Category Archives: iPad Journal

Review: Logitech Combo Touch for the 12.9” iPad Pro

At the the core of my love for the iPad are the many possibilities that come along with a touchscreen tablet. I particularly enjoy the variety of keyboards and stands that make for the modular computing experience that seem to define this form factor. Whenever the subject of external keyboards and cases come up, it’s common for people on the internet to ask, why not just get a laptop? The simple and best answer is that I can’t remove the screen from a laptop. It’s permanently attached. And, along with that limitation, I cannot rotate a laptop from the horizontal position to a portrait position.

The options I considered
Of all the keyboard cases I’ve tried with all of my iPads since 2010, I think this Logitech Combo Touch may prove my favorite though it’s too soon to be certain. I’ve been very happily using Apple’s Smart Keyboard portfolio that I’ve really enjoyed using the past 2+ years and considered just updating that to a new one. In the end my desire for a trackpad and backlit keyboard led me to consider Apple’s Magic Keyboard for iPad, Brydge’s Max+ and Logitech’s Combo Touch. I chose the Logitech.

Comparing features
The outer material Apple uses on the iPad keyboards has not been durable in my experience so that was a strike against the Magic Keyboard especially at the price Apple asks. Add to that the missing row of function keys and it seemed I should keep looking. The Brydge Max+ was the next choice but was less protective along the edges of the iPad. And when removing the iPad from the Brydge to use hand held it would have no protection at all. It also costs more and would not be shipping till June. Lastly, Brydge has a mixed track record in terms of quality control. That left the Logitech which offered the best protection, earlier shipping and the least cost. Another plus with the Logitech was the built in kickstand for use with the iPad propped up without a keyboard. I also thought I’d like the textured fabric-like covering on the Logitech. The biggest drawback is that due to that kickstand design it has a very deep footprint and the reviews are mixed as to how that works in the lap.

It’s only been a week but here are some thoughts. I like the feel of this case just as I thought I would. The fabric-like texture is very nice, much preferred to Apple’s. It feels nicer and does not show oily smudges from contact with skin I’m really happy to have the iPad protected in a case that seems sturdy but I’ll note that it’s thinner and lighter than I expected.

The keyboard itself is excellent just as I’ve come to expect from Logitech keyboards. Now, I should say, I’m not that picky and am fairly adept at adapting to keyboards but this one feels very well made and I type well on it. The row of function keys is a very nice feature to have and happily has screen brightness, keyboard brightness and all the other expected functions. I’m super happy that holding the lock key in the top right corner functions as a Siri key. I like using Siri but don’t like reaching up to the iPad corner button. And Hey Siri sometimes has other devices respond rather than the one I’m using.

The trackpad works pretty well. I did turn off tap to click as there’s not much palm rejection going on and so the cursor jumps all over with the slightest touch. So, still getting used to the click to click as I’ve gotten used to tap to click with the Magic Trackpad I’d been using at my desk. But the clicking works very well in all areas of the trackpad. Also, there’s a two finger click to bring up the contextual menu and that works perfectly. Lastly, scrolling and all the gestures work fairly well and smoothly. All in all, the trackpad is excellent.

What about the deep footprint? Well, when I’m using in my lap I’m almost always in my tiny house with pillows nearby and my general habit is to have a pillow in my lap. This works perfectly with the kickstand folded all the way back to it’s lowest position then propped up on the pillow in my lap. If I need to adjust how I’m sitting or move the pillow or my legs it’s easy to just reach up and adjust the angle of the kickstand to keep it stable and at an angle I want. It’s not as sturdy as I would get with the laptop style of the Brydge but it does work very well though I can imagine scenarios where it does not work as well due to more limited space.

I love the iPad as both a tablet and a laptop. With this case and keyboard I can very easily pull the keyboard off the screen and still have my iPad sitting up on it’s own and still protected in a case. This is often what I’m doing when I just want to read or watch video. I can set the keyboard off to the side or even flip it backwards and reattach it as a base but with the keyboard deactivated. This last point is one of the most important of all because with this case the modularity of the iPad as tablet and laptop is at it’s best.

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.

