The story of the iPad Pro 2021

On April 20th Apple announced it’s 2021 update of the iPad Pro and it’s a doozy of an update with all new screen technology, the M1 chip with 8 or 16gb of memory, 5G, Thunderbolt port and of course the usual improved cameras.

And, like clockwork, all of the Apple pundits have come out with their predictable “The iPad hardware is too powerful for the software” articles. They’re not entirely wrong but I do think the echo-chamber is over emphasizing how bad the problem really is. The various articles point out the usual iPadOS shortcomings (currently groupthink is focused on Files, lack of proper 2nd display support, and limitations of multitasking), the lack of Apple’s pro software such as Xcode, Final Cut, and Logic. The story is that the hardware is plenty powerful and that what it needs are updates to OS and pro apps.

Let’s break it down.

The Hardware
I’ll start by saying that the 2018 iPad Pro that I’m currently using has been a fantastic work computer for 2+ years. I’ve used it everyday and after 2+ years it is still very fast for my daily work. From Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo to the occasional LumaFusion video project, it has handled it all with relative ease. From booting up, waking from sleep, authenticating, to app launching, it all is nearly instantaneous. I consider myself a “power” user and make my living with this device.

The only area where the hardware has lacked is in memory which was stuck in the 4 to 6GB range for the past two releases (2018, 2020). This limitation shows up when I do a lot of switching between apps. While most apps do a great job of holding their previous state the more demanding apps such as the Affinity apps will sometimes need to reload if I’ve been away using other apps for awhile. The new 2021 iPad Pro will have 8GB and 16GB of RAM so I expect this problem will be greatly reduced.

Too few pro apps
It’s true that Apple’s own professional apps such as Xcode and Final Cut Pro are not available on the iPad. But it’s also true that, at least on the video front, at least one very powerful solution exists: LumaFusion has grown each year into a more capable application for increasingly complex video projects. Why not give more credit where it is due? The same should be said of Serif’s incredibly powerful Affinity graphics apps. Over the past three years we’ve heard countless complaints that Adobe’s apps are not available (Photoshop now is with others on the way at some point). But Affinity brought it’s two well regarded and powerful image/vector design apps, Photo and Designer, to the iPad several years ago and they’ve got the third app in the suite, Publisher, headed to iPad sometime in 2021 (expected, not announced).

And I’m just pointing to three that I have experience with. There are many, many others, especially in the area of graphic design. I would suggest that there might be a bias in the coverage because it’s podcasters and writers whose voices are most amplified via publishing in well known publications and podcasts, but these folks perhaps lack the experience with this category of applications so they go unnoticed. People out doing other kinds of work with some of the more powerful applications such as those I mentioned above are not equally amplified.

A simplified OS
While Apple has continuously pushed the iPad forward it is still a different experience. Given it’s foundation as an intentionally simple, easy to use computer, those differences are often viewed as shortcomings by advanced, “power” users. The most often repeated complaint in the past year is multitasking. Apple has steadily improved it but advanced users still consider it to restrictive, likely because they come from the Mac with it’s unlimited windows. An iPad limited to displaying 2 app windows and a third in slide over is never going to please power users. Previous to that the loudest complaint was the Files app which could not display external drives attached via usb.

Another prominent example being discussed online are the limits when displaying to an external screen, namely that it’s mirroring only and, when attached to a widescreen display, it’s got the black pillar-boxing on each side. No doubt this is a shortcoming and, as the new iPad Pros have Thunderbolt, will need to be addressed by Apple. Some apps do take advantage of the full screen but not many. With the increased power of the iPads it should be improved in the next version of iPadOS and likely will be.

But as the story goes, these apps and features are all present and more powerful on the Mac. But of course the Mac OS is far older and more mature. And it’s also an OS, given it’s power, maturity and complexity, that many people can’t use. Again, it’s important to remember the origin of the iPad as an easier to use device with a focus on more casual computing.

I’ll point out that with each year we get improvements. Some years they are big improvements, others just more iterative refinements and fixes. In 2020, even before WWDC, Apple added a huge mid-year feature, full trackpad/mouse cursor support, something no one saw coming. It was widely praised as it should have been. But at WWDC the iPad was given fewer features and iPad OS 14 looked to be more of a bug-fix, refinement release. It’s notable that many users had complained about the bugs and had called for a bug fix type release. But many of them still complained at the lack of features and the focus on bug fixes. Basically, Apple will be criticized either way.

