The iPad is a strange device. People were not quite sure where it fits in their usage and workflow ever since it was introduced. For me, it started as a consumption device. I would use it for reading everything from magazines and books to newspapers and manuals. Essentially everything I read got transferred to being read on the iPad.
Over the years, as the iPad got upgraded, I started using it for media consumption. Not so much for movies, but more for short videos and music. The pro models started becoming so powerful that they replaced my laptop. At least for short trips and as a meetings device, whether for notes or to attend the zillion calls one needs to these days. And then came the iPad Air, a thinner, lighter version though with less power but adequate for most tasks that I would put it through.
And then, the iPad Air got more power. Apple’s M1 chip is an absolute powerhouse for my kind of work. I don’t edit videos (which you can) on my iPad, but I indeed edit photos and apps like Lightroom, Affinity Publisher and Procreate make for a fantastic toolkit for making great images. So much so that no matter what I throw at it, the iPad Air can handle it with ease. In some ways, I feel Apple has cut into its market with the iPad Pro. I longer have the need for the more expensive and powerful Pro. The Air just takes care of everything.
For a start, there is more screen: all 10.9 inches of it. The bezels have been reduced, and you get a nice edge-to-edge display, much like the Pro models. And then there is the change in the front-facing camera. For the longest time, the FaceTime camera was very limited on the iPad Pro Center Stage (keeping you in the picture during video calls) was introduced to bring to the center the object in focus – you! This feature is now on the iPad Air and works brilliantly. I land up using Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Google Meet for many business calls, and Center Stage works perfectly in all those apps. A nice blurred background and just you in the center. If another person were to stand or sit next to you or come into the frame, the camera immediately readjusts and brings both people into the frame. Again, centered.
For connectivity, the Air now has Wi-Fi 6, and if your routers support it, you get blazing speeds. If you are fortunate enough to have a 5G network, then the Air also takes full advantage of that. The USB-C port delivers up to 10 Gbps transfer rates and is also much faster when connecting to devices like cameras, hard disks and displays. I used it to dump photos from a recent trip in the hills and did not miss my MacBook. Later I transferred the images over the network to my storage, and all was good. Did I mention that the iPad can now charge a phone? I needed to do that a few days ago, a 24-hour power cut left my phone drained, and the iPad had plenty of juice; I charged the phone and still had some battery left on the iPad, a total lifesaver.
Travel by Air
While not exclusive to the iPad Air, one big difference has been iOS 15. Improved multi-tasking, easy to use gestures, and the Files application all have led the iPad to become a great travel laptop. I am currently away from home, and while I am carrying my MacBook, I am almost exclusively using the Air as my primary device.
The new Apple M1 chip brings with it power and speed that is simply amazing. The claim is 10x faster, but that is only seen when running benchmarks. In the real world test, what it means is every app I use works blazingly fast. At the time of writing this, I have more than 32 apps open and not one of them is suffering. CPU and GPU intensive programs like Procreate and Affinity seem to sing along. I can create multi-layer images and apply effects when they are rendered immediately.
Have iPad, will game
While I am not a gamer, games in the Air have also become console-like. I got my son to play a few games on my Air, and after a while, he refused to return it to me. It does all these things with a battery that doesn’t seem to drain out. All-day battery life for everything I throw at it and more and still plenty of juice left. I have an automation that says “give me juice or give me death” when the iPad reaches below 20 per cent battery levels, but I usually chicken out before that and charge it up.
As far as accessories go, the new Air is the same size as the previous generation and therefore, the magic keyboard and the smart folios all fit and work with no issues. The supported Pencil is the Gen 2 Pencil, and it snaps onto the side to carry around and be charged. When I have my MacBook and am at home, I tend to use universal control to manage the iPad, but when I leave the house, I like carrying the magic keyboard with me. The Pencil, too, has gained new functionality and now has several tricks. You can write in any input box, search bar, or erase text, and if you use it for notes and drawing, it is indispensable.
This brings me back to the beginning, so where exactly does the iPad Air fit? Is it a laptop replacement, a bigger iPhone, or a consumption and creation tool? For me, it has become all three. I use it as a replacement for my MacBook, which by the way, is a super-duper souped-up machine, and while the iPad doesn’t handle things like my virtual machines and development stack, it certainly works brilliantly as a writing device , from the long and short emails to articles like this one, all get done on my Air. I consider it the Goldilocks of iPads, not too big and not too small but just right as a daily driver. Sorry Apple, I won’t be buying a Pro anytime soon. My go-to for the pro kind of work will still be a MacBook. But for reading, writing, listening to music, watching videos and short travels, the iPad Air is.
May 09, 2022