Design, Education, Inspiration

iPad Pro Review


For the past two years there has been a lot of speculation about whether or not Apple would release a large-scale version of its iPad devices. I can remember very distincly the feeling I had when I first heard about this product, and it was one of pure joy. I have wanted a light-weight device with the power of a Mac and the portability of an iPad for some time now, and hopefully Apple was finally going to give it to me. Earlier this year, during one of the most jam-packed keynotes in Apple history, Apple debuted their long-rumored iPad Pro. I was instantly hooked. The only problem was that I had to wait until November to get my hands on it. Well, that day has come and gone, and as you may have read I wasn’t impressed with the rollout of the device. Since that day, however, I have gotten my hands on the iPad Pro and all of its accessories, and I’ve been putting it through its paces. In this article I’ll share my thoughts and render my final verdict on whether or not I’m ready to insert the iPad Pro into my digital lifestyle.

iPad Pro with Apple Pencil

Size, Shape, and Design

There’s nothing really revolutionary about the design of the iPad Pro. It is every bit an iPad from head to toe, but there are several areas that Apple has revised or refined which really make this large-screen device a joy to work with. The size of the device is a little jarring at first, but once you get used to the enhanced size, you start to see all of the attention to detail that went into making it. Even though the device has a 12.9 inch screen and weighs as much as the original iPad (give or take a few ounces) the iPad Pro doesn’t feel that bad in your hands. The weight is spread out over that surface area in such a way that it feels like you’re holding nothing more than a large magazine or book.

The screen is in a class all by itself, really. As I mentioned above it runs 12.9 inches diagonally at 2732 x 2048, giving you a whopping 5.6 million pixels of full-color awesomeness to work with. This is the highest resolution screen that Apple has ever produced; even besting that of its Retina MacBook Pro line of laptops. There’s also a lot of technology built-in to this screen. For example, when you’re using the Apple Pencil with the iPad Pro, the screen can ramp up to a 240Hz refresh rate to minimize latency. When the screen isn’t being used for intensive tasks, the screen can scale back to a 30Hz refresh rate, which will maximize battery life. These are the types of details that you’d expect from Apple, and they certainly delivered big time with this device display.

at some point you have to think about the function and not just the form.

Although I love the design of the iPad Pro overall, there are some things that I feel could’ve been included that aren’t. For example, there’s no rotation lock button on the outside casing, which means you have to do that via the swipe-up control panel in iOS. There’s also no mute toggle alongside the volume controls. This is something I use quite a bit on my iPhone 6S, and frankly I’m a little shocked that Apple didn’t include it here. The only way to mute the device is via settings on the device or by holding down the volume button until mute is activated. I realize that Jony Ive is all about simplicity and removing as many buttons and widgets as he can, but at some point you have to think about the function and not just the form.

Speed and Battery Life

Remember when I said the iPad Pro was every bit an iPad from head to toe? Well, this is especially true in the battery life department. Normally I can get several days of use out of my iPad Air, maybe even a week if I don’t use it all that much. Since I’ve begun using and testing the iPad Pro I’ve yet to run it down past 50% battery life. This includes using it as my primary device while on a trip to Denver to speak at the Photoshop Conference. While I was there I also used the iPad Pro in several impromptu demos, on stage presentations, and even watching Netflix in my hotel room at night. Each day as I was doing a battery level check on all my devices before going to bed, the iPad Pro would still be there, standing proud, at 50% or more. I was very impressed.

According to teardown reports the iPad Pro has 4GB of RAM in it, and it is also equipped with Apple’s latest A9X processor. What does this mean? Speed. That’s what. The iPad Pro is the zippiest iPad I’ve ever used. You’ll notice the speed increase when doing things like processing photos, saving and exporting videos, and even scrolling through webpages and switching apps. In the iOS world, there’s really no comparison. However, that doesn’t mean that the iPad Pro is a desktop-class machine. There are plenty of devices out there, like the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, that best the iPad Pro in benchmark tests. The performance level of the iPad Pro is very dependent on the type of work you’re doing, so your mileage will vary based on how you use it. If you’re crunching through 4K video clips all day, this might not be the best device for you, but for most “everyday tasks” the iPad Pro will almost certainly shine.


Multimedia and Sound

The iPad has always been a device that I carried with me while traveling so that I could watch what I wanted to watch, either on a plane or in my hotel room. The problem I had with all previous generation iPads was the sound. No previous generation iPad has a decent sound setup, and as I’m sure many iPad users have done, I found myself constantly cupping my hand around the speaker in order to funnel the sound back to me at a more reasonable volume. Well, fear not iPad cuppers, our prayers have been answered with the iPad Pro.

This makes watching TV and movies on the iPad Pro an amazing and immersive experience…

I’m not sure what kind of wizardry is going on inside this device, but the sound is absolutely phenomenal. Even when you rotate the device, the speakers automatically adjust to the rotation to provide you with the best stereo sound possible. The volume is much louder than previous generation iPads, and the sound is crisp, clear, and very dynamic to my ears. This makes watching TV and movies on the iPad Pro an amazing and immersive experience, and in my opinion it’s one of the best things about the device overall.


On-Screen Keyboard

Let me preface this by saying that I hate software keyboards, so there’s really nothing Apple could’ve done here (short of making it have tactile feedback) that was going to impress me all that much. That being said, the on-screen keyboard for the iPad Pro is much better than that of previous model iPads. The touch targets are larger, making typos less frequent, and there are more function and shortcut keys built into the initial view, making it easier to type without having to switch into a secondary keyboard or menu.

My main issue with on-screen keyboards is that there’s no way to reset yourself to the “home row” after you’ve begun typing. Oftentimes I’ll begin typing and midway through a sentence realize that I’ve somehow migrated to the row above or below the home row, and thus my typing looks like gibberish. This means I have to keep my eyes on the keys and the screen at all times, and that’s not how I work. I take a lot of notes by hand, so I like to look at my notebook while I’m writing to incorporate those notes into whatever it is I’m doing. Not having tactile feedback makes this very difficult to do with a software keyboard. Granted, Apple has provided a hardware keyboard solution for the iPad Pro, but at $170 that’s an expensive convenience that most users expect from a real computer right out of the box.


Apple’s Smart Keyboard Cover

While we’re on the subject of keyboards, I’ll just go ahead and throw in my two cents on Apple’s Smart Keyboard Cover for the iPad Pro. The design of the keyboard is pretty great at first glance. The Smart Keyboard Cover, when folded onto the device, has a profile that isn’t much thicker than a traditional Smart Cover that you’d put on any other iPad. The keyboard connects to the iPad Pro using the all-new Smart Connector port on the side of the device. This makes it possible for the keyboard to be powered and paired with the device without using Bluetooth, which I think is a fantastic idea. That means I could just snap this onto any iPad Pro and begin using it, without the hassle of going through the Bluetooth pairing process, which is often frustrating on iOS devices.

functionally it sucks as a keyboard.

The look of the Apple Keyboard Cover is probably the best thing about it, because functionally it sucks as a keyboard. Sure, you can type on it, and the keys are laid out pretty well in my opinion, but the lack of function/shortcut keys and backlighting make this accessory feel limited and unfinished. I’ve also been using the Logitech Create Keyboard case with my iPad Pro, and it blows the Apple Smart Keyboard Cover right out of the water. Since iOS isn’t very Mac-like in how it does certain operations, like app switching and multi-tasking, it would be nice to have some buttons built into the Smart Keyboard Cover to aid in those operations. This keyboard is bare-bones, having only one shortcut key, the international keyboard key. This makes for easy access to emoji, but not much else. Contrast this with the Logitech Create which has dedicated keys for accessing the homes screen, volume controls, sleep/wake, screen brightness, and media playback. Why Apple left these off of their product is beyond me, but given the hefty price tag of the Smart Keyboard Cover, I’m inclined to suggest that people look elsewhere for their keyboard needs on the iPad Pro, because Apple simply didn’t deliver on this at all.



Apple Pencil

It’s fair to say that the Apple Pencil was the part of the iPad Pro that I was most excited about. I’m no artist, mind you, but I do like to sketch and create artwork in my spare time. I’m also a huge proponent of using devices like Wacom tablets in a graphic design workflow, so naturally the Apple Pencil piqued my interest. Unfortunately the Pencil is still very difficult for most users to obtain, so even if you’re really excited about it you’ll have to wait a few weeks to get your hands on one. I detailed my thoughts on this in a previous article though, so let’s move on. The Pencil is probably one of the best Apple products I’ve ever used. Period. Not only does it deliver in all of the ways Apple said it would, but it actually exceeded my expectations in many ways as well.

