Seven years ago today it was a Saturday morning, and I was standing in line to buy an original iPad.

Since then I’ve owned an iPad 2, iPad 3, and a 2nd-generation iPad mini. The latter is the one I’ve been using most for the past few years.

Until last week when I bought a 9.7″ iPad Pro. I picked up this iPad Pro for two very good reasons:

First of all, I’ve begun traveling quite a bit more, and needed a portable computer for when on the road.

Secondly, I’ve been trying to keep my home office reserved for work-only. Which means that in the evenings or on the weekends when I have home-related computer-y stuff to do, I needed another device I could use upstairs on the kitchen table.

It’s now been seven years since the original iPad shipped. And the basic landscape hasn’t changed all that much. This is simultaneously good and bad.

…bad because the iPad is fantastic device, and yet it’s not the go-to platform for the best apps and innovations.

But good because it means the iPad is still full of simplicity and promise.

* * *

P.S. Here are a few other fun articles I’ve written over the years:

Diary of an iPad Owner (circa 2010)

Holiday Wallpapers for iPhone, iPad, Mac

I took some of my original photography and put together a set of holiday-themed wallpapers. There are a whole slew of files, with sizes to fit your iPhone, your iPad, and your Mac/PC.

The set includes 15 wallpapers for iPhone, 10 unique wallpapers for your Mac, and 12 wallpapers for iPad. They’re sized for iPhones 5 through 6 Plus, and work with the parallax effect in iOS 8.

I’m selling the pack for just $2 on Gumroad.

Holiday Wallpapers for iPhone, iPad, and Mac

Talking About iPads and Real Work

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.

Talking About iPads and Real Work

iPad: Air or mini?

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.

iPad: Air or mini?

My iPad App Playlist: Constraint and Creativity

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.

  • Kingdom Rush: There are a few games I’ve played on the iPad that I’ve really enjoyed. But none so much as Kingdom Rush and Kingdom Rush Frontiers.

  • 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:

Shawn Blanc iPad home screen, March 2013

And this is what my iPad Home screen looks like today, Dec 23, 2013:

Shawn Blanc iPad home screen, December 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.

My iPad App Playlist: Constraint and Creativity

First Thoughts on Writer Pro for iOS

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.

First Thoughts on Writer Pro for iOS

Three Weeks With Two iPads

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
  • Twittering

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.

  • Which apps do you most use on the Air? Editorial, Instapaper, Drafts, Poster.

  • Which apps do you most use on the Mini? Tweetbot, OmniFocus, Instapaper, Safari, Pandora, Rdio.

* * *

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.

Three Weeks With Two iPads