iOS: Empowered by Apps

It’s 7:00 am on a Saturday morning. Saturday, April 3, 2010. And I’m standing in line at my local Apple Store to buy an iPad.

Believe it or not, just two days prior, I had no plans to buy an iPad. But, be it gadget envy, a hunch, or whatever, I changed my mind at the last minute and I bought an original iPad on day one. And I’m glad I did, because looking back I realize I was, in a way, standing in line for a 9.7-inch slab of history.

For a year or two, my iPad primarily served as a “content consumption” device (ugh). Though mixed with casual email checking, to-do list management, and writing session, my iPad was primarily used for things like reading, watching videos, and surfing the web. Whenever it was time to get to work, I reached for the Mac.

The fact that I primarily “took in” content rather than “create” it wasn’t a limitation of the iPad so much as it was the software that accompanied it. The iPad shipped with a handful of creation-centric apps, but none that could fully replace my dependence on my Mac.

Moreover, when the iPad was new, things created on the iPad liked to stay on the iPad. In Pages, for example, the process of syncing a document was a joke. Notes were synced awkwardly over IMAP to the Mail app on my Mac. And Syncing my Things to-do list, though clever at the time, needed all devices to be on the same wi-fi network with Things launched.

When I first bought my original iPad back in 2010 and friends and co-workers would ask me about what makes it so great, I’d usually tell them about the 10-hour battery life. I can take notes, check email, and surf the web in this little tablet the size of a pad of paper, and I leave the cables at home. Part of what made the iPad so magical wasn’t entirely about what it could do, but what its potential promised us that it would one day be able to do.

Today, a lot of that promise of potential has been realized. Robust software abounds. As does over-the-air syncing of just about everything. Pretty much all of our stuff is accessible, usable, and editable from our Macs, iPads, and iPhones.

Some people don’t even need a Mac anymore, since the iPad is perfectly capable as one’s primary PC. And for those who still rely on OS X, the iPad is so much more than the satellite device it was in 2010 that for many, it can serve as a very good secondary work machine.

For those of us who need a powerful computer for the bulk of their work as well as a computer they can take on the go, we’ve gone from (a) a setup comprising the best desktop computer possible and the cheapest laptop possible, to (b) owning simply the best laptop possible, to (c) owning a Mac and an iPad.

The laptop of yesterday is the iPad of today.

Today, the iPad is what — back in 2010 — we envisioned the iPad could be. So, what has happened between now and 2010? Well, thousands and thousands of world-class 3rd-party apps. That’s what.

The fundamental capabilities of the iPad itself are, more or less, the same today as they were in 2010. Strip away the hundreds of thousands of 3rd-party apps from the fast, Retina- and LTE-equipped iPad, and all you’ve got is a device which is only a little bit more capable as a work machine than what you had in 2010. Albeit, that device is significantly more advanced and delightful than its predecessor. But, without the software, it’s just an attractive slab of glass and aluminum.

When the iPad was new, many of us had ambitions of one day leaving our MacBook Pros at home and traveling only with our iPads. But, at least for me, that idea quickly faded away as I ran head-on into the fact that I just couldn’t get a lot of the work done on my iPad that I needed to do. The iPad was by no means useless, it just wasn’t the laptop replacement I wanted it to be.

But that was nearly three years ago. And, like I said, a lot has changed.

Last summer, I took only my iPad with me to WWDC. It was a bit cumbersome at times, and I had to suspend my daily Shawn Today podcast, but I survived with nary a scratch. Today, I don’t even hesitate for a moment to walk out the door with nothing but my iPad and Origami Keyboard.

I recently looked back at an article I wrote in 2010 about how I used my iPad, Mac, and iPhone. Comparing my usage in 2010 to how I use them now, I use my iPad and iPhone for work-related things much more often. Also, my iPad and iPhone do a much better job at those work-related tasks than they did in 2010 — the experience, usability, and reliability of using these other devices has increased tremendously. And it continues to get even more usable, reliable, and delightful.

This is thanks entirely to the apps I have available to me (along with some nerdy Mac server hackery). These apps have evolved to such a place where I can work from my iPad anytime I want. The projects I’m working on are all in sync, and the apps I have at my disposal allow me to complete the same work.1

My iPad workflow relies heavily on apps and services such as Dropbox, 1Password, TextExpander, Poster, Simplenote, WritingKit, OmniFocus, Instapaper, Reeder, Tweetbot, Diet Coda, and Pinbook. Many of these apps didn’t exist on the iPad in 2010. But now that they do, I can leverage them to get the same work done on my iPad that I do from my Mac.

Our iOS devices have been empowered by 3rd-party apps.


  1. There is one exception: graphic design and photo editing. I use Photoshop for editing graphics and Lightroom 4 for doing post-processing work on my pictures. I know there are solutions for doing graphic editing work, screenshots, and the like on the iPad but I haven’t yet crossed that bridge.
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