iPad Journal: Flexible form factor leads to increased productivity

Appreciating (and greatly enjoying) the tablet form factor of the iPad and an external keyboard this morning.

Fact 1: I live in a rural area and expected a package via the USPS. If I wanted this package in my hands I needed to be at the mailbox by the road when the delivery person arrived. If I missed her I’d only have a note letting me know my package was waiting for me in the post office in town.

Fact 2: I normally walk the one mile to the mailbox as a part of my 4 miles a day walking routine. Today we had rain in the forecast.

Fact 3: I am not even a little fancy and do not own a Tesla. But we do have a golf cart for getting around our property. It runs off of batteries. I pretend it is a Tesla.

Fact 4: I knew I might have a wait because I only knew that our postal delivery person normally arrives before 11 am. I went at 8 and took my iPad and keyboard.

Fact 5: With little effort I managed to arrange a comfortable writing situation and got stuff done.

iPad Journal: Weekly iPad links

I'm planning to do a post each Friday that will cover the interesting "getting things done with iPad" articles of the week. Currently Federico Viticci, Serenity Caldwell and Matt Gemmel are consistently posting about using the iPad for getting work done. There are others of course and I'll post those as I find them.

This week Federico had another in his iPad Diaries series: Clipboard Management with Copied and Workflow. I'm still reading that as I was busy most of yesterday. Will finish it and digest today. That's the beauty of Federico's posts, the require digesting. Which is to say, they are never easy. He works and writes on a level that usually means the reader is actually going to learn something. For someone who writes about working on a device known for it's simplicity and ease of use, Federico does a damn fine job of complicating it- but in a good way. A really good way.

I've tried using Clips a bit and found it useful. I'm curious to read about what Copied does that might make it a better choice.

Also worth a bookmark, Federico's archive of iPad articles on MacStories. Wowza.

Matt Gemmell has been working on his own series about going iPad-only and has another great post this week on taking notes with GoodNotes. That's an app I recently picked up on sale for .99 cents. I use Apple notes on a regular basis and I'm not sure GoodNotes is something I'll use but for 99 cents it's silly not to try it. Much of the appeal of the app is handwriting. Actually, that's much of the point. I've often joked that I don't do pens and pencils, I do keyboards. My handwriting is atrocious and I've never taken the time to work on that. That said, I do appreciate and love the idea of sketchnotes. As I've been painting with Procreate in recent moths I've become a bit more interested in seeing what I can sketch and thinking about lettering as art rather than writing is appealing.

iPad Journal: On the road with a truck driver and iPad

I've got a client that emailed me back in September. After years of working for other people as a truck driver he had bought his own truck and was going into business for himself. He'd purchased an iPad and needed to know more about using it. Of course I was happy to help him out.

His prior computer experience to that point was primarily a Windows laptop. It was an older and heavier laptop and he didn't want to lug that around. He called me a couple weeks after getting his iPad because he had a list of tasks he'd not yet discovered an app for. We ended up meeting three or four times. He often receives emails with pdf attachments that need to be filled out and signed and returned. He also gets documents on paper that need to be archived and/or replied to. So, the first thing we did was get him set-up with a scanning and pdf workflow. He followed my advice and purchased Scanner Pro and PDF expert. We discussed iCloud, data-use and the benefits of keeping everything synced up. We went through the process for sharing a pdf from Mail to PDF Expert and then the reverse. We did the same for using Scanner Pro to PDF Expert to Mail. We also downloaded a faxing app for the rare occasion when he needs to fax instead of email.

I helped him set-up an invoice template in Pages. We discussed sharing that out as a pdf via Mail. He'd also purchased a printer for wireless printing which we set-up. He rarely prints but wanted it "just in case". We've not yet gotten into spreadsheets yet though I suspect that might be an interest and we've discussed it briefly. Last, he'd downloaded a series of apps specifically for truckers for routing, mileage tracking, fuel purchases and scheduling. He didn't need my help with those as he'd already been using them on his iPhone for many months.

He's now been carrying loads since early November. Nearly five months on the road and he's very satisfied with his iPad as his primary on-the-road computer. Maybe I should have told him that the iPad is only good for Facebook and watching movies?