In short, people tend to focus on what they didn’t get rather than what they did get. It’s easy to focus on the negative. I’ve thought for several years that much of the problem lies with the culture of tech punditry and the over emphasis on critique. And, another aspect of this, the insular nature of tech enthusiasts that are focused on what they want as “power” users often forgetting that the iPad was really pointed at people who are not tech enthusiasts or professionals. So, yes, now we’ve had the iPad Pro for 6 years and iPadOS for 2 years, the iPad is maturing as a platform and needs to serve the original user base as well as the more advanced users that have grown in numbers over the years.

I recently came across Matthew Panzarino’s review of the 2020 iPad Pro on Tech Crunch where he concludes:

It’s insane to have a multi-modal machine that can take typing, swiping and sketching as inputs and has robust support for every major piece of business software on the planet — and that always works, is always fast and is built like an Italian racing car.

Who can argue with that?

I think that sums it up really well.

A small sampling of posts below.

Andrew Griffin at the Independent had an interview with Greg Joswiak and John Ternus, two Apple Execs to discuss the new iPad Pro, iPad Pro: How Apple Made Its New Tablet – And What Exactly It Is. They cover a lot of ground including ongoing speculation that the Mac and iPad will eventually merge which again Apple denies.

Jason Snell, writing for MacWorld,
The iPad Pro is a killer machine but its software is killing me:

And yet, in 2021, it feels like the same story: Apple killed it on the hardware side, and the software…well, the software lags behind, to put it nicely. Apple built a spectacular sports car, but where are the roads to drive it on?

Harry McCracken, noted for his use of an iPad as his main computer for a decade chimes in with
The iPad Pro just got way more pro. Now it needs pro software:

Apple clearly envisions the iPad Pro serving some of the world’s most demanding users. During Tuesday’s launch event, most of the applications the company referenced for the new models were heavy-duty tasks such as shooting movies, creating augmented-reality content, designing buildings, and editing vast quantities of 4K video. The kind of stuff, in other words, that people do for a living—and for which no tablet is yet the most obvious mainstream choice.

But while Apple’s hardware strategy for making such folks happy seems to be a smashing success, the software side is as murky as it’s ever been.

Experiments with Markdown Editors, Saving Content and Obsidian

Background

This post began as a post over at this thread at the Mac Power Users Forum. I started with Obsidian a couple months back but a funny thing happened. Because I do most of my computing on the iPad and there was at that time no Obsidian mobile app (it‘s in beta now), I started with my trusted iA Writer for the back-end editing of files but it does nothing with Wiki links. So I moved to experimenting with a couple of other Markdown apps, 1Writer and Taio as they both do well with wiki links (more on these two apps later). I figured I’d just hop onto the Mac occasionally to use Obsidian. A couple months in and I’ve hardly touched Obsidian but I’ve been much more proactive in writing of daily notes (a new practice that I’d long pondered) and more writing generally as a result of starting the day with daily notes.

Another result is that it’s got me thinking more actively and critically about what/how/where/why I save files. In yet another post at Mac Power Users, the topic of saving web pages as html rather than pdf files also got me thinking about file format as it relates to what I do with stored files. As a part of considering my intent, I’m also considering the saving process and the information I actually want to save. To put it plainly, I’m trying to be very deliberate about my accumulation of information I may never need. Be it whole files, text, or images embedded in pdfs, etc. The deliberation and a slightly different process adds a bit of friction but that’s good in this case. I’ve generally been pretty good about not saving everything just because I have the thought this might be useful someday. It’s a trap a lot of people seem to fall into.

An example, a few nights ago I happened upon a recipe and considered whether I wanted to save it. Recipes are a new thing for me to bother with but I am starting to save a few. Rather than just save to pdf I used a shortcut to save a markdown/text file to Files in my 1Writer folder. I hop over to 1Writer and open the new document, clean out any cruft and tag it both in the text and also in the Files app. Within just a minute or two I have a very tiny, tidy, portable text file that works in 1Writer and Obsidian and also fairly easy to find in Files/Finder. I’ve since created a Shortcut that outputs nice, clean markdown via reader view which I’ll mention later.

