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.

A Year of Using the iPad Pro as a Laptop Replacement

It was the Pencil that got me.

When the 12.9″ iPad Pro1 was announced, I was interested, yet skeptical. I wasn’t sure of the weight and the size. I had just purchased an iPad Air 2 and really liked it. I was outside of the return window so I figured my next iPad would be the Pro, and that was the end of that.

In February, after reading about what Federico Viticci was able to do with the iPad Pro, I spent some of my tax return money on the iPad Pro. I was still a little skeptical. It was large, heavy, and I felt the 9.7″ iPad was still the optimal size. But, I could tell that iOS had really grown and was now something I could consider using as my main portable OS. This was not the case when I purchased my MacBook Air a few years ago. Still, I was willing to concede that perhaps I just had a case of wanting the new shiny. What pushed me over the line was a strong desire to get back into drawing, and rather than spend the cash on a really good drawing tablet, I could get the iPad Pro and a Pencil. There are plenty of apps that let you draw on the iPad. I wanted the freedom of movement the iPad offered.

About a month later I got the Apple Smart Keyboard and that’s about the time I stopped bringing my MacBook Air with me every day. I still get some shit about the size of the iPad. The people at work at first were like, Holy crap, look at the size of that thing!2 A friend’s daughter always asks me, “What do you need to do with something that large?”3 In the year I’ve had the iPad Pro, I’ve seen only two4 in the wild. It’s not that I don’t get out. I’ve walked through a university cafeteria (a medical school, so that may skew things). I’ve seen more new MacBook Pros (4) than I have iPad Pros (2). I can’t tell how many of the smaller iPads I’ve seen are the Baby Pros.

Interacting with the iPad

I believe the best accessory you can get for your iPad Pro is the Apple Smart Keyboard (ASK). Other keyboards, like the Logitech Create, may be better keyboards. but they add too much bulk to the Pro. If you are using the Baby Pro, the Logitech Create may be a better option than the ASK. Matt Gemmell seems to think so.

Tapping the screen on the Pro, I can understand why Apple is hesitant to bring a full touch interface to macOS. It gets tiring tapping the screen on the Pro when I have a keyboard attached. The best recommendation I have is if you do use an external keyboard with the Pro, is to start memorizing and using the keyboard shortcuts.I can’t tell you how much time and physical energy they save me. What I would love is the ability to use keyboard shortcuts with the virtual keyboard. Maybe in iOS 11 Apple will add Control, Option, and Command keys to the on-screen keyboard.

One area I think the MacBook is superior to the iPad is the trackpad and keyboard placement makes it more comfortable to interact with the device for a long period of time. Even using keyboard shortcuts there is still a lot of tapping on the screen. If the on-screen keyboard was just a little bit better I’d probably just use that.

Creating

My two main creative endeavors are drawing and writing. A key app for my creating on the iPad is Ulysses. Ulysses has become my single-source of writing on the iPad. I use it almost every day. Every blog post is written on it. My long-form writing also resides there. I’ve never once lost a document or had a syncing error. It just works. I do have Scrivener, but what I don’t like about it is it’s intended to be just a companion app to the desktop version. Your export options are limited. The developer wants you to finish your compiles and exports via the desktop app. On the one hand, I like how all of my writing is one Ulysses document; on the other I like Scrivener’s “an individual file for each piece of work” is appealing. Scrivener’s sync is a little too manual for me to like it, or trust it. Ulysses has never had a sync error and I like that it uses CloudKit. It does indeed, Just Work.

I am starting to think about using Pages more as well. The new release allows for RTF export and bookmarking. When I start school I’m going to explore using Pages as my primary authoring tool.

Unfortunately, I’m not drawing as much as I’d like a year later. I still draw more with the iPad than I would traditionally, but it’s something I need to increase. My main app is Procreate, but I doodle5 with Adobe Draw as well.

With the iPad Pro, I feel like the excuses and reasons I don’t create are just that: excuses and reasons. I can write and draw anywhere I have my iPad. I always have the iPad with me, so there’s no excuse. Just creative laziness on my part.

Cloud Services

There are things about iOS that drive me bananas. iOS is my favorite platform to download a PDF and upload it to a cloud service. Unless, oddly enough, that cloud service is iCloud. iCloud expands every single folder when you invoke the share extension. It is functionally impossible to locate the specific folder you want to upload the file to. So, all my uploads go to my OneDrive account instead. The lack of selective file sync on iCloud Drive on macOS is a hindrance from going iCloud-only. So, I’m screwed both ways with iCloud Drive. I can’t save the file easily from iOS, but I can’t do selective sync on macOS. It would be nice on macOS if they did something similar to Dropbox infinite, where I can tell a folder to only store data in the cloud, but make the folder and contents available via WiFi.

