In my review of the iPad Pro 10.5, I said that most people should probably wait until all the productivity improvements coming in iOS 11 are available before buying one. But you didn’t wait, did you, you maniac? You went out and bought one, and are now wondering how you can get the most out of the machine you spent over $1,000 kitting out.
One obvious thing to do is go ahead and install the iOS 11 public beta. It seems relatively stable on the iPad Pro. But my recommendation is still to wait a bit, especially if you depend on your iPad for day-to-day work.
So if you’re sticking with iOS 10 for now, good on you — you are a very responsible person. And lucky for you, there are a bunch of obvious and not-so-obvious things you can do to get more use out of your shiny new iPad, making it less likely that it will end up sitting unused in your nightstand until you want to watch Netflix.
Here are some of my favorite tips. This certainly isn’t comprehensive, but there are the tricks and apps that make iPad life better for me. Most of these tips will also serve you in good stead once you upgrade to iOS 11, too.
Learn the keyboard shortcuts
Apples Smart Keyboard isn’t everybody’s favorite. Mine doesn’t quite sit flush on a table, and it’s awkward to use on a lap. There are other options on the way that give you more angles and more function keys; Logitech’s looks decent. But I like the Smart Keyboard mainly because it folds up into such a small package.
So if you’re sticking with Apple’s keyboard, you’re going to want to learn some keyboard shortcuts. Some are obvious, like Cmd-Tab to switch apps and Cmd-Space to open up Spotlight search. Others are harder to discover. Apps that are properly coded for iOS will display a pop-up of their keyboard shortcuts when you hold down the Cmd key. Here are a few I like:
- Cmd-H will get you back to the home screen.
- In Spotlight, you can hold down the down-arrow key to jam past all the supposedly helpful search suggestions and get to the web search you actually want a little bit faster.
- Cmd-Shift-3 takes a screenshot, just like on your Mac.
- Opt + arrow keys let you navigate text word by word or line by line.
- Opt + Delete deletes a whole word at a time.
One last note: I was (and am) tempted to suggest you install the excellent Gboard keyboard for on-screen typing, because it offers swipe-to-type. Except that when you do, for some reason, the apostrophe key on external keyboards stops working. It’s a super annoying bug.
One of the most powerful features on iOS is Text Replacement. Ostensibly, it lets you type something short on a phone and have it automatically expanded out into something more complicated. Most people use it for stuff like turning “@@” into an email address or “shruggie” into ¯_(ツ)_/¯.
These are valuable features, but I also use them to do custom searches in the browser. For example, I’ve set “vgg” to “site:theverge.com” so I can search The Verge more quickly in Safari. You can add a bunch of other custom searches, though it’s not as powerful as what you can do in Alfred on the Mac.
Sadly, for some reason Text Replacement isn’t working for me in Spotlight search, which is where I really want it the most.
Try different apps with multitasking
This one’s pretty obvious, but I’m telling you anyway: keep playing around with apps, especially in conjunction with the way multitasking works on iOS 10: Slide Over (which you pull in from the right) and full split screen. You might find that an old standby app that you love doesn’t support split screen yet, but a perfectly good (or maybe even better!) alternative does.
In particular, most of Google’s apps are simply atrocious on the iPad. Gmail and Inbox don’t support split-screen mode, which is bonkers. Google Docs does, but it’s pretty awful on the iPad. Microsoft Word, however, is quite lovely on the iPad.
Other apps just act twitchy. Twitter, for example, refuses to open a link when it’s a skinny app on the right; you have to go half-screen. Tweetbot, however, works great and also will stream tweets automatically when it’s sitting to the side.
Safari lets you split screen two tabs, but sadly you can’t do it and have a second app open.
All these split-screen hoops will get slightly better with iOS 11, but not entirely. Even though the multitasking interface on iOS 10 isn’t as good, it’s still useful to find apps that play nice with it now, and they’ll be much more likely to play nice when the update comes.
Start playing around with Affinity for image editing
Sorry, Adobe. I’m sure that the idea of releasing a dozen lightweight versions of your apps for iOS seemed like a good idea at the time, but you got lapped by Affinity. It was demonstrated at Apple’s WWDC keynote, and it’s available at an intro price of $19.99.
That might seem like a lot for an iPad app to you, but it is wildly powerful — and honestly a little hard to figure out. But I’ve found that investing time into the app pays off. The learning curve seems easier than Photoshop and I’m finding that I can make really nice edits without too much work. If $19.99 is too much for you, Pixelmator is another good photo-editing app for iOS at $4.99.
I’ll admit that this “tip” isn’t entirely unmotivated: if we want more “pro” apps on the iPad, we should reward companies that make apps that work well on the iPad.
Install Annotable, a great screenshot markup tool
Speaking of great apps that feel native to the iPad Pro, check out Annotable. It’s an app for marking up screenshots with arrows and highlights and circles and doodles. It’s free for some features, with in-app purchases for some features.
When iOS 11 comes, there will be a neat new screenshot workflow that makes these annotations easier. Until then, this app is the closest thing to Skitch (or rather, to what Skitch was when it was good) on the iPad. And I suspect that even when iOS 11 comes out, it will have enough new features to avoid getting Sherlocked.
Set up widgets — no, seriously
I know, the widgets section in the Notification Center is probably the easiest part of iOS to ignore, but hang with me here for a minute. On the iPad, widgets can be displayed in two columns. If you’re using the iPad as your main computer, there’s a pretty solid chance you’re going to want to do quick checks on your calendar more often.
Widgets make checking you calendar, tasks, and other little bits of information easier, and I find I use them more often on the iPad than I do on my iPhone. And they’re easier to get to than bouncing home and hunting around for the app, then launching it, then trying to get back to whatever your last work setup was.
Organize the Share Sheet
In iOS 11, you will have to futz with the official iOS Share Sheet less often. Until then, you will need to hit that little box with the arrow sticking out of it all the time. So you should take a minute to actually organize it.
To do it, tap that icon, then swipe each of the horizontal rows of apps all the way over. You’ll have to do it for each row. Then you can toggle most apps off (some don’t allow you do, which is weird and annoying) and reorder them so the stuff you actually use is easer to get to.
And you should also know that the “Share Sheet” is a misnomer, as it’s become a place where all sorts of weird extra functionality gets scurried away. That applies doubly to Safari, where you’ll find the very useful “Request Desktop Site” button sitting inside the Share Sheet as well as third-party extensions like 1Password.
Check out Duet to make your iPad a monitor
We’re fans of Duet over here at The Verge. It turns your iPad into second monitor for your Mac or PC and also lets you draw directly into apps as though it were a Wacom tablet. Sure, you can be productive on an iPad Pro, but you can surely do more on a Mac, and even more on a Mac with a second display.
Duet is also well-supported: it’s already been updated with full iPad Pro support. It’s theoretically pricey at $19.99 apiece for each in-app purchase, but that’s still way less than buying a portable monitor. And, as before, paying for well-supported pro apps on the iPad gives all developers incentive to make more of them.