The always astute, Lukas Mathis, wrote a fantastic article about why he switched from an iPad to a Microsoft Surface so he could finally do “real work” using a tablet:
In general, I really love the Surface, and I use it much more, and for many more things, than I ever used any iPad I ever owned.
His thoughts on doing productive tasks with an iPad, and his review of Windows 8 — in which he clearly articulates the good, bad, and horrible — is all just excellent.
There are folks who are tiring of this whole racket around if we can or can’t use the iPad for real work. But I’m not tired of this topic at all.
The way I see it, being part of this ongoing conversation about “using the iPad for real work” is sort of like sitting in the front row and watching the personal and mobile computer landscape shift right before our eyes.
To quote Albert Einstein: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
As amazing as mobile and personal computing is today, it is still in its infancy. The iPad is only a few years old, and think of how far it has come already. Twenty years from now, the average PC will probably be much more like a tablet (or a cell phone) and much less like a laptop/desktop. When my oldest son starts his freshman semester in the fall of 2030, I doubt we’ll be weighing the pros and cons of the iPad’s ability to do real work.
One day, as Lukas himself points out in his article, it won’t be newsworthy when someone does something creatively productive on their iPad:
If it was normal for people to use their iPads for creative tasks, there would not be newspaper articles about people using their iPads for creative tasks. The iPad will have arrived as a productivity device when news sites stop reporting about people who use iPads for productivity. So in the end, all of these links to articles about people who use their iPads to create things only seem to support the notion that this is not how most people use their iPads.
He’s right. Most people probably use their iPads for reading, surfing the web, light email, and checking Facebook and Twitter. And that’s fine.
But then there are apps like Drafts, Diet Coda, PDF Expert 5, Launch Center Pro, Editorial, and so many others (plus all the equivalent Windows 8 apps that I have no idea what they are) which are pushing mobile computing forward in small steps.
And those who are using these apps are also influencing the future of mobile computing. Because, and maybe I’m being grandiose, but I think those who are doing “real work” from their iPhone and iPad, are, in a small way, helping steer the direction of the personal computer.
Both iPads are an awesome compromise.
One of them (the iPad Air) has the bigger screen, and chances are it’s light enough. While the other (the iPad mini) is hyper-portable and light, and chances are its screen is big enough.
It’s easy to acclimate to either iPad. After a few days you’ll wonder why it was ever such a dilemma of a choice in the first place. When I’ve used just the iPad Air, I acclimated to its size and weight even though the iPad mini is nicer. And, conversely, when I used the iPad mini, I acclimated to its smaller screen even though the iPad Air’s bigger screen is nicer for some tasks.
I bought both an iPad Air and an iPad mini when they came out. I planned to use them side by side for about one month to see if I could come to a clear conclusion about “which was really the best”. I assumed it would take just a few weeks to see the obvious choice of which one I was partial to.
Boy was I wrong.
I’ve been using both iPads side-by-side for three months now and, well, I prefer them both. They are both favorites.
When I switch back and forth, after using the iPad mini for a while, the iPad Air feels almost comically large. But then, after using the iPad Air for a while, picking up the iPad mini feels almost tiny.
But, most of the time I find myself preferring the iPad mini. When reaching for an iPad around the house, I grab the mini. The mini goes with me when I’m traveling with my laptop. And I bring the mini when I don’t expect to need an iPad for anything but want to bring one anyway just in case.
There is only one cut and dry scenario in which I prefer the iPad Air: and that is for writing (with or without a bluetooth keyboard). But, yet, writing accounts for maybe 10-percent of my iPad usage. And using the iPad mini for writing is not exactly a horrible experience.
I have no reason to keep them both. (Well, I guess it’d be nice to have a day iPad and a night iPad.) And so I’m going with the iPad mini. And thus my recommendation to anyone on the fence: get the iPad mini, you’ll love it.
This is the iPad version of my App Playlist articles. You can read my iPhone App Playlist here; Mac version coming next.
Constraint and Creativity
Though the topic of iPads and content creation versus content “consumption” sure gets its fair share of air time, I have yet to tire of the conversation.
The first computer I personally ever owned was a Dell laptop. I bought it with my high school graduation money and took it with me to college. Almost all of of my college friends had HP towers, Dell towers, or (like in the case of my roommate) built their own machine. Laptops were (and are) more expensive, but had less power, less storage, and less screen real estate. But I didn’t care.
Laptops have always been cool to me. My Dell laptop was succeeded by a 12-inch PowerBook G4, then a 15-inch MacBook Pro (the aluminum body), and then a 13-inch MacBook Air (the computer I use now). In a way, laptops represent a sort of “free spiritedness” that desktop computers don’t. And, over the years since that Dell, the tradeoffs in laptops have grown smaller and smaller — today’s laptops are so powerful and fast that most people are not sacrificing any noticeable performance tradeoffs for portability.
And now, it’s the iPad that’s the new cool. Except with the iPad Air and new iPad mini, the tradeoffs are all but gone as well. While we could compare the nitty gritty specs of how fast a MacBook Pro loads a web page versus how fast an iPad does, most of that is inconsequential for most users today. Not to mention, there are many hardware features of an iPad which make it superior to a Mac: the hours long battery life, the built-in LTE connectivity, the very small and light form factor, the retina screen with multitouch input.
You could say that pretty much the only “tradeoff” of getting an iPad as your main computer would be the tradeoff of software. But I don’t think even that is accurate. Because defining something as a tradeoff requires you put that tradeoff in context.
Regarding software, for many people, I think it’s fair to say the lesser machine is actually the Mac, not the iPad.
Over on The Sweet Setup, we recently tested 17 different iPad apps that manage and edit PDF documents to find the best one. Our pick, PDF Expert 5, is a fantastic app. And guess what? There are things PDF Expert 5 does — such as merging PDF documents, making annotations, or zipping up a group of files and sending them to someone in an email — which are far easier and more intuitive to do on the iPad app than on a Mac.
Sure, iPad software — and iOS — has its limitations. For instance, I can’t hack together awesome system-wide shortcut keys and scrips using Keyboard Maestro, nor can I get TextExpander to work in iOS’s Mail app. But that’s okay. Never once have those limitations hindered me from doing some great work from my iPad. In fact, oftentimes it is the limitations of iOS which empower me to do better work. Because constraint breeds creativity.
This is why, for me, the iPad makes for a fantastic writing device. I am neither a programmer nor designer by trade — the bulk of my work day is comprised of reading, writing, tweeting, and emailing.
A cup of hot coffee, my bluetooth keyboard, and my iPad is one of my favorite ways to write. The one-app-at-a-time constraint of iOS, along with the relatively difficult way to switch between apps (when compared to the Mac’s CMD+Tab), make iOS a nice “anti-distraction writing environment”.
But there is much more I do from the iPad beyond writing. And that’s the point of this whole post. So, without further ado…
Let’s start with the apps I use on a regular basis — my Mission-Critical Apps
OmniFocus: I’ve been using the OmniFocus suite of apps (Mac, iPhone, and iPad) for over three years now. Of the three apps, I find the iPad version to be the best. Coming back to one of the points I made at the beginning of this article, OmniFocus on the iPad is a quintessential example of iPad software being superior to Mac software.
However… once a year, usually around the New Year, I like to step back and consider if the tools I’m using are still the best tools for me. If the answer is “yes” then I leave things alone and get back to work. But if the answer is “no” then I try to consider if its my use of the tools or the tools themselves that are flawed.
Lately, I have been wondering if OmniFocus is now too complex for me as I’ve settled into a grove with my work-from-home schedule. But, as I’ve considered other alternatives, I just can’t conceive of quitting OmniFocus — it’s a task management system that I trust. I know that if and when an important task becomes due, OmniFocus will show it to me.
This is something that I will be revisiting in the near future but for now, OmniFocus remains one of my “mission critical” apps (on all devices).
Day One: This is the best journaling app out there. I keep Day One on my iPad’s Home screen even though I mostly write in it from my iPhone or Mac. I have no rules for how I use Day One, nor for how often I use it. My entries are all sorts of things, including photos, one-line milestone mentions about my kids, deep thoughts, brain dumps of ideas, and more.
Tweetbot: My go-to Twitter app on the iPad. I am very much looking forward to an update influenced by the iPhone version.
1Password: 1Password is far more than just a password manager. If that’s all it was then the updates to iCloud keychain sync would have negated the need for 1Password. However, 1Password also stores secure notes, bank information, and pretty much anything else I can think of. Though I use 1Password most often from my iPhone or Mac, I couldn’t imagine not having it on my iPad.
Instapaper: Years later, Instapaper continues to be my go-to Read Later app. I love the design and I’ve got an IFTTT recipe that takes all of my Instapaper “liked” articles and drops them into Pinboard for me. I used to use the iPad version almost exclusively. But since having kids I now use the iPhone version almost as much as the iPad version. There are often times I’ve got just one hand free and it’s a great time to catch up on some reading. But still, my preferred way to read in Instapaper is on the couch with the Retina iPad mini.
Drafts: If you consider yourself an “iPad-toting power user” in any level at all, then you probably want a quick-capture text app. I’ve gravitated towards Scratch on my iPhone mostly because I like the design, but I use Drafts on the iPad.
There are a lot of articles I read in Instapaper which I want to link to on shawnblanc.net. For those, I have a cool URL-scheme workflow thing that helps me get links and text from Instapaper to Poster with Drafts as the mediator.
Diet Coda: The iPad has a few apps that just kind of blow your mind when you realize just how powerful and awesome they are, apps that are textbook examples of why the iPad is thriving as a personal computer. And Diet Coda is such an app.
With Diet Coda I connect to my site, navigate to the file I want, edit that file, and then save my changes to the server. I don’t have to juggle both a remote and local version of the file — I just open it, edit it, and save it. This is how Coda 1 worked, it’s how Coda 2 works, and it’s how Diet Coda works. It makes working in Diet Coda feel comfortable and secure.
Pinbook / Pushpin / Pinner: There are a lot of good Pinboard apps out there right now. Pinbook was my favorite for a while, but it’s in desperate need of a good update. Pinner and Pinbook are also quite nice. The jury is still out on this one, but needless to say, there are quite a few nice options for anyone in want of a good iOS Pinboard client.
TextExpander Touch: Though it’s not really an app that I launch, many of the apps I use support TextExpander snippets.