I’ve got 100g of scans on OneDrive I’m not sure where else to put them. That said, as a minimalist they are starting to feel like the digital version of a storage locker. I’m thinking of downloading them all to a removable drive and throwing them in a drawer someplace. The primary reason I think about paying for a cloud storage plan is storing them. I do download them every so often, but it feels like a “just in case” thing. I can’t replace them in 20 minutes, which is the point the minimalists make, but they aren’t critical files by any measure.

Office 365, OneNote, and OneDrive

I’ve had a lot of thoughts about Office 365 scattered through the sections, so it might just be easier to collate them all here.

Outside of the digital junk drawer, the main reason I keep my Office 365 subscription is Office for the iPad. The 12.9″ iPad falls outside of Microsoft’s free version for Office. I use Office just enough for it all to be worthwhile. $80 a year for 1TB of storage and the Office Apps isn’t bad. Now, I could use my school’s Office 356 account and save the money and get full access on my iPad. OneDrive lets me connect multiple accounts to it on iOS, so I can activate the Office apps on one account, but access my files on my personal OneDrive account. Wins all around. A technical manual I’m writing sits on OneDrive so I can edit it on the iPad when I want some distraction-free writing time. If we ever implement OneDrive at work, this will make working on the iPad very interesting. I couldn’t use it as my main machine, but I could do more with the iPad.

I start my Master’s certificate in a few weeks. Microsoft Office will likely become something I use more often in my personal use.

I have Outlook connected to our Exchange server. I use Mail and the Gmail app for my personal needs, but I like my work accounts to be separate. It helps work/life balance. I also have OneNote and Office installed to read documents sent to me via email for review in meetings. I use Documents to mark up PDFs sent to me for review.

Recently, I broke down and got the Lightning to VGA adapter to tie into the projector systems at work. VGA is the port that will never die. Our TVs at work don’t have an available HDMI port and I don’t feel like dragging an HDMI cable with me. So, got the fucking adapter. I’ve been thrilled with how it works. I used it recently for a document review and was very happy to see it used the full, widescreen size of the monitor at work with no black bars on the sided. I was reviewing some workflow documents with a group and I used the projector, GoodNotes, and the Apple Pencil to mark up the workflows. It worked great.

Note Taking Apps

I use two note taking apps: OneNote and Apple Notes. All of my work notes are in OneNote. I have a notebook for just work and separate pages in it for each project. When a project is closed I put CLOSED in front of the page name and shove it to the bottom of the screen.

I’ve found taking notes on a tablet at work removes the perceived barrier of a screen between you and the other participants. Even if you’re using the iPad with the ASK. Unless I’m taking a ton of notes, I’ll often keep OneNote open and lay the iPad flat on the table. When a person says something interesting, I pick up the iPad, make the note, and put it down. It feels more natural and that I’m more of a participant in that session.

My Apple Notes are a mess. It’s the version of little scraps of paper you write something down on and shove it in your wallet. Just looking at my Notes file I have individual notes for: an email address someone gave me; comic book artists someone suggested I check out; the address of a seminar I went to; and the cell phone number to a contractor I need to contact. I really need to combine those. I’ve gone through and deleted a lot of them but it’s still an unpleasant sight.

This situation works out very well for me. Work notes in one app, personal in another. I have OneNote installed on my work PC so I can access them there.

When I start school in a few weeks I’m not sure what I’m going to do, but I’m thinking of using OneNote for that also. Not sure, though. I might use Notes for it. Decisive, I am.

Consuming

There are a handful of tasks I still use the Mac for — outside of iOS programming. One of my goals for the year is to examine each one and see if the task itself adds value to my life. The most-common task is converting my ebooks. I’m usually de-DRMing my Kindle books so I can read them in iBooks. Neither iBooks or the Kindle app fill me with joy. I much prefer the Bookerly font on the Kindle for reading books, but iBooks is a better PDF reader than the Kindle app6. GoodReader is also a good PDF reader and can sync PDFs on my OneDrive. The Kindle app also doesn’t support split screen, which is important if I’m referencing an art or programming book.

It’s bothering me that I can’t really do everything I want in one app. I don’t want to buy my ebooks on the iBookstore. I’m just going to have to get over myself on this one. non-PDF reading in my Kindle. PDF reading in iBooks.