So, rather than dive into DEVONthink (which I had been considering) as a catch-all tool my plan is to go the opposite way. It’s also got me looking at how I use Apple Notes… largely, I’ve been far too lazy and sloppy in throwing stuff in there and not cleaning up after myself when notes are no longer needed. So, avoiding the trap of over-collecting via DEVONthink, cleaning up Apple Notes, and now…

Markdown Editors

Gah!! I consider this useful fiddling but I try to keep app jumping to a minimum as that seems to be a huge time suck. That said, I’m experimenting just a bit. As I mentioned, iA Writer is the app I’ve been using for the past couple years. Love it for compiling podcast transcripts, writing and blogging. But it falls short on Wiki links. So I did a little poking around and found Taio and 1Writer. Here’s how they compare.

Overview

  • In general, I prefer the Taio interface as it always shows the sidebar of files. If I want to go full screen I can but I like seeing the files all the time.
  • Taio does nothing with hashtags for searching whereas 1Writer recognizes tags and a click to a tag brings up other files with that tag, showing them in the sidebar as an auto-populated search which is fantastic.
  • Search in 1Writer is generally much better as it also searches file content. Search in Taio is nearly useless as it basically searches titles.
  • When it comes to editing vs previewing Taio creates a mess of tabs along the top of the document window. Open a file to edit then switch to the preview and you get a new tab showing that preview. Tap on a link in that preview to another document? New preview tab of that document. Want to edit that document? New tab. Now you’ve got 4 tabs open! It can get out of control quickly. By comparison 1 Writer does everything in one window. Much tidier. And if I want nearly real-time html preview with clicking to other files I can bring up a second window of the file I’m editing and put it in preview mode. Works very well.

Exporting

Both apps offer a variety of export options though with a very different interface. With Taio I’m presented with a simpler interface to export files to markdown, pdf, html, Docx, RTF and web archive or by copying text to clipboard as markdown or html. After selecting the standard share sheet interface comes up.

1Writer has a preconfigured set of export options with similar formats:

  • Copy plain text, formatted text or html
  • Email plain text, formatted text, pdf attachment or plain text attachment
  • Print as plain text or formatted text
  • Open in plain text or pdf which then goes to the standard share sheet

Nearly equal but Taio offers Docx and web archive, neither of which I need but might be useful to some. 1Writer allows for creating new actions for sharing but I’ve not explored what’s possible there.

Shortcuts and automation

Taio is much better in this regard! It offers a variety of actions to the Shortcuts app as well as it’s own built-in shortcuts like action editor. It’s not even close. 1Writer offers 1 action for Shortcuts which is to create a new document. Better than nothing! Taio offers 11 actions. Most important of these in my use thus far, I’ve got a shortcut that takes a web page I want to save, generates cleaned up markdown with a link to the page at the bottom. The Taio version of this shortcut results in an actual file containing content. The 1Writer version creates a new file for me with the text copied to my clipboard. All I have to do is paste it in. But it seems silly that there’s no way (that I know of) to create the file with the content already intact.

The built-in action editor in Taio seems very powerful. I’ve not explored it much just yet but I did create 1 automation to create a daily log file with a pre-populated template and ready to go. I’m looking forward to using it a bit more.

Extras

Last, Taio offers an interesting clipboard saver. I’ve not used it much and I’m not sure I will but it’s there and might prove useful. I’m not really prepared to offer any thoughts yet.

Both of these are excellent markdown apps that will create a folder or folders of markdown files that will play well with Obsidian. Not only are they feature rich in terms of editing they are excellent for viewing, interacting with and exporting documents. For the moment I’ve currently settled on 1Writer and expect that to stick for awhile.

All this to say that it’s great that we have so many apps/tools but I’m recognizing how easy it is to get lost in them, jumping from one to another looking for the perfect tool with all of the exact features we need or think we need. It’s easy to focus on the new shiny tool rather than actively engage with and use the information in a meaningful way. I suppose that’s one of the pitfalls of being a geek.

I guess that was a bit of a sidetrack but I think in looking at the bigger picture it can be helpful to ask what it is we’re hoping to do with apps. I expect I’ll get around to actually using Obsidian more often and it’s feature set will prove helpful when I need them. But for the most part I’m currently just enjoying the focus on writing and more active engagement with information processing for a more tidy and deliberately curated set of open, accessible files.

Thinking about Internet publishing

In my last post complaining about the complexity of posting and especially editing WordPress posts, I had a reply from Pete which led me down a rabbit hole. I tapped Pete‘s name to view his profile… I get so few comments here that I usually do this to see if commenters have their own blog which I might follow. I ended up on Pete‘s Micro.blog which found me reading through a conversation over there and an hour later I was checking out TiddlyWiki. Funny how easy it is to fall down these rabbit holes! I‘m not going to delve into TiddlyWiki here though I might in a future post. My interest in this post is frictionless posting, internet community, and publishing silos.

