Living With An Ipad Pro

For a while I've had an iPad. I started with a 3, moved quickly to an Air. I have really enjoyed using the devices for media consumption, and there are now many tools for media creation, development, sharing and creating ideas. I'll get to that in a second.

I travel, to conferences and such, and usually take my MacBook Pro, the iPad Air, the iPhone, dongles and all kinds of chargers and such. It's an effort. The iPad I use for note taking whilst I work on the MacBook. It's odd because not that long ago I travelled exclusively with the Nokia N900, a truly unique tool that allowed me to do much more with so much less. Sadly no longer (and honestly, my eyes are not up to the wee screen any more, but it seems to me a shade ridiculous to be so loaded down.

So, I needed a solution - something thin, light, good battery, powerful, allowing for a multitude of interaction styles, you know… Oh, and for my sins, or whatever, I'm kind of locked in to this ecosystem. I started using Apple devices many years ago (in around 1987/88 actually, with a wonderful Mac Plus!) and I'm uncomfortable with Windows - don't get me wrong, I am quite appreciative of the strides made in that OS, but it's just not something I want to spend time figuring out (yes, I did just say that… sigh).

Anyway…

On a recent trip to Dagstuhl I tried using the Air as exclusively as possible - note taking, recording thoughts, browsing, searches, presentations… A colleague also had a new MacBook and I played a little with it too (I love the size!). On my return I was all hung ho for the MacBook until I stopped to think… Why would I want to replace my (aging but souped up) Pro for a smaller, slower device, except for size? I wanted those interaction modes, you'll recall (as an aside, sitting on a plane on the way home trying to type on the MacBook with the person in front fully reclined was a nightmare, and again the iPad shown through - stick it on your tray and type away on the screen, no fuss and lots less room).

A luck would have it, the iPad Pro was also available at the Apple Store. A short time after playing with it, and the Pencil (now I have a Pencil by 53 and it's a work of art, but the sheer accuracy of the Apple device won me over. I'll be using both) I walked out of the store with:

  • An iPad Pro, with 128Gb on board
  • A Logitech light up keyboard (liked its feel much better than the Apple one, and when I attach it, it makes a nice case too)
  • A pencil (on back order, still waiting!)

This set of pages is about how I migrated from the Mac, to the iPad exclusively. I will cover the successes and failures, frustrations and rewards, and, since very few people will ever see it, it's written for me, to remember the things I've done and remind me if I forget some of the tricks.

On we go…

First impressions

It's big! I can see the screen even with my aging eyes! And the sound is, to put it simply, superb. Music, movies, gaming, very immersive (I had trouble understanding the various reviews that talk about its immersive properties, but now I get it). Split screen works really well with this size, but it's annoying that I can't run the same app side by side (I imagine there are some technical reasons for this, but I think we can safely assume they are not insurmountable). On screen keyboard is much improved and the number row is a nice addition. Learning curve - none.

The keyboard is very nice. I particularly like that it (a) lights up - nice on planes and such… And (b) forms a very nice case for the machine itself. On the less positive side, firstly (and understandably) it makes the device much larger and heavier, but still I think less than my MacBook. More problematical is that sometimes, the keyboard misses letters when I type - I may be typing too fast, but I don't think I am that fast! LogiTech, I think you can do a little better. As a result, it's a little disappointing, but the feel of it is so much nicer to me than the Apple keyboard for the Pro I am willing to put up with it. On another plus side, it's possible to open it up and fold it out so you can use the iPad as an iPad without removing the keyboard - and the fact that it is powered by the new connector is nice - no more charging the keyboard battery…

When I get the Pencil (Apple, hurry up!), more on that then…

Oh, and it needs an external trackpad…

On Being Slow

One benefit of using the iPad has become the lack of speed. I should perhaps clarify. It stops me being too fast.

In Dagstuhl last November we started talking a bit about 'Slow Computing' — this is where systems recognise they are at 'edge states' where their assumptions and answers may be a little confused, or even wrong, and defer to their human counterparts for direction and 'correctness'. We believe such systems will help avoid such things as Flash Crashes, or worse.

There's something in that, and I've noticed it for the iPad, in reverse: it's possible to do a great many things at once on my Mac, but I have found myself getting distracted by side windows, forgetting what I was doing, not sending the emails I have written and then assuming I had, things like this. It may be old age, or something, but I also put it down to trying to do too many things, too fast.

The iPad has helped. I pick it up, I get instantly to what I was focused on, and because it's more of a challenge to switch, or to be distracted, because I can remove all the periphery, the task gets accomplished, and I move on. I've noticed an upswing in productivity and efficiency as a result — this may be subjective, but since it's me who is the subject, that's okay then.

