Sacred Places of Work

I wanted to move game playing out of my home office and transform the area into a space where I would just focus on work stuff. Paint my miniatures, write, draw, work on my trains, or learn to program. Have something to show for my time. So, I bought a PS4, put it in the family room, and moved the Alienware off my desk. All that remained was the iPad, MacBook Pro, and a sacred place of work.

My home office is amazing. We had it painted recently, there isn’t much in the way of decorations. I look out at 57 acres of woods, and several times a week see the local wildlife in the back yard. I have two work surfaces: a large desk that is the 3rd generation in my family; and an IKEA dining table that I use for painting my miniatures and working on my trains. On the desk is my MacBook Pro, the 27” monitor hooked up to my Alienware Alpha, and the related chargers and cables.

The first paragraph was written earlier this year. The second one a week or so ago. An astute reader will notice in the first paragraph the Alienware was off the desk, and in the second paragraph it came back. The problem with bad habits left unchecked they come back like weeds. The painting happened in early June. The Alienware was put away when I got the PS4 in December 2016. By September, it had crept back on my desk like a pile of kudzu. I’m looking at the 27”monitor right now and thinking: that right there is a big bucket of fail. The foundation of bad habits is lies and false promises you make to yourself. I just put that there to have the game on. I want a big screen to watch the drawing tutorials on. It’s out of the way and you hardly notice it.

I used to follow the Minimalists a lot (my full feelings on them is a future article), but one of their mantras is if you lead a distraction-free lifestyle free of things like video games, the TV, the internet, and cell phones you will miraculously find yourself an amazingly productive person.

Bullshit. Hard work may pay off tomorrow, but procrastination pays off today. If I feel like writing and drawing, I will. If I don’t, I won’t. The beauty of personal side projects is there are no deadlines. The curse of side projects is there are no deadlines.

Instead of Minimalism, I instead try and follow simplifying and the essentials. Minimalism feels like paring down too far. A minimalist may have only one Lightning charger, but I have five: one at my desk, one by my bed, one in my car, one at my desk, and in my bag is a set of MacBook and Lightning chargers. It’s not minimal, but it is simpler. Everywhere I need a charger there is one. Because it really sucks when you run out of juice someplace and realize you left the charger the last place you were at.

Likewise, my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook are essential. The Alienware and the 27” monitor are not and will be removed. The rest of the desk will be clean, simple, and essential.

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I Write Because I Have To, and the Realities of Writing on the Web

On a good day, this blog gets tens of visitors. Whenever I check the WordPress stats — which I assume to be slightly accurate — I ask myself: is this even worth it? Ben Brooks doesn’t look at analytics anymore. I’m sure he gets feedback on how well a post is received from Twitter or emails. My posts go into an internet black hole. Maybe twice a year I will get some feedback or a retweet or something.

I write these posts because I have to. The idea comes into my head and I will have trouble sleeping until the post is published. I don’t agonize over it. A lot of these posts sit in draft form until I’ve got the idea in a good enough shape to publish. In Ulysses I have a folder labeled Abandoned. The posts that I am never happy with go there. I rarely look at them. It could just be something that typing up felt good enough, or the circumstances that lead to me writing the post changed, or I just gave up. Usually posting is the end goal; sometimes just writing it is enough.

Like most writers, I dreamed of going independent. Daring Fireball was a great inspiration, and it’s hard not to look at the success Gruber has had and think: that could have been me. It takes talent and luck to make it. Gruber has had both. No sour grapes there1.

The last time I was paid for my writing was back in 2014. I wrote some for-pay articles in 2015, but Gigaom closed down with a balance due that was never paid. In 2011, the company I worked for laid off its entire Tech Ops team. Over the next two years, the only employment I could obtain was short-to-medium term contract work. What little freelance work I was able to do made a difference. Stephen King said in On Writing something along the lines of: If you received a check for your writing, and you used that money to pay a bill, you are a professional writer. I paid plenty of bills with freelance checks.

The measure I used to determine if I could become a full-time independent worker was if I earned enough each month to pay the mortgage for six months in a row2. I never made the mortgage one month, forget six months. The closest I came was around 2009. At the time, I was writing about video games, and if you added up the hours I spent playing the games and writing the copy, my hourly rate was under what I’d make working minimum wage. Writing for tech sites was a better time to income ratio. My tech articles only took 3-4 hours to write. Maybe a little longer if I needed to review a product. It still worked in my favor compared to an MMO review.

