iPadOS Finally Makes iPad Worth Considering for Professionals

iPadOS Finally Makes iPad Worth Considering for Professionals

After a few compatibility and speed tests, for the first time, I will be leaving my laptop behind when I go on a seven day trip out of the country later this month. It’s all thanks to iPad’s new iPadOS, which this year will provide support for external drives and a group of other pro features we’ve been starved for since the iPad first came out.

The latest operating system for Apple’s iPad was renamed iPadOS (from iOS) to separate itself further from that on the iPhone and to signify increasing changes to the features allowed on iPad’s larger, more powerful platform. While some of these features will also work on iPhone (including external drive support, although possibly only for less power-hungry drives) through the general iOS 13 iteration of Apple’s mobile software, the new tricks are generally more capable on the iPad.

What's New

iPadOS includes a more powerful Files app with support for connecting to external drives and even external servers (NAS users will love this). It also allows more options as far as side-by-side, picture-in-picture (PIP) and floating windows, much in the way you might use a proper computer. You can drag and drop application windows and files between them easier than ever. And new shortcuts for copy, paste, undo, and redo finally make tasks that are simple on a computer equally simple through an intuitive touch-only interface should you not have our keyboard handy or engaged.

In addition, you get full desktop-class Internet browsing with Safari on iPad. While this at first seemed inconsequential, especially since I usually value mobile-optimized pages given that they’re generally designed better for the platform, actually using the new Safari on iPad proves a night-and-day difference. This is the way it always should have been. Buggy user interfaces on mobile for websites such as when working with WordPress editors and ShipStation’s back end work like a charm. Even in the beta, I haven’t had any issues so far aside from a few application crashes here and there (to be expected for an early beta).

Meanwhile, smaller features like Sidecar let you natively extend your MacOS display using your iPad screen. Custom fonts across various apps (including Mail, finally), zipping and unzipping compressed files, new keyboard shortcuts, and newer, more robust video and photo editing round out features that finally make iPad something professionals should — and rightly will — want.

Speed and Functionality Tests

As a quick test, I wanted to see just how well external drive support would work. With the latest iPadOS Beta update, Apple included APFS drive support (APFS is Apple’s latest SSD-optimized file system). I loaded my Samsung T5 SSD up via its USB-C connection and dragged over a 30 GB folder of images. Nearly three and a half minutes later, the transfer was complete at an average rate of just under 160 MB/s. Because both the T5 and the USB-C connection can support faster transfer rates, this seems to be the limitation of the iPad’s internal storage transfer rates. If not, this could also potentially be improved in a future software update, but 160 MB/s isn’t too bad and is certainly healthy enough for basic file backups, card offloads, and just about anything else you’d want to do on the go. For the record, smaller drives and SSDs worked well, but my monster 4 TB portable hard drives did not mount. This may be due to power constraints, but could also simply be something corrected or improved in future software releases.

With that out of the way, I opened up Adobe Lightroom on the iPad and did find a few issues for an otherwise ideal workflow (these aren’t bugs, but rather missing features for Lightroom itself). A follow-up post to this will soon dive into a workflow for working with Lightroom between mobile and desktop systems that I’ve found works well. But there is a way to do it, and it’s all thought out fairly decently. I don’t anticipate any issues on the road with an iPad-only experience. Sure, I’ll miss the full Lightroom Classic and Photoshop CC a bit, but soon enough, that last one will land on the iPad as well.

What I Liked

  • USB-C external drive support is probably the greatest flagship feature, here (even if it's late to the party)
  • Files app and iPad local storage opened up more
  • Additional keyboard shortcuts and gestures increase productivity
  • Sidecar display extension feature has potential to make iPad a better tablet than what's likely on your desk currently
  • Mouse support and better Apple Pencil latency
  • Support for connections to networked servers
  • Better support for multiple and side-by-side windows of different apps or even multiple instances of the same app

What I Didn't Like

  • USB-C drive support still lacks ability to power larger hard drives (at least in its current form)
  • Could have faster SSD and/or file transfer
  • Mouse pointer/cursor is ridiculously large (Apple is obviously still pushing for iPad being a device that doesn't require a mouse by really making this about accessibility as much as possible)
  • Lack of support for pressure sensitivity will likely keep Wacom around (at least for advanced tablet users)