In my reply to Pete I wrote this bit which I‘m just going to paste with a bit of minor editing:

I’m just longing for an interface that is more simple! I’ve got my other blog tied into micro.blog and have used that app for posting on occasion. Actually, I think the micro.blog app and platform is a step in the direction that I’m looking for.

Thinking about micro.blog, as a specific platform and kind of community, it hasn’t been sticky for me. I visit and engage a little every so often but then stop. I think, in part, because it feels secluded. In a strange way, I both like and do not like that feeling of seclusion. Every time I pop over and try to use it I end up feeling like I’m in a kind of gated community. I suppose I’m longing for some sort of internet home that is connected in a more meaningful way to my analog life where I use Messages for family communications and Slack for local friends.

So, in total, my current internet experience, in terms of sharing with others, is this blog you‘re reading, my less tech focused Beardy Star Stuff, Twitter, Instagram, Apple Messages and Slack. In short, I have lots of silos, none of which are connected. Actually, some of my friends and family are also on Instagram so that is one connection. To my knowledge none of my friends or family read either of my blogs. For many people Facebook is a primary internet home but I quit it long ago and even back then it never felt like an internet home.

So, I come back to my desire for a different internet where more people post to a timeline of their own which they can share. Something as easy to use as Facebook but without all the ugly. Or alternatively, a version of Messages but which posts to a timeline rather than to a private chat. Thinking about Messages as it is and I can imagine a “My Timeline“ tab where I could just tap or click that tab to post. To see others that I follow, just tap another “Timeline“ tab. Well, at least it‘s easy to imagine!

I don‘t really know what the answer is. In so many ways it would seem to be a syntheses of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Messages and Slack. The danger of course is that such an integrated experience, is difficult or impossible to bring under one umbrella. Or possibly not desirable. The internet is meant to be decentralized.

In thinking about it I can see how Facebook has become so dominant as it offers much of this experience as a very easy to use portal. Of course we can see the danger of this as it has manifested in the practices of Facebook (the company) and the manifestation of Facebook the website/platform. Would it be possible to have a more ethical version of Facebook both in terms of the company and the created platform? Could a company like Apple build such a thing? I think, technically, yes. But, it would come with it‘s own set of problems. Apple already faces accusations of being too big and having too much control. So, perhaps not Apple.

But I can imagine some sort of standards-based consortium. A cooperative effort to build a new platform. Safer, more ethical, less susceptible to the propagation of misinformation but still valuable as a place for free expression. Is such a thing possible or is it too contradictory? And what about some sort of verification to cut back on unaccountability and anonymous posting? It would seem that there should be some way to create a standard of verified user that might serve as a filter to remove bots or accounts created with fraud/spam or other mis-use as the intent.

I doubt it would be easy but it would seem that it is doable.

Publishing to WordPress is too messy

I published a post this morning and was reminded that this is too messy. Depending on the app I‘m using, it may not be too difficult to push the text, as html or markdown to WordPress via the WordPress share extension. But where It really falls down is in any editing I have to do in either the WordPress app or WordPress websites. The new editor, which comes in different flavors: Rich Text, Blocks, or HTML is just… eeeewwwwwwwwwww. Too complex, too messy. I sometimes think I‘d post more often if it were easier. Perhaps.

Also, I long for a day when there is some sort of easy timeline solution… easy for anyone. I sort of imagine an Apple service and app, call it iCloud Diary or something. Make it fun with a few custom themes. But easy to post to, something like Mail in terms of composing… super easy to post and edit, for non-techies. And like Messages for following friends, family… a sort of simple presentation of RSS, also for non techies. The point is safe, secure, trusted sharing. I guess a sort of Apple-based Twitter/Facebook. And perhaps make it easy to share from Apple services… Music, News, etc. And an easy to use, safe, secure alternative to Facebook.

Mac OS X Turns 20!

