iPad Pro vs MacBook

It was quite a week on the work front. Anyone would think I had planned it that way.

On Wednesday I flew to Amsterdam to be on a funding panel at Casual Connect. It was well received. I heard that one senior journalist described it as the best panel he’d ever attended. Barry O’Neill was a most excellent moderator and my co-panellists were articulate and intelligent.

By the time the panel was over, news had started to hit the wires that Double 11 had appointed me as an adviser on their board of directors. I’m taking a non-executive role, and contrary to the wild speculation, this doesn’t signal a shift in direction or focus for me. I’m still making games as my main activity, but Double 11 is a great fit for me. I get to advise them on their growth with a relatively small time commitment. The directors at Double 11 were clearly also happy with my appointment and in how positively this was received.

PlayStation Spain also announced my appointment as a strategic consultant and mentor for their PlayStation Talents initiative. Again, this is not a huge commitment for me, but it allows me to continue a great relationship with the talented team in Madrid and to mentor some up and coming teams in an increasingly important part of Europe.

On Thursday I flew to Barcelona, where I was due to give a keynote at the Caixa Forum to a delegation of investors and the established and nascent development community in the region. The presentations given by the local developers, incubated by GameBCN were highly polished, ran on time, obviously well rehearsed and delivered in perfect English. My presentation was on pitching, and the feedback after the event was spectacularly good.

It was wonderful to meet some old friends, like Tony Cabello who helped my Strategic Content project at PlayStation in its nascent stages with some genius work on Spelunky and FEZ. And it was also wonderful to meet the legend Mevlut Dinc who I’d crossed paths with as it turns out many times over the years, but never actually met. We had lunch and it was like we had known each other forever.

I had worked the entire two days on my iPad Pro, despite taking my MacBook with me. I was rather surprised at this myself, as I consider myself a laptop man, but the flexibility and stability of the iPad Pro won the day, despite the MacBook being physically smaller, and having for me at least, a better keyboard. The iPad Pro keyboard is clever, but I’m never going to get on with a fabric-like key top material given that my preferred keyboards are mechanical, with Cherry Brown switches. Still, given that I can touch type, it’s better to have any physical keyboard than none at all. I didn’t find myself using the Apple Pencil. I was travelling a lot, I was worried about losing it and there is nowhere convenient on the iPad Pro to stash it when not in use. I love the Pencil when I’m scribbling in the Notes app, but when I’m cranking and busy, it stays in the bag. The Pencil works best when I’m relaxed, at home and doing creative work or brainstorming.

I found the dual window mode on the iPad Pro especially useful when working on my presentation, as it allowed me to have my deck on the left (I had to use PowerPoint sadly, not Keynote, my favoured tool for building decks) and either MindNode or Safari on the right. Two windows is enough for me, and I appreciated the larger display of the iPad Pro compared to the MacBook.

Another reason the iPad Pro had the edge over the MacBook was the built in 4G Internet. It boggles the mind how this most essential technology for 21st century work is not yet a standard feature on a MacBook. I still find tethering slower than using a data pipe on the device itself, and of course battery life on the tethered host device always takes a hit. On that note, I kept my iPhone 6s Plus in Low Power Mode throughout my trip and really didn’t notice any reduction in usefulness.

And finally, on a plane, you can’t use a laptop during take off, but you can use an iPad, even though the iPad is bigger! So I just folded away the keyboard and carried on working.

The Apple Smart Keyboard for iPad is essentially a Smart Cover with a hump where the keyboard hides. The keys have a soft feel and small travel. The keyboard doesn’t feel a precise as the MacBook, but it’s full size and so works just fine for a touch typist. It’s pretty surprising how narrow a strip the whole origami-like contraption folds up into. I love the Logitech Ultrathin on the first Retina iPad, that was by far their best keyboard, the successor for the iPad Air was compromised in key feel, quality and travel. Both the Logitechs were superior in feel to the Smart Keyboard, but frankly, the best keyboard is the one you have with you, and despite the “Ultrathin” moniker, I was always less likely to carry those as they essentially doubled the thickness of my iPad, defeating the point of the things. So when portability and real world ergonomics is the key concern, I’ll take thinness over keyboard feel for an iPad.

The keys on the Smart Keyboard have an almost chiclet quality about them. They remind me of some of the membrane keyboard on computers in the 1980s. It simply doesn’t have the satisfying keyboard action, tactility or audio feedback of the MacBook, but it does the job and doubles as a multi-function stand too.

The only time I pulled out my MacBook was on the flight home this morning as I fired up Xcode to work on my game for a couple of hours. If there was a way I could do that on the iPad, I think the MacBook might well get short shrift, and nobody would be more surprised than me.