After Gigaom shut down I didn’t look too hard for another freelance gig. Macworld had laid off a lot of staff so there was a glut of Apple-based writers available. One outfit contacted me asked what I made per-article for Gigaom. They never replied when I told them.

So, I started a site (thecasualtechie) to sort of try my hand at getting my own site going. The internet advertising model is pretty much non-existent. I didn’t feel comfortable trying to line up sponsors to pay to advertise on a site that no one reads. If I were trying it today, I would probably start a site whose focus is solely on iPad productivity. I still might. The mantra has always been: write good content and people will come. Few people want to pay for content online. Internet advertising doesn’t pay much, and I’d want to control the ads that appear on my site anyway. Affiliate link commission keeps declining.

I liked having a side hustle. The income from my writing paid for my tech toys, which lead to articles about how I used them. One of the themes I had for 2017 is trying to work on some sort of a model that paid. I liked writing an article and getting paid for it. But, it was a 1 to 1 relationship. Write an article; get a check. I never wrote one article and got two checks. I’m out of the freelance game anyway. In addition to the rates being low, almost every site I worked for actually getting paid was a hassle. Invoices would be tied up, lost, not paid. Promises would be made; these promises were then broken.

As I look ahead to writing, my goal is some sort of passive model. Self-publishing is the likely solution, but It also has long odds. I’m not sure how I’d feel about pouring thousands of hours into a book no one bought. Fiction stories don’t kick at me to be born the way these posts do, but a few ideas are stirring. Maybe there is a story in there trying to get out and I am ignoring it.

This is a post with no answers. It’s not a cry for help. I’m not looking for advice on how to (air quotes) Build a Brand. I just had to share about writing on the web in 2017.

  1. As an aside, I miss the old Gruber. He used to write more original pieces. Now, he just posts a lot of links with some inline commentary.
  2. Granted, just making the mortgage wasn’t a survivable wage. It was a data point that if I could make that amount on a part-time basis, I could probably earn enough to live doing it full-time.

iPad Life: Managing the Creative Process and Focusing on What Matters

I’ve had a running category tag on this site for a while labeled iPad-only. I’ve been inspired my Ben Brook’s iPad Productivity Reports, and Matt Gemmell’s series on going iPad Only. For a while, I’ve wanted to write a little more about how I use my iPad, so I’m starting this irregular series I’ve dubbed iPad Life.

Unlike Matt and Ben, I am not 100% iPad-only. Outside of the day job, even in my personal life I can’t go iPad-only. I run into enough challenges like de-DRMing my Calibre library, downloading some files off the internet, Photoshop filters, and 3D modeling tools to go iPad-only. It’s bothered me, in a way. A big step was getting my head around the idea that by using my MacBook for things I need a Mac for wasn’t betraying the cause of an iPad-only lifestyle; it was just using the proper tool for the job. This is just life and efficiency. Especially on a school project, sometimes it was just easier to open up the MacBook and do the task than fuck around with bending iOS to my will. I’m looking at you, WebEx app.

When I settle down to do any sort of creative endeavor, the iPad is the first device I reach for. It’s the best way for me to write and draw. I consider the 12.9” iPad Pro to be the canonical iPad, and I think an Apple Smart Keyboard are required accessories if you want to use the device for productivity. I also consider Ulysses, Procreate, Linea, Affinity Photo, OneNote, and Graphic to be my essential apps. Those apps let me focus on what matters: creating. It is a rare day I intentionally leave the house without my iPad. There is a cafe near my house I love to go work at. The coffee and food is great. There is a little alcove off to the side where I can have a little bit of privacy.

One of the things I love about the iPad is how it lets me manage my creative process. There is a great TED Talk by Adam Savage where he goes into creative obsessions. In it he mentions he has a folder on his Mac where he is constantly dumping images and creative things that inspire him. I have something similar on my iCloud Drive. What I love about the new split-screen features on iOS 11 is it is now very easy to just grab an image I like off the internet and drag it into a folder. I have folders for art I like, reference images, miniature painting references, and stuff that like that. Grab, drag, and drop. Articles I find of interest go into Instapaper and Evernote.1 When I need to reference something, I can split screen it to the drawing app, or full screen it if it’s a reference image for a miniature or a train detail I am working on.

This is the iPad’s superpower. It removes a lot of the friction to my creative endeavors and lets me focus on what matters.

  1. The reason for Evernote is archival. I enjoy Instapaper’s reading experience to Evernote, but I’ve noticed Instapaper has to redownload the web site if I reinstall. If the article is lost to history, so is my Instapaper archive.

Playing “Paper and Pencil” Dungeons and Dragons on an iPad.