Dropbox: This app/service could go without saying, but yet, at the same time, it’s worth mentioning because Dropbox is such a critical back-end component to so many of the apps I use. I use Dropbox to sync my 1Password database between my iPhone, iPad, and Mac. I use it to keep all my “Currently Writing” articles available to me on all my devices. I use it sync Day One, and my TextExpander snippets. Moreover, since all my current projects have folders in Dropbox on my Mac, I can access those files at any time via the Dropbox app on my iPhone.
Calendars 5: This is, in my opinion, the best calendar app for the iPad. It’s very powerful but also simple.
Reeder: My favorite RSS reader, though, I don’t go nuts over RSS like I used to. I usually will comb through my folder of favorite feeds about once or twice per day and that’s it. I already am finding so much interesting things to read on Twitter that I don’t often comb through RSS hunting for nuggets.
Let’s talk (a little bit more) about iPad writing apps
Hands down, the main thing I lean on my iPad for when it comes to work, is writing. As I mentioned at the outset of this article, the iPad truly is an excellent writing device. You can couple it with any bluetooth keyboard (and I do), but you don’t have to. I know several people who love to type using the on-screen keyboard.
For my professional work writing text that gets published on the Web, the iPad is awesome. But I think the iPad is an even better device for writing prose sans hyperlinks. I have used many writing apps on my iPad over the years (the original built-in notes app with Marker Felt and all, to Pages, to iA Writer, Byword, Writing Kit, Editorial, and more). The best each have their own bit of charm.
Simplenote: Speaking of writing, for me, hands down the most important “workflow thing” is to have text in sync between my iPhone, my iPad, and my Mac. There are a lot of apps which do this well, but for my needs, Simplenote is the best.
As I wrote in my iPhone app playlist, when it comes to my writing workflow, I’ve basically got two buckets for all my text. First there is my bucket of ideas, lists, thoughts, and all sorts of other miscellany. And second is my bucket of current articles I’m working on. The former is what I use Simplenote for; the latter is a Dropbox folder filled with markdown files.
My thoughts on Simplenote always start along the lines of how it’s the app I’d chose if I had to pick just one app only for use on all my iOS devices. It’s not that Simplenote, as an app in and of itself, is the best app on my iPhone or iPad. But there are a few things Simplenote does really well which make it indispensable for me.
Simplenote has amazing and fast search. Searching for a note searches both the note’s title and the contents within. Then, tapping on a search result from the list takes you the search results within that note where you can the see all instances of that term within the note’s contents. Because I just toss all sorts of ideas and other bits of miscellaneous information into Simplenote, being able to quickly and efficiently search all my notes is vital. That, and its ability to sort notes based on their modification date (which means all the notes I’m dealing with right now are floating at the top of my list), makes it very easy to handle hundreds and hundreds of notes with very little mental overhead on my part.
Editorial: The app that changed everything for me when it comes to long-form writing on my iPad. I used to use Writing Kit, and it was great. But Editorial has taken things to a whole new level. If you just write words and don’t do a lot of writing for the web, you may not geek out over Editorial like myself and so many others have been. What I love about Editorial is its ability to define and install custom scripts and workflows (making it easy to insert links, find apps in the app store, etc…), as well as its built-in browser. Editorial has a very nice and clean design, and it is easy to use. Since the vast majority of the writing I do is for the Web, and I write exclusively in Markdown, Editorial makes all of the little things I need from a text editor easier and more efficient.
Aside about Writer Pro: iA Writer was one of (if not the) original apps in the minimalistic-Markdown-writing-apps-that-sync-with-Dropbox category. The predecessor to iA Writer, Writer Pro, is an impressive app. While there are things about the iPad version that are deal breakers for me — primarily its lack of Dropbox syncing and its lack of auto markdown completion and markdown syntax highlighting — I do like the workflow paradigm built into the app.
For my work writing for the Web, Writer Pro is not the ideal tool because even if it did have the aforementioned features it will never include all scripts, workflows, and built-in browser of Editorial. However, for other a certain big project I am working on (like maybe another book) which does not require a lot of inline hyperlinks and other HTML-y stuff, Writer Pro could prove to be a brilliant app. Basically, the app itself could serve as the top-level folder for the book with each workflow state serving as the different “folders” for each chapter. I haven’t yet moved my current work into Writer Pro, but I think it could work quite well in this way.
Byword: Byword is the best Markdown writing app on the iPhone, and the iPad version is splendid as well. There is a lot to like about Byword — it’s fast, it has excellent search, it’s gorgeous, it’s powerful.
Poster: This is the app I use to post links and articles to shawnblanc.net. Alas it’s no longer available for sale because the developer, Tom Witkin, now works for WordPress. Fortunately for those who already have Poster, it is still being updated.
Editorially: Editorially is a web app, not a native app. And technically it is still in beta. But Editorially has proven to be an invaluable tool for the collaborative and group work we are doing at The Sweet Setup. We are using it to get a lot of work done without losing our minds. I can’t imagine what our workflow would look like without it.
And what about play?
Marvel Unlimited: I’m not nearly the comic nerd I was in my early teenage years, but I do still enjoy reading comics some evenings. I have a subscription to Marvel Unlimited, which, if you’re not familiar with the app, is a bit like Netflix for Marvel comic books. There are a lot of comics available through the app, and you can read any of them you like. There are a few drawbacks to the Marvel Unlimited app such as a pretty horrible process for reading more than one comic in a row (after each issue you have to exit back to your library, select the next comic, then chose to read it); no ability to save a whole story arc into your library (you have to save each comic issue one at a time); and the fact that most issues don’t show up in the app until they are about one year old. However, the good (the huge selection) far outweighs the bad. For someone who enjoys comics enough to read a dozen issues or more in a month, but isn’t serious that it’s important to own every issue, then Marvel Unlimited is a great thing.
Loom: After Everpix shut down I switched to Loom at Bradley Chamber’s recommendation. There are a lot of things I like about Loom (such as its design and auto uploading of images from my Mac) and it’s still better than Photo Stream when it comes to don’t-make-me-think-about-it photo syncing from all my devices to all my devices.
Paprika: I’ve recently migrated all my recipes out of Simplenote and into Paprika. I don’t have a lot of recipes, but the ones I do have are delicious and it makes a lot more sense to keep them in a nice recipe app. Paprika is great, and having a 3-app suite across the Mac, iPhone, and iPad has proven to be quite helpful. Over on The Sweet Setup we tested quite a few recipe apps and found Paprika to be the best.
* * *
Earlier this year I began taking monthly screenshots of my iPhone and iPad Home screens so I could track, over time, how my usage of apps evolved and changed.
This is what my iPad’s Home screen looked like on May 1, 2013:
And this is what my iPad Home screen looks like today, Dec 23, 2013:
Most obviously, there is the visual change iOS 7 brought, and the new wallpaper I’m sporting. In terms of apps, my general types of apps has not changed, but a few of the apps themselves have. Most notably the replacement of iCal with Calendars 5, Writing Kit with Editorial, and the new Reeder with the native Feed Wrangler app.
Doing “work” from the iPad
As savvy readers of this site will know, I am an advocate for using the iPad to get work done. And often I prefer it to my laptop, especially when traveling. But, that is not to say I force the iPad into a workflow or use-case scenario that makes no sense just to “prove the iPad can be used for work”.
I enjoy the simplicity of the iPad, the change of pace its different apps bring, and, yes, sometimes I do enjoy the challenge of seeing what I can accomplish with it even when it’d be easier to just take my laptop. Because in a day and age where things are always speeding up and up and up, it’s nice to use a device that inherently causes me to slow down a bit.
The iPad makes for a fantastic writing device.
A cup of hot coffee, my bluetooth keyboard, and my iPad makes for one of my favorite ways to write. The one-app-at-a-time mentality along with the relatively difficult way to switch between apps (when compared to the Mac’s CMD+Tab) make iOS a pretty good “anti-distraction writing enviroment”.
Moreover, there are some truly exceptional writing apps for the iPad.
Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time with a lot of writing and note-taking apps. The ones that have stood out to me the most?
- Simplenote (which I don’t really use for long-form writing, but I do use often because I have lots and lots and lots of notes in there).
- iA Writer: For whatever reason, I never got into iA Writer all that much (neither on the iPad, iPhone, or Mac). Mostly because, as silly as this may sound, it didn’t have a “night theme”.
- Byword: What I use on the Mac for all long-form writing.
- Writing Kit: I used this app for quite a while because of its built-in web browser and several other nifty features.
- Editorial: the iPad markdown writing app that changed the world.
Now, I am, of course, writing this text in Writer Pro on the iPad. It just came out a few hours ago and so naturally I can’t say too much about it yet. But iA Writer has a well-deserved fantastic reputation, and this new version of the app — Writer Pro — promises to take things to the next level. And, clearly, it does.
Is Writer Pro a significant upgrade from iA Writer? Absolutely.
Writer Pro has all the simplicity and charm of its predecessor but now applied to the whole workflow of writing process — from idea to done.
What’s special about Writer Pro is its obsessive focus is on the writing process. There are four “sections” your documents can be slotted in to: Notes, Writing, Editing, Reading. Each section has its own typeface and cursor color. The “Writing” section is, more or less, what the whole iA Writer app used to be.
This is an organization structure I could get behind. I follow this concept loosely already by keeping all of my notes and ideas in Simplenote and all of my “currently writing” articles in Dropbox (where I use Byword on the Mac and Editorial on the iPad). No other app that I know of has this sort of persnickety focus and structure.
So, after poking around and doing some typing, do I find Writer Pro awesome enough to pull me away from my current apps? It’s early to say, but I don’t think so…
I have three quibbles:
Unfortunately, Writer Pro on iOS has no auto-markdown completion, nor markdown syntax highlighting.
Secondly, there is no document storage option like iA Writer had (in iA Writer on iOS you could chose iCloud or Dropbox for document syncing). Writer Pro syncs with iCloud or nothing. Which means your documents are sandboxed into the app. And there is no export option to get out all the documents at once. (You can email individual documents out of the app.)
And, from what I can tell, if you use iCloud document syncing for both iA Writer and Writer Pro, the two apps do not have access to one another’s files. But, since Writer Pro on the Mac can access documents you have in Dropbox, if wanted to use Writer Pro on your Mac you could keep it in sync with iOS apps that have access to Dropbox (such as Byword, Editorial, etc.).
Third, when writing in Writer Pro with a Bluetooth keyboard (as I am now) the custom keyboard row does not persist at the bottom of the screen. And so to get access to the custom Editing and Syntax highlighting buttons you have to bring up the entire soft keyboard, tap your options, and then dismiss the soft keyboard.
