Thoughts on the #iPadPro, #digitalart and #productivity

Update: the iPad Pro has come a long way and the Pencil is way better than the Surface Pen. Multiple devices aside, now that Clip Studio Paint is on iOS, I want an iPad Pro for drawing,

Apple revealed the iPad Pro last week and digital art creators everywhere are agog.

The bigger screen and the (so tempted to pull a Jony Ive and thrown in revolutionary here) Pencil answer the needs of a lot of artists. We like larger areas to draw & paint and most styluses are mediocre at best. If you create most of your digital art on an iPad, you need a new pair of shorts after every hands on video you see.

I would have been in that camp as little as one year ago.

I made all  of my art exclusively on an iPad using the fantastic Procreate app and a bunch of awesome user brushes from their forums. Here’s some of the stuff I drew with Procreate and the Pogo Connect stylus:

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To get those pictures, I had to go to my old Tumblog, search for the hashtag #ProcreateApp, right-click on the images, save them to my hard drive and then upload them to my website.

That’s a pain in the ass and one big reason I don’t use an iPad anymore (as in, not at all unless the kids need the password to install an app).

Granted I could have kept all images backed up to Photostream but I find that more hassle then it’s worth. I’m old school – I like taking the photos off a device and deleting them.

We’ve been backing up our photos to Dropbox for years – mainly for backup purposes as we don’t want to lose our family photos to a crashed hard drive. But it turned out that Dropbox is dead easy to use – I can sync the folders we choose to specific computers and I can setup specific folders for automatic backup (like my complete work folder).

And the best part is that accessing and downloading files from Dropbox from any device is a piece of cake because they have an organized file structure. Our photos reside in the Photos/Archives folder, organized by dated subfolders. My work resides in the My Projects folder, organized by subfolders for individual projects. My wife’s writing goes in the Writing folder, organized into subfolders as she sees fit.

I took an absolutely remarkable shit - and it was This Big.
“I took a … remarkable shit. It was This Big. But I … saved it to iCloud and can’t find it.”

Where the fuck are my files on iOS?

One of the criticisms geeks – like me – had about iPods when they first came out was the automation, that it would just copy stuff to the library and fill the iPod. Where was the file structure? Steve Jobs went on & on about tagging music – and in this case he was right. It’s the one are where proper tags work. We use iTunes Match to back up music library and love it (you can do the same thing with Google Play Music too).

But for everything else, mysterious backups don’t work. If you’re a working artist, you want to know exactly where your files are – your source files, exports, references, everything. Using an iPad means taking extra steps to move files from one device to another.

That’s the biggest problem I have with iPads – the bigger size is nice but I need my shit organized.

The second issue are the apps themselves. I speak for many artists when I say that most apps are crippled versions of their desktop equivalents. Procreate is an exception – not because it has no desktop equivalent but because it’s a kick-ass drawing app.

For me, I need to  make comics, which means formatting layouts, speech bubbles and all that. No matter what I made on an iPad, I’d have to finish it up on my laptop (a Macbook Air, in case you’re wondering) with Manga Studio.

The same goes for most professional artist & illustrators – especially those using Adobe software. They might start on an iPad but they have to finish in the full versions of their apps. That’s why their Creative Cloud accounts come with automatic backup & storage.

No fully featured iPad apps for you.
No fully featured iPad apps for you.

Adobe knows what working creatives will need – and it’s something that Apple would never state in a publicity blitz. Of course that’s the nature of hype; I would never expect a company to cop to major faults when promoting their products. That’s the job for the critical-minded consumer.

My ideal is to use one device for everything. Life’s too damn short to waste time switching between devices constantly.

My stylus experiences on iPad have been mediocre at best and a real struggle at worst.

I got a Pogo Connect based on reviews and it’s pressure sensitivity SUCKS. So does a fat, mushy tip that obscures exactly where the ‘tip’ of my stylus is. While there are plenty of other options, user reviews reveal that all have some flaw or the other – and I had no desire to buy a new stylus every month in my quest for The One Stylus to Rule Them All.

Then one day last year I got the fine the Mischief desktop-only drawing app. I busted out my old Wacom Bamboo tablet to use it. And … I was blown away but what real pressure sensitivity is like. I couldn’t go back to my iPad after that, no matter how much I loved Procreate.

wtf is that thing? #logofail
wtf is that thing? #logofail

The Bamboo was a zillion times closer to drawing with pencil on paper than I had experienced on iPad. Why struggle to find the right stylus on an iPad when a better experience can be had immediately with something that cost about the same as a stylus?

Apple’s Pencil sounds pretty damn good – and it’s the first iOS stylus with tilt. That alone rocks. But I wonder how good the pressure sensitivity is. According to Apple, their pressure sensors are simply ‘accurate’. Frankly I can’t find a difference between the 1024 levels on my Bamboo and the 2048 on my Toshiba Encore 2 Write; some folks swear by older tablets with 256 levels. Numbers clearly don’t tell the tale – we’ll have to use Pencil first hand and see.

I would not be surprised to find that the Pencil is the best iPad stylus out there.

But we’ll need an iPad Pro to use it. And I have no desire to commit money to a device when I can’t finish my work on it. The prices are:

  • iPad Pro: $799/$949/$1079
  • Apple Pencil: $99
  • Smart Keyboard: $169 (working without using key commands is unproductive, as is typing on an iPad so I consider this a must buy)

At minimum you’d have to spend $1067 to use an iPad Pro for creative work.

That’s pricey for something that you can’t use from beginning to end of the creative process. Cintiqs and their alternatives by Huion, etc. are great but not mobile. The alternative is Microsoft’s Surface Pro and other Windows tablets.

I use this funky case with my Toshiba & dig it.
I use this funky case with my Toshiba & dig it.

I got my Toshiba Encore 2 Write in spring as a $400 iPad replacement and it changed my workflow completely. Not only is the pressure sensitivity fantastic but so is being able to use a full operating system. I make my comics on it, beginning to end, save my files where I want and all that.

In fact I use it for most of my work too – email/social networking (using a Bluetooth keyboard) and most of my software development (I still haven’t found a satisfying replacement for my beloved Coda on Windows yet). It’s made me seriously consider Surface – or another Windows tablet – as my next work computer.

What the Toshiba lacks is horsepower – some brushes are laggy as hell but I can live without them. Giant canvases would be too but I’m not making 4k digital paintings so it’s not an issue for me. If my tablet were 12″+ with a beefier CPU, it would be damn near perfect.

That sounds a lot like a Surface Pro 3.

For $970 you could get a Surface Pro 3 with 4x the storage of the cheapest iPad Pro, a stylus and a keyboard – and a get a device that you can use beginning to end. With a complete operating system and fully-featured apps.

I’d like to hear some more about drawing on a Surface before buying one – not to mention alternatives like the Thinkpad Yoga 14 (ooh – an even bigger drawing area). Plus the Surface Pro 4 will be revealed soon – and you know Microsoft is keen on competing with Apple. My guess is that the Surface Pro 4 will be announced right around when the iPad Pro goes on sale in November.

If the iPad Pro were running OSX I’d be first in line to buy it.

In that case I’d buy an iPad Pro, a Pencil, a Smart Keyboard, Jonny Ive’s jockstrap, Siri’s knickers and anything else Apple wanted to sell me. Anything, as long as I could get my hands on a device that I could use Manga Studio on with a great stylus. Until then, I’ll avoid the iPad Pro, as should most pros unless they want an expensive I almost got all my work done but now I have to transfer it to my desktop machine.

Pencil & iPad Pro image by Apple. Hand by some hand model somewhere.

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