And if I think of something half way through a task? Simply ask Siri to remember for me, using a side channel of speech that doesn't distract me from the focus on the window in front of me. Since I have a phone, I can do it on that, without Siri getting in the way of the iPad. As a side note, wouldn't it be nice to have this ability without Siri taking over the whole screen, so I can dictate my reminders, or whatever else is on my mind, at the same time as still typing or whatever on the screen. Don't see what that shouldn't be possible…

Presentation Tools

I love Keynote. Just what I need, when I need it, and cross-devices means editing on the Mac, iPad, whatever, then plugging the phone into the projector and just walking around. The one big bugbear with Keynote on iOS is still the lack of ability to adjust backgrounds that you have on OSX. Shouldn't be a problem. After all, I can use Powerpoint on the iPad and it will do it for me: I've resorted more than once to saving to Powerpoint from Keynote, opening up Powerpoint, changing the background, and reopening on Keynote. Silly…

The Pencil

Oh, my. The pencil finally arrived a couple of weeks ago. I had tried one out in the Apple Store when Imbought the iPad and liked the feel. I forgot that feel until it arrived, I unboxed it, plugged it in to pair and got started. I know it's just a thing, but for the first time I am able to sit with the device and take real honest to goodness notes like its a real notebook. This may not sound like mich, but the feel of the pencil on the device is just right - there's a friction that mirrors pencil on paper, and there's no lag. I use Notability for note taking, and the flexibility of the app, coupled with the pencil's precision, allows for some tremendously powerful idea capture: audio capture, zoomed in notes, real thoughts in real time. I love my notebooks and the freedom I get from the pen/pencil on paper, and now I have it with the device I use all the time. I have taken to using Notability and Paper by 53 for impromptu presentations in my lectures. My writing is as bad as ever, and my drawing sucks, but the spontaneity is incredibly powerful.

I have tried styluses on Samsung and Surface, and they work. I have no doubt they are as spontaneous and powerful. I'm going to say now though that the feel is important. The pencil feels right, works very well, does palm rejection as if I had no hand on the screen, and makes the experience natural. We can get into all kinds of discussions about Apple and innovation and who was there first, but to me it's about a tool I personally can use. So far the pencil is the only stylus I have ever used, and I have used many, that allows me to forget it is one.

I believe that the new iPad Air, when it comes out, will be compatible with the pencil. The Pro is a tremendous device in many ways, including the size! The Air may be the perfect 'wander round and take notes' device…

Granted, I am a technophile, but I am very quick to abandon what doesn't work, for me. Time is in short supply, and the things that help me use it best are those that stick around. The Pencil is looking like one of those things.

What Makes it Work!

LaTeX

Oh, I love LaTeX and BibTeX… One of the things I missed most at the start of the iPad thing all those years ago was the lack of such tools. Simple editing, powerful typesetting, small footprint (well, not really, when you think about it, but whatever, it depends on how you think about it!). I was therefore very happy when TexPad TexPad came out. It handles bundles well, the typesetting is very nice, images are well managed, the editor is okay, but a few templates for frequently used styles might be nice… It's a joy to be able to work with LaTeX and have my (large) BibTeX files available as they were meant to be. Life is good.

Cons: It's a nice app, the interface at front is a little weird, but I can see what they're aiming at with recently used files, and the requirement to use the Apps folder in Dropbox is annoying at times…

Notability

How did I manage before this? Take notes, annotate pdfs, make voice annotations, sync across devices, even to iPhone and Mac, share ideas, make presentations, sketch, wildly imagine (use Apple's Pencil!), and still have time for tea.

My usual set up these days is a split screen with Notability always on one side and other apps on the other, usually TexPad, Keynote, Mail or Safari. It makes for a very productive time.

As an aside, I have found myself in the past paying lip service to reading on a screen. And then printing everything out, scribbling on the paper and filing it away to be re-remembered at a much later date. It just wasn't worming otherwise. Even with the iPads previously, there was a disconnect between me and idea because if the device. Now, I put the docs into Notability, work with the content and the ideas, including scribbling my odd little thoughts with the pencil, am able to properly index for searching, and keep the ideas to hand. I have found myself not printing things any more because I really, for the first time, don't need to. It's really rather liberating. What's missing? A hyperlink between the documents, in case of linked odd thoughts. I am sure it is possible, I'm just not sure how to do it yet.

Dropbox

I couldn't do it without. Hands down the most useful cloud provider for my purposes. I keep some space on iCloud too, but the terabyte on Dropbox is well used and well valued, and so well integrated into iOS it is second nature. Enough said.

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