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The missing apps that turn the iPad Pro into a true laptop replacement

Plugging the iPad up to an external monitor.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The latest iPad Pro is the first device that I’ve ever used that could really replace my laptop. I’m typing this on my iPad right now, and it’s been my main work computer for the last month.

Why an iPad? I’ve always liked the idea of having a single computing device, something that I can have on me at all times to accomplish any task, whether that’s reading a book or writing an article or tapping out some simple code.

Laptops are fantastic, and there’s a reason why the laptop has become the dominant design for computers. But it’s tough to use a laptop while you’re standing on the subway, and reading a lot of text on a laptop screen tends to be a pain.

I’m privileged enough to be able to choose what kind of computing platform I use. I paid more than $1,000 for this device and its keyboard because I wanted an extremely lightweight computing device that I could use in different scenarios. There seemed to be two options: I could get a computer that just happened to fold to a tablet, or a tablet that I could attach a keyboard to.

I opted for a tablet because it was designed to be touched, and I chose an iPad because of my experience with the iOS operating system. The iPad Pro’s design makes it the only pure tablet that doesn’t look like a tablet turned on its side when in landscape mode. I’ve used Microsoft Surfaces before, and personally I don’t like Windows on a smaller touchscreen device. (Check out my review of the recent Surface Go here.)

But I couldn’t use the iPad as my daily driver right out of the box, and some things are still annoying. Some iOS apps are just pared-down versions of webpages or other apps—the Slack iPad app, for instance, can’t do video calls and there’s no good way to browse Tweetdeck.

But with a little finessing, I’ve managed to make the iPad Pro a super useful daily computer to fit my needs. Here are the apps that I have come to rely on to fill the gaps in the iOS operating system:




While the iPad, like any iOS device, lets you copy and paste, it’s not quite as useful as the function is on most computers. To fix that, I’ve downloaded Yoink, which is an indispensable clipboard tool for iOS. I always have this app sitting just off my screen, accessible with a swipe over from the right edge. I collect links, quotes, and little snippets from around the web that I’ll need to refer to or use in the next few days. It’s also great for quickly sharing photos between my iPhone and iPad without needing iCloud or AirDrop. At the top of the screen, under where it says “Yoink,” just select the other iOS device you’re using the app with to see its clipboard.




Sometimes clicking on links on the iPad don’t open where you expect them to—for example, opening a Twitter link someone posted in Slack will open in your web browser instead of the Twitter app, and that’s annoying. The Opener app lives in the “Share” tray, and lets you choose to open a link in a specific app if the iPad doesn’t recognize the app link.

Local Storage



A consistent complaint about iOS is the lack of a proper file manager. Apple introduced the Files app in iOS 11, but it doesn’t have a place for users to simply store files on your iPad. Instead, files are stored based on the app that generated or downloaded the file, which means they can be difficult to find. The Local Storage app simply puts a folder called “Local Storage” in your Files app, where you’re able to save files like you would on a Mac.




It’s a good app that unzips .zip files downloaded from the web. That’s about it.



I haven’t yet scratched the surface of what this app can do, but I have a few remote servers that I like to connect to for maintenance or moving files around. Termius is a nice iPad client for doing this, and if I’m feeling feisty I can use the Vim text editor for light coding and feel like I’m on a real computer. The iPad keyboard doesn’t have an escape key though, which is pretty crucial for Vim, but there’s an onscreen button which is about the same distance as the escape key would be, and my use-case is pretty limited. You’re not likely to be using an iPad Pro to be your main computer if you’re a programmer, but with Terminus, you could probably get closer, if you didn’t mind daily hassle.

Bear & Things 3

Free & $19.99

The Bear text editor.

I hop around productivity tools every six months or so, and my last obsession was with Notion, which is kind of like Google Docs meets a personal Wikipedia and Evernote. But Notion doesn’t work too well on the iPad, so now I’m using a combination of the Things 3 app for task management and Bear for writing.

I also used Bear pretty heavily before Notion, so it’s like coming back to an old friend. I like Bear’s design, and I personally enjoy writing in the Markdown language, and it lets me easily sort notes into folders. For others, the Notes app that comes with the iPad, Apple’s Pages app, or Microsoft Word may also be decent substitutes.

Things 3 is a decent app that lets me organize my to-do lists for complicated projects. But I wish it had more functionality like location-based reminders and more nuanced time-based tasks like Todoist has, though I will take what I can get. It’s probably not worth the $30 I paid for it, including the $9.99 for the iPhone app, but I don’t like to think about that.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

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