I use Instapaper as my read it later service and Tweetbot as my Twitter client.

Apple’s Vision for the iPad

There is one thing about the iPad Pro that concerns me… and it’s Apple. I’m just not sure that Apple has a long term plan. When the Pro launched, Apple was all, “Hey look, it can be a laptop replacement!” To a certain degree it’s true. The new iPad Pro commercials are cute, but some big limitations to going iOS-only exist.

iOS 9 brought out Split View. Split View made a lot more sense when the 12.9″ iPad came out. Instead of one of the two apps in Split View being an iPhone view, both apps were iPad views. The whole Split View picker needs some serious love. It seems like the type of feature that showed off well in a demo, but once people used it, it didn’t work out right. The problem is, iOS 9.3 didn’t address it, iOS 10 didn’t address it, iOS 10.3 doesn’t address it. In iOS 10, uploading files to iCloud Drive became problematic because the Document Picker expands every folder and sub folder.

I can’t currently go iOS-only. I still use a Mac. Almost all of these limitations are software. Adobe’s Lightroom app isn’t as good as the desktop version. Office for iOS lacks citation management. Maybe by the time my Retina MacBook dies in 2023 I might be able to go iOS-only. 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. I can’t use my Topaz presets on the iPad. I can’t use the full version of Photoshop. I can’t use Word’s citation management. I can’t run some of the 3D rendering programs I want to learn.

This is not an indictment of the iPad. It’s just an acknowledgment that I have some needs the iPad can’t meet. It’s great at the things I want to do on it: write, draw, read, email and triage my photos. For the things it can’t do, I have my Mac.

It’s all about the right tool for the job.

  1. For the sake of clarity, in this article when I refer to “the IPad Pro, I’m referring to the 12.9”. The 9.7 will be referred to as “The Baby Pro.” This is because, for me, the canonical iPad Pro is the larger screen.
  2. That’s what she said.
  3. I did not say, “That’s what she said.”
  4. One of them was a person really taking advantage of the device. He was taking handwritten notes with the Pencil.
  5. That bad pun was not intended, but fuck it, I’m keeping it.
  6. This is mainly because iBooks displays the full height of the PDF when reading in landscape. I keep my Pro in landscape mode almost all of the time, so this is pretty important to me. There is also the not-so trivial issue that the Kindle uploader caps out a 50mb.

The Problem With the iPad Pro Isn’t Hardware

Apple announced a new iPad yesterday1. It’s a bump up from the iPad Air 2 and removes the name Air from the lineup. It’s a nice bump up and is a good iPad for people who don’t need the Pro features.

There is a thread on the Macrumors forum titled: New iPad an Accountants Vision of a Product(sic). It’s another tired argument with the usual implication that this wouldn’t have happened if Steve Jobs was still alive, along with Apple doesn’t innovate anymore. I replied:

The thing is, other than True Tone display on the 12.9, or fast charging on the 9.7, the Pros don’t need a hardware upgrade.(1)The issues many of us have with iPads are OS and software constrained. For example:

  • Poor support of storage devices via the USB/SD dongle
  • The Split View interface is a joke
  • iCloud Drive extension auto expands ALL folders on iCloud Drive
  • No drag and drop between split view
  • Apps don’t support the 12.9 (Facebook)

I’ve never once felt like my 12.9″ iPad is slow. I don’t really care if the iPad hardware is on a 2-3 year upgrade cycle since that’s usually when I buy them. iOS updates for iPad, however, need to be on a yearly basis.

The new iPad is a good device for people who don’t need smart connected devices or the pencil.

(1) I wouldn’t throw a USB-C port out of bed, though.

The last year an a half have been tough for us iPad Only folks. iOS 9 had a lot of promise for using iPads for productivity. Split view was nice, and the extensions and document pickers were great. The iPad Pro with the Pencil and Smart Keyboard were amazing. At the beginning of 2016 I truly felt that iOS and iPads were trending towards the ability to truly become primary devices. Then iOS 10 came along and didn’t fix obvious issues, like the Split View and Slide Over interface being impractical when you have a ton of apps that support the feature. No drag and drop. It introduced more challenges with the iCloud Drive extension auto-expanding every single folder and sub folder making it impossible to find the folder you might want to store a file. I’ve resorted to creating an @XFER and @Reading folder to dump items into. The @ prefix ensures that it’s at the top of the list.