Apple Park: Coming in April 2017

Apple’s new “spaceship” headquarters and the surrounding landscape have been officially named Apple Park and will be ready for move in soon.

“Steve’s vision for Apple stretched far beyond his time with us. He intended Apple Park to be the home of innovation for generations to come,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “The workspaces and parklands are designed to inspire our team as well as benefit the environment. We’ve achieved the most energy-efficient building of its kind in the world and the campus will run entirely on renewable energy.

It really is an amazing building and when the landscaping is finished I have no doubt that the entire park will be fantastic. It’s great that Apple has used native and drought-resistant trees instead of the usual landscaping often used. I think I’d like to visit one day. This is exactly the kind of forward thinking, sustainable building and landscaping that we need. Apple has set a fine example we can only hope that others will follow their lead:

Designed in collaboration with Foster + Partners, Apple Park replaces 5 million-square-feet of asphalt and concrete with grassy fields and over 9,000 native and drought-resistant trees, and is powered by 100 percent renewable energy. With 17 megawatts of rooftop solar, Apple Park will run one of the largest on-site solar energy installations in the world. It is also the site of the world’s largest naturally ventilated building, projected to require no heating or air conditioning for nine months of the year.

Steve would have turned 62 this Friday, February 24. To honor his memory and his enduring influence on Apple and the world, the theater at Apple Park will be named the Steve Jobs Theater. Opening later this year, the entrance to the 1,000-seat auditorium is a 20-foot-tall glass cylinder, 165 feet in diameter, supporting a metallic carbon-fiber roof. The Steve Jobs Theater is situated atop a hill — one of the highest points within Apple Park — overlooking meadows and the main building.

Read move via Apple’s news release.

iPad Journal: Coordinating family projects

Our extended family has some shared land with a small lake left to us by my grandparents. Sometimes that means we have to coordinate projects together. From road and dam maintenance to creating trails or any number of small things. In the past this was done via phone calls, sometimes email. Lately it's been texting. But it can be a bit chaotic with anywhere from 3-7 people (sometimes more) chiming in with ideas or criticisms of the process involved in more complicated projects.

A good example would be a recent project clearing the area behind the lake dam which had become too densely overgrown. As we evaluated the project we took the opportunity to look at related tasks such as dredging out parts of the lake that had accumulated silt over the years. Also, there's always the issue of repairing damage by beavers and muskrats and spillway maintenance. I've been helping coordinate with my dad, aunt and two uncles as well as someone we hired to help with some of the work. If my dad and uncle were a bit more technologically savvy I might try hooking them up on Slack. I may do that yet.

Due to repeated confusion (when texting and phone calls are primary it's easy to loose track of who knows what!), the other day I decided to put together a project plan of sorts. Just a simple Pages document with a map and diagram. I emailed it out and suggested folks add in details, make changes, etc. But then I realized as I was suggesting they either reply via text in email or use pdf editing built into Apple Mail that at least two of them would likely be confused with the pdf editing. One of them is using an iPhone that he barely knows how to operate. So, it occurred to me that a shared Note which they can all access via iPhone, iPad or Mac might be simple enough and yet allow for the communication to happen all in one document that anyone can edit. It was a trivial task to copy/paste the material from the Pages document into the note. Time will tell if the shared note will prove effective.

Something that I've realized with this project is that the iPhone and iPad are a nearly perfect compliment to one another. I suppose I knew that going into it but it's just working out so well that it seems worth mentioning. I use the iPhone to take notes, measurements and photos. Then from the iPad and a Bluetooth keyboard I can elaborate on the basics and create diagrams and maps with Graphic and Apple Maps. I'm using Numbers (mostly on the iPad) to keep an ongoing record of expenses and dates on which significant work is done.

I've not recently been in a position where I needed to do any sort of complicated project management but I'm guessing it could be done fairly well with these two devices and the right apps. In many ways they seem to be the perfect fit for project management taking place "in the field".

iPad Journal: Website Management with Coda, Transmit, Messages and Mail

Of the various services I offer, web design and content updates are probably 60% of my work. On the Mac I’ve been using Panic’s Coda since it was released many years ago so, when it was released for iOS, I was excited. But I mostly found it lacking (along with iOS at that time) and continued using my Mac. I used it a bit but only minimally. That changed in 2016 as I transitioned to the iPad for website related work. I wrote about my website update workflow back in May and then again in July as things shifted. I’m still not certain things have settled in for good (do they ever?) but I’m more satisfied now then I’ve been in the past with this revised workflow.

