Category Archives: iPad Journal

The iPad Laptop

I’ve always used the iPad with an external keyboard and with the Pro I’ve been using Apple’s Smart Keyboard. I love the feel and sound of the keys though have been wishing for media keys and the other special function keys such as brightness, volume etc. Oh, and a back light which may not be possible with a fabric covered keyboard. The beauty of the iPad and one of my reasons for switching to it as a primary machine is that it can be a tablet when I want or a laptop when I want.

That said, as much as I’ve enjoyed using the Smart Keyboard I’ve got to admit I’ve been longing for Apple to make a keyboard like the Brydge. Others have written about the Brydge which is often described as very similar to an Apple laptop keyboard. Most recently Jason Snell wrote an excellent piece on Why Apple’s next laptop should run iOS. He’d previously written a review of the Brydge and mentions it again:

The problem with the iPad Pro is that it’s literally not a laptop: You can’t comfortably set it in your lap and get work done. (Yes, you can kind of balance the Smart Keyboard on your lap, but it’s not the same as using a laptop—in terms of stability or adjustability.) This year I’ve been using my iPad Pro with the Brydge keyboard, a Bluetooth keyboard with two clamps that turn the iPad Pro into something that looks an awful lot like a laptop—albeit one with no trackpad.

Seeing his mention of it and the accompanying photo sent me off to have another look. The only reason I’d previously held off were the many reports of hit and miss quality. Lots of folks report getting units that had to be replaced, often more than once. Yikes. By chance I happened to look around Thanksgiving and they were running a Black Friday sale so I finally bought it and have been using it for about a week.

The Brydge arrived in perfect condition. It is, as reported by many, very similar to typing on the keyboard of a current generation MacBook Air or the previous generation of MacBook Pro. Which is to say, it’s excellent. It is very nearly the perfect iPad keyboard. I can slide the iPad into the hinge connectors easily but not too easily. They grip it well so it feels secure. I really only have two complaints.

The top, outer edge of this keyboard is very sharp. It almost feels like a knife blade. Second, the iPad rests deep enough in the hinges that the bottom edge of the screen is just level with the back of the keyboard which means using my fingers to pull-up to activate the dock and multitasking of iOS 11 is very difficult and often results in misses. Very frustrating. If I put the iPad into the hinge brackets but don’t push it all the way down it still sits above the back of the unit and activating the dock is easy. If it just sat 1-2 millimeters higher, access to the dock and multitasking would be much better.

I added a tiny bit of rubber with sticky backing into the bottom of each hinge to lift the iPad up just a wee bit. Not only does it make activating the dock/multitasking much easier it has the additional benefit that when closed the iPad sticks out just that little bit over the keyboard front of the keyboard. By design it is flush with the keyboard and while that looks great aesthetically when closed it makes lifting the iPad up difficult. If the iPad overhangs just a millimeter or two it is easier to lift and open for use.

If the design were tweaked these are issues that could be fixed without too much difficulty and they really should be.

Back to Jason Snell who posted a follow-up article on the idea of an iOS laptop, this time addressing the critiques of his initial article. In the follow-up, The case against building an iOS laptop—and why it might happen anyway, he writes:

I use my iPad with external keyboards all the time. Sometimes it’s clipped into a keyboard case, so it’s shaped exactly like a laptop. Sometimes it’s on a table with a Smart Keyboard attached. Other times, it’s in a stand on a table with a USB keyboard attached via Apple’s USB 3-Lightning adapter…

If I were doing something that didn’t require typing, something that involved intense tapping and swiping on my iPad, the Zombie Arms experience would start to come to the fore. On the iPad, that’s when I would disconnect the keyboard and hold the tablet more naturally. (That’s why I think an iOS laptop would ideally be a convertible laptop, so you could fold back the keyboard entirely when it isn’t needed.)

I’ve been using mine like this too. My only disagreement is that I think the current iPad is the iPad Jason is describing. I don’t think Apple needs to do much aside from build a proper keyboard. Just tweak the current Brydge a bit and give it the usual Apple fit and finish. Perhaps fix the orientation of the Apple logo on the back of the iPad to reflect a primary horizontal orientation. If Apple could create a hinge with the Smart Connector and a magnetic lock-in we would have the tablet/laptop combination.

As is I think the Brydge does this right now though it is bluetooth based whereas an Apple solution would use the Smart Connector. I’ve only had a week with the Brydge but this combination feels nearly perfect. It’s a laptop when I want a laptop, a tablet when I want a tablet. The effort required to switch form factors is simply to lift the iPad from the hinges or to place in back in them.