I love how the Apple Pencil feels in my hand. It’s balance and weight are absolutely perfect, which is something many stylus makers (including Adobe and Wacom) haven’t been able to achieve with their products. The nib of the pencil comes to a pretty fine point as well, which is in stark contrast to other stylus devices like the Pencil from FiftyThree.

I actually felt as though I had a real graphite pencil in my hand, and I was able to control it just as I would the real thing back in my high school art class.

Drawing with the Pencil is amazing. Several apps, including Adobe Sketch and Procreate, have already been optimized for the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, and it shows that Apple has been working hard with these third parties to make the experience as good as possible. The device is able to recognize pressure, rotation, and direction almost instantly, with virtually no lag. I have noticed that the latency of the Pencil is very much app dependent, leading me to conclude that developers will need to do some tweaking in order to get optimal performance for this device. Adobe is hands-down the winner in this category, as I was unable to discern any lag while drawing in their Sketch app using the Apple Pencil. What really blew me away is how this device reacted when I turned it on its side to do shading. I actually felt as though I had a real graphite pencil in my hand, and I was able to control it just as I would the real thing back in my high school art class. Apple has also done something, either with the nib of the device or the iPad Pro’s screen, that mimics drag on paper. I can feel just a enough resistance as I drag the pencil across the screen that it feels like I’m actually drawing on something textured, like paper, and not glass. Again, I’m unsure of how this is being done, but it is masterfully implemented nonetheless.

The Apple Pencil connects to the iPad Pro via Bluetooth, but you don’t have to pair it in order to begin using it. All you have to do is take the end cap off, which will expose the Lightning connector, and then plug it into the iPad Pro’s Lightning port. The iPad Pro takes care of the paring process for you, and you can instantly begin using your pencil once it’s finished. This is also how you’ll charge the Pencil whenever it runs out of battery (something I’ve yet to accomplish). If there’s one thing I can nitpick about the Pencil its this. You have to insert the pencil into the Lightning Port of the iPad Pro, which leave the Pencil protruding out. I have a feeling that somebody (probably me) will wind up breaking off the Pencil while its charging, so I’m not sure this was the best design choice. I’d love for the pencil to charge inductively through the iPad, and maybe even have a magnetic way of attaching it to the side of the device, because storage of the Pencil is another thing that it appears Apple left off the list of to-dos before shipping these devices. There’s no holder on the iPad Pro for the Pencil, no loop or slot on the Smart Keyboard Cover, and no magnets to hold it in place either. Since the Pencil costs $100, it’d be a shame to lose it, so I’d like to have a better way of keeping tack of its whereabouts.

Software and OS

Many developers are working to optimize their apps for the iPad Pro, and some have already begun pushing those updates out. Microsoft and Adobe are two of the “big boys” who have already released iPad Pro versions of their apps, and many other developers are following suit. I feel a little funny saying this, but Microsoft has really outdone themselves with their release of Office 365 apps for the iPad. Before this I had all but abandoned the MS Office suite for Google Drive, but after seeing what they’ve done with these apps for iOS, I think I may be swinging back around to Team Microsoft for my everyday document needs. I’ve been using Word, PowerPoint, and Excel quite frequently on my iPad Pro, saving documents to OneDrive, and they haven’t missed a beat. Pair these apps with the Logitech Create Keyboard, and you’ve really got a powerful word processing machine.

iOS 9 also delivers many new experiences for the iPad Pro, including the new split-view multi-tasking capabilities, which allow users to run two apps side-by-side simultaneously. This isn’t unique to the iPad Pro, but it certainly is better on the iPad Pro because of the larger screen real estate. I love being able to browse the web while Tweetbot sits next to it, and being able to have 1Password open while logging into sites and apps has really been a great addition to my iPad experience.

That being said, I think Apple still has some serious work to do with iOS and the App Store in general when it comes to the iPad Pro. iOS is a great mobile operating system, there’s no denying that. But in order for a device to be worth of the Pro monicker, I think it needs to have a true desktop-level operating system running on it. The problem with iOS is that it’s too limited. There are things that professionals need to be able to do that it just can’t do. For instance, there’s no central file system on the device. That means that you either have to save your files locally within each individual app or rely on cloud services like Dropbox and OneDrive. While those services are great, and I use both of them daily, there are still times when I want to just make local folder and store documents in there, and I can’t do that on iOS. I also find myself frustrated with inter-app communication. Where normally I would just drag something from one window to another, I’m forced in iOS to copy/paste or rely on developers creating “deep links” in order for me to exchange information between two applications.

We used to be Apple’s bread and butter, but now we’re the minority…

In order to understand why these limitations exist, we must first look at why iOS was created in the first place. Apple designed iOS with the mass market in mind. They’ve simplified the OS to a point where anyone, regardless of age or technical prowess, can pick up an iOS device and start using it within minutes. That’s great, and I understand why they did it. The consumer market is a much greener pasture than the pro market. We used to be Apple’s bread and butter, but now we’re the minority, and Apple has seemingly moved on from us in favor of the soccer mom crowd. As professionals we like things that are rich, powerful, and customizable. Everyday users want to click a button and have it done right then and there. That is what iOS was designed to do. It was designed to be convenient, and an unfortunate side effect of that is that we lose the configurability and complexity we’ve grown to love and rely on in the professional world.

There’s also the issue of the App Store itself to consider. Ever since the iOS App Store came about there’s been this unspoken rule between developers and users that no piece of software should cost more than a few dollars, or anything at all, really. It’s a race to the bottom, and that means that big name developers are going to be reluctant to put much effort into the platform because they’re unable to make a decent profit. I look at some of the paid apps in the App Store and just shake my head because 5-10 years ago they’d be able to charge 2-3 times what they’re charging now and nobody would bat an eye. Pixelmator is a great example of this. By all accounts Pixelmator is quickly becoming a viable option to replace Photoshop for users who aren’t interested in subscribing to Adobe’s Creative Cloud service. Yet even with that amount of buzz, and a rich feature set that closely resembles that of Photoshop, Pixelmator for iOS costs just $4.99. This makes zero sense, and it’s a problem that Apple needs to fix ASAP.


A Workhorse with Compromises

The big question on everybody’s mind is whether or not the iPad Pro can replace their laptop while at the same time still allowing them to do their work. The answer to that is… I don’t know, can it? The iPad Pro is designed to serve a lot of masters, but none of them specifically. No matter what you intend to do with it, the iPad Pro definitely has something to offer you, but you’ll most likely have to make some compromises too. Ultimately you have to decide whether or not the iPad Pro is worth the time, money, and effort that it will take in order to work it into your life.

For a casual user, this device could very well be all that you need.

At this point I don’t think any working professionals are going to be able to go all-in on the iPad Pro as a their daily driver. There are just too many walls and ceilings to bump into right now. However, for a casual user, this device could very well be all that you need. Again, it just depends on what you want to do with it. If you’re a person that relies on software like Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign to do your job, the iPad Pro will most likely just fall into the “nice to have” category of devices. If you’re somebody who browses the web, occasionally needs to work with Microsoft Office, and accesses email, the iPad Pro is maybe something you should look at more closely.

For artists and creative professionals the iPad Pro could slowly work its way into your workflows, but that will depend heavily on the software and tools that are developed for it in the future. As it stands now, there are only a handful of apps that I would consider pro-level, and even then you have to make some pretty big compromises in order to work them into your routine. It’s clear to me that Apple has no plans to do any OS-level modifications to accommodate power users, so it’s all in the hands of third-party developers now. Hopefully as the device and its platform matures we will get a better idea of who is using this device, why, and how they’re using it in their work. Once developers have that data I think we’ll start to see more targeted experiences being created for the iPad Pro, but until then I’m just not sure if there’s enough here for someone to pull the trigger on a $1,000+ setup that doesn’t give them a complete, powerful solution.


Tim Cook recently said that we’re living in the Post-PC Era, and he questioned why anyone would buy a PC at this point. I would argue that we’re currently in a PC-to-Mobile Transition Era, but we still have a long way to go before the majority of us leave our desktops and laptops behind. My experience thus far with the iPad Pro has shown me that it can come really close to becoming a laptop killer. Maybe even as close as 90% of what I need. It’s that last 10% that is most crucial, and I just can’t get past it. Therefore the iPad Pro, while great for a lot of things, just isn’t a great fit for me. That’s not to say that it won’t be a great fit for you, but that’s something you’ll have to figure out on your own.


