How to work efficiently across Mac, iPad, and Windows


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Apple’s ecosystem is famous for allowing work to move from Mac to iPad and vice versa, but you can still incorporate other platforms into your computer setup. How to work as smoothly as possible when everything is spread on Windows, macOS and iPadOS.

A typical computer environment usually involves one central work area with other devices on the periphery. This can be a Mac or MacBook that can connect to iPhones or iPads that happen to be in the local area, or for some users working primarily from an iPad Pro.

How Apple has designed its entire ecosystem enables almost seamless transitions between one workspace and another. If you work on a MacBook but want to switch to an iPad, Apple allows you to migrate what you do to the other screen.

In an ideal world, this would be as hard as it gets, but reality offers many more obstacles.

For example, a superuser might end up with a MacBook Pro and a Windows PC as their primary workspaces. Or maybe they have a PC and an iPad that they split their time between, with the latter acting as the more portable workspace.

It can also happen in the workplace, with some users on Windows systems and others on Mac, and the two user groups have to collaborate on tasks.

It can be scary in this situation, but things have progressed over the years to make it reasonably easy to allow Windows PCs and Apple’s ecosystem to come together. Here’s what you need to know about Windows Mac-iPad cross-platform work.

Apps without borders

The first thing to consider is the software used for your work, which may be a minor issue than you may be aware of.

For many types of work you will find the same large work suites and collections that are used most of the time. These are well-established tools that most people will have heard of within a particular industry or even across multiple sectors.

These suites can include all-inclusive elements such as Microsoft Office or Adobe Creative Cloud, where many apps are available for different tasks. Then there are widely used individual apps, like Slack and Zoom, which have become invaluable tools for many industries.

Most of these widely used tools are designed to be multi-platform with the same or similar tools available in macOS and Windows compatible forms.

Adobe's Creative Cloud apps include Windows and macOS compatible versions and even work with mobile-specific apps.

The development team will also try to ensure that there is as much compatibility as possible between platforms so that you can perform tasks without interference. Just as Slack users can talk to each other on different platforms, you can just as easily open a Photoshop file generated on a PC on a Mac and know that it opens fine.

Even in cases where there is an app for one platform but not the other, such as a tool on Windows not found in macOS, you will be able to find something similar with most of the options you need. For example, while Photoshop exists on macOS, the standalone image editing app Pixelmator Pro is also capable of opening and saving documents as Photoshop-compatible files.

Then there are mobile apps, and since iOS is a major mobile platform, developers have created iPhone and iPad compatible versions of their apps. You can really work anywhere you want, even from a smartphone or tablet, especially for many common tools.

Years ago, compatibility would have been an issue. In 2022, that is hardly a problem.

Cloud services

While working on the device is important and sometimes mandatory for tasks that require lots of processing or complex actions, not everything has to go through an app. In an ongoing effort to help users get the job done wherever they choose, developers should also turn to taking advantage of Internet access and cloud services as part of their offering.

For users, this means two things. First, apps could have a always-on component where data is sent to and retrieved from cloud services.

Such services, which may include messaging clients and tools with large amounts of communication elements, could use a lightweight app on the user’s hardware so that the heavy lifting has to be done online. This can benefit users by enabling server-side changes instead of, for example, pushing app updates.

This also means that users’ data is constantly online, accessible from various platforms on which the app is installed. Creating a document on a PC may result in the same document being immediately accessible and editable on the user’s iPad.

Slack works primarily as a cloud-based app, and works in a web browser as well as via mobile and desktop apps.

Slack works primarily as a cloud-based app, and works in a web browser as well as via mobile and desktop apps.

The second thing is the development of web apps, or apps found in a browser. If you can access Safari, Chrome, Firefox, or any other browser and have your account information at hand, you can sign in to online accounts for any of your tools without having to install a platform-specific app.

While you may not necessarily get all the functionality of a browser version of an app rather than one with a dedicated app, you will probably get most of it. For communication tools, you may also be able to take advantage of a browser’s access to the device’s cameras and audio, allowing calls and conferences to take place exclusively in a browser.