Update: Anton Sotkov points out that the keyboard shortcuts in the Mac app work on iOS as well.
Update 2: The Writer Pro team told me via Twitter that many of these issues will be gone in future updates. I understand that you’ve got to draw the “1.0 line” somewhere, and I have a lot of appreciate for opinionated software like iA Writer and Writer Pro.
Is Writer Pro an impressive, beautiful, and useful piece of software? Absolutely. Is it going to find a place in my iPad writing workflow? I don’t think so.
Gosh. Well, I’ve been using both an iPad mini and an iPad Air, side-by-side, for the past three weeks. The goal of my parallel usage is to see if the mini can be used for “real work” (it can), and ultimately to see if I’ll prefer the smaller form factor of the mini or the larger screen of the Air (I don’t know yet).
So far, when around the house, I’ve been grabbing the iPad mini more frequently. Part of this may still be the novelty of the smaller iPad. This is the first iPad mini I’ve used for an extended period of time and even though the iPad Air is crazy light and still nice and easy to use, the iPad mini is more “fun” to use around the house.
These uses mostly include:
- Scrubbing my to-do list in the morning (in OmniFocus)
- Streaming Pandora or Rdio to our living room’s Airplay speaker
- Reading Instapaper and sometimes posting links to shawnblanc.net
- Making edits and reviewing documents in Editorially
- Doing email
On the go, I do writing in Editorial. And, actually, I’ve felt no remorse when I’ve set up the iPad mini with my keyboard to do writing from it or to log into my website via Diet Coda and make edits to code when needed.
So far, the biggest advantage the iPad Air has over the iPad mini is when it comes to reading comics. I’m not an avid comic book reader, but I do subscribe to the Marvel Unlimited app and read a few comics during the week. Unfortunately, the Marvel Unlimited app is not very good. And one of the biggest things that makes it difficult to read on the iPad mini is that you have to view full page spreads (you cannot zoom in and read pane by pane). And so the iPad Air really does make a superior reading experience for that because the text is larger and more comfortable to read.
Typing on the on-screen keyboard of the iPad Air is obviously much more manageable. I don’t do much typing, but when I do it’s usually via the landscape keyboard on the Air or else the portrait keyboard on the mini. Those are the two more comfortable options for each device. Long-form writing with the on-screen keyboard of the mini would stink. But, since I almost always use a bluetooth keyboard when doing long-form typing, it’s virtually a non-issue for me as to which device’s onscreen keyboard is better.
Let’s answer some questions
I asked you guys on Twitter if you had any questions about the two iPads, and I’ve done my best to answer them below. Some questions I can’t give a clear and dry answer to because there are so many variables about how you, dear reader, use your iPad, what your budget is, etc. But I will at least try to put my thoughts down to maybe give you some context that may help you make the best decision.
What are your general thoughts on “content creation versus consumption” between the two iPads? This sort of is the quintessential question, and I think it boils down to this:
The iPad mini and the iPad Air are both equally capable and usable devices; pick the one you think you want and you will acclimate to it just fine.
Both iPads are sitting there, which one do you grab? The iPad mini. But I’m not yet sure if that’s telling of anything. I’ve had a full-sized iPad since the original in 2010 and this is the first iPad mini I’ve used at length. The smaller size is still a novelty to me, and I’m really enjoying it.
Which gets warmer during use? Both of my iPads get warm during use, but the iPad mini gets more warm than the Air. Neither get uncomfortable, but it is noticeable.
Do you notice the differences in display quality (PPI) in day-to-day use? Surprisingly, no. I was quite excited about the iPad mini’s 326 PPI display — it is the most dense pixel display Apple makes, and up until now it’s a pixel density that has only been in the iPhone. But now it’s in a 7.9-inch iPad. However, even when using both iPads side by side — with the mini showing my Twitter replies and the Air running Editorial as I type in the Questions and my answers — I cannot see a noticeable difference in the clarity and sharpness of the screens.
Have you noticed the difference in color gamut? Yes, but it’s hardly noticeable. and it’s only with some shades of red — the iPad Air displays them a bit more like firetruck and the iPad mini a bit more muted. But really, looking at the two screens side by side and comparing them using the same apps and images and Home screens, everything looks virtually identical.
My pal, Matthew Panzarino, traded his iPad mini in because of the color issues. Maybe I got lucky, or maybe he got unlucky, but I’ve had two Retina iPad minis so far (the wi-fi version at first that I returned to get an LTE version) and the screen colors have been fine on both of them.
How do they perform in note taking? If you’re a student and you plan to take your iPad to the classroom, or if you take your iPad to meetings, the biggest question to ask is if you plan to use an external bluetooth keyboard or not. If you plan to go sans-keyboard, then I would go for the iPad Air without hesitation. Its larger screen set in landscape mode makes for a much better typing surface than the mini’s on-screen keyboard. If, however, you plan to bring a bluetooth keyboard along as well, then it’s a toss-up. So keep reading some of the other questions below.
I have an iPad (1 / 2 / 3 / 4), should I upgrade? If you can afford it, and if you use your iPad a lot, then yes. This year is a big leap for the iPads and even going from an iPad 4 to an iPad Air is a nice upgrade. You’ll notice improvements in both performance and size. I upgraded from an iPad 3 and it was a huge boost.
Which iPad should I upgrade to? I got both iPads in the 32GB with LTE flavor. I highly recommend at least that combo and to get more storage if you think you’ll need it. As for if you should get the Air or the mini, well isn’t that what all these questions are about? In short, though, my advice this year still stands as it has been since the mini first came out: if you’re just not sure which one to get, get the mini.
Are there any specific tasks that one iPad is more suited for? Yes.
A few things the iPad Air’s larger screen is arguably better for: Writing and typing, because of its somewhat larger font size and bigger on-screen keyboard; reading comics, PDFs, and other “font locked” documents/periodicals; watching video; editing photos and videos; and taking hand-written notes, drawing, or painting (with apps like 53’s Paper). Is the iPad Air significantly better for these things? I don’t think so. And really, it just boils down to a matter of opinion and personal preference.
A few things the iPad mini is arguably better for: reading books, RSS feeds, twitter feeds, Instapaper queue, etc. In any app where you can adjust the font size, if the iPad mini’s display is a bit too dense for you, you can adjust the font size to be a bit bigger; and anything that would normally be done while holding the iPad.
Though the Air is great in size and weight, it’s not as light as the mini and the latter truly is easier to hold in one hand while standing, sitting, leaning back, etc.
In what contexts is the iPad mini “less of an iPad” than the Air? So, when does the screen size play the biggest role? Drawing, painting, typing, photo/video editing, watching movies. These are tasks where having a bigger screen really is nicer.
Are there any apps that work better on a mini? Any app that you use while holding the mini (specifically reading / browsing).
Is it difficult to use two iPads at the same time? Actually, no, not at all. Since everything I use on my iPad syncs to the web, the two are literally in perfect sync with one another.
How does each iPad fare as a laptop replacement? They both fare the same.
What use cases make me reach for one iPad over the other? When I’m doing writing, I reach for the iPad Air. For everything else (scrubbing OmniFocus, reading Twitter, RSS, quick email checking, Instapaper, etc.) I grab the mini.
When you’re using the Air, what do you miss about the Mini? If I’m typing with my keyboard, I miss nothing. If I’m reading Instapaper or surfing the Web, I miss the mini’s smaller size.
Which iPad do you tend to use when in the house? The mini. Since, when I’m in the house, and am writing, I am most likely at my desk using my MacBook Air. And thus, any other task
Which iPad do you tend to grab when heading out on the road? The iPad Air. Since, as I’ll mention below, the iPad Air still feels like my “real” iPad.
* * *
So far, the iPad mini seems to be becoming my preferred iPad, but the iPad Air feels like my “real” iPad. Let me try to explain. For my needs, there’s nothing about the iPad mini that makes it less capable in any significant way — I can read and write just fine from the mini. However, the iPad mini has a “feeling” of being less capable simply because of its size.
Is the iPad Air a bit better suited for some tasks such as writing? I think so. For me, the larger screen size allows me to have a bigger font size and see more words on the screen at the same time (something nice for my aging eyes). And for times when I’m doing typing with the on-screen keyboard, the iPad Air’s larger screen is much nicer for hitting the keys. But for almost every other task (except for watching movies and reading comics), I find the mini to be just as good if not even better suited.
After 3 weeks, I’m actually leaning slightly more towards the mini if I had to pick one. Though I do work a lot from my iPad, the iPad is not my main work machine. I still spend most of my time at my desk working from my MacBook Air. And so, for the things I do use an iPad for, the iPad mini is better for about 80-percent of them and “good enough” for the other 20-percent. I plan to keep using both iPads, side by side, for at least another month or two, so I’ll check back in again soon.
As I said in response to the first question above, the iPad mini and the iPad Air are both equally capable and usable devices. Pick the one you think you want and you will acclimate to it just fine.
These two new iPads are marvels.
It’s already amazing that there exists gadgets made of aluminum and glass which weigh less than a pound and have screens that rival the resolution of a printed magazine. Now add to that the fact these devices have touch screens so true-to-life and so responsive that it feels as if you’re literally manipulating the pixels with your fingers.
And it doesn’t end there.
Pacing around the coffee table in my office, thinking about the new iPads while contemplating the big picture of things like personal computers that fit in our pockets and purses, it’s easy to get swept away in just what an incredible day and age we live in.
These devices are also connected to the world wide web — allowing me to communicate with friends, family, members, and strangers alike. A photo I took of my son using my phone has magically appeared on my iPad, and I can email it to my parents with ease; I can write words and publish them to a place where anyone in the world can come to read; I can download music and books; and so, so much more.
But then, returning to Earth, what are the brass tacks here? I’ve been sending emails for over half my life; I’ve never owned a cell phone that couldn’t send a text message; I’ve been making my living publishing to the web for nearly three years; and this isn’t my first iPad.
But yet, in a way, this is my first iPad.
The iPad Air is, hands down, the most amazing iPad I’ve ever owned. And I’ve owned several.
Keeping with tradition, I bought the iPad Air on launch day, too. Thirteen days later I can say, unequivocally, that it is the greatest iPad ever. The change in size and weight and speed when compared to the iPad 3 is something that must be experienced and not read about. Trying to describe the difference in usability between the iPad Air and its predecessors is an exercise which puts my wordsmithing skills to the test.
My iPads have always received quite a bit of use from me. Even from the very first generation iPad, I have toted these things with me to meetings, coffee shops, vacations to the Rocky Mountains, “business” trips to WWDC, my living room, and everywhere in between.