After 24 Hours, I’m Probably Going to Return My iPad Pro


Like many of the Apple faithful, I spent Tuesday, November 10th, 2015 feverishly refreshing the Apple website and mobile app in hopes of scoring an iPad Pro on launch day. Luckily for me I was able to get in (seemingly) before anyone else at around 2:03AM Central Time. The checkout process was flawless as always, and I was happy to see that when I added my iPad Pro (128GB Space Gray), Apple Pencil, and Smart Keyboard Cover to my shopping bag that all were available for in-store pickup at my local Apple Store here in Nashville. That meant that in just 8 hours I would actually have my hands on this device that I’ve been talking about, lusting after, and waiting on for almost a full year! This would prove to be the highlight of my experience with the iPad Pro, because as you’ll see throughout this article, things only went downhill from here.

Do You Have Any Pencils?

My first indication that something was amiss with my iPad Pro order came when I woke up later that morning. As expected I was greeted with an email from Apple saying “We’re Ready for You” which is an indication that your in-store pickup is ready to be picked up. However, upon closer inspection I noticed that only my iPad Pro was available for pickup, and the Apple Pencil/Smart Keyboard Cover were still “being processed”. Thinking this could’ve simply been an error, I decided to call the Apple Store just to make sure, so that I could confidently make my 60-80 minute (roundtrip) drive to the Apple Store.

When I got on the phone with the Apple representative, she greeted me warmly and congratulated me on purchasing my new iPad Pro. After that brief exchange of pleasantries I asked what would prove to be (apparently) the most difficult yes/no question an Apple employee has ever had to answer. Here’s how it all went down:

Apple Rep: What can I help you with today?

Me: I placed an order for the iPad Pro, which my email says is available for pickup. I also purchased the pencil and the keyboard though, and those do not indicate they’re ready for pickup even though my confirmation email says they’re available today. Before I drive all the way down there, can you tell me if you have any pencils/keyboards in stock today?

Apple Rep: I see that you ordered an iPad Pro, and yes you also ordered two accessories, and it looks like those items are still processing at this time.

Me: Yes, I agree with that. But that’s not what I asked you… Do you have any pencils or keyboards in stock, right now at your store?

Apple Rep: Those items won’t be available for pickup until you receive a confirmation email…

Me: (cutting her off) I understand how your ordering process works. For a moment, let’s pretend I don’t have an order. I’m just walking into the store and I want to buy these products… Are they available?

Apple Rep: Hold on just one second and I’ll contact someone at the store to see if they can give us more information.

Me: Wait, you’re not at the store?

Apple Rep: No, not physically, but I can see all their inventory from here.

Me: GREAT! Tell me if there are pencils and keyboards in stock…

Apple Rep: Hold one moment please.

This exchange continued for another 3-5 minutes, believe it or not, and not once did I get a straight answer about whether or not these products were available or when they would become available. My next step was to just bite the bullet and take a trip to the store to see for myself.

The Apple Store Experience

Upon arriving at the Apple Store, I noticed it was much busier than normal. In fact, there were people lined up, which is rarely the case in West Tennessee. Instantly I put it together that all these people were there to buy they iPad Pro. I thought that was great, really, because that meant that perhaps Apple had accounted for the demand and there would be product on-hand. After all, they weren’t turning people away, and people were steadily streaming out with bags filled with shiny new toys from Cupertino!

An employee greeted me at the door and asked what I had come to the Apple Store for today. After telling them I had come to pick up my iPad Pro, they directed me to an in-store pickup queue on the far side of the store. Before I jumped in line I quickly asked that same question to this employee… “Do you guys have the pencil or keyboard in stock today. My order said they’d be available for pickup w/ my iPad.” The response I got was “we may have gotten a truck in with them on it, but I’m not sure, I just got here.” Fair enough, I thought, maybe she’s right. Maybe there’s a big pallet full of pencils and keyboards back there and one of them has my name on it… Wrong.

After waiting in line for a few minutes another Apple employee brought out my brand-new iPad Pro. After a brief exchange I asked again about the pencils and keyboards. This time the answer was much more definitive. No. I laughed and said “Ok, well, how about a case? You guys have cases on hand right?” Again, no. After that I was so deflated that I just picked up my iPad Pro, slung the bag over my shoulder and went home.

The Unboxing

After getting the iPad Pro home, I did my usual unboxing ritual with Apple devices. I sat down, cleared space on my desk, and slowly went through all the things that were present in the box. The iPad Pro is beautiful, there’s no denying that. The size of the device is a little jarring at first, but really the way they’ve distributed the weight throughout the body of the device makes it seem as though you’re not holding anything larger than a normal iPad.

Once I had it out of the box I immediately went into app download mode, and my first apps of choice were (of course) the newly updated Adobe mobile apps. I couldn’t wait to try out all the new features and side-by-side app goodness that I’d seen on all these demos. But then I realized something. The big selling point, the thing that Apple said would make all the difference when using these apps was the Apple Pencil. The iPad itself doesn’t have Force Touch or 3D Touch built-in, that’s all in the pencil. Sure there are other stylus devices out there, but that’s like putting discount tires on a Ferrari. Nobody wants that.

Wait, You Cancelled my Order?

From there I went about my day, because I needed to get some work done. Later that evening I thought to check my order status to see if my in-store pickups were ready yet. However, when I launched the Apple Store app I noticed that both of my orders had been cancelled without so much as an email explaining why. I quickly got on the phone with Apple Support, where I was told that they had indeed cancelled the order because neither of these items were available for in-store pickup at this time. The rep did offer to place another order for me, which I did, and then they told me I would have to wait until December 10-14 for delivery. That was a tough pill to swallow, but I accepted that and moved on.

It’s Just a Big iPad

Throughout the night I used the iPad Pro, and I was loving it for a whole lot of things. First off, the screen size is pretty great. Especially if you’re messaging and browsing the web, or if you need to fill passwords from an app like 1Password without actually leaving the app. Side-by-side is obviously one of the killer features of iOS 9. I even tweeted about my experience thus far, and got a reply back that really, in one sentence, put it all back into perspective:

Well, @mattwolfmatt, you sir are correct. Every single thing that I was excited about wasn’t unique to the iPad Pro at all. It was, in fact, iOS 9 that I was raving about, not anything specific to the iPad Pro hardware. This led me to thinking “why did I need this device again?” Basically, it’s just a big iPad, and nothing more.

Yes it is fast. Yes it does more than a regular iPad in terms of processing, screen real estate usage, etc. However I found that I’m just not that interested in using any of those things. My natural instinct was to use this device just as I would a regular iPad, and while the bells and whistles that come later might change my mind, I just don’t think that it’s for me given how disenchanted I became with it after just a few hours of use.

The Return Window

The final nail in the iPad Pro’s coffin isn’t something I’ve come up with, it’s of Apple’s own doing. Recently Apple changed its return policy from 30 days to 14 days. Well, I’m not exactly sure when it was changed, so recently might be a misnomer, but the policy is now 14 days nonetheless. How in the world am I supposed to form a full opinion about a device within 14 days? Especially when the two accessories that are supposed to set this device apart from its rivals, the pencil and keyboard, aren’t even available for 30-45 days? This is the absolute biggest reason why I’m considering returning the iPad Pro after today. I don’t want to wait around for the Pencil and Keyboard only to be disappointed with my findings and then be unable to recoup my $1,200+ investment. If the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard cover become available, perhaps I’ll give the iPad Pro another shot, but only with both of those items in-hand. Until then I’ll be able to go about my business free of this expensive monolith hanging over my head with a time-sensitive return window.


At the end of the day, I think it comes down to this… I was caught up in the hype, and still am to some degree, but I probably don’t need this device right now. I have a workflow that works, and plenty of devices that fit well within that existing workflow where they iPad Pro does not. I might, in time, give it another shot, but as of right now I’m just not that into you, iPad Pro. Sorry.

UPDATE: Apple Delivers the Pencil/Keyboard

A funny thing happened not long after this post was published. Someone from Apple reached out to me via phone and said that they were “aware of the troubles I had getting my Apple Pencil and Keyboard” so they sent one of each overnight to my local Apple Store here in TN. Since then I’ve been using them both, and I’ll have my final thoughts in my iPad Pro review that I’ll publish on 11/23/2015.

I Went Hands On with the iPad Pro… Here are My First Impressions

iPad Pro with Apple Pencil

Last week at the Adobe MAX conference I was invited to a special event that was held by Adobe and Apple. At this event I was given the opportunity to try out the new iPad Pro. There were a lot of people at this event, so I didn’t get a ton of time to review the hardware, but I thought I’d quickly share some of my initial thoughts.

The iPad Pro is Big. Really Big.

