Can an iPad Replace my Laptop as a Coder?
Ever since I've used an iPad (about four years now), I've had this nagging sense that I'm not using it to its full potential. Sure it works great for reading books, and it's by far the best device to use to keep my kids entertained. But me, as a coder and day-to-day Systems Admin, can an iPad really replace my laptop? I decided to find out.
The first thing I noticed was I had to change my muscle memory. Even for simple web browsing, my first reaction is always to reach for my trusty MacBook Pro. Grabbing the iPad when I needed to perform a computer task just felt foreign. That was one of the easiest aspects of this little experiment though. Once I got used to it, it became instinct.
Probably the largest issue I had is also due to muscle memory. After nearly 25 years of using a computer, a mouse is basically an extension of my body. Without, I felt almost useless at first. Sure, the touch screen was fine for basic web browsing and some email; but anything more intensive and having to touch the screen just felt wrong. I did use a bluetooth keybord for my iPad, so that kept my problems with touch screen keyboards at bay. However the lack of mouse, I have to say I don't think I ever got used to. Using a real keyboard and then having to press "send" on screen instead of just pressing enter was rather foreign, and I don't think I ever got used to it.
Now the meat and potatoes. Coding. Can the iPad work. Long story short: no. The much more detailed answer: it works just fine for quick tasks, presuming you have the right apps, but there is no way I would ever attempt to create a full blown app with just the iPad. I used Textastic as my code editing app, and it works well and has some great built in features. Hot keys for common coding symbols work just like the punctuation button on the normal soft keyboard--press and hold to bring up a menu of commonly used symbols and select the one you want. Once I got the hang of that, I was good to go as far doing edits goes. It also does have a built in FTP client, so you can pull directly form a web server and save directly back to it, making your edits go live instantly. Of course you can do that with a laptop as well, but it was nice to be able to pull out the iPad and make a change quickly.
Just for giggles, I decided to try to build a page from the ground up with the iPad, keyboard and Textastic setup. It worked, but it was definitely painful. I do a decent amount of cutting and pasting when I'm Coding, so the clunkier way of doing that on an iPad made the process much more difficult.
All in all, the experiment taught me quite a bit. I have started using my iPad for a lot more than I ever did before (previously I basically on used it to read books). I browse the web, post blogs, even do a little system administration. Since the week of using it for coding however, I have not used it for that task. I could definitely seeing newer tablets (iPad Pro, Surface) becoming more viable options for replacing the laptop of a coder, but my iPad Air just won't do.