Before this, I was squarely in the camp of thinking that the iPad was an awkward device. Everyone needs and has a smartphone. And most need and have a computer. Then, there are a select but sizable few that don't need a computer and could get away with "just" a phone and an iPad for an augmented web or video experience on the go. Aside from that, and outside of enterprise uses such as in small business, medical, aeronautics, various field-based reps, etc., iPads were for lay people that wanted a bigger screen on the plane without needing to bring a heavy laptop when traveling. Come this fall, that will have completely changed. Even features that seem subtle such as iPad's Sidecar feature will likely be a direct hit against competitors such as Wacom and its standard tablets and Cintiq touch-enabled displays alike.

At the end of the day, I likely won’t do too much editing on the go anyway. But to know I can do it well from an iPad and finally have all the proper backup tools I need is huge. Sure, you could transfer files from an SD card to an iPhone or iPad for years, now. But to have access to virtually unlimited storage, better cross-system integrations, professional-level web browsing and text editing, and more away from home and without a proper laptop will be a game-changer. Maybe Apple finally earned the right to ask what its lofty “What Is a Computer?” iPad ads asked a few months back. At the time, the spot felt a bit early with the iPad’s limitations. But now these features are finally around the corner, and it’s a fair question: What is a computer?

Apple currently offers iPads from the Mini to the iPad Pro, of which I would highly recommend the 11-inch iPad Pro, starting at $779. The need for higher tiers of storage is thankfully alleviated with these coming updates (available now if you're willing to try the public beta), but should you want more internally, you can go up to 1 TB. If a nearly 13-inch screen sounds better for you, go for the larger iPad Pro that starts at $959. You can save more by going for previous-generation models as well, but keep in mind only the latest iPad Pro features a USB-C connection, which will likely give you the greatest flexibility with external drive connections.

The new iPadOS will be released this fall to the public and is currently in its second developer beta and first public beta. It is not recommended to download any beta software on a work-critical device, as it is completely unsupported and still somewhat buggy across the board.

Adam Ottke's picture

Adam works mostly across California on all things photography and art. He can be found at the best local coffee shops, at home scanning film in for hours, or out and about shooting his next assignment. Want to talk about gear? Want to work on a project together? Have an idea for Fstoppers? Get in touch! And, check out FilmObjektiv.org film rentals!

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This is the next thing...I don't travel with a laptop anymore. iPad Pro and a wireless WD HDD. With the new iPad OS I can actually ditch the wireless HDD and work directly off a collection of SSD portables directly attached.

RAW images edit just fine in Adobe's mobile apps..bonus for those using Fujifilm RAW files..Lightroom actually sharpens them correctly without workarounds unlike the desktop version.

4K footage edits NP...faster than my MP workstation.

The future.

Have you not seen the Surface?

Yup, I've used one since 2016 and it sucks as a creative tool. Nice productivity machine though.

The iPad with the upcoming OS is far more portable and useful (to me) and it's operation is smoother, faster and far more intuitive. Try sketching on the Surface and then try it on the iPad...world of difference. The latency sucks....retouching is painful.

The Surface lets you use a mouse/trackpad and has a full OS on it with a real file system. I have not had a latency problem with the pen.

Why do you need a mouse or a trackpad?

The entire screen is a point of contact/control and in the case of the iPad Pro...great precision.

iPAD OS will be a system unto itself with a file organization support.

My brother...don't take my comments the wrong way. I think perhaps you are looking at it in terms of your legacy pc experience. I too was reluctant. I've had every iteration of iPad in the house for years and still used that MS Surface...until last month when I took the iPad alone on a overseas assignment. Night and day experience and it connected directly to my Fujifilm X-T3.

The files transferred so fast I didn't have time to mix and Rye and Ginger from the mini bar. Editing video/stills was just as easy and quick...plus I synced them to all my devices within an hour. By the time I got back to Canada it was all nicely backed up with my preliminary edits to the NAS...