This is probably one of the more geeky posts I will write. I’m going to go over how I play pencil and paper D&D on my iPad Pro. This post will focus on playing as a regular person; not a Game Master. That may become a separate post.

Twice a year I go to a local gaming convention, TotalCon. For a while I played D&D exclusively. Then for a few years I did board games only. Last year I did a mix of the two. I like running and playing the board games my regular gaming group doesn’t like to play, but I’ve missed playing D&D. Last year I played D&D twice and had a good time. This past weekend they held a one-day gaming event and I got a day of D&D in.

I’ve used my iPad to manage my characters as best I can for a while. D&D 4E was an almost impossible to manage system. The paperwork required for skills, magical effects, and the other minutiae pretty much required access to Wizard’s online character portal. Fortunately, it was pretty easy to get characters in and out of the website. There was an app I had on my iPad that let me handle the day-to-playing of the character. I could track damage, what skills I used, and had a one-button reset of the skills. It worked great.

D&D 5E went back to a more basic play style that did not require as much care and feeding. Wizards also put their online portal into abeyance1. That was fine, since there is a lot less shit to manage these days.

There is also a log sheet we are required to keep. It tracks the module we have played, how many points and gold we were awarded, and any items we received. It is rare any one looks at the sheets, but every now and then someone shows up with an over-geared character and some review will need to happen. What is nice is, only officially-published modules are legal for you to move your character around from place to place. So, it is easy to verify if a module gave out a certain item. For this, I just used a Numbers spreadsheet. Each character had a tab andI would update it.

Most people at the cons use some sort of paper-based character sheet. I don’t like this because I am pretty much anti-paper, and I’m always afraid I will forget (or lose) something I need to bring to play. By storing all the information in the cloud, it is fairly safe and I always have access to it.

The last two times I played, I just used a form-fillable PDF to track the character. This worked out pretty well, It looked good, and it was easy to find stuff. What I noticed both times I used this was my battery life took a big hit. I can’t tell if the app I stored them in wasn’t good at memory management, the app is constantly trying to sync to the server and therefore draining battery, or that’s the nature of pegging the iPad hard. In February and this weekend, each 4-hour session of DND would leave me with around 40% battery. I couldn’t make it through an-all day event. Fortunately, I have a decent battery pack and I can fast-charge my iPad. If it just happened this weekend, I could write it off as some sort of iOS beta weirdness, but in February I was running a release version of the OS.

So, when I got home from the con this week, I decided to roll everything into a Numbers sheet. I found a decent Excel sheet online that I made a few modifications to, and reworked some of the cell functions that may not work properly on the iPad. I also copied the log sheet into its own tab on the document now. So, everything I need for that character is in one place. I am hoping the low graphic footprint of the Numbers sheet also helps battery life.

What is also nice is it is pretty easy to find PDFs of the sourcebook on the internet2. The guy running one of my games was very impressed with how fast I could look up something. He had a suitcase full of stuff. I just had my iPad.

  1. A new version is in beta, but I’m not thrilled with the pricing. That said, it is a great way to quickly handle some of the math behind your character and speed up the leveling process.
  2. Yes, these are PDFs that have “fallen off a truck.”

A Deeper Look at iWork and Office on iOS for iOS-only

Today, I’m going to look back on the last semester of grad school, and how I would do things different if I was iOS-only. This is the benefit of hindsight. Paths seem clearer when looking back.

In my recent article on Slamming into Walls, I mentioned some issues I had with Office on iOS. A summary of the problems:

  • Cannot edit (or create) styles
  • Does not see side-loaded fonts (I was wrong: it does see the side-loaded fonts. It just dumps them in its own “iOS Fonts” section of the app.)
  • Does not complain about missing fonts
  • Cannot edit document margins

Team Collaboration: The biggest barrier to iOS-only

There was one statement I had on the article that will be relevant to the entire piece: The more you control the output of your job from start-to-finish, the more success you will have with the iPad.

We did three group presentations in this class. The presentations were the one thing that made me hesitant about iOS-only. How PowerPoint handled the custom fonts was pretty poor. I ended up just being “the PowerPoint guy” so I didn’t have to deal with round-tripping files with team mates. I probably could have gone iOS only on all the presentations.

However, where the wheels came off the bus was WebEx. One day, we had to meet via WebEx because we were all remote. The WebEx app on iOS is a blight on humanity for a presenter. I had to send the PowerPoint file to the WebEx app, and it just showed in a scrolling view. Not slides. It just looked like a PDF in preview. It also lost all custom fonts. This app would be a deal-breaker for going iOS-only.

