Saturday, December 22, 2018

Using my iPad as a Laptop Replacement, and for Coding!

By Steve Endow

For the last month, I've been using an iPad Pro with the Apple Smart Keyboard Folio and Apple Pen to see how much work I could do on the iPad, and see whether I could use it to replace my laptop.

When I am away from the office and have a few minutes to get some work done, I want to start working immediately, and get a task done immediately.  It feels like it's getting harder for me to do that without interruption on my Windows laptop. Sometimes WiFi is flaky and I have to reboot. Other times the VPN won't connect and I have to reboot. Then there are the incessant, nagging Windows updates that regularly interrupt my work and sometimes require a reboot. I'm currently having a weird issue where Windows File Explorer is unresponsive for 10-60 seconds, CPU utilization spikes for no obvious reason, and I either have to wait for things to calm down, or have to, you guessed it, reboot to try and clear things up.

Obviously, this topic isn't even relevant for many people who primarily work at a desk, but if you regularly work remotely, or regularly use a laptop for productivity tasks, I think the iPad is worth trying.

In this video, I show how to code Azure Functions on an iPad and use the Azure Continuous Deployment feature to automatically deploy the changes made on the iPad.

The entire video was made on my iPad.  The presentation, the screen shots, the code, and even the video editing was done completely on my iPad.

Over the last month, I've found that I can be very productive with my iPad when I'm out of the office when using apps like:

Web browser
VPN and RDP to my servers for quick tasks
Zoho Desk

I find that I would much rather take my iPad with me to lunch if I want to do a little work, rather than my laptop.  It is smaller, easier to prop up on a table at lunch, and it just seems easier to get to work quickly.

One of the key requirements is to have a good physical keyboard, specifically the Apple Smart Keyboard Folio for the iPad Pro.  I have tried two of the Microsoft Bluetooth mobile keyboards with my iPads, and while those are okay, I have found that the Bluetooth keyboards just aren't as seamless to use as the directly-connected Smart Keyboard.  And the keys on the Apple Smart Keyboard are surprisingly good, with excellent spacing and fewer odd key positions that allow me to type much faster than on the Microsoft Bluetooth keyboards. (although the Apple Keyboard is surprisingly loud)

And instead of using a mouse, you use the Apple Pen if you need precision on the touch screen.

It's actually quite surprising how much you can do on an iPad if you do a little bit of research and find the apps to support your needs.  The apps won't be identical to Windows, and the workflow won't be identical to Windows, but an iPad can handle a lot of things that I typically do on my laptop.

For example, you obviously can't run SQL Server and Dynamics GP and Visual Studio on an iPad.  Instead, you RDP to a server that has SQL and GP and Visual Studio. I regularly RDP into my servers to test and debug .NET code, all on my iPad, and it works great.  It's exactly what I do on my laptop, but I find that I can connect much faster on my iPad and get to work faster than I can on my laptop.

If you need to query SQL Server, instead of using SQL Server Management Studio on Windows, you can use the SQLPro app for iOS.  It's insanely fast, and I can put together a quick query for a customer and email it off to them.

Instead of working from a local file system, you work with files directly on OneDrive.  Instead of using SnagIt for editing screen shots, you take a full screen shot in iOS, then use iOS Markup or Skitch or another photo editing app to crop and mark up the screen shot.

I recently tried to see if I could do .NET development on the iPad.  After a few minutes of searching, I found a great iOS code editor called Buffer Editor.  It supports dozens of languages and provides great syntax highlighting for C#.  Interestingly, it also has Git support, so you can perform local commits and then push your changes to a remote repository, such as Bitbucket or GitHub.

Buffer Editor code editor app for iOS

In order to test web services, I found a great app called HTTPBot that is very similar to Postman.  So I am able to setup HTTP requests with query parameters and headers, perform GET and POST requests, and review the response.

HTTPBot web service testing app for iOS

And I even found an amazing video editing app for the iPad called LumaFusion.  It's easy to use, and incredibly fast, and I was able to record and edit an entire presentation video on my iPad.

LumaFusion video editor for iOS

It has been surprising to see how many things I can do on the iPad and how productive I can be, all without having to fight with the quirks and interruptions that I get on my laptop.

With that said, I have found a few limitations when working on the iPad.

When connect to my SonicWall VPN and then RDP into one of my development VMs, not all keyboard keys or keyboard shortcuts are available in the iOS Remote Desktop app.

For example, when I have Visual Studio open and am reviewing, testing, and debugging code on my iPad, the iPad RD Client app does not support the CTRL+F shortcut to search.  This is annoying, and it requires me to tap on the screen to activate the Visual Studio Find feature.  And keyboard shortcuts like CTRL+SHIFT+<left/right arrow> don't work, even though CTRL+SHIFT+<up/down arrow> do work to select text.  In general, many of the CTRL shortcuts are not available in the iOS RD Client application.  So it takes some adjustment and workarounds.

Another minor issue I've found is that the some web interface doesn't work properly with either Safari or Chrome on an iPad, such as the Blogger web site.  The text editing box doesn't display scroll bars in iOS browsers for some reason, so it's impossible to review or edit a blog post.  But that's not a big deal--I just write the blog post in OneNote, which I'm doing now, and then I can submit the post on Blogger from a Windows machine.  Or I can always RDP into one of my machines and use a Windows browser.

While I'm still testing and exploring, I am finding that I'm much more willing to turn on the iPad and fire up an app to do a few tasks, and it looks like the iPad can replace my laptop for many of my routine productivity tasks.

Steve Endow is a Microsoft MVP in Los Angeles.  He is the owner of Precipio Services, which provides Dynamics GP integrations, customizations, and automation solutions.

You can also find him on Twitter and YouTube

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