Moreover, I am quite comfortable using the iPad as my “laptop”. My work is such that I’m fortunate enough to be able to do pretty much everything I need from the iPad. Nearly all of my daily tasks and routines related to work or play are things I can do on iOS.
Every design and engineering progression with the iPad has been a nice, incremental, and welcomed step. Thinner and lighter, then Retina, then faster. But the iPad Air is a leap and not a step. It feels impossibly thin and impossibly light while also being extremely fast and responsive. It is quintessential.
And then, yesterday, the iPad mini with Retina display appeared. And, well, it is also the best iPad I’ve ever owned.
Here is a device that will fit inside my wife’s purse or the pocket of my peacoat. And it’s ideal for all the most common personal computing tasks of doing email, surfing the Internet, and checking Facebook and Twitter. And we all know the iPad can do so much more — there’s no reason why the iPad mini couldn’t be someone’s only computer.
And that fascinates me. Who knew that one day our uncompromising personal computers would cost a few hundred dollars and would comfortably fit inside a woman’s purse?
I’ve been using the Retina mini for just a day now, but I am confident that I could use it for all the tasks which I’ve been using my full-sized iPad for all these years. The question is not about the capabilities of the mini; the question is about my own preferences. And, at the moment, I don’t have an answer.
It’s different than deciding between an 11- or 13-inch MacBook Air, or between a 13- or 15-inch MacBook Pro. For laptops you mostly use them while they are placed on top of a desk or table (or perhaps your lap) while you sit in front of them. You mostly pick which laptop you need based on your computing tasks and needs, size plays a role in terms of portability, but once the laptop is out and on the desk it mostly doesn’t matter what size it is (unless you’re sitting in coach).
But with the iPad Air and iPad mini, computing usage is not the only factor. There’s also a tangible, kinesthetic-centric factor at play here. Because the iPad is something you hold and touch while using.
Which is better: an iPad Air that has a bigger screen and which is thin and light enough? Or an iPad mini that is very thin and light and which has a screen that is big enough? I just don’t think you can pit these two devices against one another. They are not competing — they are two of a kind.
They are both great. Both favorites.
Over the next several weeks and months I plan to use both iPads for the same tasks. It’ll be interesting to see how the dust settles and if I’ll naturally be drawn more to the smaller device or the larger one, and why.
This is the year the iPad line has reached significant, noteworthy maturity. It’s worthy of a milestone.
The iPad Air is to the original iPad what the iPhone 4 was to the original iPhone.
The iPhone 4 was the model where all the foundational components — the screen, the hardware design, the camera, the processor — came together just right to make an iPhone without compromise.
The original iPhone compromised on a lot of things: it had a lousy camera and only worked on AT&T’s EDGE network.
The iPhone 3G and 3GS compromised on their hardware design — using a plastic casing to allow better cellular reception and battery life.
The iPhone 4 left those compromises behind while also upping the ante. It had a beautiful design of glass and steel while keeping the fast (3G) cellular data and good battery life. Additionally, the iPhone 4 added a significantly better camera and, of course, the introduction of the Retina display.
Similarly, I think the iPad Air is “finally” a full-sized iPad without compromises. It has a gorgeous display, excellent battery life, it’s powerful, and, of course, it’s very lightweight and easy to hold.
The iPad Air (and Retina iPad mini) mark the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next for the iPad line. And so, now that we’re here, where does the iPad lineup go next?
A year ago, when the iPad mini came out, I kept my full-sized iPad because of the retina screen. And it’s not like that was a sacrifice. I love the larger display on my full-sized iPad for writing and reading. The size and weight (which, come on, have never been that bad) have never bothered me. Sure, I can’t hold the iPad with one hand while lying down in bed, but I don’t do that anyway. For long-form reading I have a Kindle.
The question for me, today, on iPad Air Eve, is: could the iPad mini — which is cheaper, smaller, and lighter, with an even denser Retina than the iPad Air display — be just as good for how I use my iPad?
All those who got early review units of the iPad Air are talking about how thin and light it is. Naturally. That’s the hallmark feature for which it’s named. Some wrote in their review that they will be leaving their old iPad mini for the new iPad Air, while others are not getting an Air and holding out for the new iPad Mini with Retina screen.
When I travel, I like to leave my MacBook Air at home and take just my iPad. In part because when I travel (especially vacation) I like to avoid bringing work with me. Also, there are a few days a week when I will leave my home office to go work from a coffee shop or the local library. Most of the time I like to take just my iPad on these occasions as well.
There are myriad conveniences to working from an iPad. The insane battery life; the extreme portability; super-fast LTE that’s available just about anywhere (except the middle of Kansas, fyi, in case you too happen to find yourself driving on I-70 between Denver and Kansas City); and more.
Also, the iPad comes with its own “anti-distraction software” — iOS itself. On the iPad you can only wrangle one app at a time.
But lately, when traveling or going to a coffee shop, I’ve been taking my MacBook Air with me more often than not. When I went to WWDC in 2012 I took only my iPad, yet this year I took my MacBook Air along.
As water likes to flow downward I naturally gravitate towards working from my laptop.
I’m at my desk working from my clamshelled MacBook Air right now, and I have 9 active application windows in my view: MarsEdit, nvAlt, Safari, Mail, Pages, Byword, Messages, Rdio, and OmniFocus. My MacBook Air is packed to the rafters with Keyboard Maestro macros, TextExpander snippets, keyboard shortcuts, and other scripts. It can display many app windows at once, and is generally more efficient for most tasks.
There are, of course, advantages and disadvantages to iOS’s constraints just as there are advantages and disadvantages to the versatility of OS X. Each device and its operating system have their own ways of empowering creative work as well as hindering it.
It’s often easier for me to work from my MacBook Air and sometimes I flat out need to. But I want to and will continue to work from my iPad as often as possible.
Though I’m still not 100% confident that an iPad Air will be the best iPad for me now that the iPad mini has a Retina display, the alarm on my iPhone is set for tonight at 2:00 am local time. I’ll wake up, order my iPad through Apple’s Store app, choose in-store pickup (assuming it’s an option), and mosey down to my local Apple store some time tomorrow after I’ve had my coffee.
Then, in about a month from now, for the sake of science, I’ll get an iPad mini as well.1 I don’t want an iPad Air or an iPad mini specifically — I want the device that’s the most enjoyable and conducive to use for getting work done.
Perhaps it’s with the one that has a bigger screen that will prove to be thin and light enough. Or, maybe, the one that is thinner and lighter with a screen that proves to be big enough.
I don’t yet know how the pros and cons weigh against one another. But I do know that the iPad as a computer is the future. And the entire iOS and iDevice ecosystem is, to me, the most exciting and fascinating thing happening right now.
- Last year I had a very good feeling that this sort of dilemma would present itself, so I’ve been saving with the expectation of buying one of each so I could use and test them both. These are the sorts of sacrifices I’m willing to take for my job. ↵
Unlock your iPhone, click the Home button, and what do you see? The Home screen.
My current iPhone Home screen looks like this:
It’s a grid of app icons. Tap one and you’ll launch that app.
Aside from the new aesthetics of iOS 7 and the slow-churn change of various apps that come and go in this space over time, my iPhone’s home screen looks and functions the same as it did in 2007 on the original iPhone OS. And so has yours.
However, I think the Home screen in iOS 7 got a significant improvement right under our noses.
Apple implemented some fantastic updates to the Home screen, and did so without making any obvious changes to the way things have looked and functioned since day one. It’s a vast improvement that didn’t require us having to learn anything new or re-orient ourselves to the way we’ve been using our iOS devices for the past 6 years.
Here’s what we can do from the iOS 7 Home screen that we couldn’t do before:
We now have one-swipe access to turn on or off our iPhone’s Wi-fi and Bluetooth, enable/disable Airplane mode and Do Not Disturb mode, and lock/unlock the screen orientation.
We have one-swipe access to adjust the brightness of the screen.
We are one swipe away from being able to launch the Clock app, the Calculator, the Camera, and turning our iPhone’s flash into a Flashlight.
We have one-swipe access to the currently playing audio, and the ability to adjust the volume, pause/play the audio, and skip to the next or previous track.
We are one swipe away from being able to search our entire phone’s catalog of apps, emails, contacts, notes, music, and more.
From any Home screen, we have one-swipe access to our calendar of events for today and tomorrow, as well as the current weather, anticipated drive time to our next routine destination, and a list of all recently updated apps, incoming notifications, and missed notifications.
Since these new and improved features are not tied directly to the Home screen itself, they can be accessed from anywhere on the device — inside any app, and even from the Lock screen.
If Apple had instead chosen to incorporate some of these features by doing Home screen widgets, then access to them would be restricted to only our first Home screen (or whichever screen we’d placed those widgets on).
There is still much growth and iteration that can — and I believe will — happen here. But with iOS 7, Apple has begun to let us interact with iOS in significant ways that don’t require the launching of an individual app. Certain functions of iOS are slowly expanding out of their silos.
Your iPhone and iPad have never looked so fresh and different. The new look and feel of iOS 7 is the most significant design change since the toggle buttons went from rounded rectangles to circles.
With so much new, I wanted to focus on a handful of the smaller, delightful details.
The Lock Screen
From a purely aesthetic standpoint, I find the design of the Lock screen to be wonderful. I love the open, airy feel and how you can swipe from anywhere on the Lock screen to unlock your iPhone.
If you use a passcode lock, the Pin Pad slides over from the left side of the display. It’s a nice touch, and I bring it up because for future 5s owners, this is something you won’t be seeing very often come Friday.
And one more cool little detail of the Lock screen is that if you’ve snoozed an alarm or set a timer, the Lock screen shows the time remaining.
Launching / Exiting Apps
When you open an app, it expands from the app icon’s location on the Home screen to fill the display. When you exit an app, it minimizes back into the icon.
The Clock App’s Icon
If you look at the icon for the Clock app, you’ll notice that not only does it now show the correct time, even the second hand moves just like an analog clock.
The Music App
When you are looking at an album or playlist list and the currently playing song is in view, an “EQ” graphic is animated to the left of the song that’s now playing.
Your entire iTunes music collection (of songs you’ve purchased from the iTunes music store) is now listed in the Music app. And you can now stream and download any song in your iTunes library even if it’s not downloaded to your iPhone.
Turning your iPhone into Landscape mode to see the new Cover Flow design shows a thumbnail grid of album covers.