The first thought that ran through my mind as I entered the demo area and saw the iPad Pro up close was “Wow, this thing is big.” Indeed, it is big. The iPad Pro is the largest iPad that Apple’s ever made, so I really shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was nonetheless. The screen is 12.9″ and there’s a bezel around the outside of it, so that makes the actual footprint of the device almost about as large as a 13″ MacBook Pro.

The Weight Caught Me Off Guard

Even though the device was larger than I thought it would be, the weight of the device is what really threw me for a loop. Given that several tech blogs had said that it was about the same weight as the original iPad, I sort of expected a somewhat brick-like heft to the iPad Pro when I picked it up. Well, that couldn’t have been further from the truth. The iPad Pro is astonishingly lightweight. They do, after all, have a lot of surface area on which to spread out the weight of the device, so it seems to weight a lot less than it actually does. I don’t think I would have any problem holding this device for a prolonged period of time, but that being said, I still don’t think I’ll be using it while I’m in bed or on the couch. I’ve dropped my iPhone 6 Plus and iPad Air on my face enough to know that’s a bad idea.

The iPad Pro is Lightning Fast

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but the iPad Pro is in a class all by itself in terms of speed. The Pro was able to handle everything I threw at it and then some during my brief testing period. From what I’ve read online it appears that the iPad Pro sports 4GB of RAM, so it’s not a shock that it screamed through the apps that I was able to test on it.

Drawing On the iPad Pro is an Awesome Experience

The one thing everybody is talking about when it comes to the iPad Pro is how it is going to revolutionize the workflow of artists and creatives. Without a doubt, I can say that I agree with that 100% and then some. I drew several quick sketches while I used the iPad Pro and I was really happy with how it performed.

The screen of the iPad Pro is really beautiful, and no matter how close I got to it I couldn’t see any pixelation. If there’s one thing that I could take points off for on my initial test, however, it would have to be the latency of the screen while I was drawing. Yes, this is the best screen I’ve ever drawn on personally, and yes the latency is nearly nonexistent, but it does still exist. Artists with a well-trained eye will be able to spot this while they’re drawing, and while it’s not a deal breaker, it’s still something that deserves to be noted.

The Apple Pencil is a Thing of Beauty

I was excited to see they had Apple Pencils laid out next to the iPads when I walked into the room, and I immediately found the first one that was available and picked it up. The pencil is longer than you would expect, I think, but the weight is nothing short of perfection. I’ve had just about every stylus out there since I began using an iPad a few years ago, and I can honestly say this is the best feeling stylus I’ve ever held.

I should also note that while I was drawing with the pencil I could feel some resistance or texture. I’m not sure if the pencil’s tip or the screen of the iPad Pro itself is textured, but there’s definitely something there that simulates a drag like you’d feel when drawing on paper, and I appreciated this little detail immensely.

A Device Built for the Creative Cloud

There’s no doubt that Adobe and Apple have been working hard to make sure that the Creative Cloud mobile apps are fully compatible with the iPad Pro. The attention to detail in the UI, how the apps integrate with side-by-side view, and the performance of the Apple Pencil when using apps like Sketch and Draw is unlike anything I’ve seen before. This is truly going to be a device that is built to take full advantage of what Adobe offers in the mobile space, and with Adobe seemingly going all-in on mobile-first workflows, things can only get better from here.

Am I Convinced?

As I said before, I only got to handle the device for a few moments, so I’ll reserve final judgement on the device until I’ve had at least a full week or two to play with it. That being said, I was very impressed with what I saw, and I’m not just talking about the hardware. I was enamored by the reaction of other fellow creatives as they picked up and used this device. I spent almost two full hours at the event, much of that time just watching other people use and interact with the iPad Pro. Each time I saw someone pick it up, I saw their face light up. When they began to sketch, I saw how amazed they were at the iPad Pro’s ability to keep up with them, and the fact that the Apple Pencil could handle so many different drawing positions and techniques without hesitation.

My favorite part of the event was when I stumbled upon a Disney animator who was using the iPad Pro to sketch out some cartoon characters. He had never seen the device before, but he was able to pick it up and start drawing just as he normally would on paper, and it never seemed to slow him down. That’s what I was looking for. Someone who doesn’t use technology every day. When I saw what he was able to do in just a few minutes, I was convinced that this device has a place and a purpose. I was probably sold on the iPad Pro before I walked into that room, but now it’s no longer up for debate. Shut up and take my money!

3D Touch is the Killer Feature of the iPhone 6s


I’ve had my new iPhone 6s for a few weeks now, and while there are a lot of cool things to talk about, the one feature that I “geek out” over is 3D Touch. Admittedly, this is a surprise to me because I never really understood what 3D Touch was supposed to do or why it would enhance my life. I think that’s because the only point of comparison we had prior to the iPhone 6s was the Apple Watch, and I don’t think the implementation of 3D/Force Touch is all that great on that device.

What is 3D Touch?

If you don’t have an iPhone 6s yet, you might not know exactly what I’m talking about, so let me explain. 3D Touch is a new technology built into the screen of the new iPhone 6s devices. When a user presses down with a certain amount of force the iPhone realizes the user is using 3D Touch and automatically triggers a predefined action that the app developer has set up for that app. For the most part it seems like 3D Touch is being adopted as a shortcut mechanism, giving you quicker access to the things you do most with certain applications. For instance, if you 3D Touch the Facebook app on your iPhone, it will display a pop-up window that allows you to jump directly into writing a status, sharing a photo/video, or taking a photo/video to post. This saves you the trouble of launching the app and then searching for the right button to hit once you load it up.

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Within the group of apps I currently have installed on my device there are 30 that make use of 3D Touch in one form or another. While a majority of those apps are pre-installed Apple apps like Notes, Mail, and iTunes, there are a few developers that have started putting 3D Touch capabilities into their apps, and I’m simply loving it.

How I’m Using 3D Touch Today

My favorite implementation of 3D Touch is that of Overcast, a popular podcast app developed by Marco Arment. I listen to a ton of podcasts, and Overcast is my favorite app for downloading and streaming my favorite shows. With the latest update I can now use 3D Touch to resume playing previous episodes, recommend a current episode to friends, view past episodes of the current show I’m listening to, and jump right into the most recently downloaded show on my device. This is going to be extremely helpful when I travel, and I’m already using it quite a bit.

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Dropbox is another app that uses 3D Touch, and in doing so it’s made me use the iOS app a lot more than I did previously. Now a simple touch on the Dropbox icon allows me to search my Dropbox for files, upload a photo directly, access my offline files, and view my most recently added files, all without having to launch the actual app first. I use Dropbox on my iOS devices to move photos around. In fact, the screenshots in this article were synced to my desktop via Dropbox, and using 3D Touch to initiate that process was extremely easy.

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Why You Should Care About 3D Touch

Ok, so what’s the big deal about 3D Touch? I mean, it’s just shortcut, right? Well, yes, but it’s one of the biggest UI changes iOS has had in quite some time. I think it shows that Apple is progressing and I think this iteration of it is just the beginning. As more developers begin to add 3D Touch capabilities to their apps it’s going to make doing work on an iOS device that much easier.

The true test 3D Touch will come with the next wave of iOS devices, like the iPad Pro. As Apple experiments with larger, prosumer level devices, developers will need to find new and interesting things to do with 3D Touch, and that too will push the platform forward.


At the end of the day, for any phone upgrade to be worth it, it needs to enrich your daily routine in some way. Processor speed alone isn’t going to do that, but adding a faster way to access and share information surely will. Originally I had thought that the camera would be the feature I was most excited about on my iPhone 6S, but now it’s clear that I was wrong, and 3D Touch is indeed the killer feature of these devices. I’m excited to see where 3D Touch shows up next and how it will continue to help push the iOS platform forward in the future.

The iPad Pro Isn’t For Everyone, and That’s OK!


Today Apple unveiled the iPad Pro, and the internet lost its collective mind. There seem to be two opinions when it comes to this device, either you’re really excited about it and ordering one as soon as they’re available, or you believe Apple is nuts for making such a stupid piece of… Well, you get the idea. Well, you know what? The iPad Pro isn’t for everyone. In fact, I think it has a even smaller demographic than the Apple Watch or the iPad Air.

The iPad is Either a Necessity or an Accessory

The iPad itself is a device that people either love with all their heart or could easily do without. Some see it as a device just capable enough to replace their everyday computer, while others see it as a fringe device with a very narrow use case. Take that and add in two extra inches of screen real estate and $300-$400 more on the price tag, and you’ve got a device that is going to really only appeal to a select group of folks.

Who’s Going to Buy an iPad Pro?