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.

iPad Journal: Zugu Case Review

As I mentioned in my recent post about my evolving iPad workflow and workspace, I’m currently trying out the iPad Pro in a Zugu Muse case with an external keyboard. This is a change from recent months using the iPad with no case and having it in a stand when typing or hand-held for browsing. Previous to that I usually had it in the Smart Keyboard Portfolio.

Briefly, the move to the Zugu case is not so much about protecting the iPad (though the case is designed to be very protective and in that regard it’s much better than Apple’s Portfolio) but more about having a variety of angles possible as well as ease of use in my lap or on the futon beside me.

The Zugu Muse is the specific case I have and the first selling point listed on the website is exactly why I’m giving it a go. It’s designed to allow for 8 angles which are securely set but easily changed with magnet-based slots. The many reviews echo the product demo video in saying that the case is very sturdy and stable when the iPad is in use. The metal stand I’ve been using is very stable and sturdy but only useable on a shelf, desk or other hard surface. Also, unfortunately, the angle on that stand is not easily adjustable.

I’ve had the Zugu for a couple weeks and can report that it is very sturdy and stable as promised. This is true for all 8 angles. At the moment I’m sitting/reclining on my beanbag chair and my legs stretched out straight in front of me. The iPad is fairly stable in the Zugu just above my knees and my keyboard is sitting in front of the iPad.

I can move my legs around a bit, stretch and so on with no fear that the case will flip. If I want or need to reposition my legs I can adjust the angle of the iPad/Zugu accordingly to get what I need. It’s not as easy as a laptop but it’s close enough.

I have only three critiques at this point.

First, when, changing the angle I do have to be careful to get both of the slots set. The magnets are very strong once the folding flaps are in place though.

Second, there is room for one more slot closest to the iPad/hinge that would result in an even more vertical position and still retain the stability of the other positions.

Third, I’m still not quite sure what the best way is to pick this up when I’m moving a short distance, say from my futon to the desk 10 feet away. It just seems a bit clumsy to move around. In that regard, the Smart Keyboard Portfolio seemed a bit more stable and sturdy when picked up in it’s typing position and moved. With the Zugu sometimes I’m not sure where to put my hands when picking up and as a result I’ve knocked the folding brace from the magnet slots a few times causing a moment of panic as the cover/bottom flops loose. Perhaps more practice?

So, to compare the set-up to Apple’s solution, the Smart Keyboard Portfolio. For the 12” iPad Pro the SKP is $200. I love the typing experience of the SKP and find it very stable in the lap. It does not flop around or seem unstable at all. The downsides: lack of backlit keyboard, no special function/media keys and only two angles to choose from.

Another downside with the SKP, as I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve already had to replace it once. From my experience with the current and previous version I expect that these cases won’t last for much more than a year given the amount of daily use they get. Now, I’ve got a replacement under warranty that should last another year. But, $200 for a keyboard that only lasts a year, so two keyboards in two years at $200. That’s not acceptable. These should be more durable. I expect to use this iPad for at least 2 if not 3 more years. A $200 case should last 3 to 4 years.

The Zugu with an external keyboard, usually my beloved Logitech K811, is still fairly mobile. The Zugu and Smart Keyboard Portfolio weigh about the same and are about the same thinness. But, of course, with the Zugu there is the added weight of a separate keyboard though it is a more functional keyboard. I’ve also got the very thin and light Logitech Keys-to-Go that I can take instead though it is less functional and not as nice to type on.

As mentioned above, the iPad in the Zugu is very stable and a pleasure to use at all 8 angles, on the desk or shelf or on my lap or on my chest when laying down. It does not easily tip. The separate keyboard can be a hassle at times but is a great benefit at other times.

Another difference between the two is that with Apple’s portfolio it’s possible to easily pop the iPad off entirely. With the Zugu it’s held in the case pretty snuggly, not something I’ll be taking off very often. So, it’s semi-permanent. But, it’s super easy to fold back the cover/bottom piece behind the iPad just as one might do with Apple’s portfolio. And, again, it weighs about the same so hand holding, should I want to do that, is comparable to the experience with Apple’s portfolio folded back.