I missed this by a few weeks but wanted to mark the occasion anyway. When Apple released OS X twenty years ago (March 24, 2001) I was there on day one. I‘d actually been running the public beta on my lime green iMac. Exciting days! Like many I really loved the classic Mac OS which I‘d used from 7.x on my Color Classic all the way thru to OS 9. It was a beautiful, fun OS to use when it wasn‘t crashing! To be fair, it was mostly stable and I did a lot with my Macs before OS X. But my oh my, OS X was a thing of beauty! In hindsight we might look back on it as a bit overdone but in the moment I loved it. In the early days it was slow but even then it was fairly stable, especially in comparison to Mac OS 9.

Image courtesy of 512pixels.net Image Archive

Apple made no secret that OS X was the future of the Mac OS. There would be no turning back and really, it did feel like the future. It was similar enough to the classic Mac OS that one could use it without feeling lost. But, with the new Aqua interface it also felt very different. Add to that the new Finder, the Dock, Mail and a few others. Then there was the new ability to create pdfs from any application via print to pdf which felt a bit like a super power.

Fun fact, in contrast to today‘s free, downloadable os updates, back in those days the os was delivered via DVD and cost a bit, in the case of OS X 10.0 it was $129.

My current desktop on my MacMini running macOS Catalina

Looking at OS X then and now I am still somewhat astounded by the fact that we‘ve seen so many transitions over the past 20 years. That OS X is the core OS of the watch on my wrist, my phone, and my iPad as well as the Mac on my desk in an amazing iterative achievement. And while the pinstripes of Aqua were transformed into a variety of textures over the years and are now utterly absent, replaced by light grays, whites and subtle gradients, looking at my Mac running macOS Catalina or my iPad running iPadOS 14, I can‘t help but recognize the many persistent similarities. I see OS X on my screen. From the Dock to Mail to Files, traces of OS X in it‘s infancy continue today.

My current iPad Pro Homepage

Looking through the excellent 512pixels image archive I can‘t help notice that as much as has changed over the years so much of that first 10.0 version is still so visible today.

Here‘s Steve Jobs at the MacWorld 2000 Keynote presenting OS X. A really fun video!

From the web:

Stephen Hackett of 512pixels.net has a brief post which consists of some great links. A fantastic screenshot library. Start with OS X 10.0

Jason Snell has these three articles:
From Aqua to Catalina: The evolution of macOS X

Mac OS X: An act of desperation that formed the foundation for the modern Mac

Mac OS X turns 20

John Voorhees over at Mac Stories: 20 Years Ago, Mac OS X Set the Stage for Today‘s Apple

Video Workflow

Last year when I started cycling a couple of family members suggested I get a GoPro. Partly to share with them but I think also because they were concerned with my safety and thought having a camera could be useful were I to have some trouble while out riding around. I eventually got one and have used it a good bit to record some of my rides. All for fun as I have no serious social media goals.

Of course I‘m working from the iPad and needed to figure out some sort of workflow. It‘s been messy! I‘m not sure if I‘m making it more complicated then it needs to be but I suspect that video workflows can indeed be a bit tricky. I expected to edit in LumaFusion. The question how and where to transfer files.

First, I started with the GoPro App and it‘s a terrible mess. It starts and seems inclined to work in portrait mode. Sometimes it can be coaxed into landscape but often goes back to portrait. Probably intended to be a phone thing. Only thing it‘s good for is letting it auto-create a few clips for a quick share. I made the mistake of getting in the habit of connecting to the camera wirelessly to transfer files to the app and then exporting. It took me far to long to figure out that it‘s a bad method as getting the raw clips out is overly complicated.

First, these clips should be accessible in the Files app but they are not. Second, any attempt to share a clip also seems to export the clip to the Photos app whether you want that or not. So I end up with the shared, exported clip but also a video in Photos. It‘s an extra file that I don‘t want backed up to iCloud photos so I have to delete it before that happens. So, if I come back after a bike ride with 10 video clips using the app to get those out for editing is more difficult than it needs to be if I‘m using the app. If I let the files accumulate in the app as I did then getting them backed up to an external device is really time consuming. I ended up saving them all to Photos then exporting to an SSD. Would have been great to open two Files windows and just drag and drop.

Okay, with that out of the way, my process going forward to skip the GoPro app altogether. I‘ll plug the GoPro into the iPad and import directly to Photos. Again, with I could mount the camera directly in Files as a storage device. At some point I might consider getting a new hub with built in flash reader which would allow for that. For now, I‘m importing to Photos and then saving to an SSD via the Files app. Now, just to point out, LumaFusion can access files directly from Photos so why not just work from there. Well, as mentioned above, I don‘t want all these files using up bandwidth and storage in iCloud.