So, who exactly is this device for? Honestly, I’m not sure, and I don’t think Apple is either. They spent a lot of time on stage today talking about both the consumption and creation features of the iPad Pro, with no real emphasis on either one. To me that say that they’re unsure what segment of their users want a device like this, so to be safe they added equal parts iPad and computer, and they’re content to let the market decide who the target user truly is.

Wait, Aren’t You Buying an iPad Pro?

Yes, I’m buying an iPad Pro, and I’ll tell you why. I’m excited about the possibility of being able to replace my laptop on certain trips. I have arthritis in my neck now, so carrying heavy bags of gear just isn’t something that excites me. If I can do my casual work (email, blogging, etc.) on a device like this and occasionally do some heavy lifting without too much compromise, I’m happy. This device seems to be able to provide that for me, so I’m going see how it goes.

I’m also interested in, but not yet convinced about, the creative workflow possibilities a device like this provides someone like me. I already discussed why I don’t think the iPad Pro is truly a pro-level device, but I am still holding out hope that the developer community will surprise me with yet-to-be-seen app suites and workflows that make this device capable of enhancing my existing workflow. If I could do real work on a device like this, it would make my life so much easier. I wouldn’t be tied to a desk or forced to lug around a 15″ MacBook Pro all the time. Like I said, I’m skeptical that this will happen, but I’d like to give it a try.

The Pencil Costs $100 and the Keyboard is $170?!? That’s outrageous!

Yeah, ok, the price point on these accessories seems a bit high to most people. But if you look at comparable accessories that are out there, a $100 stylus and $100+ keyboard case aren’t unheard of. Adobe sells a $70 stylus and Wacom has one that costs $80. The ClamCase keyboard for the iPad Air 2 costs $149 as well. If you take into account that Apple usually has a higher markup on their own accessories (it’s what we call the Apple tax), you’re basically looking at market value plus $20 for each of these devices.

That being said, this is another area where the target audience of the device comes into question. If this is meant to be a consumer device, I would lean more towards agreeing that the accessories are overpriced. After all, most of the accessories I mentioned above (Adobe stylus, etc.) are products that creative professionals purchase. Therefore I think Apple is banking on that same demographic to purchase their peripherals as well. You’re not losing anything by not purchasing these accessories. The iPad Pro is still an iPad at its core, so you’ll still be able to touch things with your fingers and type on the screen just as you could with any other model. So while these accessories may enhance the experience of the iPad Pro, they’re certainly not a required purchase.

I Don’t Want the iPad Pro!

If you don’t want the new iPad Pro, that’s fine. Don’t buy one. It’s as simple as that. If what you saw and read about today doesn’t interest you, you’re probably not part of the target audience to begin with, so enjoy your regular iPad Air or Mini and go about your life in peace.

I Want the iPad Pro!

Great, so do I! Sadly we have to wait until November to get one, but at least we have new iPhones and Apple TVs to tide us over until then, right? In all seriousness, if you want an iPad Pro, buy one. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a product, even if you’re not sure why you want it. I’m still very unsure on how much I’ll like the iPad Pro or if it’ll even do what I want it to do, but I’m still buying one. Sorry, not sorry.


If there’s one thing I’ve learned, especially after bashing and then falling in love with the Apple Watch, is that Apple is very good at creating products that you might not even know you want or need. They are also a company that evokes very strong, wide range of emotions with each new product they release. Some will love them, and some will hate them. Not every product is for every person, and that is 100% ok. Just because something doesn’t appeal to you, doesn’t mean you have to spoil the experience for everyone else.

My Thoughts on Apple’s “Hey Siri” Event


Apple just wrapped its latest product announcements, so I thought I’d hop on my blog and write up a few of my first impressions. There’s a lot to talk about, as you might’ve guessed, so this blog post might be a little heavy in the word count department. Overall I’m pretty excited about what was announced today, but keep in mind I haven’t seen, touched, or used any of these devices yet, so these opinions are based solely on today’s broadcast and nothing more. You should do your due diligence and read full product reviews before making any purchasing decisions for yourself. Now, that being said, let’s talk about all the shiny new things!


Apple Watch

There wasn’t much talk about Apple Watch today, but it did lead off the announcement, so we’ll start there too. There were a few new watch models announced today, including an Hermès edition and two new sport models in rose gold and gold finishes. There were also several new watch bands announced today including a new Product (RED) band and new band colors: dark blue, light gray, and pastel blue. Apple also announced that watchOS 2 would be available for download on September 16th.

Overall the Apple Watch announcements weren’t that exciting, really. If you’re an existing Apple Watch owner, the new bands might be of interest to you, but the main thing to focus on here is the release and new features of watchOS 2, which Apple did a great job of showcasing during today’s keynote. I highly recommend watching the replay if you didn’t catch it live, so that you can see for yourself some of the new awesomeness that’s coming to the watch in a few weeks.


iPad Pro

This was the announcement that everyone had been waiting for, including myself, the long-rumored iPad Pro. Well, I’m happy to say that it is indeed a real thing and it is loaded with awesome new features and accessories, but it is my opinion that it is NOT a pro-level device. More on that in a moment. Let’s talk about the device itself first. The iPad Pro will have 12.9″ screen, sport an A9X processor, 10 hours of battery life, and weight just 1.57lbs. The screen resolution will be 2732×2048 and contain 5.6 million pixels, which is more than even a 15″ Retina MacBook Pro if you can believe it. The iPad Pro starts at $799 for the 32GB model, $949 for the 128GB model, and $1079 for the 128GB + cellular model. Nope, that’s right, no mention of a 256GB model whatsoever. Bummer.

In addition to the device itself, there are also two new accessories to talk about, the Apple Pencil and the new Smart Keyboard. The Apple Pencil is said to have built-in sensors that detect position, force, and tilt which make it easier to create thinner or thicker lines while drawing on screen. The Pencil will recharge direct on the iPad Pro device with a built-in Lightning Connector as well, so there’s no need for a standalone charger or USB cable, which is a nice touch. The Smart Keyboard Cover mimics the keyboard of the new MacBook in many respects and connects to the iPad Pro via a new Smart Connector. When the keyboard is plugged in the software on the iPad Pro adapts accordingly to remove the on-screen keyboard, much the same as it did in the past with third-party bluetooth accessories. The Apple Pencil will cost $99 and the Smart Keyboard Cover for iPad Pro will cost $169.

Ok, now that we’ve got the announcement part out of the way, let’s discuss this device and why I don’t think it’s worthy of the name Pro. In traditional computing terms, when you attach the word pro to something it means that device is meant for business and/or creative professionals who need an extensible, powerful machine in order to do what they do for a living. Look back at Apple’s product lines through the years. There has always been a consumer-level device (i.e. the MacBook) and a pro-level counterpart (i.e. the MacBook Pro). The pro devices almost always have better specs, more ports, easier configurability, etc. In theory, the iPad Pro fits this model perfectly. After all, it has a bigger screen, more RAM, a faster processor, and these new accessories and features. That, however, is not the problem.

The problem, quite simply, is iOS. Apple excels at dead-simple, consumer-friendly hardware and software interfaces. The best example of this is iOS. If you ask anyone to pick up an iPad or an iPhone, even if they’ve never used one before, and you let them tinker with it for a few minutes, they’re going to figure it out. It’s that easy. However, what makes iOS great for consumers is also what makes it terrible for professionals. The operating system is too simple and not capable of delivering a true desktop-caliber experience when it comes to apps. Many people say that this could be fixed if only developers would devote more time to developing more complex apps, but that’s simply not true. Developers are handcuffed by the limitations of iOS. The limited access to its file system and general computing practices of the OS make it almost impossible to deliver a true conversion of complex applications like Photoshop on an iOS device. Take Adobe for example. They’re trying so hard to push people into a mobile workflow, but look at how they’re having to do it. Adobe is releasing a whole suite of apps that boil down to nothing more than a single/couple of Photoshop feature(s) wrapped in unnecessary individual wrappers. That means for a professional to do real work on an iPad, they have to jump between 4, 5, even 6 apps at a time just to do what one application could do on the desktop. The fact of the matter is that the professional workflow within iOS is just too limited and fragmented for it to ever catch on with real creative professionals.