If ever there was a case where you shouldn’t judge an app by its icon, this is it. Safari in iOS 7 has the worst of the new icons, yet it is my favorite new app. In it are a slew of changes and improvements to the graphics, design, and functionality.
Reader mode: The look of Safari’s Reader mode is much improved compared to iOS 6. It’s cleaner and ties in with the overall Helvetica-gushing design aesthetic of iOS 7.
Tap the three-line “paragraph” icon that’s in the left of the Address bar and a sheet slides down over the website you’re on presenting you with a reader friendly text-view.
If you see no icon, then Safari doesn’t know how to parse the text, or it doesn’t think there’s text worth parsing.
Minimizing Chrome: When you scroll down on a web page you’ll see how Safari’s chrome minimizes: the address bar gets smaller and the icon tool bar on the bottom disappears altogether.
And when viewing a webpage in landscape orientation, Safari will go into full-screen mode with all the chrome disappearing — even the status bar — in order to allow as much vertical space as possible.
Tapping the bottom of the screen will bring up the bottom tool bar.
There are many, many more design changes and improvements to Mobile Safari. Overall, the updates to this app are just fantastic. Well done, Mobile Safari team.
You’ll notice this right away the first time you scroll an iMessage / SMS conversation: the chat bubbles are slightly springy and bouncy, moving as you scroll the conversation.
I love the use of the circle picture avatars in group message threads. And if no picture is attached to a contact, then the iPhone uses their initials as their “avatar” instead.
And, something else you may not know but which is very awesome: swipe from right to left in a Messages conversation to view the individual timestamps of each sent and received message.
This isn’t a “small” detail by any means — it’s one of the headlining features in iOS 7. But it’s one of my favorite additions to iOS. I love having the quick access to toggle certain settings (such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and more), and it’s very helpful to be able to launch certain apps from anywhere in the phone, even the Lock screen.
For example, when I’m brewing my morning cup of AeroPress’d coffee, I can get to the stopwatch with just a swipe up from the Home screen and then a tap to the Clock app.
Also, if you look closely, the on/off button on the flashlight icon toggles up and down as you toggle the actual switch in Control Center.
The Today view learns about your commuting habits and gives you information about how far away you are from your next destination. Also, it shows the natural language summary of your day today and tomorrow with weather, appointments, etc.
Checking the Today summary of my day has become part of my morning routine. Notification Center can be called from the Lock screen, so I simply tap the Home button, then swipe down from the top of the screen to see a brief overview of what the weather is going to be and what (if any) appointments I have today.
Scanning in an iTunes gift card
Launch the App Store app, scroll to the bottom of the Featured page, then tap on “Redeem.” Then…
Delight is in the Details
I’ve been running iOS 7 on my iPhone since the day it was first announced. It is a stark contrast to what we’ve been so familiar with on the iPhone and iPad, but it quickly grows on you. And all of these little details that are sprinkled throughout iOS 7 — some obvious, some not so obvious — just go to show that even when doing a major overhaul of their most popular operating system, Apple still takes time to sweat the details and add in those little design decisions which surprise and delight.
The Origami Workstation from Incase is little more than a folding, rubberized board that wraps around an Apple Bluetooth keyboard.
It has two tabs with velcro that flip underneath and strap to the underside when not in use. Or they fold towards one another to form a triangle stand when you want to prop your iPad up to write. The Workstation uses a half-circle plastic clip that is the exact size for securing the round, battery-holding tube area of the Apple Bluetooth keyboard.
Therefore this case doesn’t work with any keyboard other than Apple’s.
Fortunately, Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard is excellent. It’s sturdy, well built, and capable of controlling the iPad’s volume, brightness, and media playback.
There are, however, other iPad-specific keyboards (such as Amazon’s Basics) that have additional iOS-specific buttons which can return you to the Home screen, or take you to the Spotlight page. While these iPad-specific keyboards have some cool features, I’ve yet to try one that felt better for typing on than Apple’s keyboard. Giving up quality and size for a couple neat buttons is not a fair tradeoff.
Keyboards aside, there are many other reasons I like the Origami Workstation.
The Workstation’s best feature is that it doesn’t permanently affix itself to my iPad. Most of my iPad usage is comprised of non-typing activities like reading iBooks, Instapaper, RSS feeds, surfing the Web, etc. For those activities, the plain iPad is plenty — there is no need for an external keyboard (especially not one that’s attached.)
Well, why not just use the iPad’s smart cover, and carry around the keyboard by itself? I’m glad you asked. For one the Workstation allows me to use the iPad with keyboard on my lap (for times I’m sitting in a conference room or an airport terminal). Secondly, the Workstation offers a sturdier support for the iPad than the Smart Cover. Thus allowing me to press the Home button and navigate the touch screen without using two hands to keep the iPad from tipping over. And if you prefer to type with the iPad in portrait mode, you can do that no problem.
Another great benefit of the Workstation is that it’s device agnostic and future proof. It works perfectly with an iPad 1, 2, 3, 4, iPad mini, or even an iPhone. And it will work with whatever else comes next so long as it isn’t any thicker than an inch.
My Origami Workstation has seen nearly 18 months of use on the road, in coffee shops, and at the kitchen table. It continues to be the ideal typing companion to my iPad.
Ted Landau published an article for Macworld today, entitled “Why the iPad still can’t be a true Mac replacement”. In it, he lays out some of the differences between the Mac and iPad, and why, because of those differences, the iPad is not yet ready to be a Macintosh replacement.
Ted is correct in his reasoning for why the iPad isn’t a Mac replacement. The iPad runs a completely different OS with completely different apps. And it does not have the same hardware expansion capabilities as the Mac does, such as the ability to connect to external hard drives and monitors.
At the heart of Ted’s article, however, is this bit about why he is arguing that the iPad isn’t ready to replace the Mac:
[T]here remains a persistent undercurrent in the media predicting an eventual demise of the Mac at the hands of the iPad. Whoa!
I agree with Ted that this undercurrent exists. There also exists a current going the other direction (as Ted demonstrates) stating that there’s no way the iPad could replace the Mac. I think these two “currents” are black and white, overdramatized extremes.
The future of the Mac is not to shrink until it’s the size of an iPad and the two become one. Nor is the future of the Mac to die a slow and painful death as the iPad eventually gains so much marketshare that Apple just shuts down the manufacturing of all their iMacs and MacBooks.
Which is why I think Ted — and anyone else who argues that the iPad cannot be a Mac replacement — is missing the point. The iPad isn’t meant to be a Mac replacement.
The iPad is a Mac alternative — and only if you want it to be.
Nobody is forcing us to use iPads instead of a Macs. There is no law which requires anyone who purchases an iPad to then dispose of their Mac. When you walk into an Apple store to buy a new Mac, you are not asked to prove that your needs are sufficient enough to warrant the use of a Mac rather than an iPad.
Never has Tim Cook said that the Mac and OS X will be phased out and that we had all better learn to love our iPads. In fact, just look at what Apple was up to in 2012: Retina MacBook Pros, new iMacs, and a commitment to an annual update cycle to OS X. That doesn’t look like the demise of the Mac to me.
Arguing about if the iPad is a Mac replacement or not is a bit like arguing about your favorite color. Yes, there are people who would do quite fine with an iPad as their only computer. There are also those who can use the iPad for some work tasks, but not all. And there are those who prefer their iPad for watching videos and reading and that’s about it. And, of course, there are all those in-between scenarios.
It’s no secret that I’m a big proponent of using the iPad as a workhorse device as much and as often as possible. However, it’s not because I’m “training” myself for that fateful day when Apple stops selling Macs. Nor am I against using the Mac — goodness, no. I mean, I’m typing this on my Mac right now.
The reason I chose to work from my iPad when I can is because I enjoy it. I like the change of pace that comes with using iOS. I like aiming to do the same quality of work without all the fancy macros, scripts, and shortcuts I have at my fingertips when on my Mac. I like staying abreast of iOS apps and workflows. And when I’m away from my home office, I love taking the iPad because it’s such a lightweight device with long battery life and LTE connectivity.
But does my iPad replace my Mac? No. Is it an alternative work device when I want it to be? You bet it is.
The iPad is awesome. The Mac is awesome, too. Those two statements don’t have to conflict with one another. The Mac and OS X can be refined and polished at the same time the iPad and iOS are matured and strengthened.1
The iPad’s hardware gets better and more capable every year. And iOS gets better every day. But the Mac doesn’t have to become less in order for the iPad to become more.
It was through this weblog that I cut my teeth on Mac nerdery. It was for the sake of writing about the Mac that I even started shawnblanc.net in the first place. And, over the years, as we’ve come into the age of the iPhone and iOS and iPad, a lot of my affinity for fine software and hardware has shifted from OS X only to iOS as well.
Like others, I too am ever-increasingly interested in getting the maximum utility possible from my iPhone and iPad. However, this growing interest does not prove that the future of the PC is the iPad as it stands today. I believe the whole underlying principle is behind this argument is that the iPad is showing what the future of technology hopefully looks like. It’s a future of extreme simplicity coupled with extreme usability.
Instead of arguing for or against the iPad as a Mac replacement, let’s discover ways to use both devices better.
I want to know how to use both my Mac and my iPad to do my best creative work. And I want to do that work as often as possible while enjoying and exploiting each device’s respective workflows.
- There’s a whole lot of discussion about the future and importance of iCloud that could bunny trail right here. ↵
It’s not about outdated concepts like widgets or settings toggles, or inconsequential interface trends like skeuomorphism. It’s about software and services that don’t force us to hunt for data or controls, no matter how they’re painted up, but that bring data and controls to us, flat or textured. It’s about actionable notifications powered by headless apps and seamless inter-app communication. It’s about predictive data assistance with multi-layer natural language interfaces. It’s about data moving from cloud to device, or vice versa, transparently, in the background, so we have what we need, when and where we need it, without having to manage or store it. It’s about all our stuff working together directly, device to device, so using one of them is akin to using any one of them. It’s about an app ecosystem that pushes rather than than waits for us to pull, with demos and refunds, and analytics that delight developers and users alike. It’s about the brilliant interaction of software and services both on-device and in the clouds.
Last year was a hardware-packed year for gadgets being designed in California. Retina MacBook Pros, super-slim and bubbly iMacs, iPhone 5, iPad mini, et al.
Of course, 2012 wasn’t strictly a hardware year. We got Mountain Lion, and OS X is now on an annual update cycle; we also got iOS 6 and Apple’s own maps app. But the updates to iOS and OS X were not of the same breakthrough caliber as the hardware updates — last year was a very good year to be in the market for a new Mac, iPad, or iPhone.