What’s a computer

In one of Apple’s latest iPad ads we see a student exploring the city and making great use of an iPad in various locations. It’s a fantastic example of the many ways an iPad can be used. I think this is my favorite iPad ad to date. It’s a tool for exploring and creating. Good stuff.

Importing images via drag and drop in iOS 11

After using the iOS 11 beta on my iPad Air 2 for a month I decided to go ahead and update my Pro with the release of the Gold Master released by Apple on the 12th. Wow. So nice on the big screen!

As I was browsing Apple News I came across this Verge article on the best of Cassini’s images. I wondered, could I drag an image from the article directly into the Photos app to import? I assumed not. Well, I was wrong. It seems like drag and drop is everywhere in this version of iOS. Nifty!

iPad Journal: Looking for a new writing & blogging sweetspot

A couple weeks ago the developers of Ulysses took the app to a subscription model. I don’t do subscriptions. So, I said my goodbye. Then I began my move back to Byword for writing and publishing to WordPress. It works pretty well. There are a few quirks. For example, while it is possible to publish a post with an image the image must first be uploaded to the web and a link inserted for this to work. Compared to Ulysses which took care of uploading the image during publishing. Not as convenient but still not worth a subscription.

Another, when working on something of several pages, Byword lacks the ability to quickly jump to the beginning or end of the document with a keyboard shortcut. I often do podcast transcripts of many pages so this is important and a bit of a hassle when it’s lacking.And, on the note of trying to navigate through many pages with keys, I easily loose track of the cursor and have to tap the screen. Not the end of the world but just one of those little oddities. Byword still has not added the overlay for displaying keyboard shortcuts. As far as I know,there is no shortcut in Byword to easily add a link. Not the end of the world but just another little annoyance.

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Enter, iA Writer
So, with reluctance I’ve purchased yet another writing/publishing app: iA Writer. Reviews are good and, like Ulysses and Byword, it offers publishing to WordPress. At $3.99 it’s certainly worth a try. The way I see it, it’s still far less expensive than locking into a Ulysses subscription.

My initial impression is that it is certainly a solid app, pleasant enough to work with. Whether little annoyances such as those I mentioned about Byword begin to show, well, more time using the app will bring those to light. I’m not sure what I think about the font choice for writing but it’s not changeable. Something lacking that I was hoping for is an option to share text/urls from Safari. Currently, I can send such things to Drafts or Notes as a go between. Or, just as likely, I’ll use Clips. With iOS 11 around the corner it may be that I’ll be getting in the habit of dragging and dropping text and urls.

What I like:

  • The blue cursor and highlight are nice and easier to see than the dark gold used by Byword.
  • Set-up for publishing was very easy. It publishes as a draft and then opens up the page via web which is perfect. From there I can set the post type and add keywords and categories.
  • I can select text then use the Command-k shortcut to turn the text into a link with the URL currently in the keyboard. It’s a little thing but one I really like.

What I don’t like:

  • I’ve tried uploading an image with this post and I get an error that the request timed out. So, that’s a bummer.

Time will tell.

iPad Journal Video Editing

Back around 2002 I spent a bit of time editing video using a couple of G4 Macs with Final Cut Pro. A series of experimental shorts as well as a full length documentary. Previous to that I’d also used iMovie and since then I’ve mostly used iMovie on Macs and then in the iPad and even the iPhone.

First, the experience of editing on a G4 Mac with iMovie was magical. I’d never done such a thing before. But it was also a process that involved external hard drives and various cables. My Mac’s internal drive did not have the capacity to handle larger projects so those had to be offloaded to external drives in the range of 40 to 80GB. Importing meant attaching a digital camcorder with FireWire and importing the data as the camcorder played the footage. Which meant a lot of time working with a camcorder attached to the computer. Once footage was imported then it was a matter of working with the clips. Arranging them on the timeline, splitting, trimming, etc.

Then there was the rendering. Oh, yes that. Adding transitions, adding captions or titles, could require a few seconds to a few minutes depending on the Mac and the work being done. Then at the end of the project there was the rendering out to a final product. It might be digital or it might be back out to tape. This often took hours for larger projects. Even our top of the line G4 Power Mac could take hours. When I worked on my G4 PowerBook it took even longer. It was the sort of thing you didn’t have to do often but when you did it was best left to do overnight. Come back in the morning and hope there were no errors. Also, as I recall, we didn’t use them much while rendering. All the memory and processor power was consumed by the task at hand. For some context, these Macs. As I recall it had something like a 867 MHZ processor and 512 MB of RAM. I’m pretty sure we upgraded to a gig of RAM. The internal hard drive was, I think, 60 GB hence the need to use externals. That set-up was $2500 not counting the external drives that were roughly $200 as I recall. Plus the cost of FCP.