So, what would make the iPad Pro worth of its name, you ask… Well, that’s easy, a touch version of OS X. That’s it. The only way I think you’re going to overtake the Microsoft Surface Pro and the like, is to give users a true desktop experience in one of these tablet devices. Don’t get me wrong, I think the iPad Pro is an amazing device, and I’m sure as hell going to buy one. But I won’t be using it to do any heavy lifting. I have a Mac Pro for that. The iPad Pro will almost certainly take the place of my laptop when I’m traveling, and it’ll be my daily driver around the house when I don’t need to use pro apps like Adobe Creative Cloud or Logic. For many people I think the iPad Pro will eliminate the need for a traditional PC, and truthfully that’s probably what it is designed ultimately to be, a PC killer. I guess what it boils down to is that Apple and I (along with a lot of folks on Twitter today) have a very different definition of what the word pro means. I’ll just have to adjust my expectations accordingly.


Apple TV

The next item on the docket is Apple TV. For many years Apple has said that this product was a “hobby” for them. I think it’s somewhat ridiculous to call a multi-million dollar business a hobby, but I digress. I’ve been an Apple TV user since version 1, and with every iteration it seemed to get better. However these past few years the Apple TV seemed to get a bit long in the tooth. Apple continued to add channels and services to it, which made you aware of the fact that they were actively working on it, but they never really changed the interface or hardware much. Well, that all changed today. The new Apple TV is here, and I’m happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised at everything I saw on stage today.

The new Apple TV has a similar design to the older model Apple TVs, but it sports all-new internals, a new UI, an app store (finally), and a whole new operating system called tvOS. The main feature that Apple showed off on stage today was the integration of Siri. The Siri service seems to be the heart and soul of the new device, and it allows you to speak very conversationally to your Apple TV in order to queue up the content you’re looking for. There’s also a new remote, which is slim, black, and completely redesigned. The remote connects to the Apple TV via bluetooth, charged via a built-in Lightning Connector, and has the ability to control volume, power, and input switching on your TV, which is a huge improvement over the useless aluminum stick that previously shipped with these devices.

The biggest addition for me is the new App Store for Apple TV, which will include some awesome new games and even home shopping capabilities. Crossy Road was demoed on stage and the developer showed off a new multi-player mode that looked absolutely amazing. The apps on Apple TV are universal, which means you can buy an app once and be able to use it on any of your iOS devices. This is very similar to the Mac App Store, and it’s a huge win for consumers. The Apple TV will cost $149 for the 32GB model and $199 for the 64GB model. I’ll be going with the 64GB model because I’m betting that a lot of the new games for Apple TV will be quite large in size. I’m also hoping that more media services like Netflix and Hulu will add offline viewing capabilities, so I want to make sure I future-proof my Apple TV for when/if that ever happens.

This is just the beginning for Apple TV. There was no mention of the long-rumored Apple streaming service, which I full expect to happen in the near future, and there weren’t a lot of third party apps shown off because the SDK hasn’t been made available to developers yet. Once the ecosystem has time to mature the Apple TV will become the centerpiece of every Apple-connected home. Especially if they add in support for HomeKit and other services that help you automate devices around your home. I look forward to the day that I can walk in my house and have a conversation with Siri via my Apple TV. I want to be able to dim the lights, turn on the tv, and light the fireplace all with the sound of my voice, and it appears that Apple made the first step towards that reality today.



The final items to debut at today’s announcement were the new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, and as expected, they’re pretty sweet too. The phones come in the same sizes as the previous model 6 and 6 Plus devices, but they do have a new rose gold color option this time around. They will run on the all-new A9 processor, making them up to 70% faster than previous models.

The biggest addition to the phones, however, was the camera upgrade. Apple finally ditched the 8MP camera of old and introduced a new 12MP iSight camera on the back and a 5MP front-facing camera as well. With the new camera also comes the capability of creating 4K video with your iPhone and something new called Live Photos, which allows you to capture 1.5 seconds of motion in a scene, making it easy for you to relive the moment in which you capture the original image. These aren’t videos though, they’re photos. You press an hold on the photo to view the video-like capture temporarily. I haven’t read much on this technology, but it was suggested to me via Twitter that this might be a variant on the animated GIF standard. I’ll know more as I continue to research this, but for now it looks like an interesting feature, and I’m excited to learn more about it.

I was curious how Apple would handle the pricing of the iPhone this time around as most carriers in the United States have done away with two year contracts and phone subsidies. While they did list 24 month contract pricing, which remains at the usual $199, $299, $399 price for iPhone 6s and $299, $399, $499 for 6s Plus, Apple also debuted a new “iPhone Upgrade Program” which will be exclusive to its retail stores. With the iPhone Upgrade Program you’re allowed to get a new iPhone every year (Yay!) as long as you pay $32 per month. That price includes AppleCare+ as well, which was previously a separate purchase you had to make. The phone you buy will be unlocked and you’ll be able to select the carrier of your choice for service. This is by far the easiest way to make sure you always have the latest and greatest iPhone, and it’ll be the way my family buys iPhones going forward.

iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan

There wasn’t much talk about the new mobile or desktop operating systems today. For more info on that you can go back and watch the WWDC keynote. There were, however, release dates announced for both iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan. iOS 9 will be available to the public on September 16th, and OS X El Capitan will release on September 30th. Both are free upgrades for existing iOS and Mac OS X users.


As per usual, I’m pretty excited about the new Apple products, and I think overall this is one of the most exciting and satisfying Apple product announcements I’ve seen in quite some time. I’ve always said that the magic of the MacWorld 2007 keynote would never be duplicated, but I think they came close to that level of excitement, at least for me, today. As I said, I’ll be purchasing each of the new products released today and I’ll probably do some unboxing and product reviews here on my blog and on my YouTube channel. Thanks for stopping by and checking out this article. If you have questions, comments, or just want to say “hi” please follow me on Twitter.

How a Single Tweet Made Me an Apple Customer for Life


We’ve all had that moment of frustration with a piece of electronics or software. You know the feeling. Something that is advertised to just work, doesn’t, and you get pissed off enough to rant about it on social media. Well, last week that happened to me when I encountered a problem with my Apple Watch. The digital crown had seemingly stopped working (it was stuck basically), and that triggered things like random Siri queries, app switching, and a bunch of little annoyances that added up after a few days. Naturally, as any entitled millennial would do, I took my frustrations to Twitter. Little did I know that this single tweet would be the thing that etched my Apple fanboyism in stone for good.

This morning I got a phone call from an unknown number out of Sacramento, CA. Fearing this might be a phone call from work I picked up. The woman on the other end of the phone identified herself as Marie from Apple, and she said she was calling in response to my tweet that I had sent to Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. For a moment I thought it was a prank call until I remembered an article I had read a few weeks ago that claimed Cook was indeed monitoring Twitter and reaching out to troubled customers.

During the call Marie addressed my issue, asked several questions to determine what the problem might be, and even walked me through carefully washing my watch to free up the digital crown. All the while she was very friendly, personable, and seemed to genuinely care about my satisfaction. Once my issue was resolved she asked me a very interesting question… Why did you tweet to Tim? Honestly, I didn’t have a good answer for that, but I admitted I was frustrated and that I had heard Apple execs sometimes monitor social and email channels like that, so I figure I’d give it a try. She laughed and said “yes, they do.”

This is a prime example of the great lengths Apple goes to ensure the happiness of its customers. Steve Jobs was famous for actually answering his emails from customers, and now it appears that Tim Cook has inherited that habit as well. Thank you, Apple. Thank you, Marie. And thank you, Tim.

Photoshop CC 2015 Review


This week Adobe officially unveiled the latest version of Photoshop and the rest of their Creative Cloud applications. Now that I’ve had a few days to digest all of the new features and explore them in-depth, I thought I’d give you my full review here on my blog. This release of Photoshop seems to be mostly design-focused, but there’s actually quite a bit in this release for just about any creative professional.

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Artboard Support

Multi-page PSD files have always been a pipe dream for designers, but with the release of Photoshop CC 2015 it appears Adobe has finally heard their cries. I must admit that when I first saw the new artboards in action, I was less than impressed. In fact, I thought they got the implementation wrong altogether. Having been an Illustrator user for so long now, I just didn’t get the choices they had made, but once I got my hands on it… Wow.

The best way to describe artboards in Photoshop is to liken them to the way groups worked in the layers panel in previous versions. Each dartboard acts as its own group and can contain a completely separate set of layers within it. You can open and close the contents of each of your artboards just as you would a layer group as well. This is very intuitive for those that’ve been using Photoshop for several years, and they’ve even made it easy to convert your existing documents that use layer groups into an artboards document.

In order to manipulate and add new artboards you must use the new Artboard Tool, which at first is somewhat difficult to find. It’s nested within the same toolbar slot as the Move Tool, and in order to access it you must either use the keyboard shortcut (v) or press and hold on the Move Tool and then select it from within. I’d say this is the one complaint I have about this new feature right now. Adobe needs to do a better job of making this tool visible to new users, and with artboards being such a big new feature I think it should have its own dedicated slot on the tools panel just like the artboard tool in Illustrator. Granted this isn’t much of a complaint, but it was a significant paint point when I first started using the feature.