Okay, so, GoPro camera to Photos to SSD. The last step with LumaFusion is to create a project and add media. For this I have to import media from the SSD to LumaFusion which, in turn, copies the files from the SSD to a local folder on the iPad. This works but, again, something to be aware of when thinking about iCloud back-ups and bandwidth so I‘ve excluded this folder from my iCloud back-ups. Problem solved! Mostly. My iPad is the 256GB version and really, now that I‘ve cleared out the accumulated media from the GoPro app I‘ve got plenty of space for any active LumaFusion projects, over 120GB of free space. It would be great if LumaFusion projects could link to external storage devices for media without copying over locally but to my knowledge this is not possible yet. But given my level of use I‘ll get by with no problems.

Still here!

So, it’s been awhile. Almost a full year since my last post here. But really, that’s just the way it goes. Interesting, looking at my last two posts from Late March and April 2020 explains why I’ve not posted here in a year which is to say that not much has changed that was really worth posting about. There are plenty of websites in the world sharing the details of Apple related news. Lots of sites discussing using Apple tech. This site is my journal of sorts where I’ve enjoyed sharing my work or my tech journey as it evolves and over the past year it has been steady-state. It’s been a fantastic year but with no new developments in how I’m using my iPad or other related Apple gear. Looking at the last two posts made me laugh because as I sit here writing I realized why I’d not posted: my set-up is exactly the same.

My iPad Pro, Smart Keyboard Portfolio and the Magic Trackpad 2 in a scene that is nearly identical to the second image in my March 31 post which was captioned:

“My current set-up changes all the time. Sometimes used with a keyboard, mouse and monitor on a desk, other times outside on the porch or under a tree. It changes based on the task.”

And in that context, it’s true, my set-up changes based on my location but it’s the same iPad, a keyboard and if at my desk the Magic Trackpad. I’m still doing the same work with mostly the same apps and it’s all been fantastic. If anything, I would just offer that I’ve had another successful year getting work done on my iPad though with Covid it was less work, it was enough to get by.

I suppose I’m posting today just as a check-in. To re-affirm that I’m here and still actively, happily using my Apple tech. But generally speaking, I’m not inclined to post just for the sake of posting.

But there is Apple-related news on the horizon that might be worth commenting on. Well, there’s been some of that over the past year for sure, most notably the M1 Macs, the new and widely acclaimed Magic Keyboard for iPad (which I surprisingly did not purchase), and the usual fall operating system upgrades. All significant but none of which were enough to prompt a post here as I wasn’t using the new hardware released and the software changes were, as expected, incremental.

I’m a little antsy about the possibility of a new iPad Pro being announced and I still ponder the purchase of the Magic Keyboard for iPad but given how well my current set-up works I’m not sure I’ll buy anything. My 2nd Apple Smart Keyboard Portfolio is showing the same wrinkling and bubbling that the first one did before being replaced under warranty. Eventually I’ll need to replace it with something. And in the 2+ years of use I’m definitely seeing degradation in the iPad battery. I’m just not sure it warrants replacement yet because for the tasks I use it for it remains a very fast and capable computer. So, ¯(ツ)

What I‘m hoping to see is currently rumored USB C with Thunderbolt which might also come with an iOS update allowing for better external monitor support similar to what we saw last year with the big mid-cycle release of trackpad support. If I were able to have a second desktop on another display (not just the mirroring that we have now) that took full advantage of the full screen width without the black bars on either side, well, that would likely be enough for a purchase. Add to that the faster processors and 5G (in my area I‘m getting excellent 5G thanks to Sprint/T-Mobile) and that would be a very solid upgrade. Though I‘m still not sure what I‘ll do for a keyboard.

iPad and a Magic Trackpad 2

Last week marked the 10 year anniversary of the release of iPad and I shared a few thoughts. In it I mentioned the recently released iPadOS 13.4 update which added cursor support. At the time I posted I’d been trying it with a Bluetooth mouse and found it fairly helpful though lacking in a few things, namely the swiping gestures that are so integral to using an iPad as a tablet.