As it turns out I have settled in with Coda and Transmit as my primary toolset. I initially resisted Coda because I wanted my “local” files to be synced to DropBox as is possible with the Mac version of Coda. But the convenience and power of Coda was too much to resist. All content updating is now done in Coda on the iPad. Because Coda and Transmit share the same local file store on the iPad I can then use Transmit once a week to push the changed files to my local MacMini’s Dropbox folder and everything get’s synced to DropBox. Not ideal but very close.

What I’ve grown to appreciate about Coda as I’ve used it more is that it is so fully featured and so close to the Mac version. The familiar two pane interface is very easy to use. I can select multiple files to copy back and forth from local files to the server or the other way around. I can drag and drop single files to do the same. I can quickly filter for a file by name or sort by size, name, date modified. The one power tool missing is find/replace for in-file content across multiple files from the file browser. But that’s not something I use all the time so I’ve gotten along okay without it.

When editing, of course Coda provides for syntax highlighting as well as find and replace of text within a file. I can have multiple files open and switch between them via the tabs. Of course there is code auto-complete as well as suggestion for files such as images that have been indexed. When I’m adding code for an image I get a pop-up with a list of images that reside in the images folder for that site. Very handy. Snippets for specific sites as well as app-wide are occasionally useful. And, of course, preview of a page. Lastly, when using with an external keyboard the app behaves exactly as I expect with the same (or mostly the same) shortcuts that are available on the Mac version. I can save, close, switch tabs, find, preview and more with keyboard shortcuts.

Once I settled on Coda on iPad as the primary tool for website related work I learned far more of the features and became more comfortable with the app. It actually mirrors the process I experienced with the iPad itself. The more I used it the more comfortable I became with it and with that comfort comes increased productivity.

A great example of this is using Coda in split screen with Mail or Messages. My clients use email or Messages to send text, PDF and image files for website updates. Having split view makes all the difference. One of my most regular clients sends the text in the body of emails or Messages or as Pages files. Being able to quickly shift back and forth from Coda to one of those other apps via split screen made all the difference. In fact, if it were not for split screen I would not be using the iPad as I do.

I’ll illustrate with a fun moment that happened a couple weeks ago as I was working with the above mentioned client. He was sending new content and I was updating his site as we chatted back and forth. He commented that it was interesting watching the changes pop up live as we chatted. He was impressed and I was too. Without even thinking about it I’d been switching between Coda, Messages, Mail and Pages, updating html pages, creating new pages and carrying on a conversation in Messages. It wasn’t that I’d accomplished any great feat. This was just the normal process of a pretty typical task. But I was using iOS on an iPad with the same speed and fluidity with which I use a Mac. Very satisfying.

iPad Journal: iCloud and DropBox as iPad File Systems

A consistent criticism of iOS and the iPad is the lack of an easily assessable file system but this is only partially true. When the iPad first shipped in 2010 it certainly was much more limited. But eventually Apple added iCloud which has evolved into Apple’s version of an cloud-based file system and it works fairly well at this point. It’s not perfect but it has been rock solid in my use of it. But, still, time and again, some continue to say the iPad has no file system and no access to a file system. Well, it’s certainly not the full featured Finder that the Mac has and it’s true that it accumulates folders for apps (Mac or iOS) that use iCloud for saving files. But, it IS a file system.

There are different methods to access iCloud files. From within an app is probably the most common way. By default when I open an iWork app I see that app’s documents as they reside in iCloud. But it is also possible to view iCloud folders via the iCloud Drive app or from the file picker. So, for example, if I want to attach a file to an email I can browse through my iCloud folders. It works pretty well. But in many ways the iCloud Drive app is clumsy and somewhat limited. For example, creating new folders in iCloud Drive app is not obvious. I must first select an existing folder or file and then I am then given an option to create a new folder. Also, customizing the iCloud Drive app is very limited. I can choose to view in a grid of icons or as a column/list view hybrid. It is possible to sort by date, tags or name but not possible to add new tags. There is no way to “Get Info” for a file.