So, in 2002, that was our “Pro” machine that we used to get our work done. Video editing with Final Cut, effects with Adobe After Affects, Photoshop for photos, etc. Out of a small office our little digital arts co-op with 3 desktop Macs and several laptops produced several films that were shown at several film festivals. At least a couple of those filmmakers are still at it today. I was mostly in it for the fun and for the learning. Filmmaking has never been a passion so much as just something I like to tinker with.

Jump forward to 2017. Over the past couple of years I’ve edited several for-fun projects in iMovie on the Mac, iPad Air 2, iPhones, and and now the most recent iPad Pro. Of course the Mac handles it all very well, but I want to focus on iOS devices. The iPhone 6s and iPad also have no problems running iMovie though with the 64 GB storage I had to be careful with stored video. But in terms of processor and memory, iMovie ran very well. Importing is instant if you’re using video recorded on the device. AirDropping clips from an iPhone takes seconds to minutes depending on the size of the clips. Then just import from the Photos library, so, again, it’s instant. Of course, there is no rendering of transitions or captions anymore. Just place them in the timeline and it is instant. Same thing for color filter affects. It’s instant. Editing timeline is a matter of splitting clips, changing length of clips, etc. It’s all pretty basic but it is the essentials and is all instant. Multiple layers of video are not possible. In summary, it’s simple but incredibly fast and smooth. The only time I’ve ever had to wait is in the export process which applies to both Mac and iOS devices. But this isn’t something that takes long and while I’m doing it I can open up apps in slideover (iMovie doesn’t do split screen) and carry on with no lag at all.

This brings me to LumaFusion. Every couple of years I do a little family oriented documentary. In the recent past they have usually been focused on older family members such as grandparents. I wanted to record some of their stories so we would could enjoy them into the future and pass them on to great grandkids. As my parents get older I thought it was about time to get started on their videos and also I have aunts and uncles that I would like to do videos for. So, I decided to splurge on LumaFusion and I’m really glad I did.

I’ve got two active projects going at the moment. About two hours worth of editing time. Enough to begin to form an opinion which is this: LumaFusion is a fantastic tool for anyone that wants or needs to do video editing on an iPad. It’s far more powerful than iMovie. I’ve not used Final Cut Pro since around 2005 so I can’t say how similar it is compared to the current version but I can say that it reminds me of what it was like to use FCP and I’ve heard others say the same. Essentially, it is the closest thing we currently have to FCP on an iPad. It offers up to three layers/tracks of audio and video which was the most obvious feature I considered. Of course, it is far more powerful than iMovie and there are many other features that could be discussed but that’s all on the website. I won’t repeat it here. I will just say that the app is exactly what i was hoping for and works as advertised. 9To5Mac had a great review.

Until Apple offers up FCP for iOS this is the app to use for more advanced video editing. The two projects I’ll be working on over the next couple of months are likely to each be in the 60 to 90 minute range so I expect to have a much better idea of the strengths and limitations of LumaFusion when I’ve gotten to the other side. Based on the time I’ve already spent with it I do feel comfortable in my expectation that this app, combined with the iPad Pro, will serve as a very powerful video editing combination. By comparison to the “pro” Power Mac, my current iPad cost less than half and is portable in a way that that desktop could never be. Furthermore, my iPad actually contains a video camera that is far better than the one I used back then. Or, if preferred, I can use the slightly better camera found in my iPhone 7Plus. My point is that what we call “pro” is always relative. What “professionals” might use at different times for different tasks will vary.

I’m really looking forward to giving this a whirl and will, no doubt, report back on the experience!

Back to Byword

Getting Byword set-up again for blogging. Haven’t used this app in over a year and I think I’ll settle back in just fine. As comfortable as I was with Ulysses, the interface between the two is not all that different.

So long Ulysses

Well. Darn it. Count me among those that enjoy Ulysses but will not subscribe. I’ve used it for a year and it’s a great app. The best feature, in my scenario, is posting to WordPress. I’m happy to pay well for apps like Ulysses and pay for updates as needed. But I’m not willing to pay for a subscription. I can’t afford to subscribe to every app I use. If it is essential for what I do, maybe. But even then I’m not happy about it. But for a text editor? No. There are too many other options. The one feature of easier blog posting is not enough to keep me around.

I may continue to use the current version till it no longer works but I’ll likely look into other options and probably begin the transition to something else. I suspect it will feel strange to invest further documents into an app that no longer has a long-term future on my devices. In fact, it only took me the time to write those two sentences to decide that I would begin phasing out my use of Ulysses this very moment. The problem is that every document in Ulysses is held in a monolithic database. Compare that to an app like Byword or Editorial, both of which store documents as individual text documents in their app folder on iCloud or Dropbox, respectively. 