Alongside the artboards in Photoshop comes a whole new group of document presets, and for once they actually include most of the modern devices you would expect (even the Apple Watch). This is a far cry from previous versions of Photoshop where the “web” preset contained screen sizes that might have been suitable had it been released in 1997. There are two categories for screen designers called “Web” and “Mobile App Design”. Both of these categories contain a nice variety of screen sizes and devices, so it should be relatively easy for designers to jumpstart their next project without having to worry about plugging in arbitrary numbers into the width and height fields.

Design Space

The second big ticket item in the Photoshop CC 2015 release is something called Design Space. Before we get into what it is and how it works, I think it’s important for you to understand that this is what Adobe calls a “technology preview” which basically means it’s a beta feature that may not be feature-complete right now. That being said, Design Space is a completely reimagined UI design aimed at web/mobile app developers, and while it’s limited right now, the possibilities of this new approach from Adobe are really exciting.

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In order to use Design Space you must first enable it through your preferences (see above). Once enabled Photoshop will then jump you into this new user interface that might be a little alarming at first. The interface is very flat and dark with a minimal set of tools that are meant to eliminate clutter and reduce the normal friction that designers face when using Photoshop proper.

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 12.19.57 PMWhat I like about Design Space is the easy access it gives me to the tools that I use most for wireframing a project. I can draw vector shapes like rectangles and ellipses without having to click and hold any toolboxes or remember keyboard shortcuts, and I love the fact that the selection tool triggers a series of contextual style panels depending on what kind of object you have selected. This makes it transitioning between objects and tools super simple.

Another amazing feature of Design Space is the ability to swap locations of objects. Let’s say, for instance, that you had several buttons laid out in your UI, but the client comes back to you and says he wants Button A swapped with Button B. Traditionally this would require quite a few moves within the layers panel and possibly the alignment panel as well. Now it’s a simple click of a mouse and those buttons instantly swap places. This alone is enough for me to start using Design Space more often.

My only real issue with Design space is its lack of functionality. I can’t quite put my finger on what it’s missing, but it feels a bit incomplete. That being said, I’m well aware that this is just a preview, so I’m sure that this will get better over time as new iterations emerge. For the most part I think this is a solid first start, and I think designers should give it a try if they’re looking for a faster way to work with Photoshop.

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Export Options

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse for the Save for Web dialog box, Adobe delivers a catastrophic blow with its all-new exporting features. They’re touting this as a modernized Save for Web experience, and it truly does deliver on that promise.

You can choose to export single layers, entire artboards, or whole documents using this feature, and it’s accessible either by right clicking on the object you want to export in the Layers Panel or by going to File>Export>Export As. This is the method that gives you the most control because you can specify file type and compressions settings, but there’s also a Quick Export feature that allows you to simply right-click an object in the Layers Panel and instantly save it out as PNG, JPG, GIF, or SVG (depending on your preference settings).


What really impressed me was the new compression capabilities of this feature. In a small test run I was able to cut the file size of a JPG image in half by using the new export features in Photoshop CC 2015 versus that of the Save for Web dialog in Photoshop CC 2014. That might not seem like a huge deal to some, but to web designers who are constantly monitoring file size and trying to trim it down, this is going to be a game changer.

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 12.59.39 PMMultiple Layer Styles

If you’ve ever wanted to add multiple instances of the same Layer Style to an object in Photoshop… Congratulations, today is your lucky day! There’s not much to say here, honestly, but it is worth noting. Now you can add up to 10 instances of select styles to your Layers. The feature is currently limited to Strokes, Inner Shadows, Color Overlays, Gradient Overlays, and Drop Shadows, but for most people I think that’s more than enough. I would’ve been happy with just multiple drop shadows alone, so the rest just feel like a bonus to me.

If you want to apply these new styles simply double-click on the right-hand side of your layer to open up the dialog above, and then click the plus sign next to any of the supported styles to add another instance. Each new style is independently configurable and you can add/delete styles at any time as well. While it might not be the flashiest feature in the 2015 release, this is still a welcomed addition in my book.

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 1.06.42 PM

Glyphs Panel

Finally, Photoshop has a Glyphs Panel! For people who are serious about typography, this is a major addition to the 2015 release, and I am definitely excited about it too. I’ve heard many people gloss over this feature when talking about the latest version of Photoshop, but this feature is something that I’ve been hoping to get for a while now.

The main reason I’m excited about this feature has little to do with traditional typography, however. I’m more interested in its ability to enable me to work more efficiently with icon fonts like Font Awesome. Up until now my Font Awesome workflow consisted of me opening up a web page that contained all of the icons within the font and then copying and pasting them one at a time into Photoshop. This, as you can imagine, was less than ideal, and it was another motivating factor for me to move to Illustrator for my web projects. Bravo to whoever finally pulled the trigger on this one!

Content-Aware Filled Panoramas

Ever since the iPhone gave me the capability to shoot panorama photos, I’ve been hooked. I take panos on al of my vacations and business trips to help me capture more of the scenery around me. Recently, however, I’ve been toying around with shooting panoramas with my digital SLR, which is a little bit more labor-intensive than just shooting with my camera phone. With a DSLR I have to take individual photos and then stitch them together in Photoshop. Don’t get me wrong, Photoshop does a tremendous job of stitching the photos and manipulating the images that it looks like one giant scene instead of several snapshots, but there’s always several areas around the photo that appear unfilled, and that’s always been disappointing to me.

Generally when this happens I would just make a selection of the unfilled areas and then use the content-aware fill option by using the Edit>Fill command. Well, now there’s a little checkbox that allows me to tell Photoshop to automatically fill any empty areas using the content-aware fill method. This is just another way that Adobe is trying to streamline common workflows within Photoshop, and while the content-aware fill isn’t always as accurate as I’d like it to be, I think this little checkbox is a great addition to an already powerful feature.



In every version of Photoshop there’s always at least one “holy s%$!” feature that makes me wonder whether or not Adobe has engineers or actual wizards working in their laboratories. In this release, that feature is the new Dehaze setting that has been added to Camera Raw. Basically this allows you to take an image that normally would look like complete crap and transform it into something a bit more usable. Just take a look at the example above. The original shot almost looked like a complete washout, but after the Dehaze and a little vibrance, the image started to come back to life, much to my amazement.

I’ve found that this feature works really well on RAW images (naturally), but it also does a fairly decent job with JPG images as well. The only difference being that I saw some slight banding in the JPGs that I tested, but that was easily smoothed out by other means later. For wildlife, nature, and street photographers this is going to be a nice little addition to your digital tool belt, and the best part is that you can add it non-destructively as a Smart Filter.

I first saw this feature demoed at one of Adobe’s MAX conferences, and I remember thinking that it was cool, but that it probably wouldn’t ever ship. Well, once again, I’m wrong and this feature is right on the money.


This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the new features of Photoshop CC 2015. You can check out the full release notes here for more information. These are simply the features I was interested in and had time to try. For the most part I think that Photoshop CC 2015 is a solid upgrade for just about any Photoshop user. However, designers were the clear winner this year with all of the new and exciting features that were geared towards their workflow. That is why I said on Twitter recently that this is the most significant update to Photoshop for designers in a very long time, perhaps even since Layers were introduced. Adobe has laid a great foundation on which to build new and exciting things for the design community, and I fully expect that to continue in the future.

I’ve seen many people discount this release because they didn’t feel like Adobe added anything for them specifically. What you have to understand is that Photoshop has become a bigger animal than we ever imagined it could be. You might even argue that too much has been added to the program over the years, and I’d have a hard time disagreeing with you. That being said, look at all the enhancements Adobe has added to Photoshop and the Creative Cloud as a whole over the past two years. They’re iterating at a faster pace than they ever have before, and I think they’re doing one hell of a job at keeping up with today’s creative workforce. It’s also important to remember that while this is the official 2015 release of Creative Cloud, we will undoubtedly see more updates before 2016 rolls around. That’s the beauty of the Creative Cloud platform, really. Adobe can drop features whenever they want, so don’t be surprised if you open up your apps later this Fall and see a whole slew of new updates waiting for you.

I Want to Be a Designer… Do I Need to Go to College?


Do I have to go to college if I want to be a graphic designer? This is a question that I hear on almost a weekly basis. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as cut-and-dry as one might think. These days the rules are much different than those that governed the workplace even five or ten years ago. Do you need to go to college? Well, maybe, and maybe not.