I interact with the iCloud file system (usually from within apps such as Pages or Numbers) on a daily basis and it does work very well in that regard. But it is no Finder replacement. Rather, it presents a simplified, iOS version of the Finder. It’s the sort of thing that will frustrate power users coming from the Mac but be perfectly fine for less technically experienced users such as my granny.

By comparison, the DropBox app feels like a step towards being a Finder replacement. Well, it’s clumsy in its own way but it feels a bit more like the Finder. It does not offer a list or icon view but the column view it presents works fairly well. I can pretty easily navigate through a hierarchy of folders and when I land on a file I get a preview of the file. Even better I can create new folders, add files, etc. Just as I might on the Mac I can browse files and open in their native apps or import into another app. So, I can click on a Word document and open into Word or into Pages. Or I can share it using the normal DropBox method which creates a link which can be shared via email or Messages or any other way I might send text. Or I can export the file and share it as an attachment. If it is a file in a folder shared with a client it’s also possible to have a conversation via comments on the file right in DropBox.

I use DropBox everyday and consider it an indispensable part of my iPad workflow especially when it comes to collaboration. In fact, when it comes to collaboration DropBox on iOS even surpasses the experience on the Mac. For example, commenting on shared files which cannot be done from the Finder. Also, Inviting others to a shared folder or managing the share settings for a folder are all easy to manage from within the DropBox app. All of these things require using a web browser if you’re working on a Mac.

The DropBox app is updated on a regular basis and recently was updated to add support for Split View which is a great addition and very helpful.

The DropBox app is updated on a regular basis and recently was updated to add support for Split View which is a great addition and very helpful.

And of course anything in DropBox is available on any device connected to the internet. I’m not using my Mac as much as I used to but when I do I know that any files I’ve got in DropBox will always be up-to-date regardless of which device was last used to edit the file. This leads me to one last bit that is very specific to my website management workflow. At the moment I have nearly 20 client sites1 that I manage. Before switching to my iPad as my primary device I used to use Coda on the Mac and configured each site to have it’s “local” files in a folder on DropBox. It worked very well as I could switch between my MacMini and my MBP and know that the local files were always in sync. With iOS, Coda does not offer DropBox as a choice for the local files. Instead they are truly local files on the iPad but luckily they are shared with Transmit on the iPad. My super easy solution to back-up these files to DropBox? I open up Transmit on the iPad and connect to my MacMini which is always on as my media server. I can very easily sync multiple folders, files, etc. to the DropBox “Websites” folder on the Mac and it all goes to the cloud automatically. It’s not as easy as it would be if the iOS version of Coda offered DropBox as a “local” file option in the first place but it’s relatively painless and a good example of how a local Mac can serve as both a local back-up and a gateway to DropBox.

  1. Usually only 5 or so are “active” in any given month.

iPad Journal: Using Pages

Last time I discussed my use of Numbers. Another useful iWork app and one that is probably better known, is Pages. This is another one that has long been available on the Mac and one which was ported over to the iPad right at the beginning. It’s not quite as powerful as its Mac counterpart but it is VERY close. Also, Pages documents are interchangeable between the Mac and iOS. There have been several occasions when I’ve nearly completed a project on the iPad and then just finished it on the Mac so that I could add in a font that is not installed on the iPad. Easily adding fonts to the iPad is one of those features Apple will need to eventually add if they truly expect people to use iPads as primary or only computing devices. Most people won’t need to bother adding fonts but some of us that are the target of the “Pro” marketing do.

Some of my most recent projects using Pages included brochures for a local business as well as a brochure for our local library. In both cases I started with one of the included brochure templates provided by Apple. I add the client’s content, tweak the design and it’s ready to go. I’ve also used it recently for several event posters and flyers. It’s quick and easy for such projects. Pages is no substitute for something like Adobe’s InDesign but it works very well for brochures, small newsletters, posters and more. At the moment one of the features I miss most is the lack of linked text boxes which are often necessary for larger documents such as newsletters and annual reports. There are other limitations such as no text on path and no stroke for text, features I sometimes need for event posters and flyers. On the Mac version of Pages a pen tool is available but it is, sadly, missing on the iPad. The iPad does offer a line tool but it only allows for one curve. It would be great to see the pen tool added to the iPad.

