Tuesday, September 1, 2020

I Use Ipad Pro as My Only Computer for Graphic Design & UI/UX Since 4 Months Ago. Why and How I survived?

So I’ve been using the 11 inch iPad Pro 2018 with the smallest 64GB storage as my only computer for all of my UI/UX graphic design & illustration work since May 2020, not merely because I could. In this post, I will explain how I survived all this time and the reason why did I make the switch in the first place.


The most important step to note is to not jump in with both feet and ditch your laptop right away. I started the transition from my old MacBook Pro to iPad since January 2020, which is 4 months before I went all in. At that time I used both devices and switched back and forth between them, so if something went wrong or I still couldn’t do certain tasks on the iPad, I could always reach my MacBook to get my work done.

This transition was necessary to train my muscle memory to use the simple yet complex iPadOS’s “multitasking” system. As a macOS user, it hurts my brain in the first couple of months. As my brain gradually recovered, I took the chance to choose the right alternative design apps and learn to use their touch-first interfaces. With all of that preparation, I got my workflow and I knew what works and what doesn’t. So by the time I went all in, I was at least not trying to figure things out while working. It slowed me down at first, it still sometimes. But it gets better over time.


The iPadOS and peripheral support

Before the iPadOS 13 and iPad Pro 2018 released, It was nearly impossible to use this as the main device, even as a netbook replacement, these hardware and OS updates was a game-changer.

  • The USB type-C and external drive support

    The fact that I could plug any external HardDrive/SSD is a lifesaver since my internal storage is only 64GB. I would archive the projects I’ve completed and heavy resources like PSD mockups to my external SSD so I could get more free space. I would recommend you get at least 128GB if you have the budget. (The old iPad with Lightning port also support it, but it’s inconvenient because you need to charge the iPad at the same time to do that).

  • Keyboard and mouse support

    The touch screen is convenient for smartphone, but with a bigger screen, you need extra hand movement. For intensive works that took hours, you would prefer to use a mouse and keyboard shortcut instead.

  • External display

    I used to plug my MacBook to an external display and use it in the clamshell mode so I can maintain better posture and not constantly looking down and squinting my eyes. Since the iPadOS also supports external display, I would use an external display for intensive work when it’s possible.

  • File management

    Before iOS 12, you can’t even create a folder in the Files app. Now that it could manage its internal storage better, plus the external, I could say It’s usable for daily use. It could be better tho.

  • Multi tasking

    Despite its weird behavior, the split view and the slide over is essential. Without it, imagine how painful it is going back and forth between apps just to look at reference. Even though not all the apps have already supported multitasking, most of my favorite apps have, the app developers still need to catch up with this “new” feature.


The performance for drawing illustrations or Graphic design was super smooth thanks to the powerful A12X Bionic Chip, some people even tried to use only iPad pro to edit and render their 4K YouTube contents.

In my case, I’ve been managed to use my iPad Pro for this type of design works :

  • Designing UI/UX for Android and iOS app Logo Design
  • Social media contents
  • Digital illustrations
  • Create design mockups
  • Branding guidelines with 50+ pages.

To illustrate how powerful the chip is, Apple currently uses the iPad Pro 2020 (A12Z) chip on a Mac Mini that runs macOS for some developers to create or optimize their apps for Apple Silicon chip. Apple will use their own Apple Silicon chips for its future macs starting this end of the year, and planned to make the transition from Intel within 2 years.

The Apps

I used Adobe software for years, but currently, the only Adobe apps optimized for the iPad are just Lightroom and Photoshop, many illustrators were disappointed with Photoshop’s interface. Fortunately, there are alternative apps that are even better at implementing the touch-first interface for iPad. Without these apps, the iPad will be just a bigger iPhone. Here are design and illustration related apps I currently use:

  • Figma (free): An alternative to Adobe XD/Sketch (web-based and require internet connection) I use Figurative app to access Figma for a better touch and Apple Pencil support

  • Affinity Designer (paid app): An alternative for Adobe Illustrator

  • Affinity Photo (paid app): An alternative for Adobe photoshop

  • Procreate (paid app): An Illustration app


Minimize distraction

First of all, I am easily distracted. I spent a lot of time geeking about random things, like learn to code, 3D modeling, motion graphic, and tweaking things here and there, I’m all over the place. I want to limit my focus and decided to go deep on illustration, graphic design, UI/UX work, and writing on this blog sometimes. Not that learning a lot of things is a bad thing, it’s just not my priority for now, and it became a distraction.

By using the iPad as my only computer, it’s easier for me to grab the iPad and start drawing, writing, and get things done. And it’s hard to do the other thing unless in the next update, iPad can run VSCode locally or adobe released After Effects for iPad. So if you read this blog post, it means I am not that distracted anymore.


Before making the switch, I used to use a Macbook Pro and Wacom pen tablet to do digital illustration work. Last year I gave my Macbook and pen tablet to my sister because her old laptop was unusable. But instead of buying another MacBook Pro and another pen tablet, I bought an Ipad and the Apple Pencil (which is a lot cheaper) after considering the possibilities to make this as my only computer, at least for my personal project. At that time, I still use my previous office’s computer for better team collaboration with Adobe software.

Portability and Wacom Cintiq-ish

Obviously, it is much lighter and slimmer than a MacBook Pro and a Portable Wacom Cintiq, combined. And If you are a pen tablet user, you will appreciate the feeling of being able to draw on top of the display. It just like a MacBook and Wacom Cintiq making a fusion.

Always Ready

Since the iPad is always on (just like a smartphone) I eliminate the extra step to start to work on anything. Want to draw something? grab and unlock the screen, done? lock the screen. On a MacBook and every other laptop, you need to turn on the device, plug the Wacom and draw, and when it's done, you still need to shut it down.


It’s not for everyone, please keep your laptop around. iPadOS has a long way to go before everyone can use it as their only computer, but it’s getting there.

The iPadOS 14 update was kind of disappointing for us who use this as the main computer except for the Apple Pencil scribble feature that turns out I rarely use (I used the iPadOS beta version since beta 2 released). I was expecting proper external display support and a more intuitive multitasking workflow.

But we as designer can still put high hopes to the app developers like Affinity which hopefully becoming more powerful in every update, I also have high expectations for Adobe Illustrator coming shortly.

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