Gillmor Gang: Table Stakes

I quite like the iPad Pro 11 inch with the Magic Keyboard. In the Land of Pandemic, where every day is Saturday, the tablet is king. With no real purchase on the chaotic flow of life, the rules — any rules — of the road are very dear to me. Structure is arbitrary but mandatory. Strategy is Niagara Falls: slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch. What exactly do I mean?

First, the tablet is a strange beast. Caught between the laptop and the phone, you’d think it would be a constant compromise. It’s not. Each time I add a step to the workflow, it re-cements itself as a coherent whole. In a world ruled by the next notification, context switches are disruptive; hand-offs are not. One minute the iPad is a media grazer. The phone rings. Answering it on the Watch frees me from the tether, answering on the iPad offers a click of the phone icon in the upper left to move to the phone.

I know it sounds a bit nuts to explain or even discuss, but add up the iterative improvements of this platform and you achieve some real productivity. Not the enterprise kind, nor the media hacker kind, but the palpable sense of progress in fashioning a place in this new digital world. Slowly but surely I’ve moved process after process to the iPad Pro. Gillmor Gang production, or more precisely editing, mixing, rendering, posting, annotating, testing, now all on the single device.

To begin with, I decided to junk Final Cut Pro as the editing platform, simply because it ran only on the Mac. It’s much more powerful than its replacement, LumaFusion, but once I plug the software into the iPad, it lights up the improved features of iOS 13 and the Files app. The Magic Keyboard peripheral adds a USB connector to plug in an external drive, and while it’s a bit of a trudge to get it to work almost like OS/10, soon it’s easy to move files over from Zoom on the Mac where the camera is positioned better in the center of the display.

I used to doubt Apple would provide remedies for these weird design gotchas, like the camera on the side of the display in landscape mode. The Magic Keyboard doesn’t let you position the iPad in portrait mode, and it wouldn’t work anyway with Zoom in 16:9. But then again, the keyboard cases up until the Magic Keyboard don’t support backlit keys. Now the iPad Pro is my main writing tool, its slightly underpowered keyboard winning out over my MacBook Air. The Magic Keyboard is expensive ($300), but Apple’s attention to detail reinforces my commitment to the evolution of the platform.

The Keyboard’s trackpad is similarly goofy in its implementation, sitting uneasily between the touch platform of the screen and the keyboard alts and text editing precision of the Mac. You learn quickly how to navigate between the two worlds, however, intuiting that future implementations should build on the elements of the hybrid that work. I’ve followed the press musings about the future of Mac OS and iOS, but now I’m growing comfortable with the assumption that inexorably the shift in power has tipped over. Perhaps it’s the price performance in the move off of Intel to Apple’s in-house chips.

Or perhaps it’s the feeling that momentum patches problems out of a desire to keep locked in to the process flow of modular apps and services. I’m using Quip to write this, knowing the iPad version doesn’t yet provide a word count feature like the Mac version does. So I went searching for Apple’s bundled Pages app and got the answer. My assumption is that these common services will soon become table stakes.

Beneath the tech veneer, the iPad reminds me of the power of directed evolution. As trivial as a backlit keyboard seems in the overall scheme of things, that Apple knew all along what the blocker was on this platform augurs for the future extensions we know are coming in this Work From Anywhere moment. Not just the big ideas but the little ones, that grow through steady adoption into giants of a shift necessary to contain unexpected catastrophes and minor scrapes of the regular kind. I wasn’t sure why I felt driven to spend so much time unifying my tools and strategies for virtualizing my computing experience. Now that we live full time in this moment, it’s these little things that count.


The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Friday, September 4, 2020.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

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