Going iPad only

My specific “computer” needs make my case an excellent case for iPad only use. Which is exactly how I’ve been working on my ageing iPad Mini for the past couple of weeks. It works but could need a power boost, which is why I’m looking at the iPad Pro 10.5.

Use case

Like many middle aged but young-minded people, I have a couple of professional hats. Some people my age turn lethargic, but I need to do things.

First, my day job: as the director for Public Benefits of Sodexo Benefits & Rewards Services in Belgium, I manage the team responsible for dealing with a very popular instrument which blends government subsidies with beneficiary contributions. The result, the service voucher, finances cleaning services in the homes of more than 1 million users in the three Belgian regions.

Then, my other day job, which takes about 10% of my time. As academic director for the masterclass internal audit at the Antwerp Management School, an independent entity of the University of Antwerp, I coordinate the academic side of both the Dutch and the French speaking masterclasses, a one year program of minimum 21 days for post-graduates with some professional experience in the field of internal auditing.

Finally, I write. Not enough, not by far, but I try to maintain a presence on this blog, sharing what I learn from both my teaching and my role as public benefits director.

And while there is this presumption that the higher up you are in an organisation, the more performant your tools need to be, I’m a case in point that this is not the case. On the contrary. I’ve spent a couple of weeks trying a Microsoft Surface Pro, after having spent the past couple of years working with a Macbook Pro and an iPad. The Surface Pro is, in terms of specifications, a wonderful machine. i7 with 16 GB onboard and an SSD of 512 GB … they don’t come much more specced than that. And yet, the machine makes no sense for me. I don’t take to the Windows way of working and I feel bad that I’m under-utilising such a powerful machine for the limited use I make of it. Let’s get into that a bit more.

What do I use a “computer” for?

As you may have guessed, a significant part of my day is meeting with and talking to people, both internally and externally. Whether it’s a meeting of the management team, or a meeting with one or more of my team members, I need to be able to be as efficient as possible in my capture in order to allow for later processing. The capture should not be too obtrusive either, because that takes away from the interaction. In essence, what I need to be able to do is to capture in a way that is almost ready for processing. Almost in that I still need to do a review before I process. I’ll get into the mechanics of that later.

Then, I think. It’s actually amazing how much time I think, and how little of that is actually at the office. The office is perhaps the least conductive environment for thinking on your own. Thinking in group works fine at the office provided you actually make time and space for it – I’ll write about that later – but thinking on your own I do at home, or in the car, or in a coffee shop if I have the chance. Just putting your thoughts in order and think about which of a myriad of directions we can go as an organisation. By the way, this goes as well for Sodexo as for AMS.

And of course I write. I write whenever I have the chance, on whatever I have on hand. A lot of the time this is a bullet journal. I love writing with pen on paper. But it often is my preferred text editor on iOS and MacOS: Ulysses.

Why go iPad only?

After having used my trusted iPad mini for a couple of years, I switched to a Windows machine when I joined Sodexo. First a Lenovo, then a Microsoft Surface. While both machines were powerful enough, the operating system just does not work for me. There is a lack of integration, and a lack of key tools which I am now used to and which work for me. I did explain I was middle-aged (i.e. 47 or really old, as my kids like to point out), didn’t I?

So Windows was out. Luckily the organisations I work for went all in with Office 365, which makes set-up of mail and other tools on iOS a breeze. Yes, there are limitations as to what I can retrieve from the server, as those entries are blocked (we don’t have a BYOD policy, yet) but I can perform about 99% of my work without access to the servers. In addition, we are moving to more and more Sharepoint use, which eliminates cumbersome VPN hardware key supported access entirely.

But the iPad choice is not a choice by exclusion, as it may appear if you read the above. It’s just a lot more convenient. Why? Let’s look at a couple of elements:


The iPad is the most accessible device I’ve ever worked with. Given the screen real estate and the apps available, I consider it even more accessible than the iPhone. I work with a 4-year old iPad mini with a Keys-to-Go keyboard by Logitech and while the mini starts to become real slow and I’ll likely repurpose it as a Sonos controller and family iPad in the not that distant future, this set-up just works.


I see people lugging around 13 and 15 inch computers all the time. They take time to open, they take time to start-up, their battery life often is really bad … and they take so much place! They are cumbersome to deal with.

An iPad, on the contrary, you put on the table and you work. Apps are almost immediately available, they work (the number of crashes I had on iPad, even with beta software on it, is negligible).

App integration

This is where iOS really shines for me, even when compared to MacOS. Let me give you three examples:

  • Emails: I seldom write emails in the standard iOS email program, because I use this nifty little app called Drafts, an application by Agile Tortoise. It’s an app that allows for a lot of automation, including the use of templates. I have templates with email addresses, intro’s and exits for the key groups with which I exchange emails, which allow me to focus on title and the core of the message. The point is, I don’t even need to use drafts to start the writing. I can start in Ulysses, benefitting from its organisation tools, draft the email there, send it via Drafts and keep a copy in DevonThink 2 Go, where I store everything I receive, send or find. iOS 11’s finder equivalent even allows me to flexibly store files in DevonThink.
  • Writing: I write quite a lot. As I said, a lot of first drafts are pen and paper, but the zero draft is often a snippet of text or an idea which I dictate via my Apple Watch into Drafts, where it can live for a while until I get to dealing with that text or idea. It then gets written out on paper, or gets transferred to Ulysses for some further work. Either way works.
  • Thinking: Lots of my thinking happens in mind maps. I’m visual that way. Enter Mindnode … with a tag line “Delightful mind mapping” you’d think you can’t go wrong, and you’d be right. What is even nicer about Mindnode is that it allows me to export mind maps in markdown, which is the format Ulysses uses.

I’ve been looking for similar solutions on Microsoft, only to be disappointed. I remember a time where Mac software was a mere shimmer of what was on offer for Windows. iOS eats Windows lunch for breakfast, taking Android’s lunch for seconds. The ecosystem is so good, so complete and with xURL so integrated that there is really is no way to work more efficiently.

Update on iPad only

So I’ve taken the plunge and ordered an iPad Pro 10.5, with the intent of replacing my raging iPad mini. I’m quite curious how this tool, which is considered the iPad sweet spot, will further enhance my workflow.