iPad vs Mac is an internal debate a lot of people are having right now, including myself. With the imminent release of the iPad Pro, I found myself wondering whether or not it could work for me in place of my MacBook Pro. I’d still have my iMac for heavy lifting but while on the go, an iPad would be ideal. I couldn’t think of a better way to find out than to try and make my existing iPad fit the niche I would want it to fill. So I recently spent an entire week trying to work exclusively from my iPad Air 2.
For the past year or so I’ve tried to migrate myself to tools and apps that work just as well on iOS as they do on Mac. That meant shifting around some of my todo and task apps as well as choosing different writing and Markdown apps that let me pick up any device and access the data I needed to. Here was my chance to test my changes in the real world.
As I suspected, my goal shifted a few days in from working only on an iPad to working as much as I could from an iPad.
I purposely used Sunday as the first day of this experiment because it’s the one day a week I try and do as little work as possible, if I can avoid it. This way I had time to get my feet wet, figure out some of the pain points I was bound to have, and set myself up for a more stress-free experience.
I put a lot of thought into my daily workflow and what a typical work week looks like for me. Aside from managing all the content for The App Factor, I’m a project manager for eTech Parts. More specifically, I run and coordinate eTech Training. During the week I communicate with lots of different people, make updates and changes to our websites, work on marketing material, and coordinate training efforts with our school down in Gainesville, FL. I also have a few freelance clients I do work for.
I started Sunday by looking for apps that may help in my transition. I also went out and purchased the Belkin QODE Ultimate Pro, since it came so highly recommended by Federico Viticci who works almost exclusively from iPad.
Building a usable workflow
Mondays for me are a combination of weekend catchup days and planning out the week ahead, whether that be content strategy, todos, or other projects that need to get done. My first task is always to check our Trello boards and make sure contributor slots are filled and populated so I know what I’m working on throughout the week. I immediately realized that I much prefer the Trello web version in mobile Safari than I do the iOS app, because of the calendar view the web version offers. It baffles me that this view has not come to mobile yet.
In terms of planning and coordinating content, being able to get a complete overview of what an entire week looks like is crucial. Luckily, Trello on the web is surprisingly pleasant on the iPad. Dragging and dropping cards works in some views and not others, but it’s a minor annoyance I can live with.
Next came writing. The first entire article I wrote on my iPad wasn’t without its pain points. Writing the text content itself was easy, even enjoyable, thanks to Editorial, which I’ve mentioned previously. I use a workflow very similar to Federico’s for managing files. I use a single folder for articles and have an archive folder inside of it. When I’m done with an article, it gets archived. The main folder only ever contains articles I’m actually working on. I sync everything with Dropbox so I can then access it on whatever device I need to.
Once the article was done, it was time to create screenshots. Using a combination of LongScreen and Skitch, it was easy enough to create annotated screenshots and save them to my iPad’s Camera Roll. Half way through this experiment, I also discovered a neat annotation app called PointOut, which I think we’ll start implementing for screenshots on The App Factor as well.
Once everything was annotated, I opened each series of screenshots in Pixelmator in order to resize them to the resolution we use on The App Factor. The only thing I could not figure out how to do was save them for web use. According to the fine folks at Pixelmator, iOS automatically exports JPEGs at 75%, which is better than nothing, but I’d still love to be able to save images as progressive, and specifically optimized for web use. When bandwidth is a concern, and you host hundreds of images, any size reduction is welcome. If anyone else knows of an iOS app that allows export for web functionality, please let me know. This is one area I came up empty handed.
Next came the hero image, which are the images we use at the tops of all our articles, and the ones that show up in our social feeds and on the thumbnails on the home page. This was more difficult than I wanted it to be. I had an SD to Lightning adapter ready to go, but taking the photo and getting it to my iPad was somewhat of a task. Apparently RAW files load INCREDIBLY slow when there are hundreds of thumbnails to populate. I quickly switched my camera settings to snap high quality JPEGs instead, which ended up being faster. Then came editing, which was a bit hairy. Anyone who knows me from my iMore days knows that I come from a background where high quality images for posts aren’t just add-ons, they’re a requirement. Leanna Lofte, also a previous iMore editor, spent an abundance of time making iMore look beautiful and teaching all of us on staff to want to do the same. Leanna was absolutely right. Imagery is a huge part of your article’s identity and is something you should take pride in, and we do at The App Factor. I want the reader experience to be the best it can and high quality images are a part of that package.