Some Thoughts on College

Before we get into the nitty gritty of where I stand on this whole issue, let’s talk about college for a moment. I’m on record as saying I’m not a big fan of the traditional education system, but college has much more to offer than just education. College is a great place to find oneself and figure out what it is that you’re destined to become in this world. I made several life-long friends while I was in college as well, and I can’t overstate the importance of having a support circle like that in my life.

College isn’t just books and tests, it’s preparation for life, really. Going to college is oftentimes the first experience of really fending for yourself. There’s no one there to get you up in the morning, cook you breakfast, or do your laundry. Mom is usually hundreds or even thousands of miles away, and that can be both liberating and scary at the same time. Even though I don’t think a lot of what is required to “succeed” in college is relevant to the real world, I do think that there are certain intangibles that you get exposed to along the way that make the experience worthwhile to just about anybody, no matter of what area of study you’re interested in pursuing.

Choose Your Path

The first question I ask people when they ask me whether or not they should be attending college is what type of designer they want to be. Do you want to work freelance? Or do you prefer a corporate environment? This is, in my opinion, one of the first decisions you need to make when deciding whether or not you should attend college as a graphic designer. You can always change this choice down the road, but the initial choice will determine much of what you need to do next.

If your choice is freelance, I would argue that you are not required to go to college. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go, but you’re much less likely to need that piece of paper when you’re meeting with clients than if you were trying to get your foot in the door at a big agency. Freelance work is all about the portfolio, and answering the question of “can you do this work?” for your clients. I did freelance work for a few years and not once did a client ask to see a resume, transcript, or diploma before I got the job. All of them, however, asked to see my portfolio.

The corporate world is much different than that of the freelance world. You get the benefit of a steady stream of income, health benefits, time off, and many other perks not afforded to freelancers. However, the corporate world is still ruled by a lot of people from a previous generation that still firmly believe that a college degree makes you better-suited for a given position. In the freelance world the designer with the best portfolio and most competitive rates often wins. In the corporate world, if two designers have comparable portfolios and interview well, the deciding factor more often than not is who has a degree. Until there’s a changing of the guard, college is still a must-have credential in this environment.


As I said at the beginning, there’s no clear-cut answer to this question. Ultimately it’s up to you to decide what’s best for you and your future. Personally, I think you’d benefit greatly by attending college. There are several things you can educate yourself on while you’re there that will help make you a more rounded designer, like marketing, finance, and public speaking.

Many people ask me if I had it to do all over again, would I have gone to college or would I have just become a graphic designer? My answer to that is simple… I didn’t become what or who I am today until I went to college. The knowledge I gained, the experiences I had, and the friends I made all contributed to the successes that I’ve had in my life since then.

Do you have to go to college? No, you don’t. Should you go to college? Well, that’s a complex question that you’ll need to ask and reflect on yourself.

How to Work From Home Without Going Crazy

Young man screaming

This past year I made the decision to leave Southern California and relocate to Nashville, TN. In doing so I left the 9-to-5 work environment I had known for nearly three years and became a remote worker for the first time. The transition was tough and full of mistakes, but now that I’m settled in I think I’ve figured out how to survive in the remote employment world. In this article I’ll share with you what I’ve learned in hopes that it’ll help your transition when/if that ever happens.

Create a Schedule and Stick to it… No Apologies

Tennessee and California operate in different time zones, which means my day starts about two hours earlier than that of my colleagues. The problem I had, however, was that I would attempt to not only work my full day at home, but also cover the additional hours of the Western work day so that I was accessible to my co-workers.

This isn’t sustainable, so eventually I had to just come to terms with the fact that if I was going to work alongside my colleagues, I had to alter my schedule. Instead of starting my day at 9AM Central Time, I opted to begin my work day at 11AM CT, which is 9AM PT. I told myself it was ok to start my day later, and that I realized that going out to breakfast or running errands beforehand didn’t actually make me a bad employee, it made me more productive in the long run.

In addition to altering my working day timeline, I also decided I was going to have a hard “clock out” time every single day. This enabled me to completely shut down for the day and detach myself from work. Previously I had the luxury of leaving an office and driving home, but now I’m merely a few steps away from my office at any given time. Allowing myself to “punch the clock” gave me a sense of completion and allowed me to walk away without feeling guilty.

Have an Office… Go to the Office

No, I’m not saying you need to rent a space to work from, but I do think having a dedicated working space in your residence is a must. Don’t just try to do your work while laying in bed or sitting on the couch. Find a quiet spot in your house that you can work from, set it up as a work-only environment, and make sure that it’s use exclusively for that.

Remember, you don’t have a commute anymore, so you have to trick your brain into thinking the short walk from your bedroom to your desk is the same thing. By quarantining this area off and using it exclusively for work you’re telling your brain that it’s time to get stuff done. If you try to work from your bed, chances are you’re just going to wind up taking a nap.

Put Your Clothes On

When people hear that I work from home they inevitably say something like “oh, it must be great to work in sweats all day, huh?” Well, honestly I wouldn’t know. At first, yeah I tried it, but it felt awkward and I quickly changed my routine. I treat every day as if I’m going to the office now. I shower, shave, and dress just the way I would if I weren’t working remotely. You’d be amazed at how normal this will make you feel and how much of a sense of purpose it creates in your mind.

Understand It’s Ok to Have a Life

Fear is a big part of learning to work from home. I was fearful of doing anything outside the scope of my job during the work day, and that was miserable. Figuring out it was ok to walk to the mailbox, go grab lunch, or do a load of laundry while a project is uploading was a big relief for me. Nowadays I’m ok with taking my dog to the vet, answering a phone call, or simply taking a 15 minute break to watch the news. There are times when these things come up at the office, and it’s acceptable to take care of them there, so why wouldn’t it be acceptable at home too?

If you’re going to be “out of office” for an extended period of time, just make sure that you’ve communicated that to your team ahead of time. Being a remote worker already carries with it a stigma that you’re just sitting around watching TV, so the more you can do to let people know where you are and what you’re doing, the better off you’ll be.

Talk to Your Teammates

The thing I miss most about working in an office is the face-to-face interaction with my co-workers. Human interaction is something that we crave on an unconscious level, and not addressing that need can have a seriously adverse effect on your new at-home lifestyle.

Our team(s) at lynda.com make heavy use of online meeting platforms like GoToMeeting and Google Hangouts. I have weekly 1:1 meetings, monthly team meetings, and on-the-fly meetings regularly with my colleagues using these systems and it’s a great way to fill the void that is left when you start working by yourself. Make sure that you get down to business in these meetings, but put in a little time for casual conversation as well. Ask your co-workers how they’re doing, what’s life like back at the office, and let them know how you’re doing as well.

Communication and face time is probably the most important thing about remote work. Without it you’re pretty much guaranteed to fail. If video conferencing isn’t an option for you, just use a good, old-fashioned phone call. Hearing someone’s voice isn’t as good as seeing them face-to-face, but it’s certainly better than nothing.

Become a Slave to Your To-Do List

As a remote employee you’re not going to have a manager looking over your shoulder every day, but you’re still going to have to get things done. Find a way to schedule out your tasks, whether that’s using a to-do list app on your phone, writing things on a whiteboard, or simply covering your desk with post-it notes. Your days should be filled with what I call “baby step goals” that help you achieve progress towards a much larger over-arching goal or project. Set yourself a daily target and mark your progress in your to-do list. Accountability is your responsibility now, so become your own micro-manager.

Create the Illusion of Activity

Some people can work in complete silence, and while I appreciate a lack of interruption, I still like ambient noise of some kind around me while I’m working from home. If you are the same way, you need to find yourself a way to make your deserted island feel like a co-working space. One thing I’ve found that works well is Coffitivity. This web app (also available on iOS) is great for creating a real-world feeling in your otherwise isolated environment. There are days when I’ll actually forget I’m working alone because this service does such a good job of capturing the sounds of things like a restaurant or coffee shop. You may not like it, but finding something similar will really help you, I think.

Go Outside

This sounds simple, but seriously, go outside. Let your mind wander a bit and enjoy a little fresh air. This is a great way to break up the monotony of the at-home-work lifestyle. If going outside is difficult (maybe you live in a high-rise), open a window. Sunlight and breeze can really change your mood and enhance your working experience.


This is by no means a template that is set in stone. Every situation is different, and what works for me may not work for you. Working from home isn’t for everyone either, but just know that it does take time to truly find your groove and get to a place where you’re comfortable. Hopefully some of these tips will help you in your transition, and if you ever want to chat about remote work or ask me some advice, my door is always open!

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