So, it’s not concerning that Apple hasn’t announced new hardware for the Pro line. The lack of software is. WWDC 2017 will be a telling year for me and my iPad. If another major update fails to move the iPad forward for “real work” then I will know Apple isn’t serious about the iPad as a Computer, no matter what a catchy ad might say.

  1. I find it interesting the URL name is ipad-9.7. I wonder if a non-Pro 12.9″ is in the future.

Plan, Do, Study, Act

At work, we are Lean practitioners (I’m a Green Belt). One of the tenets of Lean is Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA). I’m a big fan of the saying: No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. PDSA is a way of admitting your first try to get something done may not be (and likely won’t be) the correct path. In PSDA, you plan the work, do the work, study the results, and then act upon any changes. Rinse, lather, and repeat as necessary.

As a workflow geek, I’m constantly looking at my own workflows and seeing what works and doesn’t[1]. As part of my writing workflow, I’m examining Ulysses’s place in my workflow. I’m very happy with the app, but I also want to make sure that perhaps there isn’t a better method to handle my writing. So, I’m writing this post in 1Writer instead. In Ulysses, all of my scrivenings reside in one large repository. I’ve never experienced any sync issues – or heard of anyone experience in them – but I have a deep-seated nervousness about this. That said, I use Ulysses on both macOS[2] and iOS, it’s nice having a common toolset between the two. Ulysses on the Mac works exactly the same as Ulysses on my iPad. I don’t have a Markdown editor on the Mac I like as much as 1Writer on the iPad. I use footnotes extensively in my writing, and I like that both Ulysses and 1Writer handle the formatting painlessly.

I’m also working on a collection of essays that I may publish into a book later this year. Ulysses is great at this sort of thing. What I may prefer is to have each essay sit as its own text file in Dropbox and decide which ones make the cut for publication. Those will get sent to Ulysses for compilation.

Scrivener is an interesting choice for fiction. I don’t need my fiction to be in Markdown. It’s not going to end up on the web. Sometimes, writing in rich text can help. Matt Gemmell has a long post here, where he talks about using Scrivener and Ulysses on the iPad. He posits that writing in Markdown vs. rich text is something we as writers should just get over. In the end, he choose Ulysses because it supports an all-in on the iPad lifestyle better than Scrivener. I agree with him on that point. Scrivener for iOS is a perfectly fine editor, but its compilation and exporting tools are lacking. It doesn’t support ePub. The <$titles> variable to insert the document title into the export doesn’t work on the iPad. It assumes you’re ok with doing that sort of heavy lifting on your Mac. Scrivener for iOS is definitely more of a companion tool. I’m also not completely sure how often it’s really saving the files. You can set it to sync to Dropbox on project close. It just seems ripe for some sort of an error to make my life miserable. Ulysses, on the other hand, is constantly saving and syncing back to iCloud.

So, where did this PDSA lead me?

For my blog writing, I’m sticking with Ulysses. The posting interface is cleaner, and I like how it handles the footnotes and links a tad batter. For my long-form writing I’m still leaning towards keeping it Ulysses, but I’ll be testing out Scrivner a little more. I really want to try breaking the Dropbox sync before I truly trust it. My essays, that can sit on their own and have minimal formatting I will keep in a .txt file I can edit in 1Writer on iOS and Byword on the Mac.

So, after all that examining, I still ended up back at the beginning anyway.


  1. It’s tempting, yet dangerous, to spend more time examining the workflows than executing them. Work with them for a while before changing them.  ↩
  2. It’s going to take me years to not type OS X. Old habits die hard.  ↩

The Mac

Lost in all this shuffle over me going iPad-primary is that I still love the Mac. There is a lot of dogma and rigidness from the iPad-only crowd regarding the Mac and I don’t share it. Steve Jobs famously said that (paraphrasing) that PCs are trucks and iOS devices are cars.

I still drive a truck. Both a physical version and electronic.

My 11″ MacBook Air doesn’t get used on a daily basis anymore, but it’s still one of my favorite devices of all time. There was a brief period of time recently where I regretted getting it and not a MacBook Pro 13″. I missed it because I really couldn’t play games on it, but I realized that playing games on my Mac didn’t add much value to my life. After that epiphany I felt much more comfortable about the purchase. I do wish it had a retina screen, so when it comes time to upgrade it I will likely get the baseline MacBook 12″

There are some things I do that I either flat out can’t do on iOS (like de-DRM my Kindle collection for archiving) or are a gigantic pain in the ass on iOS (like copying a ton of PDFs from iCloud to OneDrive. Plus there is iOS development which I want to I get into.1

iOS still has enough roadblocks for it to replace my MacBook completely. I expect I will still need some form of Mac for the next three years, at least.