For the past day I’ve been using Apple’s Magic Trackpad 2 with the iPad and as many have pointed out, it’s pretty fantastic. Of course, interacting with text on a screen for editing is great but, more importantly, the Magic Trackpad 2 fully supports all the gestures that make the iPad a great tablet. For the first time ever it’s now possible to use the iPad in an elevated stand without reaching up. In the past I worked around this by using keyboard shortcuts which works pretty well. Apps like Pages and Numbers are greatly enhanced with the new cursor and trackpad. LumaFusion is another great app that’s working very well with the cursor-trackpad combination. I’m sure many other apps work great as is or will be enhancing what is possible.

About the keyboard, it is often still faster for some tasks than using the trackpad and cursor. For example, app switching via touch on the trackpad is nice but often is much faster via Command-Tab on the keyboard. An even better example, Spotlight, which I use constantly, is faster via keyboard because it works from anywhere. With the trackpad the two finger swipe down to activate Spotlight only works from the home screen.

All that said, having the new cursor is a great new option and it works perfectly with the trackpad. This configuration, a raised iPad or an iPad with an external monitor with a Bluetooth keyboard and Magic Trackpad, is going to be a really useful set-up.

A last thought about the upcoming Magic Keyboard for iPad. I’m going to pass for now. It’s the perfect device for the iPad and exactly what I’d love to have. But I’ve already got the Smart Keyboard and I’m just not sure about how much work I’ll have given the current Covid virus situation. I opted for the Magic Trackpad because it will give me the option to use the cursor in an efficient way for a lot less money and has the added bonus of working great when I’ve got the iPad in a stand.

iPad Journal: A Decade of iPad

My original iPad docked in Apple’s Keyboard Stand

Note: I began this post in December 2019 intending to have it finished in time for the Anniversary of the announcement of the iPad. Rather than leave it unpublished I thought I’d tweak it a bit and publish now given we’re at the anniversary of the actual release of the iPad. Still seems appropriate.

On April 19, 2010 I got an email from Apple:

Thank you for your recent order of the magical and revolutionary iPad 3G.

We would like to confirm that your order will be shipped in late April as communicated at the time you placed your order. You will receive a confirmation notice when your order has shipped.

Woot! According to Wikipedia the first iPad was released on April 3, 2010. Like many Apple nerds, I remember watching the keynote when Steve Jobs introduced the original iPad on January 26, 2010. I ordered it the day it became available for order. I was far more interested in the iPad than the iPhone which I didn’t purchase until 2012.

My iPad arrived a few days later and, like many (3 million were sold in the first 80 days), I loved it. But in my case I was immediately curious about the potential for using the device for work. One of my first app purchases was Gusto which was one of the first coding and ftp apps. For an early gen iPad app it was surprisingly capable and I used it fairly often. Here’s an excerpt of my mini-review of the iPad which makes pretty clear how quickly the iPad became a part of my workflow:

So, I finally have internet access at the cabin thanks to a new iPad…

For now I’m making an effort to actually do the work on the iPad which means adapting my normal Mac-based workflow. I’m using Gusto for html editing and ftp. It’s a pretty good app and allows me to get most of the work done. The exception is image editing and uploading of images. For editing my Blogspot blog I’m using BlogPress which works pretty well. For web browsing on the iPad I’m using iCab Mobile rather than Apple’s Safari because iCab has a much better tab system which does a better job of caching files and is much easier to switch between tabs. For rss reading I’m using Reeder which is by far the best rss reader I’ve found for the iPad. NetNewsWire didn’t cut it.

Depending on how well this goes I may end up jailbreaking which will allow for me to share the iPad internet connection to my MacBook Pro for working the old fashioned way. We’ll see.

Yes I think this is a fantastically cool device. I can now easily update my blog, check email and update my clients’ websites all from home. The AT&T network here is the slower Edge network but it’s better than nothing. I’m averaging 40-70k a second, which is basically dial-up speeds. Plenty to take care of the basics though I look forward to the day we get 3G!

Ha. I can’t believe how long I got by with 70K internet. And when 3G came it wasn’t much faster but I was happy to have it! I did jailbreak the iPad for the hotspot function but the iPad remained an important part of my workflow.

By the time the iPad 2 was announced in March 2011, 15 million original iPads had been sold. It was with the iPad 2 that I saw many in my family become daily computer users. My granny, mom, aunts and an uncle all became regular users of email and the web with their first iPads. The iPad became the primary computer for many, if not most of my extended family.

I often get frustrated when I hear tech nerd podcasters and writers discuss the iPad because they make it all about themselves. I think they forget or omit the important fact that many, probably most, iPad users were and probably still are users for which a simple iPad is better. The iPad, as introduced by Apple, was a computer for any person, not just advanced users that were already served by desktop and laptop computers.