This year, I’m hopeful that the pendulum will swing towards the software-side of things.
I believe Apple wants to improve iOS in many of the areas Rene points out above. By removing some of the friction and frustration currently experienced with iCloud, maps, and more. And I also believe Apple wants iOS to be seen as a professional-grade operating system, worthy of “real work”. There is still some low-hanging fruit, and no doubt there are also some significant updates and breakthroughs to the usability and functionality of iOS on the horizon.
But I think it’s fair to say that the general perception of the iPad as a legitimate work device just isn’t there yet.
Even amongst the readers of this site — whom are decidedly, clever, nerdy, and prone to living on the bleeding edge — when I talk about using the iPad as my laptop, I get more than a few raised eyebrows and responses from people who still need or prefer to grab their MacBook when it’s time to work away from the office. Even my own wife would not be persuaded to get an iPad when she needed a new computer.
The prejudice against the iPad as a legitimate work machine isn’t isolated to just the iPad. It’s one of the few things all tablets have in common right now. Microsoft is attempting to market the Surface Pro as a professional grade device by showing people in a board room dancing.
Apple, on the other hand, I believe will demonstrate the iPad’s professional viability by bringing best-of-breed solutions and then demonstrating real-life use-case scenarios. A massive component of this is, and always will be, the App Store. But it can’t end there. Apple has more than a few areas where their own technologies and services need to catch up to those of 3rd parties as well as to those of their own competitors.
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.
- 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. ↵
Nearly all the iPad mini reviews I’ve read could be wrapped up thusly: Yes, the non-Retina screen is a bummer, but I’m ditching my bigger iPad nonetheless.
Rene Ritchie wrote:
Personally, the lack of Retina on the iPad mini really bothered me a lot at first. Now I barely notice it unless I’m doing something very text- or line-work-centric. When I’m watching video or playing games, I don’t notice it at all. I do notice the compactness, the thinness, and especially the lightness all the time. They are profound enough that Apple’s compromise on Retina turns out to be the same compromise I’m willing to make.
Marco Arment is in the same boat:
If you’ve never used a Retina-screened device, you probably won’t care, but if you’ve been spoiled by Retina, you’ll notice the lack of it in the Mini almost every time you turn it on. I stop noticing after I start doing something with it, of course, but those first few seconds are a rough reminder every time.
I won’t be going back to the larger iPad.
Going non-retina is a particularly bitter pill for me, but I like the iPad Mini’s size and weight so much that I’m going to swallow it.
It would seem that just about everyone I know who has used the iPad mini for any length of time has decided to switch to it.
I, however, am sticking with my original intent and will not be getting an iPad mini. And it’s not because I don’t trust the above people’s opinions or think them to be loopy.
In fact, the above opinions are all from guys who own an iPad mini and have used one regularly in their own home. For me, however, my only hands-on experience with the iPad mini is what the Apple retail employees have allowed me. My local Apple store is next door to my favorite coffee shop, and I have stopped in a few times since the mini went on sale to check it out.
There is no doubt that the smaller and lighter form factor is superior. The mini is an awesome slab of tablet and it’s size is a welcome change over the heavier iPad 3 or 4. It’s almost uncanny how much easier the iPad mini is to hold and use with one hand compared to the larger iPad. My full-size iPad 3 begs to slide out of my grip if I’m holding it with just one hand.
And it’s the size of the iPad mini that makes it what it is: miniature. Right? Size is what Apple focused on, size is what they prioritized, and thus we have a product that’s just the right size.
I wouldn’t say the iPad mini is the antithesis of the iPad 3, but the two tablets certainly juxtapose well. With the iPad 3 Apple prioritized the Retina screen and thus the chassis was ever so slightly thicker and heavier than the preceding iPad 2. With the iPad mini, Apple has prioritized the form factor and thus there is no Retina screen.
[I]t comes down to technology and price. The goal of the iPad mini was thinness and lightness; to give you everything the full-sized iPad has but in a more concentrated form. When the full-sized iPad went Retina, it actually got slightly thicker and heavier. Apple couldn’t have an iPad mini that was that thin, light, and cheap, with 10 hours of battery life, and a Retina display. They had to choose 2 of the 3, and they chose form factor and battery.
It’s not hard to imagine, given what we see with the iPad 3 and 4, what an iPad Mini with a Retina screen would be like with today’s technology. Its battery life, portability, or performance would suffer significantly. (Probably all three.)
If all the iDevices in your home are Retina screens, then it certainly is jarring when you first turn on the iPad mini and you’re greeted with visible pixels. But after a few minutes, your eyes do get used to it and you’re left with a lightweight tablet that seems like your iPad of old but is actually quite a bit more comfortable.
Nevertheless, I’m sticking with my iPad 3. In part because I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten used to my Retina devices — and here I mean the “good” kind of not getting used to them. In that the crisp and sharp displays of my iPhone and iPad screens still seem uncanny to me even though I’ve had a Retina iPhone since the summer of 2010.
On my iPad 3 I play very few games and I watch very little video. I mostly read or write. It’s text that I’m staring at most of the time. And it’s in the text that Retina screens shine the brightest.
Yes, the iPad mini is superior for holding and traveling and so many other things, and the smaller screen seems to be not much of a drawback for the vast majority of tasks. It does feel like what the iPad mini was meant to be.
But for me, it’s not yet compelling enough.
If I was compelled to get an iPad mini, here would be my options:
Buy an iPad mini outright and have it as my “around the house” iPad, and keep it on the living room coffee table for anyone to use at their leisure. I wouldn’t travel with the iPad mini because my iPad 3 is already my laptop replacement, thanks, in no small part to its LTE connection.
Sell my iPad 3 and buy an iPad mini with LTE. Thus making the mini my new main iPad and laptop replacement.
Keep my iPad 3 and use it as I have been, and upgrade to an iPad 5 and/or a Retina iPad mini when the time comes.
Option 1 is just silly for me; I have absolutely no need for two iPads. It would be the height of superfluousness.
Option 2 is viable, and is what I would do if I truly wanted an iPad mini, but I’m not compelled to do it. Just earlier this year I invested several hundred dollars in my 32 GB iPad 3 with LTE and I’m still happily enjoying it.
For long-form reading of books, I have a Kindle Paperwhite which I love, and this is a combo that I’m quite content with. I’ll stay with option 3.
Remember in 2010 when Apple held an iPhone 4 Press Conference as an answer to the “Antennagate” hubbub?
After his presentation, Steve Jobs was joined by Tim Cook and Bob Mansfield. They all sat on barstools at the front of the room and had a Q&A with the press in attendance. John Gruber asked if any of them were using cases on their iPhones. All 3 of them held up their iPhones to show no case. Steve even demonstrated how he uses his phone (by holding it using the infamous “death grip”) and that he has no reception issues.
What these guys also showed was that they’re using the same phones we are. Three of the top leaders at Apple sitting in a room full of writers and broadcasters, and everyone’s got the same phone in their pockets.
We like to think that Cook, Mansfield, Ive, Schiller, Forstall, and the rest of the gang are walking around with private versions of the 2014 iPhone and its corresponding (though surely buggy as all get out) version of iOS 8.
Everyone knows Apple is an extremely organized and forward thinking company that puts a lot of thought and energy into the planning and testing of its future products. But Apple is also riding on the cusp of its production and engineering capabilities.
After Apple announces and demoes the latest iOS at a WWDC event, most developers wait for the first few rounds of updates to ship before installing the iOS beta on their main devices. And it’s far more likely that the hardware prototypes for the next iPhones are locked away in some design vault, and the software roadmap for the far-future versions of iOS is still mostly on the white board. Meanwhile the folks at Apple are using the same daily driver iPhone and the same operating system you and I are.
Today, right now, we’re using the same mobile operating system with the same apps as the guys in Cupertino who dream this stuff up and make it happen.
And it seems to me that there are several things in iOS 6 which reveal just that. This version of iOS is not full of any one amazing new jaw-dropping feature that will have our minds spinning. Instead it’s filled with dozens of little things that will get used by real people ever day. And it will make our lives a little bit nicer and a little bit easier.
Things like Do Not Disturb mode, and the slide-up options you can act on when you get an incoming call, and VIP emailers, are all things that were thought up by guys who uses this device day in and day out and says to themselves, man, I’m tired of always declining phone calls when I’m in a meeting, texting the person back, and then forgetting to call them when I’m done with my meeting. (Or, perhaps, man, I am tired of getting text messages from my crazy uncle at 2 in the morning, but what if my mom calls and it’s an emergency?)
With that said, here are a few of things in iOS 6 that I am most glad about:
Open Browser Tab Syncing via iCloud
The browser tabs you have open on all your devices are now shared via iCloud. Had a website open on your Mac but then had to jet out the door, no problem. You can open it right back up from your iPhone or iPad.
If your Mac is running Mountain Lion, click the cloud icon in Safari and you’ll see the list of tabs open on your iPhone and iPad. And from your iPhone or iPad, tap the bookmarks icon in Mobile Safari and the drill down into the iCloud Tabs bookmarks folder.
Do Not Disturb
Another one of those features that is so simple and obvious, and yet has a significant impact on the day-to-day usability of our phones. You can activate Do Not Disturb mode from the Settings app.
You can turn it on and off manually (like Airplane mode), and you can set it to automatically start and stop at pre-defined times. (Not unlike Glassboard or Tweetbot allow you to set sleep options for when you do not want to get a push notification.)
To fine tune your Do Not Disturb schedule, and who you’re willing to allow to get through, drill down through the Settings App → Notifications → Do Not Disturb.
The Slide-Up Options on Incoming Calls
This has become my main “show off” feature.
When a friend asks me what’s cool about the new iPhone software I ask them to call me. Then I demo the slide-up menu for incoming calls and watch as they “get it” instantly. We’ve all been in that situation — whether it be a board meeting, dinner, a movie, or whatever — where we have to decline an incoming call from a friend or colleague. This is a feature that makes perfect sense and makes you scratch your head a bit about why it took so long to get here.
Pull to refresh in Mail
We were all doing it out of habit anyway. Now it actually accomplishes something.
Notifications for VIPs
I have worked in places were emails are sent like text messages. I often would get an email asking for me to come to a spontaneous meeting that was starting in 5 minutes.
Or how many times do you watch for that email from your boss or assistant or whomever? There are whole conferences centered around the idea of how checking your email every 5 minutes is a massive productivity killer (and it’s true). But that doesn’t mean the fact remains: a lot of workflows and company cultures are still very much dependent upon people being near-instantly-reachable by email.