So, as of this moment, I’m giving up the benefits I found in using Ulysses and switching. I’ll revisit both Byword and Editorial for now. Also, there have been quite a few updates to the official WordPress app. I’ll give that another look for the actual mechanics of blog posting. 

A final brief but blunt note about app subscriptions: NO. Your app is not a magazine or a music or video service. It’s an app.  It is a thing that I want to own, not a service I want to rent. There’s a time and a place for subscriptions but apps is not one of them. At least, not for me. Let me pay a fair price for an app. Offer paid updates as needed. But I want to own it. I don’t want to be locked into paying for it again and again. Not for a dollar or $2 or $5. 

Sigh.

Revisiting Space Exploration with Affinity Photo for iPad

In June of 2015 Affinity Designer for Mac caused a splash when it was released. I’d never heard of it but was anxious to try something that might allow me to replace Illustrator. I spent a couple weeks with the trial and decided pretty quickly that I would be purchasing it. During that time I created a series of space-themed posters and shared them is a couple of blog posts: post one and post two.

Of course, Designer is primarily for creating vector-based art. But just as Affinity Photo on Mac is very capable of doing vector work so too is the iPad version. I thought it would be fun to revisit with a new space exploration themed image again using a Carl Sagan Quote.

The quote in its entirety:

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” – Carl Sagan

iPad Journal: Transitioning from InDesign to Pages

Anytime I’ve written about my transition to iPad for more of my work I always note that one of the few reasons I have for returning to the Mac for client work is InDesign. While the company that makes Affinity Photo also has a publishing app in the works that is intended to replace InDesign it is likely a ways off for the Mac and even further away for the iPad. But there is hope to be found in Apple’s Pages app and with a recent update to the app I’ve been giving more thought to how I might transition more of my InDesign work in that direction. Can Pages handle it?

Yes. Yes it can. Sometimes.

On the Mac side of things I’ve been using InDesign and Pages since they were released. In that time I’ve used InDesign for the projects where I felt Pages was lacking in some way. For example, I’ve worked with two different community newspapers and newspaper layout isn’t something I would ever do with Pages. Actually, I believe I did one issue using Pages and it worked out okay but I felt more comfortable with InDesign for that kind of work. Also, any project in which a client wants more than a printable pdf, specifically when they want an InDesign file well, obviously, that’s the app I use. I’d say my use of each app was about 50/50. Though I generally used InDesign for larger more complicated documents I found Pages worked very well for flyers, posters and smaller newsletters as well as Annual Reports. In 2014 I helped a friend publish her first book and that was done with Pages and turned out very well.

For years both of those apps matured until 2010 when the iPad was introduced by Apple. They also introduced a version for the iPad and then a couple years later rebuilt Pages on both its platforms, Mac and iOS, to be much closer in compatibility. It was a step forward for the iOS version but a big step backward for the Mac version which lost many features. In my own workflow I resorted to keeping the older version of Pages around as it still worked fine though it was no longer being updated. Users howled and Apple responded by gradually re-adding many of those features but it has taken time. It took a few years but the result is that we now have Pages on Mac and iPad which is near feature parity and which has been re-built into something much closer (in features) to the original Mac version of Pages. In many ways it is much improved as it has new features such as real-time collaboration and a web version that works on Windows via iCloud.

What’s still lacking in the iOS version of Pages? Sadly, there are a few important things. Creating and editing styles is not an option. I can apply a style but I cannot edit a pre-existing style. To do that I have to be on a Mac. If I’ve created a document and decide to change the page orientation after the fact I’ll need a Mac. If I want to create a document using a custom page size or change a document to a custom page size I’ll need a Mac. These are some pretty basic and foundational features and should not be missing from the iOS version. This is especially true give than Apple markets their “Pro” iPads as computers powerful enough to replace traditional computers. That said, Apple is consistently updating the app with new and important features. For example, the most recent update released in the summer of 2017, reintroduced a feature which had been removed in the above mentioned redesign of the app: linked text boxes. This is a feature that is an absolute necessity for many multi-page documents.

Where is Pages for iOS lacking in comparison to InDesign. For starters, the above mentioned ability to create and edit styles. InDesign has many advanced typography features lacking in Pages. Just one example: You can’t change the character spacing (though this does work on the Mac version of Pages). There’s no work space (usually called a pasteboard) around a Pages document for temporarily placing things while working. Want to reorder pages by their thumbnails? Nope The header or footer of a Pages document are the only places you can add page numbers and it’s all or nothing. Not much in the way of customization. If I’m doing a cover page or a table of contents I don’t want those pages to have a header with a page number. For small documents, say, a 6 page newsletter, it’s not a huge burden do create my own headers with page numbers added manually. Most of the documents I do are less than 10 pages but it’s worth mentioning the limitation.