In the years since the introduction we’ve seen that tension stretch and pull at Apple as it has attempted to reconcile the simplicity that serves beginner users, young or old, and the more complex needs of power users like myself that gradually moved to adopt the iPad as primary computers. Ten years on and it seems to me that the pro-class users that finds voice in the tech media are getting what they’ve been clamoring for, a more powerful iPadOS that matches up to the power of the hardware. Even so, anecdotally, the more basic users (such as my above mentioned family) are still happily using their iPads. I suspect that this reflects Apple’s gradual evolution of features with the basic features still on top while more advanced features remain optional for those that want them.

My current set-up changes all the time. Sometimes used with a keyboard, mouse and monitor on a desk, other times outside on the porch or under a tree. It changes based on the task.

In recent days Apple released iPadOS 13.4, a notable update with a surprise (and much requested) feature, cursor support with mice and trackpads. With a generic Bluetooth mouse I’ve found that the new feature works pretty well and much better than the accessibility features introduced with iPadOS 13. I’ve ordered a Magic Trackpad 2 for use with the iPad which I expect will be useful for some projects.

One of the often repeated questions is if the iPad is going to get all these features, why not just use a Mac? Or was Apple wrong with it’s approach as it seems to be moving the device closer to Microsoft’s approach with the Surface. I think the answer is pretty simple. The iPad is still a tablet first. That’s all that really needs to be said. On a fundamental level, any user can pick up the iPad and do everything they’ve been doing for the past 10 years using their fingers. It’s still a touch first device.

For those that want to do more we have more advanced features ranging from multitasking to multiple instances of the same app to added input options via the Pencil and now a mouse and trackpad. None of these features are required to use an iPad but they are now there for those of us that want them.

I think this is the real strength of the iPad is this flexibility of form factor. For my aunt it is still just a big iPhone, a bigger slab of glass that she can use by tapping with her fingers. It’s still easy for her to send an email, browse the web, send a message, save a photo or play a game. She does these things everyday and has for 10 years. When she ordered the very first iPad she also got the keyboard Apple made for it but she never used it. She wanted the big iPhone, a tablet that was easy to use.

On the other hand I bought and used that keyboard. And many Bluetooth keyboards in various shapes and sizes since. I still use the iPad as a tablet and appreciate that I can do so. But I also use it with a keyboard and sometimes attach it to an external monitor and now I’m also using a mouse with it. Not all the time, but some of the time. When the Magic Trackpad arrives this week I’m sure I’ll use it most days that I use my iPad for certain tasks. Other times it will sit on a desk.

The first 10 years of the iPad has been a hardware and software evolution as will it’s next 10 years. I suspect that going forward it will retain the surface-level simplicity as it’s depth of power-user features increase. I’m looking forward to where Apple takes the iPad and have little doubt that it will continue to serve a wide variety of users in the future. On a personal note, I’ll happily continue to use the iPad everyday whether I’m holding it in my hands, using it in a stand with an external keyboard and trackpad or attached to the Smart Keyboard Portfolio. The iPad is still the personal computer I prefer to use for work and fun.

Busy on two wheels!

Way back in December I wrote a nice (and predictable) 10 year of iPad thing. Never quite got it finished. From this point on this post is not in the least bit about the iPad or Apple or computer tech.

You see, dear reader, back in December I also purchased an e-bike. My first bike in 20 years! I was expecting to use it to ride a couple miles a day to visit with my folks who live nearby. Instead I found that my 20 year old knee injury (my reason for being off bicycles which is are one of my favorite things in the world) had, seemingly, healed over time.

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My first day of riding I took it out on a county road and peddled a bit. My knee felt good. I kept peddling until I rode the 6 miles to town. I had a coffee and happily returned home. I did it again the next day. And the next. Since December 22, 2019 I’ve ridden about 1,200 miles, in daily 20 to 35 mile rides. I’ve peddled all over my county and into a couple of nearby counties exploring the countryside via back-country roads.

So, you see, aside from work related computing I’ve spent most of my free time on a bike or walking my dogs! The time I have spent on the iPad that was not work related was spent reading about bikes or writing about them for my other blog! Of course I’m not abandoning this blog it’s just that my current obsession involves another kind of tech that has enabled me to return to something I’ve long loved and missed! I’ll be around again soon.