Why do we have to explain why would we want to use mice?

Because he stated it like it was non-existent on the iPad. I pointed out that the device has the exact same points of contact and control.

I find a mouse much more precise than a finger and it has multiple buttons and a scroll wheel. To each his own.

I find that I prefer managing, locating, moving, copying, deleting, whatever my files. IOS just does what it wants with them and doesn't allow many operations.

I like to able to choose default programs for a variety of things. With IOS, you can choose anything you like as long as it is the Apple app.

I like to have multiple programs running at the same time and put them where I want on my screens.

I have an iPhone and have used an iPad and they are great for what they are, but they are a bit hard-headed and limited compared to a device running a full OS. But they are slowly copying Surface over the last few years and getting better, I guess.

I did too...until I started using Wacom Tablets and Apple Touchpad. Now I have both built into the iPad directly.

Not saying it's for everyone but don't make up your mind until the new OS functionality comes out.

I tried the beta....we are almost there. The promise of what the iPad could have been over two years ago if it wasn't held back by Apple.

By the way...the iPad operates as fast if not faster than most laptops...and the 120hz screen is amazing... 600 nits of brightness. Wide color gamut....win

My Surface Pro 4 i7 with 16gb has no latency, as for ipad operating faster than most laptops ? That, of course, depends on which laptop you compare it too..

Three thoughts:

1) HDDs with greater power requirements can be used with a hub that allows the iPad to be powered at the same time the drive is connected.
2) Be aware that iPads w/o a cellular receiver also lack a GPS chip. Anyone who imagines using the iPad for navigation as well as image/video editing should get a cellular-capable device even if they're not planning to activate the cellular receiver.
3) Fuji users in particular should be aware that while iOS 12 supports RAF files it doesn't support compressed RAF files. :-( I have not read anything to suggest that this changes with iOS 13.

Until they make an iOS version of Photo Mechanic or an equivalent, the iPad hasn't been a useful tool for me.

External drive support was never an issue for me as the SanDisk iXpand has been a great solution for backing up photos.

With the Ipad pro 2017 and ipad os can you connect hard drives and avail same functions as above?

Most interested with. Sidecar. I have both Duet and Astropad but i’d Like to see how fast Sidecar is since they are implemented (allegedly) at the OS Layer instead of being a regular app. Would that also mean that when wired, my iPad Pro will act like an eGPU/display combo?

I'm the only one that still has no issues carrying a MacBook around, even for flyaway jobs?
I still use my old MacBook Air from time to time if I want very lightweight tethering or edits, still does fine on D850/Z7 files, even stitching panoramas.

Not knocking the idea of doing it all on an iPad Pro, I haven't tried the setup yet, just not sure what the clinchers are to make me want to swap.

Just curious, what year is your MacBook Air?

2011 I believe.

Just my experience. I bought an iPad Pro recently, since I shifted my workflow to an MacBook Pro, and though that just one ecosystem was teh way to go. And boy, post-processing wise..... I miss my Surface Pro spool much :(, you do everything on the road,with a smaller footprint. I love the iPad Pro to consume media, not to produce it.

To make it useful for me is going to take some Adobe intervention. Unless I can leave my raw files on an external drive and simply sync my iPad catalogue to my CC Classic catalogue without having to upload and download raw files to the Adobe servers, I'm not interested. I want to be able to unplug my SSD from the iPad Pro. and plug it into my home computer or laptop and just have LR locate the files.

I've had no issues with my Surface Pro 6 (quad core) and if you put in the soft tip for the Surface Pen it's miles ahead of the still too slippery Apple Pencil. OTOH I appreciate the USBC charging, long battery life, instant on and strong media credentials of my iPad Pro 12.9.

If Apple/Adobe let me keep my raw files on my external SSD when importing to a catalogue I'll give the iPad Pro another serious look as a travel device.


Will this allow us to use wired tethering to the camera?

I wonder the same—it appears like this should work... as long as the software is written to do that. See the new Hasselblad app.

It may with the right app...

I'm curious about the speed of backing up images. Could you possibly connect a usb hub and try a speed test while transfering images from an SD card to your SSD?