In hindsight, I would create the presentations on the Mac again. In the collaborative setting it was the path of least resistance. I would hate to slow up a working session because I was fighting through some iOS issue.

Writing Papers:

Word and Pages both pissed me off on iOS for different reasons. Word pissed me off because I couldn’t edit the margins. Pages pissed me off because it cannot have one page in a document set for landscape, and the rest portrait. I had one paper that required this format. In Word (on any platform), if I used footnotes it messed up the bottom margin setting and I had to do a custom margin to get it to a true 1” margin. In Pages on iOS I would could do this. One way around this was to not use footnotes. Which would be ok, since I use footnotes and more of an editorial aside. The other weird formatting issue is that professor wanted the bibliography single-spaced, but with an extra line in between entries. On the Mac it was very easy to adjust the paragraph formatting for that section to have 12pts of space after every carriage return; on iOS I couldn’t do that and would have to manually add each return.

The other part of this is storage. I used both iCloud Drive and OneDrive to store all the related bits for class. The Apple way is to have individual components in the app’s folder: Pages stuff in the Pages folder, PDFs in my PDF reader directory. On iOS 10, this is the best way to do it. I found it easier to use OneDrive and dump all the various bits into an OBC500 class folder. The Files app on iOS 11 may change this a little. A part of it is going to take a mindset change as well. The good news is iOS 11 will be out long before our next class, so I will have some time with the Files app.

While both apps pissed me off, the one paper that had the funky formatting required would require me to use Word if I was iOS-only. However, I was far happier with iCloud syncing in Pages. There was one time I was working on the paper on the train and the smart move would have been to have Pages download the file from iCloud, work on the paper, and then have background sync upload the changes when I got on WiFi.

Citation management is actually pretty easy on iPad. It’s the one area I expected to have the most problems, but it ended up being the easiest. I used EasyBib on the web (not app)1 for all my citations. It made referencing web sites and books simple. Just enter in the URL or book name and EasyBib looks up all the information. When you are ready to insert your bibliography just go to Export, and choose Copy and Paste. A separate web view opens. Select the text and copy it into Word and Pages.

I wrote three papers in the last semester. All of them I were candidates for completion on the iPad. The only one that was a little harder was the one with a single landscape page and the rest of the document portrait. Word can handle this perfectly. The issue of adjusting the margins was a minor one. While I tweaked it, submitting it as-is was fine also.

Submitting Papers

It’s also nice that now Safari understands the radical notion of uploading files. Submitting the papers on the iPad would be fine. Reading the feedback from the instructor, however, was a big problem.

The way feedback was provided was entirely within the web front end of Canvas. The Word file was marked up within this web view. On iOS on both Chrome and Safari, the frame where the paper (and feedback) is displayed was cut off. Requesting a desktop version of the page didn’t work. Viewing the grade in the Canvas iOS app didn’t work. Other than the WebEx thing, viewing the teacher’s feedback was the one area where iOS-only slammed into a wall. I just couldn’t find a way around this.

The Next Class

I’m not sure how the next class will go. We don’t have a start date or syllabus yet. Based on how this class went, I think my iOS-usage will go as follows:

  • Writing Papers: I will most likely do all of these on my iPad.
  • Presentations: Solo presentations I will likely do on my iPad. Group presentations will remain in PowerPoint on my Mac. If we are collaborating on PowerPoint files, I will also use fonts available on our standard Windows build at work.2
  • Submitting: Either or. Doesn’t really matter
  • Reading Feedback: Unless the instructor supplies a marked-up Word file, I will have to read the feedback on my Mac or work laptop.
  1. On the iPad Pro, the app is a dumpster fire. It is locked to portrait and looks ugly on my 12.9″ iPad.
  2. The course I am in enrolled in is a benefit from work. All of my classmates were co-workers and the teachers come to us for the classes.

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.

WWDC Hot Takes

So, a few quick words about the WWDC stuff. I’m not going too mention the WatchOS and tvOS improvements. I love my Watch, but few of the improvements interest me. I do not have one of the new Apple TVs.

High Sierra

A lot of under-the-hood stuff. It feels like Apple is definitely going into a tick-tock release schedule for maOS. This is the “tock” year. I like the better Messages storing across the board. Faces in Photos syncing across devices is nice also. The Safari auto-blocking auto-playing ads, and blocking tracking is nice.

VR is long game, but I felt this year is where Apple worked to shoot down the “Mac can’t do VR” argument. Plus selling an eGPU for $600 is nice. Metal 2 is nice, but not a lot of games I play take advantage of Metal anyway.

iCloud file sharing is a welcome addition as well.

