Slamming Into Walls

I wrote a post about how much I love and use my iPad Pro and shoot down some of the myths about doing Real Work(tm) on an iPad. The thought process behind this current post, was a long decision made quickly. It was a difficult decision as I spent a lot of time reconciling where I believe the future of computing to lie, and the reality of where computing is. The hard fact is, I can’t currently do everything I want to on an iPad. Updates to iOS or the iPad Pro hardware may well ease some of the frustrations I have with iOS, but I need to solve problems with today’s solutions; not hoping for tomorrow’s1.

So, I bought a MacBook Pro, Late 2016 model.

Before this sounds like one of those “Guy Goes iPad-only; gives up and goes back to the Mac” let me dispel that notion: I still use my iPad as much I did. It is still my primary writing and drawing tool. I sat in 16 hours of discovery sessions recently and the only time I used my Mac was when I was in a weird sitting angle. The Smart Keyboard still isn’t good for using the Pro on the lap. When I go to work on stuff, assuming it’s something the iPad can handle, it’s the device I reach for first. I’m writing this post right now on Ulysses on the Mac2 mainly to get the feel for the app, and to get used to the keyboard.

In that post, I hinted at something like this the line: I can’t currently go iOS-only. I still use a Mac. (…) Certainly, my use of iOS will only grow over the years. Right now, when I hit a wall in iOS I don’t graze it; I slam right into it.

The other school of thought I have with iPad-only is this: The more you control the output of your job from start-to-finish, the more success you will have with the iPad.3 My day job requires collaborating on Visio diagrams. If I were a consultant whose final output was a PDF of the diagrams, I could do it all on OmniGraffle on the iPad.

The last time I got a computer for power it was in June 2011. I got a MacBook Pro 15” — the 2.0GHz model with the 256mb video card. I was getting divorced at the time and was in a housing situation that was fluid. My ex and I were trying to give each other space, so we were frequently at other houses. I was also wrapping up my degree and needed a computer to work anywhere from. I loved that Pro. It’s one of the last where you could replace the hard drive, RAM, and even take out the optical drive and put in a data doubler to get a second drive.4

A few years later, a sequence of tech failures at the Casa had me hand down the beloved Pro to my mate and I got an 11” MacBook Air. When I got the Air, I made a conscious decision to sacrifice power for portability. iOS wasn’t yet at the point where I could even think about using it for work, and my iPad was an iPad 3. Those models were pretty much doomed to be slow from the start.

But, a lot of the barriers to getting work done on iPad started to go away, and last year I was able start using my iPad Pro as my main mobile device. While the iPad is still a device I will use every day, as I mentioned in the Year with the iPad Pro article, some gaps remain between the iPad and macOS. For those, I needed to turn to the Air and the MacBook Pro. Lately, though, they were starting to get too slow for me to get work done. The close to final moment came when I was sorting through some DNG files — not even in Lightroom mind you; Quick Look — on the Pro and the lag, sputters, and fan noises were too much to take. Neither of them had Retina screens and that was starting to drive me crazy.5 Even with an SSD in the Pro, the slower Sandy Bridge processor was starting to show its age. The Air ran a little bit faster, but not much. I needed a Mac. I got the 15” Pro with a 512gb SSD drive. I thought about the MacBook Adorable, but felt it was too slow for my needs.

There are a few things I do that I need a Mac for: working in AutoCad; Lightroom; and programming iOS and macOS apps. I’m not expecting to be able to do these tasks on an iPad for at least 2-3 years.

I feel the biggest thing holding the iPad back is software. Not once have I felt my iPad Pro was slow. Here is a good example of a use-case where you think the iPad would do ok, but for ease of use I chose the Mac: Presentations for grad school. My presentation style is heavily-influenced by Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen. Lots of images; little text. Almost all of my fonts are non-standard fonts. My last presentation used ChunkFive and ComiCrazy. Adding fonts on my Mac is easy. I have the system Fonts folder on my sidebar in Finder. I drag the fonts I want to add there. I download images I find on Google to the folder for the presentation. I download more images than I use. I then drag them into PowerPoint.

On the iPad I ran into a couple of problems. Adding fonts isn’t natively supported. Instead, I use AnyFont to create a profile on my iPad for each font, and sometimes font style (bold, etc). This was annoying. I also found out the hard way that PowerPoint on iOS ignores the custom fonts anyway, so I’d have to build the presentation in Keynote6. I could save the images to my Photos library but I don’t want to pollute it with images I wouldn’t hang on to7. I can use a menu in Keynote for iPad to insert images from iCloud Drive (or any cloud storage), but it’s a painful process. This is likely to change with iOS 11 and Drag and Drop. My next class, though, all bets could be off. I may be on a different team and not have as much control over the slides as I do now. For the last presentation I also downloaded a song from the internet and cut out all but the first 30 seconds of it. I probably could have used GarageBand on ioOS to do this.

What is frustrating are the things you would think would be pretty easy on an iPad, but aren’t. On iOS in Pages and Word, I cannot edit or create document styles. It will accept custom styles in a document I created outside of iOS, however. I had a 12-page paper that I wrote almost entirely on the Mac. I am running the iOS 11 beta 1 on my iPad and I didn’t trust an important production document to a beta. A blog post, sure. Something that is 20% of my grade with a hard due date? Nope. The other reason is Word for iOS has just enough limitations that I didn’t want to run into a wall. I can’t seem to adjust the spacing between paragraphs, for example. I can adjust the overall line spacing, though. I also couldn’t adjust the margins of the document. The professor had stringent formatting requirements and I was unable to make the adjustments on the iPad. I may have been able to use Ulysses to do this. The instructor was firm on .doc formatting, so it was safer to stay native in Word.

I played it safe this semester at school. It was a 14-week class jammed into 10 weeks and I had no time for any false starts. There were a few times during class – including one emergency during a group presentation – where I was damn glad I had the MacBook, and that it was in my bag. Without the group presentations I probably would have felt more comfortable using the iPad more. Since half the assignments were group projects, it was just easier to have the Mac as the central source for working on school.

  1. Most of this was written before the June 5, 2017 keynote. My original point stands about the situation when I got the Mac. That said, while iOS 11 helps with this, it doesn’t solve all the problems.
  2. What’s really funny is, right after I typed that in Ulysses crashed. It’s never crashed on iOS.
  3. Assuming it’s not a technical job like application programmer.
  4. A friend at work is a big Mac fan, so I packed it up and gave it to him. I wanted it to find a good home.
  5. Every now and then, I wonder how getting the baseline 13” Retina MacBook Pro back then would have made a long-term difference.
  6. This would add another layer to sharing the file with classmates.
  7. Plus, when I was adding images into the slides when collaborating with team mates, I didn’t want them to see my personal photos.
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