Categories
Apple

The “$100 iPad Pro”

The iPad’s “jobs”

There are digital tasks for which the iPad is better-suited than a smartphone or laptop.

For example, drawing on the iPad (with the Apple Pencil) is fantastic. Not so much on the other devices (even if you pair a Wacom to your Mac). Or consider minimalist text entry, for which the “iPad + Smart Keyboard” combo is uniquely suited. The Mac feels over-built for that simple job, and the iPhone’s software keyboard falls short.

Despite these legit use cases, I didn’t preorder an iPad Pro last week. Honestly, the inflated entry price scared me off; sure, I like to draw and to write without distractions, but would I do those things enough to justify that much cash? Probably not.

The $100 iPad

Other (cheaper) tools for the same job

I’m bummed to miss out on the hotness, but here’s the thing: I can meet these “needs” without dropping $1,200 on an iPad Pro, a Smart Keyboard, and an Apple Pencil. It simply requires some creativity—and some willingness to compromise.

Here’s my recipe for a “$100 iPad”:

Use Case #1: Drawing

  • A new 7” x 10” drawing pad. No, I’m not talking about a Wacom device or an Android tablet. This is literally a $7 book of drawing paper!
  • A few color markers for “funning up” my line drawings. Total cost for 72 fine and extra-fine colors: about $30.
  • I already had some nice graphic pens, pencils for sketching, and a big honking eraser, but you could pick these up for $20 or less.

Use Case #2: Minimalist text entry

The iPhone works perfectly well for distraction-free writing. In fact, that’s pretty much how I took notes in grad school—on an iPod Touch, paired to an old Palm keyboard. That screen was much smaller than that on my iPhone X.

Here’s what I picked up this time around:

  • A folding stand from Anker to hold the iPhone upright. Eleven bucks.
  • A new folding Bluetooth keyboard. (Unfortunately, I immediately shipped this back to Amazon; its build quality and typing feel failed to measure up. I’m still on the lookout for a decent keyboard that folds into a pocketable form factor. In the meantime, I’ll use this less portable AmazonBasics model, which isn’t awful. It cost $26 when I bought it.)

All told, then, since I already own a smartphone, I can cover the iPad’s core uses for less than $100.

The obvious disclaimer: the real iPad is better

If cost weren’t a factor, I’d rather have an iPad Pro than a bag full of markers and phone accessories. It’s convenient to have one device that can do it all in a portable, compact package. But, as a novice artist who doesn’t need a dedicated minimalist writing device, the convenience of the iPad Pro is not worth $1,000+. ■

Categories
Tech

A better iPad lap stand

Yes, there are already 1,001 tablet stands out there, ranging from $5 cardboard easels to aluminum docks that cost nearly $200. But very few existing models work well on the lap. Either they’re fixed at limited, inconvenient viewing angles (e.g. Apple’s Smart Cover), or they’re too narrow to span the gap between your thighs (a la my beloved Satetchi R1).

Here are the key features of my proposed alternative:

  1. This stand offers a place to rest your keyboard—but does not include the keyboard itself. Although I liked the BrydgeAir keyboard dock while I had it, I don’t like plunking down $100+ for an accessory that may not be compatible with future iPad models. This stand invites the user to add his favorite Bluetooth keyboard rather than rely on a proprietary port or form factor.
  2. The BrydgeAir keyboard dock inspired the drawing’s hinge design. These pivoting arms grip the iPad across its widest bezels, so that its screen remains unobscured. They’re rimmed with a rubbery material to prevent scratches on the iPad’s screen. They allow the iPad to be removed quickly (unlike bulky keyboard cases). The hinges rotate 180 degrees, allowing the user to lock in her preferred viewing angle. And these arms would ideally slide sideways along a channel or rail, so that the stand could be used with smaller tablets—or with the iPad Pro in portrait orientation.
  3. Because the iPad Pro is fairly heavy, the base would probably require some counterweight to prevent the assembly from toppling over. Admittedly, this would make the lap stand less portable. The anchor weights could be extra batteries—to charge the iPad on the go. But that would add complexity, inflate the cost, and (most critically) impact the stand’s longevity (since batteries lose their capacity over time). Better to embed some other dense material near the stand’s front edge in order to counterbalance the iPad itself.

There are probably engineering concerns that make this design impractical, and the market for 12.9″ iPad accessories may be too small to justify much experimentation from third-party manufacturers.

But something like this stand would go a long way towards making the iPad Pro a true laptop replacement—i.e. by letting it perch on my app.