pencil much yet. I am looking forward to exploring it for note taking and for annotation of sheet music. More on that below.

##Software There are three applications I’ve started using with the new iPad, that I didn’t use or have on my MacBook Pro. NetNewsWire, an RSS reader; Blink Shell, a terminal emulator; and forScore, a digital sheet music library and annotation application.

###NetNewWire I’ve been a fan of RSS feeds for as long as there have been RSS feeds. I used the original NewNewsWire on my PowerBook G4 in the early 2000s. Recently NetNewsWire was reacquired by its original developer and has been rewritten. I haven’t used it on my current MacBook Pro, as I am used to using ReadKit there. In looking for an RSS reader for the iPad I decided to try NetNewsWire and I am liking it very much.

NetNewsWire has a very good keyboard driven interface, using the arrow keys to navigate between feeds and through posts within a feed.

###Blink Shell In order to use the iPad as a laptop replacement, I needed a way to access remote servers. I had read about Blink Shell and decided to give it a try. Blink incorporates Mosh, which is a mobile shell tool that uses UDP rather than TCP, to provide excellent roaming and intermittent connection support. Since iPadOS and iOS will stop inactive or background apps, relying on ssh to maintain connection to a remote server would be an exercise in frustration. Even with tmux on the remote server to preserve your work, having to constantly reconnect would get very old quickly.

After installing mosh onto my laptop and on to my home server (an Intel NUC), I can now remote into them from the iPad quickly and easily. With the Magic Keyboard attached, the entire iPad Pro screen is devoted to the terminal display, giving me a perfectly sized window to work in. This posting is being written from the iPad, over a mosh connection to my MacBook Pro, where I’m editing using Neovim inside of tmux.

##forScore Arguably forScore is the single reason I wanted the 12.9 inch iPad Pro. The idea of having all of my music scanned and digitally stored, ready for instant access really appeals to me. On at least two occasions I’ve been to recitals where the performer used an iPad rather than traditional sheet music.

forScore works with PDF files, and allows you to catalog your music. It also allows you to annotate your music. Anything you can do with a pencil on paper sheet music, you can do digitally with forScore. Adding an Apple Pencil to the mix makes the annotation work almost exactly like using a lead pencil.

I’ve only scanned 10 or 12 pieces so far, and have just scratched the surface of annotation, but I am excited by the prospect of having my sheet music library, my entire sheet music library, instantly available.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.