There are other benefits to this approach, such as being an extremely easy method that does not consume much in the way of local storage or resources. It even allows users to log in from a borrowed computer to perform an urgent task and then log out, leaving no real trace of their activity on the hardware.

It may not necessarily be the best solution for some industries, such as those that handle huge amounts of data or with higher security requirements than usual. Yet cloud services have their place.

Sharing and accessing data

The big perceived problem with working across platforms is the need to have data that can not only work across multiple devices, but also move. With ample platform support from your tools or from apps that support files generated by these tools, the first problem is largely solved, but the movement is not completely solved.

In the case of tools that are highly cloud-based and browser-based web apps, there are no issues as the data is handled in the cloud by default. For apps that rely on saving files locally or in a custom drive or folder, it becomes a bit more difficult.

Using things like AirDrop may work well enough for transfers between a Mac and an iPad, but it still blocks Windows systems out of the equation. You still have a few options here, with some better than others.

The obvious way around is to rely on cloud storage services as a central repository for your data. There are many different cloud storage providers out there, including Apple’s own iCloud, which can act as an efficient local drive for storing files, which are then synchronized with cloud servers when changes are made.

Cloud storage services like iCloud and Dropbox can serve your files to virtually any device.

Cloud storage services like iCloud and Dropbox can serve your files to virtually any device.

This approach is good, but you have to pay a monthly fee for that storage capacity. You should also keep in mind that it will not be the fastest warehouse to access, at least compared to more localized approaches, and it depends on you having enough bandwidth at hand for it to be viable.

For smaller data storage requirements, cloud storage is fine. If you are working on items that require gigabytes of capacity, you will need to search elsewhere.

The next thing would be to take advantage of local area networks in your home or work and have a data warehouse on the network. With it available to all devices connected to the same network, it meets the requirement of available to all hardware.

This method will also be faster for you to access files than cloud storage, with most home networks operating at gigabit speeds. There is also no need to worry about external bandwidth requirements or even transfer caps for connections as it is all delivered from the internet.

If you are smart about setting up storage space on your network, you can even access the store away from home using your internet connection.

Going down this route requires that there is some kind of storage connected to the network. This can range from using storage on an old computer and turning it into a file server or sharing folders from one computer to be viewed on others over the network.

If sufficient budget is available, it may be possible to obtain a network-connected storage device (NAS). In fact a file server, it acts as a block of storage on the network that is accessible to everyone locally.

A NAS device could be a central repository for all your data on a network.

A NAS device could be a central repository for all your data on a network.

There are some pitfalls to this approach, such as the initial setup of getting either your Windows computer or your Mac to see shared folders on the other, or the relatively high cost of buying a NAS and storage space for it. However, the relatively high speed of data transfers across the network and minimal running costs will be enough of a gain for most.

Finally, the most obvious and probably simplest way is to use external drives. Much faster than sending files over a potentially congested network, using external USB-C or Thunderbolt drives provides both capacity and speed as well as physical portability.

This is an absolutely great way to handle large enough amounts of data as a one-person outfit or with a small group of people, especially for things like video projects or with very sensitive data.

That

The “sneaker core” still exists, but you probably will not rely too much on external drives to share data.

However, you still need to manually connect and mount and remove and disconnect the drive on each system you want to use it on. There is also no possibility to access the same data on two devices simultaneously.

Also, if you do not have sufficient backups available, you may lose your data if you lose that drive.

AppleInsider recommends the approach of network storage or shared folders for those with higher data storage requirements. It may be more of an investment of time, resources and funds, but it will be the better solution in the long run.

Work the way you want

Over the past decade, the computer industry has been pushing hard to make apps and services available on as many platforms as possible. Instead of requiring users to meet the minimum requirements and specific hardware and software, the same apps seek users out wherever they happen to be working.

Workplaces have also experienced a change in work styles, with a more widespread use of apps that are multi-platform and do not worry too much about which platform is actually being used. This is especially true in light of the massive shift in technology to encourage working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There has been an embrace of apps as a platform in itself, making it less of an issue if the user is on Windows or Mac, or if they are at a desktop or mobile. Since 2020, employers have been forced to make monumental shifts to enable that way of thinking.

There is no reason why users in 2022 can go the same way with their computer setups.

William

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