It’s hot out there right now. And if the blinding sunlight, scorched grass and perspiration on your brow didn’t tell you that, maybe the whining of the cooling fans on your computer is.
Traditional computers and laptops need a lot of cooling to work properly, making heatwaves, like the U.S. and U.K. are experiencing right now, a tricky time for them. This can mean poor performance or even unexpected shutdowns for you as your machine tries to balance power and internal temperature. It also means you may want to consider moving to an alternative device for working when the heat is on, as I did recently with my iPad.
Earlier this week, my regular desk setup became too hot, both in terms of comfort for me and in terms of performance for my Surface Laptop Go, which started suffering severe lag whenever I tried to do anything. I needed to let my laptop cool off, and to find a new place to work if I wanted to actually meet my deadlines before my brain melted. I looked for an accessible substitute device, and the iPad Pro seemed like the obvious option.
I recently bought an Apple-refurbished iPad Pro, and while it’s become my work companion for note-taking and scribbling down random thoughts, I’ve never worked from it properly before. I still don't recommend working from it from long periods of time, at least not in the way that I did, but it proved a fantastic stop-gap in an otherwise unwinnable situation.
My hot weather set-up
And so I put together my new workspace on my kitchen table — the coolest space I could find in the house that was actually practical to work from. My emergency desk consisted of my iPad equipped with a case with a built-in stand, the Apple Magic Keyboard and a Magic Mouse 2 that I used with my old work MacBook, plus some AirPods Pro for listening to music and making calls.
You definitely don’t need all your equipment to be Apple-made, like mine happened to be. The iPad supports regular Bluetooth accessories just fine, after all. I do recommend using a keyboard with a Mac layout though, since it’ll make using shortcuts on the iPad far easier, but a smaller one that you could more easily carry around would be perfect as it'll make it easy to transport your work set-up to wherever the coolest spot in your house is, or to adjust your precise position so you're directly in the path of the air blowing from your fan.
Working from an iPad: strengths and weaknesses
The biggest immediate limitation I came across with working from my iPad was multi-tasking.
I primarily work from Chrome, Google Docs and Slack on a given day, and all of these have perfectly good iOS apps. I split my screen between Chrome and Docs for most of the time I worked from my iPad, and occasionally swapped one side to Slack when needed. Using two apps in split-screen with one further slide-over app is the best you can manage on an iPad right now, and it's just as well I didn't need to use many other apps that day.
Switching windows on the iPad isn’t great if you’re trying to use the mouse and keyboard either. It requires doing the unintuitive command of either moving the cursor to the navigation bar at the bottom of the screen and dragging it upwards, or using the peculiar keyboard shortcut of Tab + A. It's weird that there are no better methods of using one of the most basic functions of an iPad from a mouse and keyboard, but perhaps these become second nature over time.
The upcoming addition of Stage Manager in iPadOS 16 will likely change how this part of the iPad work experience behaves, but annoyingly Apple’s not bringing Stage Manage to non-M1-powered iPads. So if like me you're going to be stuck without Stage Manager, you'll have to make sure having 2-plus-1 apps on your screen is all you need.
As the day wore on, more benefits and drawbacks became apparent. At 11 inches, my iPad's screen is smaller than most laptops; that's the case even with the largest 12.9-inch iPad Pro. However Apple's Liquid Retina displays actually offers a higher resolution than either my laptop or monitor, making examining unofficial phone renders or camera comparisons easy and enjoyable.
I briefly thought about bringing my external monitor down to really beef up my jury-rigged desk. However until iOS 16 arrives, iPads can only mirror their display on other screens. Maybe using the iPad's interface on my 27-inch monitor would have been easier in some ways, but it seemed like too much effort for something that wouldn't really add much to my productivity.
The biggest benefit of all to using an iPad to work from on a hot day is its chipset. Unlike notoriously hot Intel chips, like you’ll find in the Surface Laptop Go, iPads run off either Apple’s A series chips or the Apple M1 chip, which are all designed to work in devices without any cooling whatsoever. That can mean some performance limitations, but as chips that naturally generate less heat and require less external cooling, they are the ideal partner for work when there's no escape from the heat. I managed to work the whole rest of the day without any further hiccups by sticking with my iPad.
If I'd been lucky enough to be working from one of Apple's M1 or M2 chip-equipped Macs in the first place, then maybe I could have avoided this whole problem. But not everyone has access to these new premium laptops. Tablets, whether an iPad or an Android tablet, are much more common and therefore more likely to be around when you need to use one in a pinch. Plus, some notable exceptions aside, they are usually far cheaper than even the cheapest MacBook Air M1.
Now we're past the worst of the heatwave in the U.K., I'm back to working from my laptop and monitor set-up, which not only gives me access to two screens but also a much more effective interface designed for mouse and keyboard first rather than touch. Plus, it has a bunch of important files saved locally, something I didn't think to sort out when I hastily moved over to my iPad.
Apple's moving in the right direction with making iPads more practical for work use, but even with iPadOS 16 arriving this fall, you're probably still better off with a laptop. Unless, of course, you're faced with working a full day in a record-breaking heatwave.
It appears that we're going to face more of these super-hot days going forward, and not everyone, particularly in the U.K., has access to effective climate control where they work. There are plenty of more effective preventative measures you can take to get your tasks done while beating the heat, but I hope after reading this that the iPad you may use only for browsing and streaming can be an effective work companion when your usual machine needs some time to cool off.