Don't currently have a USB-C hub or the right female/male adapters for my other hubs, but I will look into this ASAP.

In your testing, did you test writing back to the SSD Drive? I've been doing my own limited testing on the public beta and have found that moving/copying to the iPad is very quick from both SSDs and Flash Drives (as noted >100 MB/s). However, moving/copying from the iPad to the SSD or Flash Drive is painfully slow (less that 5 MB/s). This is extremely disappointing to me, as one of my biggest hopes for External Drive support was the ability to backup, or offload, video files and photos when I'm done editing them.

For reference, I'm using an 11" 2018 iPad Pro and tested using direct USB-C connections and also through a USB-C hub (hub doesn't seem to impact transfer speeds in either direction).

My test drives were either FAT32 or exFAT, so I'm wondering if a different file system (maybe APFS) shows significant improvement on this? Any information you can share on the iPad->SSD speeds?

This is disappointing, but I would take it with a grain of salt. I did just try it now and thought I'd respond ASAP. Looks like an APFS SSD helps, but it's still quite a bit slower to write out from the iPad to the SSD...you're right. Looks like 2.5x longer on my end for this. But I have to believe this is software-related (and beta-software-related at that) just because it doesn't make sense the iPad would have such a slow read-from or transfer-out speed. The bus should provide the same speed each way. And the drive in side the iPad just HAS to be faster than this. But it is surprising to see it be such a big difference, even in a beta. Will definitely have an update after future releases...

I'm looking forward to reviews using Lightroom for IOS. Also, I believe the new OS will support a mouse. If I can batch process WB with Raw files with halfway decent speed and hand off external drive to my assistant for final editing, I'll ditch my MBP.

Now all I need is CamRanger to come out with their new model so I can transfer to an iPad for tethering.

I would like to know how you might be able to Copy images from a SD Card to the EXTERNAL SSD via your iPad Im guessing you will need a duplicate or Y adapter.. Will that work?

I will try this soon and will get back to you on whether or not it works (at least with the latest beta). But normally, I would personally most likely just transfer from the SD card to the iPad directly, work off that, and then offload to an external drive when I'm done with it on the iPad. But in any case, could be useful to do what you're suggesting, too.

I hope this thread isn't too old to ask a question. I am totally not an apple guy except for an I phone. Am interested in the Ipad 9.7 for backing up photos, primarily moving files from an SD card to an external hard drive. Will a powered dongle be required for this? If you can't power the unit what happens if you run out of battery in the middle of a transfer? TIA.

Most SSD drives (to my knowledge) can run off the bus power on the iPad Pro. Larger two-drive systems or bigger spinning drives might have issues (I couldn't get my 4 TB Seagate Fast with 2 portable drives in one enclosure powered). Additionally, I'm not sure about the 9.7" iPad. Regardless, you shouldn't have issues moving files from an SD card to the iPad itself with Apple's Lightning to SD card adapter (I've been doing this for years even with my iPhone). But then you'll want to see what drives work with your iPad to offload it to those once iOS 13 is out. I would hope Apple would eventually provide more documentation on this...but who knows?

i guess my concern is that Lightning gives you less power than the USB-C the pro has, so it might not be possible to load copies onto an external drive (which would give you a copy on the ipad and one on the external drive). And then you would have to download from the ipad to a jump drive to get them on your main PC? Thanks for the help!

I think you'd always be okay with any single SSD. But HDDs might be difficult (even for small ones) on Lightning...

Exactly. That's what you'd want (or upgrade your iPad and use USB-C... ;-)).

unfortunately the more expensive I-pad's don't offer near enough utility to justify the price. i will be sticking to windows for anything more involved than simple stuff. i don't care for the apple mindset - "you can do anything you want as long as you do it exactly the way we want you to". But thanks very much for the help, think i'll be getting the 9.7 this weekend!

iOS 13 now makes it possible to copy from SD cards to laptop hard drives using just a powered USB hub without a computer/PC/laptop/Mac. Finally! I made a how-to video to show how: https://youtu.be/21O64lMAXZk