On the upside, some of my favorite features are the wide variety of graphic and style tools. Of course we expect things like tables and shapes but Pages makes it very easy to add a variety of nice stylistic touches. From different image frames to hover shadows to reflections. Of course such effects need to be used with restraint but it’s very nice to have them.

Lastly, I use it for longer, basic text documents. I often do podcast transcripts and find Pages to be the perfect fit for that job. I open it in split view with Pages on the left and Apple’s Podcast app on the right. This allows for very quick pause and playback control via the bluetooth keyboard as well as the speeding up or slowing of audio with a touch of the screen. I’ve transcribed 30+ podcast episodes this way and it works fantastically.

When I’m done with a document the client usually needs it as a pdf. I export right to DropBox then I pop over to Mail or Airmail and attach the pdf. I could just as easily export to pdf and attach to an email without saving to DropBox but I like to keep the pdfs. Also, using Dropbox allows me to attach multiple pdfs per email which I sometimes need to do. Dropbox serves very well as a compliment to iCloud as a filesystem for the iPad, a topic I plan to address soon.

iPad Journal: Using Numbers

One of the best apps on the iPad is Numbers. For anyone that needs spreadsheets it is essential. I've been using it since it was first introduced on the Mac and then as soon as it was available on iPad. I suspect that, based on some interactions I've had with acquaintances, Numbers is one of those apps that could benefit from some Apple iPad promotion. People seem to be unaware that it exists or, if they are aware of it, do not know what they can do with it. As David Sparks wrote in a recent article about iPad :

If Apple wants to see an increase in iPad sales, I think the answer is making them more useful and getting the word out. Apple should get serious about adding features to iOS that allows users to be more productive in getting their work done. On top of that, Apple should start demonstrating to the public with some its clever advertising how lots of normal people are getting work done on the iPad. I'm not talking about videos of people taking the iPad deep-sea diving but instead how people use it to make spreadsheets, write documents, and all the other work that most of us do to pay for our shoes.

A great example of putting Numbers to work is a client that recently needed some updates to labels for her hand-made soaps and lotions as well as updates to the order form her sales rep uses. As it turns out her order form had been put together by a previous designer using Illustrator. While it looked nice visually it was a mess to edit and was only functional when printed on paper. In conversation with her it became apparent that she would like for her sales rep to be able to enter the data right on her iPhone or iPad so that they could be quickly and easily emailed immediately after the order. The obvious choice was Numbers.

Within an hour I had a Numbers spreadsheet that looked nearly identical to the pretty form created in Illustrator but now she had a form that worked on device, would auto-calculate the total for each line item then calculate the total for each section and, finally, calculate the total amount of the order. No more hand writing and scanning. The whole process is easier and faster for both the sales rep and my client. Even better for my client (not so much for me), she can now update the items in the Numbers spreadsheet herself rather than hire me to do it.

This is the sort of easy to set-up and use workflow that the iPad is perfect for.

Another example would be a Numbers document I created to track my utilities usage. My tiny house shares a utility line with a cabin owned by my sister and her family. I'm a full time resident and they are part-time visitors on weekends. I've got a spreadsheet set-up that allows for easy entry of monthly usage, amount paid and various calculation fields do the work of sorting the payment amounts. I've also used it to keep track of all sorts of data for projects and interests including the membership roster for our local astronomical society, astronomical observing lists, a list of NASA missions and the Periodic Table of Elements.

Numbers is a great way to get started with spreadsheets. It may not be as powerful as Excel but I've found it meets (and exceeds) all of my needs and works great on the iPad. Like all iWork apps it also comes with some great templates that are often a great way to get started on a project. For folks that might need a larger feature set, Excel on the iPad may be the better way to go though I can't say much about it as I've not used it.

One way I hope to see Apple improve Numbers might also require an iOS change and that is to allow for two Numbers windows in split screen mode. I'm sure many would agree that there are times when having two spreadsheets open side by side would be very helpful. For example, I can easily imagine a business owner like my client mentioned above compiling a monthly report of sales in which case she might easily want two Numbers documents open at the same time.

I don't doubt that Apple has plans for such improvements and I'm looking forward to them.