It’s been a funny old time for the iPad recently, hasn’t it? We’ve received a 10th-generation iPad which appears to occupy a position in the lineup no one was asking for, and the iPad Pro continues to go absolutely nowhere.

Despite this, I believe the iPad mini remains the star of the lineup – just pipping the brilliantly-priced and thankfully still-available 9th generation iPad to the top spot. This is for one very simple reason: its size and speed enable the iPad mini to switch effortlessly from regular iPad duties to the best digital note-taker on the planet.

My love for the iPad mini has always put my iPad Air in a tricky spot; I’ve never really known what to do with it. I’ve dabbled with using the Air as a writing device for these blog posts, I’ve switched to it for photo editing, and I’ve even applied a Paperlike screen protector to see if it can tempt me away from the iPad mini.

Alas, none of that stuff has ever stuck. Apart from the Paperlike. I’m here all week.

Until now. Because I think I’ve worked out how to turn my iPad Air into a productivity beast.

Putting the iPad to productive use

I feel I should clarify what I mean by ‘productive use’ when it comes to the iPad.

My 5th generation iPad Air is encased in a white Magic Keyboard (you know, the one without the function row keys). That’s its permanent home – it never gets removed, which means, for me, it really does occupy the role of a laptop replacement. It’s a device I should be able to take with me to a coffee shop instead of my M2 MacBook Air.

To ensure that’s possible, I’ve given it a tightly defined list of tasks. The first and most obvious is the day-to-day stuff – email (via Spark 3), diary management (via Fantastical), and my task list (via TickTick). That keeps my day in check, and my mind focused on the current priority.

Next up, we have writing, which is undertaken within the brilliant Ulysses for these blog posts, and Day One for my journal. The iPad Air is also a device on which I can manage my content pipeline and all of the nuts and bolts under the hood of Mark Ellis Reviews, via Notion.

It hosts my second brain, too, now that I’m using Apple Notes to save and curate every useful (and not-so-useful) idea or tidbit of information that comes into my head.

Lastly, my iPad Air is home to YouTube Studio and Twitter – two windows into the world of my channel, following, and the countless social interactions I manage each day.

My iPad Air productivity configuration

As you might guess, there’s more to this iPad Air than the apps I’ve just mentioned, but this brings me to the way in which I’ve configured my Home Screen.

There’s nothing on it, bar wallpaper depicting an early morning sunrise in Amsterdam, and the dock (which I wish you could resize, Apple!). This mirrors the cleanliness of my Mac desktops. Bar a shortcut to the main drive and a couple of production folders to which I need regular access, they’re always free of clutter (yes, I’m the sort of person who shudders when I spot a desktop with an unkempt, disorganised pavement pizza of folders and files strewn across it).

I’m not sure what impact this sparse iPadOS personalisation has on my productivity, but it does centre me immediately and feels far less daunting whenever I sit down to work. The wallpaper chills me out and the absence of countless app icons ensures my brain remains focused on whatever it is I need to crack on with.

The iPad Air does occasionally get used for media consumption. At lunch, for instance, I might grab ten minutes to drool over Peter McKinnon’s latest four-wheeled purchase. Equally, I may need to dip into Google Maps or find a specific image from my Photos library. While those apps aren’t immediately present on the screen, they are still in the App Library and quickly accessible via a Spotlight search.

In fact, the more I use this new iPad setup, the more I’m considering removing even more apps from the dock to make them only accessible via Spotlight.

Does it work?

So far, so good!

For the last few weeks, I’ve turned to my iPad before anything else at the start of each day. It has everything I need to get cracking, and it’s all immediately available without a single distraction.

In truth, this is no different to the way I set up my Macs, which still begs the question: if I wasn’t in the fortunate (read: expensive) position of owning all these Apple devices, would I really need both an iPad Air and an M2 MacBook which essentially occupy the same role within my business?

Probably not – and that’s still the challenge Apple has with the iPad – it remains tricky to find a productive use for it that justifies the outlay if you already have a computer.

Your mileage may vary, though. If you’re currently struggling to find a place for your iPad, or if you find that its many apps, capabilities, and facets keep distracting you, I’d recommend giving my barebones approach a go.

Go on – remove those apps from the Home Screen. Only fill your dock with what you absolutely need on a day-to-day basis. Make everything else accessible via Spotlight and promise yourself you’ll only dive into that area when you absolutely need to.

Then, report back and let me know how you get on, please!

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