The iPad Pro Only Diaries Day 3: Cometh the USB drive… and the Pencil!
“You will find all the information, background data and pictures and also some videos in this.”
With those words, a young PR executive pretty much brought the high-flying iPad Pro crashing down from divinity to more more mortal territory. Not her fault, really. She was following standard protocol in these paper-saving times – handing over information about a product to a writer on technology on that device that all iOS uses hate: a USB drive.
Yes, those are the three magic words that inspire terror in the hearts of many an iPhone/iPad user: a USB drive. For, there is just no way to get the darn thing to talk in its entirety to an iOS device. Yes, you can get a lightning-to-USB adapter but in most cases, those work reliably only when swapping and viewing pictures and the odd video. You do not get the simple joys of plugging in a USB drive to a USB port and seeing a file manager pop up and divulge all that’s within said drive, giving you the option to pick and choose what you wish. Yes, we know that even most Android tablets and phones do not have proper USB ports, but then USB on the Go (made popular by the Nokia N8, ironically the last great Symbian device) works just fine on them – plug in a handy adaptor, attach the USB drive to the USB port side of it and you can see whatever is on the drive on your phone or tablet’s display. Such luxury is alas denied to iOS users, and as the iPad Pro runs on iOS, I was reduced to looking askance at the young lady and asking: “Ermm…could you mail them to me?”
She looked at me. “There are videos in there. There is about a gig (abyte) of data in there!”
I was now reaching the sheepish mode. “Upload it…”
Another look. “Upload a GB of data? Sure. But it will take time. I will send you the link tomorrow.”
And then I remembered the SanDisk Wi-Fi stick. I passed it to her, asking her to transfer the data from her notebook to the stick (it connects to a normal USB port).
She did so, and as she left asked me, “But tell me, Nimish, what would you have done if I did not have a notebook?”
Darn good question.
And therein I think lies the biggest challenge that any iOS device looking to supplant a notebook faces – the absence of a USB port. Yes, connectivity to accessories like printers and projectors has improved, with most manufacturers coming out with software that supports iOS devices (almost all HP printers support printing from an iOS device over the cloud for instance). Yes, you can always ask people to mail information to you or upload it to the likes of an online storage service instead of giving it to you on flash drives but as proved in today’s case, that option can be tedious when the amount of data to be transferred is on the higher side, especially when you consider the state of Internet connectivity in the country. “Get an Android phone with USB to Go support, connect any USB drives to it to get data off them and THEN send it to your iPad Pro over SHAREit – simple!” declared one of my slightly Mac-mad colleagues. Except that it is not, really, is it?
Anyway, to get back to diary mode, that particular episode ended well, with me getting the pictures and videos on my iPad through the SanDisk Wi-Fi stick. And I also decided that today would be the day when I would mess around with the Apple Pencil. Things did not get off to the most auspicious start – I pulled it out to discover that it was out of charge. The problem is that there is no indicator on the pencil itself about this – you need to plug it into the Lightning port of the iPad Pro to get an idea. That is kind of irritating because you normally want to take out a pencil and start scribbling and sketching, so arriving at the display and discovering that the pencil was out of charge was…aggravating. Of course, Apple allows you to charge the Apple Pencil by just plugging it into the Lightning port of the iPad Pro (it won’t charge with the iPhone that way, alas), which is sort of neat on paper, but in reality means working on a device with a keyboard with something about half a foot out dangling from it (using the iPad Pro in proper portrait orientation is also ruled out unless you are OK with a pointy pencil sticking into your gut) – scary in a crowded cafe where people might just bump into it (it is rather slim and easy to miss).
But cursing apart, I have always been impressed at how Apple has simplified gadget pairing issues in its mobile devices. So you can pair the Apple Watch with an iPhone by simply holding the watch in front of the phone running the Apple Watch app, and the Smart Keyboard too starts working the moment you snap it on to the iPad Pro (no password nonsense). The Pencil follows this same strategy: you pair it with the iPad Pro the moment you stick it into its Lightning port. The pencil connects over Bluetooth (the iPad Pro asks you whether you wish to switch on Bluetooth if you have not already and does so if you give it the go ahead – no need to go into settings).
And well, the Pencil works. It just does. I will never understand why Apple did not give us an option to fix it to the iPad Pro. Or why it comes with no case of its own. And I cursed it when people gave me odd glances at seeing it sticking out of the iPad Pro while I was charging it. But somehow all this disappeared when I started using it. I used it for working out the structure of a presentation, and it worked just fine with Evernote, which is my go-to Note-taking app, as well as Apple’s own Notes app. But perhaps its biggest fans were my better half Anupama and close friend Kirti, both of whom went crazy painting and sketching with it on the Paper app. No, none of us is a professional designer, and I was disappointed to see no handwriting recognition on the iPad Pro (spoilt me you have, Microsoft and Samsung), but then if you are using the iPad Pro as a notebook, it is a fair chance you will be using the Smart Keyboard for most of your writing. As a tool for illustration, I can see artists loving the Apple Pencil. Apple seems to have restricted it to writing and sketching and not made it a navigation tool like Samsung has (although you can open apps by tapping on them with the Pencil), which makes it sort of niche, but a niche that would like this kind of tool. A friend of mine who has used the Galaxy Note said that in terms of responsiveness and ease of use, the Apple Pencil was right up there with the S-Pen – in fact, he liked the fact that the Apple Pencil was larger as it gave him a more “pencil-ish feeling and also a brushy one” (that’s the way artists talk, I am afraid).
The sketch sessions apart, this was again a day for text writing and lots of reading. And once again, the iPad Pro was spot on on both. And yes, one does start getting the hang of the keyboard as days pass – you remember to hit the Caps Lock a little extra hard to make it kick in. Yes, I would have loved a search and home buttons and perhaps even volume and brightness controls on the keyboard, not to mention viewing angles, but yes, typing is getting increasingly easy and swift on it. The big display remains a reader’s delight – SO much content on one screenful be it on books or websites – and the battery life is still in iPad range. The charging of the stylus and the writing and sketching still left me with about 43 per cent at the end of the day. The best part? Unlike in other iPads or tablets with keyboards, I have not yet encountered any serious lags. But yes, those USB blues rankle.
More tomorrow, ladies and gentlemen.