My experience using the iPad as my main computer

Francesco Pretelli
4 min readJul 25, 2023
Photo by Unsplash

Last month, I went back to Italy for a few weeks and planned to work from there for one week before switching to full holiday mode.

Since it was only a week, I made the bold decision to leave my MacBook at home, thinking that the iPad should be more than enough to handle the tasks required by my workflow.

My workflow mainly consists of:

  • Slack
  • Google Docs/Sheets
  • Google Meet
  • Emails
  • Other internet-based services (Jira, Confluence, Github)”

As you can see, there is nothing in that workflow that specifically requires a MacBook. The iPad should be more than sufficient for completing all my tasks.

What further boosted my confidence was the fact that I would not be using my iPad mini. Instead, I would be using a 6th gen iPad Air with M1 silicon, along with an external display, mouse, and keyboard.

In case you are unfamiliar, M1 iPads support Stage Manager on an external monitor. This feature allows you to drive an external display independently from the iPad screen, giving you access to two monitors and increasing productivity.

I was actually quite excited to try it out.

While there have been complaints about Stage Manager, I wondered how bad it could really be, as long as it can display apps or websites on an external monitor, it should be sufficient to cover my workflow.

It turns out, it was not.. 🥲

I struggled with Stage Manager on a daily basis. The first time I connected the external display, it automatically started in mirror mode, which is likely intentional.

To resolve this, I accessed the iPad Settings, disabled screen mirroring, and voila! The external display appeared in all its glory.

Unfortunately, I had to keep turning off mirroring mode at least once or twice a day, especially after the iPad went to sleep.

Eventually, I discovered that the keyboard and mouse were going to sleep, causing the iPad to revert back to mirror mode. While understandable, it would be helpful to have a setting to choose the default option since I often used the keyboard to wake up the iPad (which makes it even more puzzling) .

Once Stage Manager was set up and running, I encountered all the issues described by basically everybody: window management is bad…

You want to move a window from one display to the other?
Forget dragging it, you have to tap the small dots and then select the destination.

What about resizing the windows or arranging them on the external display? Something so easy and intuitive in any desktop OS, it’s incredibly clunky and frustrating on the iPad.

Eventually using Stage Manager feels like a job itself, you have to stop what you are doing and focus on window management tasks.

This is very bad for productivity, it requires context switching and makes you waste time.

But it’s not just the Stage Manager that hampered my productivity.

The iPad apps I used are actually very limited compared to the standard web counterparts.

The Google suite apps, for instance, are challenging to use, even on an external monitor. The visible area is restricted, and simple tasks like commenting or editing a document require multiple steps.

Google Meet for example, disable the camera when screen sharing is enabled, and only allows to share the entire screen.

The limitations of iPadOS became increasingly apparent as the days went by.

I tried using the browser and things were a little bit better except… all iPad browsers are powered by Safari Webkit, this is both a blessing and a curse.

Even in desktop mode, some websites just don’t work properly, and even on external display, it always feels like I’m browsing the web in mobile mode, with limited space.

Lastly, one thing that truly bothered me was the iPad mouse pointer. Why can’t we have a regular arrow cursor?”

Conclusion

Overall I was able to work but I’d say my productivity was hampered significantly by using the iPad.

Multiple times before starting work I wished I had my Mac with me, the thought of spending a day working on the iPad was putting me off.

I actively had to avoid any complex work and postponed it for when I had access to my Mac.

The iPad just got in the way of my productivity, I can’t think of a single situation where I was happy to use an iPad instead of the Mac.

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Francesco Pretelli

Engineering Manager - Tokyo. I write about everything, from tech to daily stuff.