iPad Pro And iOS 11: The Walled Garden Opens Up

When I first picked up the iPad Pro 12.9" it was to be able to be more mobile, with as little sacrifice to productivity as possible. For me, that productivity is a mix of writing and content creation. Both in equal measure. I wanted a device which I could slap a SIM in, that was highly flexible in terms of input and could handle light video editing, image editing, copy writing and video chat. I found all of that in the iPad Pro, but it didn't come without some sacrifices. With the promise of even greater productivity friendly features in iOS 11, I had to jump in on the beta and give it a shot. What I found is a mobile OS which removed many of the primary productivity pain points iOS 10 presented.

iOS was not user friendly when it comes to accessing files on your device unless you use iCloud Drive. Even then, it was only passable. That was always my primary issue with using iOS devices and why I kept an Android for my smartphone needs. I think this is one of the most functional improvements in iOS 11, the new Files app.

With the Files app, Apple will allow developers to work with the API so that they can make their file folders accessible within the Files app. You'll be able to see those files "On My iPad." That will be your local storage. But that isn't all you'll be able to see. With the Files app API open, cloud app devs will also be able to make their content accessible without ever having to leave the Files app. Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, no matter where you access your content, if those devs take the necessary steps, your iOS life will become quite a bit more efficient.

Seeing as this is the first iteration of file access on iOS there are some growing pains, but it will be interesting to see how things go once the API and iOS 11 are out of beta and officially available to the public. Frankly, in its current form it's a benefit for all users, so it can only get better no matter any limitations it launches with.

Multiwindow is one of those features you can't live without when you're using a mobile device and need to be productive. Need email and calendar open at the same time so you can copy content into a calendar entry? Done. Any combination of apps where you just need to move something from one place to the next, is not just convenient, it's natural. That's what we've been doing on our desktops and laptops for decades. But we've all had to learn to work around that limitation in the mobile world. Not so much with the iPad Pro when I first started using it. Split View definitely made it so that I had less sacrifices to make, just an adjustment period while I learned what did and did not work with Split View and app switching within that framework.

iOS 11 takes mobile multitasking to new levels of functionality with two new features: Slide Over Mode and the dock.

The combination of the new dock, and Slide Over Mode is really the biggest change which allows me to work the way I'm more traditionally accustomed to working on a laptop. The dock performs very much like the dock does on OSX, when it's set to auto-hide. In this case though, the dock and folders become the ultimate quick launch shortcut! What you can do is create folders on the dock of your most frequently accessed apps so that when you slide up from the bottom of the screen when in an app, you'll be presented with your own customized access to those things you use most. In order to facilitate this, you'll just create folders and place all those apps you use often into a folder, then drag that folder onto the dock.

The dock itself has two sides to it. The right side is where three recently used apps are placed and on the left side you can drag and drop up to a dozen app icons. For the sake of organization, I have five folders there. My folders are organized as so: Utilities, Productivity, Social apps, Comms and Finances. Those five folders, for me, cover pretty much everything I may want to have access to when getting things done on my iPad 12.9.

Slide Over Mode is probably one of the most visible improvements to iOS on an iPad than any other new feature. This allows you to open apps as windows which float on top of fullscreen apps. It's like Split View, without having to split the view. You can slide the window over to the right side of the screen, or the left, or swipe it off screen if you no longer need it. If you decide that you want to keep it on screen with the full screen app you were already using you can just grab the top edged and swipe up to position it in Split View.

The addition of Slide Over Mode to Split View, and the new drag-and-drop functionality, really makes everything in iOS feel much more connected and function more like a traditional desktop. When using either mode, you can now drop items into other apps, grab and drop URLs, and do the same with selected text. You can even do this using a two-handed operation, by grabbing the file from one place with one hand, holding it on the screen, then use your other hand to hit the dock, launch an app and proceed to drop that file. Apple really has taken the time to build some well thought out efficiencies into iOS 11.

In terms of switching between apps, you can swipe up from the bottom of any screen when in an app and you'll see a page of windows of recent apps, you can double tap the Home button, or use CMD-tab if you're using a keyboard. When you do, you'll also see the items that used to be in Command Center.

There are more new features in iOS 11 than I'll name here, but you can hop over to Apple's site if you want to see a full listing https://www.apple.com/ios/ios-11-preview/. Here are some from their site which I feel are going to be the most beneficial to users of iOS devices:

Scan and Sign- a new document scanner in Notes automatically sense and scans documents, crops the edges and removes tilt and glare. You can then fill it in and sign it with Apple Pencil and send it out.k

QuickType keyboard. This is great for efficiency as letters, numbers and symbols are now on the keyboard and you access the alternate symbol on a keyboard by flicking down on a key to select what you need.

Screenshots- now you can screenshot and the image drops to the bottom left-hand side of the screen. From there you can tap on it, edit it, make it up and then send it on. From there you can delete it so it doesn't take up space in your library.

Apple Car Play- When you install iOS 11, you'll get an option to turn on the Do Not Disturb While Driving mode. Urgent notices for a specified set of contacts will come through and you can set an auto-response to let people know that you're driving but other than that, no distractions folks!

iMessage app drawer- using the various apps available to you when you're using iMessage just go a lot easier. Now there's an app drawer which will allow you to see your apps at-a-glance instead of jumping around so much during those feverish texting volleys.

I know that for some time people have been trying to say that a tablet could be the ultimate productivity tool. Yes and no.

It's been a great multimedia tool, but beyond that, if you're really trying to get serious work done it is the laptop that is the best tool for most people. Sure you can get a lot done on a tablet, but there's always more compromises to getting things done than there are in a traditional desktop environment. We are getting so much closer to desktop parity with iOS 11, where I can get so much done in a form factor that is maximized for mobile use and ease of carry; even if it's the 12.9". I really hope Apple keeps doing what they're doing with iOS 11 and takes it even further. I've been able to get quite a bit done on iOS 10, even with the compromises but 11 has removed some of the primary pain points I still had with previous iterations of iOS.

As a sidenote, using this second generation iPad Pro 12.9" has been quite interesting for me... in a good way. Every year, manufacturers tout incremental improvements on processor technology in their newer devices, but using the second gen Pro compared to my first gen, there is a noticeable difference in the speed of the two. Not that my first gen is a slouch by any means, but the speed at which apps launch and you move around the OS is quite noticeable.

Disclosure: Apple provided a demo iPad Pro 12.9" for me to install the beta on and put it through its paces.