When I upgrade my beloved Air at some point, I’m not a traitor to the iOS-primary cause, but simply a realist who believes in the right tool for the job.

  1. My gut feeling is by WWDC 2018 some type of native development environment for iOS apps will be available on iOS.

enough (the hardware edition)

I was working on an article about my goals for 2017 and I had a bullet point: Reduce my technological footprint. There were a few lines about the number of devices I have and how I wanted to be more efficient and minimize the number of devices I use.

There’s a new Netflix show on Minimalism (in which Patrick Rhone of Minimal Mac is mentioned). Patrick also tweeted this link to another piece on Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. The show is great, focusing on getting the rid of a lot of the crap we as humans tend to collect. The documentary hit at a good time. I was on vacation and I was going to dump out a ton of stuff from my home office. At the same time, I took a hard look at some of the electronic devices I have floating around.

What is Digital Minimalism?

From Cal Newport’s article above, he defines Digital Minimalism as:

Digital minimalism is a philosophy that helps you question what digital communication tools (and behaviors surrounding these tools) add the most value to your life. It is motivated by the belief that intentionally and aggressively clearing away low-value digital noise, and optimizing your use of the tools that really matter, can significantly improve your life.

Tech Products I use at least 4 times a year:

So, I have a ton of devices. Here are the ones that get used heavily1:

  1. iPad Pro 12.9″
  2. iPhone 6+2
  3. Alienware Alpha
  4. MacBook Air 11″ (2014)
  5. MacBook Pro 15″ (2011)

Getting to One

At work, we are combining some groups and services. The marketing language for the initiative is “Getting to One.” It’s a great slogan and one I’m trying to mimic with my devices. It’s impossible, of course. Not one of those devices listed above can do all of the things the other devices can do. So, there are two mantras that may somewhat compete:

  • Getting to Less
  • The Right Tool for the Job

The right tool for the job is the presiding mantra. Saying I’m going to cut back to just using my iPhone doesn’t let me perform the tasks I need the other devices for. Similarly, abandoning all the devices but for the iPad Pro (my favorite of all of them), leaves out a central communication device (the iPhone) as well as most of my game playing needs.

Patrick Rhone, who I mentioned earlier, used to have a great podcast called Enough. It’s sadly gone, and the files are gone to the internet. There is a torrent file, but it’s dead also. [UPDATE; It turns out the podcast is archived on iTunes. You can find it here.] He also has a book, Enough, which is not dead. In the podcast, they talked about what is enough. What do you need to get life done, but not more than that. One of the segments I loved was they would talk to someone about what it would take to life their digital life on an 11″ MacBook Air with 64 gig of storage. It’s the digital version of a Tiny House. The cuts people would have to make were interesting to listen to.

My goals was to get my Every Day Carry (EDC) down to two main devices. Two devices to do 80% of my day-to-day stuff. It also all needs to fit in my Tom Bihn Ristretto.

The first to go was the Alienware Alpha. I’ve moved gaming to the PlayStation 43. The only thing the Alienware really did was serve up my Plex Library. The library was on a portable drive anyway4. So, during the Big Purge the Alpha got placed on the shelf. The monitor is in a closet.

Deciding between the two MacBooks is easy. The Air is smaller and fits in my bag. It doesn’t have the processor power of the Pro, but it’s enough.

That got me to three. Not bad. An iPad, and iPhone and a MacBook Air. But what do I really need that MacBook Air for every day? I’m not talking about replacing it entirely, mind you. This is an 80% rule. I believe I can actually do 90% of what I need the MacBook for on the iPad. Working from home requires me to to log into our Virtual Desktop system via Citrix Receiver, and while it’s fine for a few things on iOS, it’s not a great interface. So, I’ll use the Mac for that.

So, the MacBook Air got placed in its sleeve and was laid (to rest) in one of the now empty drawers in the desk.

That’s two. An iPad and an iPhone for 80% of my non-gaming needs.

This is part of a series on using the iPad Pro as my primary device. For more posts on this series, click here.

  1. I’m leaving out my Amazon Kindle and my Xbox. I consider those appliances, and, anyway they are hardly used.
  2. I also have an Apple Watch, but I consider it an extension of the iPhone.
  3. It’s semantics, but I classify the PS4 as a single-purpose appliance rather than a device.
  4. As a side effort, a lot of these files are .MKV files. I’m going to convert them to .M4V files. That way I can read them directly from the iPad if I want to.