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A smarter iPad could be my work-from-home savior

Commentary: The next iPad Pro may have trackpad support at last. That's one of several things I need for an office-less future.

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I put the iPad Pro on a Google Pixel Slate keyboard with trackpad in 2018. I'm still waiting.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I left my office at the beginning of the week and haven't been back. I have a few things I grabbed, but forgot others. Like my CNET colleagues, I'm working from home now. I'm getting by.

A lot of things I need are in the cloud, and any laptop can work in a pinch, including my five-year-old MacBook Pro. But the iPad remains a tool that's so close to being a perfect work life raft... and yet isn't.

It looks like the iPad is finally getting the trackpad I wanted for years -- eight years after I wished for it. A recent report from 9to5Mac says that iOS 14 should finally be baking in support for trackpads and mice on iOS, and presumably iPadOS. This software update should enable mice and trackpads to operate an iPad like a laptop, which is, well, something I've wanted since 2012.

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The iPad's a perfectly great device, but what holds Apple's tablet back is extendability. (I wished for these things back in 2019, too.) Options, both software and hardware. Ports. Things like trackpads. But it's also more than that. The iPad, especially the iPad Pro, should connect to whatever keyboards and trackpads I want. It should dock easily and transform into a multimonitor device if I need it. I should expand up big, or fold down small. It should be a gateway to transforming into any type of computer I need. 

The iPad Pro has gotten closer to that, but I've never felt more like it needs the rest of the pieces than I do right now.

Read moreThe best tablets of 2020

iOS 13 came close

iPadOS 13 introduced mouse support, but only for accessibility purposes. I tried using it, and it works -- but only for single-click functions, and with a giant cursor. It's meant for those with special accessibility needs. It's not a flexible mouse replacement. For instance, that giant cursor largely functions like a tapping, clicking virtual finger replacement, by design. But that's not how I use a trackpad. I make quick, small gestures, conjure additional actions. It's a well-seasoned tool just like a keyboard.

The more advanced Safari browser on the iPad is also better, but it still doesn't easily allow the types of extensions that my work laptop has. For some things, like particular workplace flows that I get used to on a laptop, the iPad's weird multitasking ways are their own annoying language. When I keep things simple, I fare best.

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Art apps, of course, are amazing. Many apps are.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The iPad's ready to be far more than a single-tasking tablet

"Scott," you're going to yell at me, "the iPad multitasks." Yes, but only on its own terms, and with particular apps that allow split-view functions, and apps that have extensions ready to work, and with a Files app that gets ornery and doesn't always allow easy organization. I still end up doing one thing at a time and then flipping over to the other app. It doesn't feel the same.

And also, for monitor support. While a monitor can be connected, the iPad doesn't recognize that monitor as a true extension like a PC or Mac. I can't make a super desktop, or easily assign what goes where. Some apps allow multiscreen functions, and many just mirror the iPad. I should be able to connect one (or even two) displays on a powerful iPad Pro if I want. Even one, that acts like my regular monitor and Mac, would make a big difference.

The iPad Pro was a great start but now it's a year and a half later (and 10 years since the iPad launch)

The 2018 USB-C enabled iPad Pro debuted in October 2018, and it's already March 2020. That USB-C supported redesign with Face ID does a ton of things right, and a new Pencil was a welcome refinement with its side-charging features.

Apple may pursue more AR features on the next iPad, even adding a 3D depth-sensing camera array. That's fine, but I'd still like to attend to more practical and still unavailable functions.

But what about other accessories, or a way to smart-connect or dock other new peripherals? What about, even, an iPad version of the MacBook Touch Bar (I'm serious, don't scream at me), which I hate on the Mac, but might be helpful on an iPad to extend some touchscreen menus off the display? Or, a far more intuitive mini dock system to connect other items, instead of dongle-hunting? 

And I still feel that iPadOS, while different in name and increasingly different in function than the iPhone's iOS, is still too similar. The grid of apps, for instance. I love the pull-over widgets on iPadOS 13, but I want even more of that. The iPad's home screen should be fully flexible, not just a launchpad for a grid of squircle icons.

It's been 10 years since the iPad arrived. I bought that iPad in 2010, ready for a whole new future. It's 2020 now, and that future still isn't fully here yet. It's time to get there, especially now that I'm working on the go, unsure of when I'll feel ready to have an everyday desk again.

Read more: This is the gear you need to work from home