Unfortunately, editing these kinds of images on the iPad is not a pleasant experience. Laying screenshots into an image of an iPhone was not an easy task and in the end, I wasn’t happy with them. I tried balancing in-camera with the screen on but balancing a white device with a white screen doesn’t work so well. It’s something I could easily fix on my Mac but on iOS, it was infuriating. In the end I just reused an image I had previously taken and already edited. This left me nervous for how I was going to handle images for the remainder of the week.
Moving past the hero image issue, getting my content from Editorial and Camera Roll to WordPress was easy enough. I initially just exported all my Markdown content as HTML and tried copying it into a new post via the WordPress app. That led to strange parsing with weird random strings of text being out of place. So I simply copied the entire article and pasted it into WordPress via mobile Safari. I also added all the screenshots and my reused hero image this way. All went smoothly and I had no problems previewing, editing, and scheduling right from Safari.
The rest of my day was spent hammering out emails, tracking time with Hours, creating tasks with Todoist, communicating on Twitter via Tweetbot, tying up any loose ends with clients, and making some various website changes in WordPress. I was even able to do a little bit of light design work with Pixelmator.
As the end of each work day approached, I thoroughly enjoyed the design of the QODE Ultimate Pro since I could detach my iPad and use it as I normally would for consuming media, browsing Twitter, and doing other non work-related things. And for nights when I really wanted to hammer out some writing, the backlit keyboard came in handy as well. If you’re looking for a keyboard case that’s incredibly versatile, the QODE Ultimate Pro is hands down one of the best options available.
iOS and app limitations
Tuesday Morning I was contacted by a client who I frequently do print ads for. Nothing too serious and typically just involves changing some text and swapping out a few images. However, I use custom fonts for their branding. Damnit.
With no other option, I logged onto my iMac and did the ad mockup and sent it to them. As the day wore on, I came to the realization that I wasn’t going to be able to make it an entire week without OS X. However, I’d made it much farther than I expected. I tried this experiment a few years ago and the iPad and iOS have come a long way since then.
The rest of Tuesday went rather smoothly, but again, images were a problem. Of course things like custom fonts will still be an issue for anyone doing serious design work. TypeKit may be able to solve some of that in the future, but if you buy fonts from other sources and independent creators (which I’ve done many times), you’re stuck..
The rest of my week went similar to what I experienced Tuesday. A few times I had no choice but to jump on my Mac, but other than that, the initial stress and anxiety I was having about working from an iPad slowly started to dissipate. Actually, I found there are certain tasks I actually prefer the iPad for.
Writing longer form pieces is one of them. A quick swipe up on Control Center and a tap on Do Not Disturb allows me to completely immerse myself in my writing (like I’m doing right now). Split-screen view in iOS 9 allows me to grab affiliate links, look something up, and even reference Twitter or ask a question. All this is now possible without losing my train of thought or ever closing out of my text editor.
Keyboard shortcuts in iOS 9 are far more superior and allow you to do so much more without having to tap the screen. There’s still some work to do but for the most part, I can rely on a lot of the same shortcuts I rely on when I’m using my Mac. Some of my most used so far include Command + Tab for fast app switching, Spotlight search with Command + Space, opening new tabs in Safari with Command + T, and using the Command + N option for creating new tweets, documents, etc.
Betting on the iPad Pro
When I previously tried this experiment in 2012, it was not only a lack of apps, but the limitations of iOS and the hardware itself that kept me from considering the iPad as a serious work machine. iOS 9 and the iPad Pro are both tremendous steps forward.
That leaves apps.
Some developers have already spoken out about why they aren’t supporting the iPad Pro and while I hope those developers are in the minority, I understand their hesitancy. Sustainable App Store pricing is a problem on iOS. It always has been. The iPad Pro has the ability to be a brand new marketplace for developers that want to create powerful and intuitive apps — but they must be able to charge more for them and we have to be willing to pay for them. Pro level tools warrant a pro level price tag.
The success of the iPad Pro will depend heavily on developers and their willingness to task this risk.
Will consumers pay for them? Will the iPad Pro offer a sustainable ecosystem developers can rely on?
I don’t know.
What I do know is I don’t want blown up apps that are simply optimized for iPad Pro. I want tools that are made for iPad Pro and push the hardware to its very limits. I don’t want to find workarounds, I want complete solutions, and I hope the iPad Pro can eventually give me that. If it can, I’m willing to pay for it.
So will I be purchasing an iPad Pro? I haven’t decided yet.
I think I’ll watch and see how the app landscape changes first, if it does at all. Current iPad apps don’t fill my needs and an iPad with a larger screen won’t fix that problem, developers have to. If I start seeing apps that solve some of my issues, I’ll be next in line at my local Apple Store, ready to support those developers to the fullest.
Until then, I’ll continue using my iPad Air 2 for the things it does great and rely on my Mac for everything else.