VIP emails — and, more specifically, the way iOS (and OS X) are helping us to set them apart — are a great example of how iOS is becoming increasingly usable in real life.
High-Resolution Spinner on shutdown
I mean, finally, right?
Folders shown in Spotlight
After 4 years worth of App Store, some Home screens (including the one on the iPhone that’s sitting here on my desk) are getting unwieldy. There are apps I know I have, but I don’t know where they are. For those I have no choice but to use Spotlight to get to them, but say I want to move them to a more prominent spot?
Now when you use Spotlight to launch an app, if it’s in a folder Spotlight will tell you the name of that folder.
This is one more (of what feels like a) bandaid fix towards a better way to launch and mange apps.
Launching Apps using Siri
Siri is becoming the way of “ubiquitous capture” on the iPhone. It’s the quick-entry popup of OmniFocus on the Mac. Assuming Siri can connect to the servers, she is the fastest way to get sports scores, directions, set a timer, log a reminder, and now launch an app that’s not on your first Home screen.
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The mobile phone industry has is no shortage of impressive, whizbang features which sound great and make fun ads but which rarely get used by real people in their day-to-day lives.
The niceties shipping as part if iOS 6 are great because they’re the sorts of little things that will play big, unsung roles in our everyday lives.
A few days ago David Pogue wrote that if the next iPhone is indeed bigger and comes with a 4-inch screen, it could be out of necessity due to LTE:
I’m guessing that the iPhone’s upsizing will be equally necessary to accommodate a bigger battery, so that Apple can solve the 4G/dead battery issue.
Meaning: We all know that LTE chips drain cell phone batteries → thus the iPhone needs a higher-capacity battery → thus the iPhone needs to be physically bigger → thus, why not slap on a bigger screen while you’re at it?
There are two assumptions about this premise that I don’t like: (1) that Apple won’t find a way to implement LTE without also putting a significantly larger battery into the iPhone; and (2) that Apple would allow LTE implementation to dictate significant hardware design changes, especially changes that affect the screen.
The first may be true, but the second I just don’t see happening.
If we take the new iPad as an example of a Retina display device with LTE, we see that the LTE chip Apple is using in the iPad is nothing compared to the screen’s drain on the battery. Matthew Panzarino wrote in March:
LTE on the new iPad accounts for roughly 10% of the battery’s capacity. The rest of the increase can be attributed to the more powerful processor, screen and bump in RAM. This is remarkable on its own, because its far less than most 4G phones require, indicating that Apple has worked with Qualcomm to intensely tweak the chip for power consumption.
Did you know that if you use the new iPad as an LTE hotspot with the display turned off, the battery will last over 25 hours? As AnandTech pointed out in their iPad 3 review: “If you want to use the new iPad as a personal hotspot, you’ll likely run out of data before you run out of battery life.”
Today’s iPhone already has a battery strong enough to power its Retina screen. And though the next iPhone may indeed have a larger screen, a higher-capacity battery, and LTE connectivity. Assuming that happens, we may never know if LTE forced a bigger phone, or if a bigger phone allowed for LTE. Apple will never say which new component was the “most important” component to the hardware design team. But actually, we do know: it’s the display. It’s always been the display and always will be.
Apple, at its heart, is a software company. And, using some text from my iPad 3 review, the other side of the coin to iOS is the Retina display. Meaning, iOS is the software and the screen is the hardware and that’s pretty much it. That is the device. It’s a screen that becomes whatever pixels are lit up underneath.
On a laptop you have three user interface components: the keyboard, the trackpad, and the display where you watch the user interface. On the iPad and iPhone you have one user interface: the screen. And you touch and manipulate and interact with what you see on that screen.
I love the way Ryan Block explained why the new iPad’s Retina display was such a big deal:
The core experience of the iPad, and every tablet for that matter, is the screen. It’s so fundamental that it’s almost completely forgettable. Post-PC devices have absolutely nothing to hide behind. Specs, form-factors, all that stuff melts away in favor of something else that’s much more intangible. When the software provides the metaphor for the device, every tablet lives and dies by the display and what’s on that display.
Ever since 2007, one of the hallmark engineering feats of iOS has been its responsiveness to touch input. When you’re using an iOS app it feels as if you are actually moving the pixels underneath your finger. If that responsiveness matters at all, if iOS matters at all, then so does the quality and realism of the screen itself. The display is the central hardware component.
Secondly, of the millions of iPhones that Apple will sell all around the globe, how many will be to people who live in an LTE city? The new iPad’s LTE chip works only with carriers in the US and Canada. There are LTE bands all around the globe that the iPad does not support. While it’s possible the next iPhone will be more versatile in its LTE offerings, and thus be available on more 4G bands than just USA and Canada, it’s no guarantee.
Looking at LTE coverage just in the United States, AT&T has 39 LTE-equipped markets which cover 79 million people (or 23% of the US population), and Verizon has 258 markets covering 200 million people (or 65% of the US population).
My point being: 100-percent of iPhone 5 buyers will use the iPhone by holding it in their hand, touching the screen, and plugging it in to charge. But, for one reason or another, less than 100-percent will be able to connect to an LTE network.
The iPhone’s display is its preeminent hardware feature — everything else is secondary. If the next iPhone has a bigger display it will be because Apple decided bigger is better. As awesome as LTE is, it isn’t awesome enough to be the feature which dictates significant hardware changes to the iPhone.
I perform all my own stunts. Some people get sweaty palms when they look down from tall buildings, but for me it’s when it’s time to upgrade WordPress or migrate to a new server.
As nervous as I may get doing database- and server-related tasks, the things that I am comfortable doing — such as stylesheets and basic php functionality to make this site do spiffy things — are a lot of fun for me. I’m not a professional programmer, nor do I play one on the Internet, but I love taking time off from writing on occasion to tackle a web design project. It’s the sort of work I can do with the music turned up.1
I have never felt constrained by Coda. It is fast, reliable, fun to use, and the way it works with files makes a lot of sense to me.
As the saying goes, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
There is a challenge with apps like Coda that have much functionality. That challenge is to design the functionality in such a way that it is the user who discovers and then defines how simple or complex they want the application to be.
Coda 1 did this well, but Coda 2 does it better. There are so many options, features and functions within Coda that it seems there is nothing it cannot do. But even for the amateur programmers like myself, Coda never feels overwhelming or overbearing. It expands or contracts to the needs of its user.
Panic didn’t set out to make the best text editor, CSS editor, etc… They set out to make one single application that contains all you need to build a website. And Panic has done a great job at keeping each of Coda’s components concise, powerful and focused – giving you the features you need while not requiring you to learn 4 or 5 new applications simultaneously to be able to use Coda efficiently. Sometimes good development decisions are about what you don’t put in.
After its launch on a Monday morning in April of 2007, Cabel Sasser said: “This was by far the most complicated program we’ve ever built.”
Coda went on to win an Apple Design Award at WWDC in 2007 for Best Mac OS X Experience. And rightfully so — Coda was a groundbreaking application. Five years later comes Coda 2 — an application that is better than its predecessor in every way.
Coda 2 has kept all that was great about the original and improved all that was frustrating or confusing.
Using Coda 1 was like sleeping with a pea under the mattress. Or, as Joe Kissel said in his review, “like buying your dream car, only to find out that the seats are kind of uncomfortable and there’s no heater.”
The idea of a one-window web development tool that wasn’t built and priced by Adobe was a dream come true. Yet there was a slight frustration that accompanied the Coda workflow.
Web development usually consists of four (yea five) apps: (1) a text editor, (2) a web browser or three, (3) an FTP client, (4) reference material, and (5) perhaps the terminal.
Coda brought all of these apps together into one so that you wouldn’t need four or five different applications all open and running. It was good, but it was not great.
When I do coding for this site I use Coda as my text editor and FTP client, but that’s it. I still have a browser open in the background because switching between code view and preview always felt a bit clunky to me.
The appeal of Coda cannot be expressed solely by any comparison of features. The point is not what it does, but how it feels to use it. The essential aspects of Coda aren’t features in its components, but rather the connections between components.
The premier difference between Coda 1 and Coda 2 is its improvement between components. The workflow. Though each individual component (the text editor, the FTP client, etc.) has been improved upon, the most significant improvement to Coda is its central aim as a one-window web development tool.
Those who have been using Coda 1 as their primary web development app will love the update. Those who use other applications for their Web development may likely find Coda 2 to be a worthy companion.
It is the application I use and recommend for people looking to build websites. Now let’s take a look at some of the highlights in the new version.
The toolbar in Coda 2 is actually a document navigator. Like tabs in a web browser toolbar tabs are for different workspaces and documents. There are two tabs that are always there, always active, and those are the “Sites” tab and the “Files” tab.
The “Sites” tab is the standard start screen we know and love from Coda 1. It’s basically a favorites list containing the remote login information for any and all websites you hack on. Something new here is that sites can now be grouped together. Simply drag one site onto another as you would two apps from your iPhone’s Home screen.
The “Files” tab is basically Transmit integrated right into the app. This is a huge improvement to Coda’s previous FTP functionality. Coda has always used the same FTP turbo-engine from Transmit, but the visual file browser was not nearly as robust. If you’ve ever found yourself using Transmit and Coda at the same time, that habit may change with Coda 2.
After these two tabs, any additional open tabs are yours to set up as you need for your project. You can open multiple documents, a preview tab, a reference tab, and more. This is the meat of what Coda is all about and this is where things have improved the most.
The way Coda 1 handled workspaces and open files was awkward at best. And though I became familiar enough with it to feel comfortable, it was never quite natural — for example, a document tab could be both a file and a preview of that file.
In Coda 2, however, the new tabs and the way open files are managed is much more intuitive; this is the area that needed improvement and Panic has improved it greatly.
The tabs in Coda 2’s toolbar don’t just function different — they are completely redesigned. Visually, they have three optional states: Small Icon and Text; Large Icon and Text; or Text Only. You can select these from a contextual menu when Control-clicking on the toolbar, or you get them automatically if you resize the toolbar.
I prefer the Text Only tabs if only because I’m short on vertical screen space. However, the tabs with icons are tempting because they give you a live preview of that tab’s document.
For the Sites tab, Coda 2 will grab the Web Clip Icon in your root folder, assuming you’ve got one, and give you a high-resolution thumbnail image for the remote site you are currently working in. This beats the pants off a pixelated favicon.