What I was expecting, but didn’t get, was a way to use your iPad Pro as a sort of Wacom tablet.

iOS 11

So, in general the iOS 11 stuff is nice. The iCloud stuff across the board also included iOS. Better Control Panel interface, and the new Camera features are awesome. Camera will now help you take better photos of things like waterfalls. That was a great demo about the setup required for those types of photos. Instead of screwing with aperture and shutter speeds, you just press a button.

However, if what Craig talked about for iOS 11 was it, I was going to start a blog post titled, “Apple to iPad Pro Users: Fuck You.” Another year with no iPad-specific features would have made me walk away from the iPad as a productivity tool.

We got some nice features for iPad users, though. The Dock at the bottom now stores more apps. I can fit 15 apps on my 12.9” iPad. There are also 3 slots to the right of the Dock where the last 3 apps you have launched are stored. Oddly, Apple still has the same icon spacing on the Home screen. I think the Dock is where Apple wants you to store your apps now. It gets a little crowded with a lot of apps. What is nice, is the app order stays the same when you rotate the screen. This does eliminate one of the chief problems I had with the iPad: when I rotated it, my app placement would change. It was messing up my muscle memory. What I am going to do is put my 15 most-used apps on the Dock, and keep the 2nd tier apps in folders on the second screen. That Dock on the bottom is going to take some getting used to, though.

The Dock will be important because Apple finally, finally, made significant changes to the god-awful app switcher. Now, the primary way to bring an app up into Split View is to swipe up at the bottom of the screen to un-hide the Dock,and drag the app up into the workspace. Apple also now remembers your app pairing in something akin to Mission Control. You activate this but sliding up more when you show the Dock. It’s like a two step process: slide up to show the Dock, slide up more to get to Mission Control. You can also drag-and-drop between the two apps. It’s a fairly feature-rich drag-and-drop. You can grab multiple files and drag them into a mail message. It seems like it’s all still within Split View, so that may take a little bit to get used to.

Scanning documents and then signing them is amazing. The biggest problem with any of the scanning apps was getting the crookedness out of the scan was kind of a pain in the ass. The inline marking up across the board was nice. PDF editing in iBooks was interesting. I’m not sure how you’ll get the PDF out of iBooks, but I haven’t tried that.

The Files app is Finder for iOS, but they didn’t call it Finder. I remember a few years ago hoping Apple would create a Documents app to store this stuff in. Now, they have. The Files app will also work with cloud storage providers like OneDrive, Dropbox, and Google Drive once the providers make their app compatible. The Files app works weirdly. I like that you can now have a Favorites area, where you can store oft-used folders and files. I like I can select multiple files. What I don’t like is that a long-standing problem I have had with iOS still exists, and in fact, is worse. When you add something to iCloud Drive via the document picker, it expands every fucking folder on your iCloud Drive. The only thing that made it useable was I could name a folder @something and it would stay at the top of the list. Now, those @something folders are buried in the mess that is the expanded drive. It’s just an useable mess. Also, in the Files app if I select a file and choose move (which brings up that fucking interface), everything but the folder (and sub folders within) the file resides in are grayed out. I have to add the target folder to the Favorites. Dragging the file there copies it, instead of moving it.

The iPad as a Productivity Device

We are getting there, though. I’ve got a longer piece sitting there half-edited about the reasons I ended up buying a MacBook Pro. Most of those reasons remain, but the pain of working on an iPad starting to go away.

The Files app is a big improvement, but it has some pains that need to be overcome. If I navigate down to a Word file in Files to open it, it is opening iThoughts for some reason; not Word. I can copy it to Word, but I can’t right now edit-in-place a Word file in iCloud. Maybe Microsoft will finally embrace interfacing directly with iCloud Drive this year. Even in iOS 10, it is still a weird dance to get Office files in and out of iCloud Drive.

It’s hard to tell right now how the improvements to iOS 11 will help productivity. Drag and Drop right now only works in apps that are part of the iOS 11 beta. It will be nice being able to just store images in a folder and drag them into a presentation rather than pollute my Photos library with them.

The problem is that damn iCloud extension. I can’t believe Apple made it worse. If it ships like that, I just have an even harder time being more productive on iOS. It’s just completely broken. This is something that has plagued iOS since iOS 10 beta 1. If it still persists in iOS 11 beta 1, I have a fear it will never get fixed.

Also I will not be getting the new 10.5″ iPad. I still feel the 12.9″ is the canonical Pro.