In our last edition, we provided a first look at our new iPad Pro 10.5 hardware. In this week’s post, we’re forging ahead with a hands-on appraisal of iOS 11, which is likely to be released in September.
We downloaded and installed Beta 6, the latest version of the iOS 11 beta software, from Apple’s public beta program. Anyone with an Apple ID can participate. We followed the steps in an online article from the always-informative iMore blog here.
At Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference in June, the company announced and demonstrated iOS 11 on the iPad Pro. This major iOS release would add functions that would bring iPad capabilities on par with laptop computers.
We wanted to see for ourselves how close to that promise the new OS would fulfill.
Getting to today
When Steve Jobs announced the first iPad back in 2010, it seemed pretty clear that Apple had hit another home run.
Customers saw the potential, as well, turning the iPad into the fastest-growing Apple product ever. The growth curve over the first four years was impressive until iPad sales started to level off, and even shrink, quarter over quarter in 2014.
No big deal, really. All it meant was that iPads were so well made and functional that users saw little reason to trade up to a newer model.
The upgrade cycle for iPads proved to be less like that of smartphones and more like that of laptop or desktop computers.
Don’t cry for Apple, though. They are still selling over 40 million iPads a year. And in Apple’s most recent quarter, the iPad returned to growth with sales of 11.5 million.
Unpacking iOS 11
Our goal in trying out the iOS 11 beta on the iPad Pro was to see how far the new capabilities would go in making the tablet more functional as an all-purpose computer.
Specifically, we wanted to explore the following iOS features on the iPad Pro:
Dock—A user-configurable row of apps at the bottom of the screen that is similar to the Dock in MacOS.
Split View—Show two apps side-by-side on the screen. Introduced in iOS 10, but improved for iOS 11.
App Switcher—Similar to Mission Control in MacOS, provides a way to switch between not only open apps, but also between saved Split View instances.
Drag-and-Drop—This capability has been available in MacOS (and Windows) for a long time, and should be one that improves iPad versatility.
Files—And here’s potentially a big one: the ability to view and manipulate files on an iPad.
Our sample application
We know that people use computers for different reasons and to perform different tasks.
While it was possible to publish a blog post on the iPad in iOS 10, it was more difficult than it needed to be.
So, the test of iOS 11 is, can we publish our blog post more easily, and are the new productivity features mentioned above what make the difference?
Briefly, these are the steps we go through to publish a blog post:
- Formulate and research an idea.
- Write the copy.
- Embed web links in the copy.
- Cut and paste the copy into our blogging application, WordPress.
- Create illustrations, take photos, or download appropriate clip art from our provider.
- Edit and/or size graphics files to fit our theme.
- Upload graphics to WordPress.
- Put the finishing touches on the blog post in WordPress, and publish.
Writing the copy
One of the really nice things about the Apple ecosystem is the continuity across multiple devices.
Plus, Apple provides a nice suite of productivity apps that works cross-platform. One in particular—Pages—has become our favorite writing app.
We can start writing the copy for a blog post on the Mac, switch over to the iPad, even the iPhone, to access and continue editing the latest version of the document.
Pages updates the document to iCloud frequently without our having to save it manually. On the iPad Pro with the Smart Keyboard, we can compose and edit blog copy in Pages every bit as easily as we could on the Mac.
So, put a check mark there.
Embedding web links
Pages is also perfectly acceptable for this activity. On the iPad, we can select a word or phrase, and a call-out bubble appears, with one of the options being Link (circled).
Select that, and a dialog box opens into which we can type or paste the link.
So far, so good.
Pasting the manuscript into WordPress
WordPress (WP), a Google web application, is a popular and solid blogging platform, and the one we’ve used for tech-52 for three years.
We won’t go into detail here, but it is effectively a content management application that organizes all the data a blogger needs to publish a blog post or otherwise maintain a web site.
We can upload all of our web content—text, pictures, videos—and use the WP Editor to construct our blog post.
However, we ran into a glitch—a serious one.
Basically, when we copy and paste the text from Pages into the WP editor, the text loses all of its formatting, including web links. To proceed, we basically have to restore much of the formatting and re-create the web links in the WP editor.
That’s a workflow killer.
Interestingly, when we’re working on a Mac, we can copy from Pages into the WP editor, and the formatting is retained. I’ve done a lot of research about this issue on the iPad Pro, but haven’t yet found a solution.
It’s hard to say exactly whose fault it is, but that doesn’t make it any less of a problem. Either Google has not done a good job of supporting WP in the iOS Safari browser, or the iOS implementation of copy and paste is less capable.
We did try a WordPress iOS app from Apple’s App Store, but it is buggy and de-featured from the web version, and doesn’t solve the problem.
This is very nearly a showstopper, but we’re not blaming the iPad Pro and iOS 11 just yet, and we will continue to find a resolution.
Working with graphics
In our blogging workflow, we take photos or videos on our iPhone 7 that we’ll use in a blog post. We’ll also download clip art from our online provider, CanStockPhoto.
On the iPad, all of these files automatically get sent to the Photos app.
After we gather all the graphics we’ll want to use, we often do some post-processing (sizing, cropping, colorizing, filtering or other editing) on the graphics.
On the Mac, we’ve used Photoshop for the vast majority of this work.
On the iPad Pro, we don’t yet have Photoshop, but we can use the post-processing tools in Apple’s own Photos app. This mostly satisfies our requirements, and if we find it overly limiting, we could purchase Pixelmator for the iPad. It’s way less expensive than Photoshop, and does 99% of what Photoshop can do.
By the way, since the iPad stores most photos, videos, and other graphics by default in the Photos app, we don’t have to worry about creating separate graphics files before uploading them to WordPress. Whereas, the workflow that we’ve established on the Mac is to import everything into Photoshop, process it, then save it as a file, before uploading it.
In iOS 11, where the new Files app has been introduced, we could theoretically simulate the same workflow, but we really haven’t had to. This actually saves us a few steps.
So, for this task, the iPad actually is a little more efficient than the Mac.
Applying the finishing touches
Finishing up and publishing the blog post in WordPress is virtually the same on the iPad Pro as compared to the Mac.
We also add keywords to identify what the post is about for people who might be searching for specific information.
When we are satisfied with the post, we tap the Publish button.
WordPress renders the blog post, publishes it to the web, and we are finished for another edition.
Here, again, the iPad Pro is every bit as capable as a Mac or Windows machine.
Regarding those new productivity features in iOS 11, we did make use the Dock for fast app switching. We used Split View when we copied and pasted our copy from Pages into WP.
The other thing to remember is that iOS 11 is still in beta test. We haven’t seen the released product yet, which should be more stable and feature-rich.
The Files app seems to be still light on functionality when compared to the hierarchical directory structures found in MacOS and Windows.
For example, it provides only top-level folders for its four productivity applications—Pages, Numbers, and Keynote—on the local level. We could create new folders inside any of these folders, but not at the same level as those folders.
However, in iCloud, we could create new folders at the top-level. Also, the support for DropBox and other cloud storage platforms is not there yet. So still a ways to go for the Files app.
Ultimately, we found that the iPad Pro with the iOS 11 Beta is not quite as functional as we’d like for our blogging workflow. However, if WP can fix the copy and paste issue from Pages, this will seal the deal from our perspective.
Going forward, the new capabilities in iOS 11 will see improvements, and more third-party developers will support them for their own apps.
Clearly, Apple has laid the groundwork for the iPad Pro to become a credible choice for many buyers looking for a new computer.