Getting Caught Up

Nice View

The view from one of my many work areas.

Okay. Going to geek out for a moment. Been far too long since my last post. I’m not always the most consistent of bloggers. What can I say. Life happens. I’d like to say I’ll get more consistent but I can’t be certain. Aside from that, there are plenty of other excellent sites out there covering what I would likely cover in the way of Apple news. Well, regardless, I will continue to share occasional posts about recent projects and reflections.

So, yes, my last post was seven months ago and was just a bit of commentary on Apple’s releases of El Capitan, OS X 10.11, iOS 9 and the iPhone 6S. At the time I was expecting to do a series of projects which fell through. The 2014 rMBP that I purchased with those projects in mind went largely unused for the past 6 months. I did get some use out of it but not enough to continue keeping it. I only purchased it because circumstances at the time seemed to justify it. So, I’ll likely be selling it soon. I’ll continue on with the Mac Mini at my standing desk for much of my design work. The iPad Air 2 and iPhone 6 will continue to serve for anything else. Which brings me to mobile computing with iOS.

My first iOS device was the original iPad which I purchased as soon as it was released in 2010. I used it quite a lot, probably a 50/50 split with my previous laptop, a MacBook Air. My usage remained about the same when I upgraded to the iPad 3, the first with a retina screen. With the iPad Air 2 my usage patterns remained the same. Apple nerds have spent far too much time discussing whether the iPad is something that can be used for “real work”. Along the same lines, the question of whether the iPad should be considered a real “computer”. The answers are obvious. Yes and yes.

The first is, in part, context dependent. The iPad is great for some tasks not others. But this might also be said of a hammer or a bicycle or a boat or any other object. I don’t blend with a toaster and I don’t plant a tree with a screw driver. iOS devices, be they iPads or iPhones, are suited to particular tasks just as Macs are suited for others. I suppose all the discussion stems from the gradient of usage, the overlaps that are possible with the different platforms and form factors. The introduction of the large iPad Pro only made that more interesting.

What I’ve discovered in recent months is that my three primary computers all serve to compliment each other perfectly. It’s that simple. My Mac Mini is used for projects that require InDesign as well as web site management that requires site-wide search and replace which I do with Coda. It also serves as my iTunes/Plex server. Oh, and accounting via iBooks and occasional FileMaker work. My iPhone is for tracking my diet and steps, reading books, checking email, messaging, and a bit of web browsing. Oh, and the rare phone call. My iPad is for browsing the web via RSS or browser, reading books, messaging, phone calls, typing podcast transcripts, writing anything of length, and managing websites.

Some tasks/activities are best handled by two of these together. For example, astronomy sessions are a mix of iPhone and iPad. I use the iPad for recording data into FileMaker and some searching with Sky Safari Pro. I use the iPhone for much of the searching with Sky Safari Pro because it’s small and can be easily attached to the telescope. Much of my graphic design begins with Pages or Graphic (formerly called iDraw) or Pixelmator. In some cases I can complete the task completely on the iPad in other situations I transfer to the Mac to finish. An example would be the logo for Beardy Guy Creative. I did most of that using Graphic on the iPad then exported and finished with Illustrator because I’ve got many more fonts installed on the Mac.

At this point my preferred form factor is probably the iPad. It’s the device I choose to use most often as it strikes a nice balance of portability, flexibility and power. With iOS9 and multi-tasking via split screens, coupled with the extensions released with iOS 8, I find that the iPad is often up to the tasks I ask of it. That I can use it in a stand with an external keyboard or as a tablet is fantastic. The screen as computer form make the iPad the easiest to rearrange into a delightful variety of working arrangements. Of course simplest is holding it in my hands on a couch or chair but when used with a keyboard there is great benefit to being able to put it up high or off to the side or in any kind of position I need to be comfortable. Or, at a desk/table/shelf in a stand of course if I want or need such an arrangement.

One last point concerns the importance of adoption of new features of iOS. Particularly split screen and extensions.

I’m not sure why but I initially didn’t use split screen. I tried it a few times and figured it would be handy but I never made it a habit. In recent months as I began looking for a frictionless podcast transcription workflow I went from an iPhone/MBP/Mac Mini set-up to an all iPad set-up that relied on having Pages and the Apple Podcast app, each in split view and that sealed the deal. After using that for the past 6 weeks and NOW it clicks. Split screen is, without a doubt, the best part of the iOS 9 update for the iPad. Now that it’s become the basis of my transcript process it is finding it’s way into daily use for all sorts of tasks.

Extensions are something I’d dabbled in and put to some use. Initial discovery is so obvious and adds a lot of flexibility to the iOS workflow. And yet, there’s just a bit of complexity and I suspect I’m not not the only one who has taken some time to really work extensions into daily workflows. There’s a depth to the flexibility that is not initially obvious. The more I use them the more natural they seem and it contributes to a sense that the friction of iOS is slowly falling away.