To correspond with the fluidity of the toolbar and the different tab designs, even the traffic lights in Coda 2 have two different states. For the text only tabs you get the standard left-to-right layout. For the icon-based tabs, you get the top-to-bottom traffic lights akin to our old pal iTunes 10.0.
When you create a new document, it is saved to your local machine by default. If, however, you are in the middle of working on a live site and you want the file to be on your remote server, just grab the tab of your document and drag it into the sidebar file browser to upload it to the folder of your choice.
Alternatively, you can Control-click within the file browser and select the option for New File.
In Coda 1 a small blue circles showed up in the sidebar’s file viewer, just to the right of an unsaved document. Now unsaved documents you are working on sport that small blue circle within their tab as a way of letting you know the current working version of this file has not been saved to the server.
The iPad version of Coda (Diet Coda) uses these blue dots on the tabs in the file drawer as well.
If you’re going to have a one-window web development application, you need good in-app preview of the site you’re working on. This is something that never felt easy or natural to me in Coda 1, and so I still used Safari to view and check my changes.
But, thanks to the improved tabs, previewing your work in Coda 2 is much simpler.
You have four options for previewing:
A dedicated tab with web page loaded in it.
Split screen previewing that is side-by-side with the document you are coding.
Split screen previewing works quite well. You can code in the top window and preview your work in the bottom window. In fact, as you work, the bottom preview pane updates in real time as you code. Hit save and your changes are pushed to the server.
Previewing in another window. Ideal for multi-monitor setups. When your document is in Preview mode (the right-most breadcrumb) click the settings gear icon in the bottom-left corner of the window and choose Preview → New Window. A new Coda window will pop up with a browser preview of the file you’re working on. As you make changes to your document you see them live in the Preview window.
AirPreview: connecting your iPad as an external monitor like a boss.
Coda 2 will pair with Diet Coda on your iPad to turn your iPad into a dedicated window to preview the site you are editing in Coda.
You first pair your iPad with your Mac by pointing the camera at your Mac’s screen while a box flashes bright random colors. Then, anytime you have Diet Coda open on your iPad, you can turn the iPad’s screen into a secondary preview window.
Furthermore, the iPad preview auto-refreshes when you save your changes to the file you are editing in Coda 2. No more hitting save and then navigating to the browser and hitting refresh.
You don’t have to be working on the root file of your preview window either. You can be working on the CSS stylesheet, or a related php document, while viewing your rendered Index page. When you make changes to the file you are working on, then your previews are auto-updated and relevant changes are then shown. This makes many instances of Command-Tabbing and refreshing far less necessary, if not obsolete.
Pro-tip for the Sites tab: If you don’t want to use the auto-generated image for your site, you can Control+click on a site and choose to change the artwork.
Coda 2 cannot import the .seestyle settings for syntax highlighting from Coda 1.
The new way that auto-tag completion works is much more friendly. In Coda 1, when you typed an opening tag, such as
<div>then you would get the closing tag auto-inserted into your text immediately. If you were just starting out your opening tag then that’s all fine and dandy, but often times (at least the way I code) I would find myself placing opening tags in front of lines of code that I had already written. And then, Coda would auto-insert the closing tag right there at the front as well.
Well, Coda’s new format for auto-tag closing is much more clever. They wait until you begin to close the tag yourself by typing
</and then Coda plops in the rest for you.
Coda 2 does not support Lion’s auto-saving and versioning for local files.
If you buy the Mac App Store version, you get iCloud syncing of your sites. This, however, does not mean that your iPad version and Mac version stay in sync (yet). But if you have more than one Mac that is using Coda 2, then those sites will sync.
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Coda 1 was ambitious. It takes a lot of guts (or, in some cases, naiveté) to build an all-in-one application for a task as extravagant as web development. It also takes self-control to keep that application from getting too big for its britches. Coda 2, while following in the ambitious footsteps of its predecessor, is also more useful and more elegant.
I have been using Coda for years, and all the updates in Coda 2 meet my needs almost exactly. But there was another need I had, and that was the ability to access and edit files on my websites using my iPad.2
And Panic has done it. They not only improved an already impressive one-window web development tool, they also built an equally-impressive one-app web development tool. It’s called Diet Coda for the iPad.
Diet Coda is an example of why the iPad is thriving as a personal computer.
Using FTP, Diet Coda is both a terminal and a text editor built for the purpose of making changes to files which are already on your remote server. Moreover, Diet Coda is the best name for an iOS app ever. If there were an ADA for app names, Diet Coda would win it.
Does the advent of Diet Coda mean professional web developers can now put away their iMacs and replace them with iPads? No. And that was never the intention.
Diet Coda isn’t meant to be a full-featured web-development tool for the iPad. Because, seriously, who is going to use an iPad for full-fledged website development? Virtually nobody.
But who wants to use an iPad to remote in to their server to update a file, copy a link, reboot something, or perform some other form of on-the-fly maintenance or editing? A lot of us.
My point isn’t that you can’t use the iPad for web development, but that most people won’t. And so why build an app to prove a point when you can instead build an app that meets genuine need just right? For this reason, Diet Coda is the best on-the-go web-development app you can buy. It’s not too much, it’s not too little; it’s just right and that’s the point.
What I like about Diet Coda is that it follows the same flow of working with files that Coda for Mac does. I have worked with a handful of other FTP / text-editing apps for the iPad and while they offer some features that Coda does not, they also make me shuffle my files around in a way that is not completely intuitive to me.
With Diet Coda I connect to my site, navigate to the file I want, edit that file, and then save my changes to the server. I don’t have to juggle both a remote and local version of the file — I just open it, edit it, and save it. This is how Coda 1 worked, it’s how Coda 2 works, and it’s how Diet Coda works. It makes working in Diet Coda feel comfortable and secure.
When creating an iOS version of a desktop app you can’t just drag and drop the code and click an “iPaditize” button. You have to balance the juxtaposition between the two platforms. Keeping the same core functionality of the Mac version, yet completely reimagined what the user experience and interface will be.
There are two dynamics to successfully building two versions of the same app, one for iOS and one for OS X:
Both apps need to feel native on their respective platform. The iOS version needs to feel like it belongs on the iPhone/iPad, and the desktop version needs to feel like it belongs there. This doesn’t just mean the buttons should be bigger to accommodate for fat fingers, it means the presentation of the core functionality, along with the flow of navigation and the user interaction within the application all have to pull together to form a well-developed iOS app that still has striking familiarity to its desktop counterpart.
Both apps need to feel like they are the same app. Meaning, Panic had to reconcile the two-fold need for Diet Coda to feel like a native iPad app while also feeling like the very same application they made for the desktop.
Because iOS and OS X exist side by side — two separate but similar platforms — we are seeing software innovation attain new heights as the two different platforms lean on and learn from one another. Put another way: iOS software is teaching us new things about Mac software and Mac software is teaching us new things about iOS software. The two are playing off one another.
The Omni Group is a prime example as ones who are helping lead the charge in this way. Their suite of iPad apps stand on the shoulders of their already award-winning desktop software, with OmniFocus being one of my favorite examples this. It started as a powerful and feature-rich Mac application and it was then perfectly ported to the iPad. In fact, I find the iPad version of OmniFocus to be superior to the Mac version in many ways, and I have no doubt that the next Mac version will be using many of the best components found in the iPad version.
We even see Apple doing this. With Lion and Mountain Lion they are taking much of the functionality and applications found in iOS and bringing it over to OS X for the sake of unification.
And, of course, Diet Coda is great example of Mac-app-gone-iOS. In addition to having the heart of its desktop sibling, Diet Coda is also filled with many iOS-esque details and innovations that delight.
There is the Super Loupe. The Super Loupe is the real steel deal. It is Panic’s take on the iOS magnification bubble for cursor placement, and it is clever, fun, and extremely useful.
If you have connected to a remote site and are in the file browser view, a tap on one of the four purple buttons in the Info Panel emits what I can only describe as a purple orb that radiates out from the button.
But the functionality of these buttons is also quite handy. You’re one tap away from copying a link, a URL, a file path, or the
imgtag with the source URL embedded (though it does not auto-detect the width and height when copying the image tag code).
Working with Files
Diet Coda makes it extremely easy to navigate around your remote server, working with live files, moving them, editing them, and previewing them. However, as I mentioned above, Diet Coda has no place for you to save files locally on your iPad. If you want to create a new file it must be saved to your remote server, and any work you do on server-side files is pushed back up to that live file when you tap save.
This is by design, and as such, it means there are some clever tricks for making sure you don’t lose your work when switching to another app for a moment, nor make an erroneous error to a live file.
If you have a document open in Diet Coda and then leave the app, the file is saved locally just as you left it, even if Diet Coda has to “force quit”.
In Diet Coda, though you are working with a file as it is on the server, you can preview your document before committing your changes. Diet Coda renders the web page as if the local version were the live version. This doesn’t work for dynamic files of course, only static ones.
Diet Coda is not perfect in every way, though. I do have a few requests:
I’d love to see support for Amazon S3, and more robust FTP capabilities such as being able to upload files that are on my iPad.
I wish I could duplicate a site’s details to more easily create additional sites that are subdomains that use the same connection credentials. (Or better: I wish Coda 2 and Diet Coda synced Sites.)
There is no master password for the app. Thus I either need to remember my FTP passwords and enter them every time I connect to a remote site, or else I allow Diet Coda to be freely accessible to anyone whom I let use my iPad.
(If you wish to have Diet Coda ask you for your FTP password every time you connect, simply leave the password field blank when entering the site info.)
Additionally I’ve found that Diet Coda can get memory constrained when working with large CSS files, or if too many documents are open in the Document Drawer. And though the app has crashed on me a few times, not once have I lost any work.
A Concluding Remark
To say I’m impressed and pleased with Coda 2 and Diet Coda would be an understatement.
My initial impression of Diet Coda is that it is the Tweetie 2 of iPad text-editing apps. As many people have proclaimed, Tweetie 2 was not just one of the best Twitter apps for iPhone, it was also one of the best apps for the iPhone, period. Although Diet Coda is still brand-new, it strikes me being a best-in-class code-editing app as well as a great iPad app, period.
- Writing, however, requires silence. ↵
- This isn’t so I can turn my iPad into my primary work machine, but rather it’s so I can leave my laptop at home more often without having to sacrifice anything. Though I prefer to work on my MacBook Air, I don’t want to be restrained if I’ve just got the iPad. Put another way: MacBook is now my “desktop” and my iPad is now my “laptop”. ↵