Even with these limitations Pages on the the large 12.9″ screen of the iPad Pro is very powerful and a pleasure to use. It has a few features that do not exist on InDesign. For example, charts which are almost always a part of any annual report. I can do a table in InDesign but it’s far easier to do in Pages. Of course, adding objects and flowing text around them is something InDesign does but Pages does it so fluidly. Also, the styling options for objects in Pages, while a bit more limited also seem more powerful and are easier to apply. Perhaps the best way of summarizing the difference is that working with Pages means fewer features by comparison to InDesign but what it does do, Pages does very well and with little friction. A last point: when I consider the features I need for a newsletter or annual report job, Pages almost always has what I need.

So, to summarize, InDesign is, without a doubt, a far more powerful application than Apple’s Pages. It is a truly “Pro” application… for the Mac. It is not available for the iPad. But if my end product is to be a newsletter or annual report, either of these apps will allow me to produce a visually attractive, well designed document. Were I to set out to create a similar design using each app, for the sake of comparison, it is very likely that they would, in most cases, be indistinguishable from one another. Put another way, were I to send you 10 pdfs of the usual sort of newsletter or annual report that I’ve produced and ask you to determine which of the two apps was used, you would probably not be able to.

Pages is obviously not the most powerful or the best page layout tool for designing multi-page documents on the Mac. But on the iPad, as far as I am aware, it is the best option and it’s one which I’ve used many times with great results. I’ll keep InDesign around for the projects that require it but going forward if I can do a job on Pages I will.

iPad Journal: Multi-touch on the iPad 12.9″

I’ve been using the larger iPad for nearly a month now and continue to consider it the best Apple device I’ve ever used. For casual browsing of the web via Safari, Reeder and Twitter it is essentially the same experience as with the iPad Air 2, just bigger. I probably use split screen more for that. But that’s not why I wanted the larger iPad. I wanted it for work and as a work device it is everything I hoped it would be. And that’s with iOS 10. I expect it to get even better with iOS 11. Managing client websites with Coda while split screening with apps such as Mail, Messages or Safari is a much easier task with the added screen space. Using the recently released Affinity Photo for designing several client postcards and posters has also been a much nicer process with the larger screen. It will be better when they add split screen to it as I often need text and images from other apps while working.

Something which was unexpected: I’ve noticed is that there are times that I’m now actively using more than one touch point at a time. Put another way, I am now using two hands, two fingers on screen at the same time, to do certain tasks. In part I think this came about as a result of the bigger screen. But it was also a result of thinking about the coming changes with iOS 11 as a multi-touch operating system. The idea of using two hands and multiple fingers wasn’t something I’d really thought about before when using the smaller iPad Air 2. But between learning about iOS 11 and multi-touch features and having the larger screen iPad I think something in my brain clicked. Along with this is a more general use of two hands. I may not be actively touching the screen with both hands at the same time but I’m finding now that I am much more likely to have both hands up at the screen, coordinating actions back and forth. Which brings me to Dan Counsell’s recent post to his blog, Minimal Path, Apple should release bigger iPads:

If Apple wants the iPad to start making serious inroads into the pro market, and I believe they do, then they are going to need to release even bigger iPads. That may sound crazy, but hear me out.

For starters, I’d like to see an iPad around the 15-inch mark, akin to the MacBook Pro. Hell, maybe even 17 to 20-inch versions. If you spend a large amount of time working at a desk you don’t need a system to be super portable, you just need more screen real estate and more power.

I agree completely. Personally, I’m very happy with my current set-up of Mac-Mini for desktop and iPad Pro for mobile. I’ll need to keep the Mac for InDesign and as a media server for Plex. But I can definitely see the usefulness of a large, 23 to 27″ desktop iPad. I’ve been hoping Apple would make such a beast since Microsoft unveiled the Surface Studio. Would be fantastic for video editing with a new version of Final Cut Pro for iOS1 as well as design work with Affinity Photo and the upcoming Affinity Designer and hopefully, one day, an Affinity Layout app. An “iPad Studio” would be the perfect device to showcase working with the multi-touch capabilities coming with iOS 11. Until then I’ll happily continue using my iPad Pro.

  1. Or the recently updated LumaFusion video editor. I just started using this today and as many have already said, it is as close as we currently have to Final Cut Pro for the iPad.