My tentative conclusion in comparing the two is this. If Apple sold a more durable Smart Keyboard Folio with backlighting and the special function media keys that would be my choice. I’d be willing to forgo the 8 viewing angles. But, given what that product is today, I would go with the Zugu and an external keyboard. The 8 slots are very useful and having a backlit keyboard with media keys is something I really do like to have. And considering the cost, the Zugu and an external keyboard also make sense. The K811 and Zugu is less that $170 and other keyboards are even less. I don’t yet know how durable the Zugu will be but it is made very well so I’m hoping it will last at least 2 to 3 years.

A final note (for now) and a consideration. Apple’s product is 1 piece, the Zugu and an external keyboard, 2 pieces. There are times when a 1 piece, laptop like experience is better. There are times when separate is better. In my scenario I think I’d choose the 2 piece because of where I usually sit to work.

iPad Journal: Shortcuts Update

Many in the iOS user community really, really love Shortcuts. This is especially true of the iPad power users. There are some that have made Shortcuts a key component to most of their workflows.

Apparently I am not one of these users. Way back when it was Workflow I built out a few and downloaded a few. I usually ended up just using 2-3 of 20 that I had. And that’s fine. Sometimes you don’t know what’s going to prove useful and it doesn’t hurt to try. The app is now Shortcuts and is more deeply integrated and more powerful. I’m using it more than before but nothing like what some do.

A few thoughts. When I see what power users like Federico Viticci, Mathew Cassinelli and David Sparks do with Shortcuts I’m often not sure whether I should be impressed or if I should laugh. I’ll explain.

There’s no doubt Shortcuts is a powerful way to assemble workflows. But often what I see happening is the creation of Shortcuts that don’t seem to do much more than what an app can do on it’s own. Or, it may just be that the examples provided are un-relatable to my needs as they are often very specific to the workflow of the user. And for that user it seems they are very useful.

Something else I’ve noticed, and I’m sort of restating the above, but many shortcuts seem to just be solutions in search of a problem. Again, solving something that already is solved in the app. I can illustrate with an example that popped up on Twitter as I’ve been writing this post. Federico has tweeted that in this week’s Club Mac Stories he is introducing a new series on using Shortcuts with the Apple Music API. His tweet states that:

The first shortcut I’ll share lets you search the entire Apple Music catalog in 2 taps.

That’s pretty cool. But here’s the thing, I can do that right in Apple Music. If I long press the Apple Music app icon I can jump right into a search in Music. Or, I can Command-Space to open Music then tap the search icon at the bottom. His shortcut allows for first typing a search term then presents a list of choices: song, album, artist, and playlist then presents the result. I’m just not sure that’s any faster.

Much of what I see being presented by Shortcuts enthusiasts falls within this category of tasks that apps already do without a shortcut. That said, I think Shortcuts can be very useful. In my case I get the most benefit when I use it to do specific utility type functions that iOS itself does not do. Or, it provides a noticeably faster way to do something.

Here are examples of my current favorites and they are fairly simple and usually saved as widgets for quick access:

  • Unit price calculations. I use this one on the phone when I’m shopping to do quick comparisons of items. The shortcut asks for unit quantity and the cost then gives me the cost per unit. Very fast.
  • File converters. These only get used on the iPad, usually when I’m doing work on a website. I often need to convert a png or pdf to jpg and while I can use an app like Affinity Photo this shortcut is much quicker.
  • Switching audio playback. Apple Music, Podcasts, Overcast and any other app has an Airplay icon to send audio to a HomePod or AirPods. It’s easy to use. But it often takes a few seconds and if I’m on LTE I may also have to first tap once or twice to turn on and connect to my WiFi if, for example, I’m coming back from walk and want to switch from AirPods to HomePods. With a shortcut on my home screen or a widget I can tap once and my iPhone connects to my WiFi network and then changes audio playback to the HomePod. It’s not a huge difference but it is noticeably faster and it’s something I do often.
  • Reliability and consistency have been issues for me. Shortcuts sometimes just seem to fail. Or they work for a period of time and then stop working. Sometimes it would seem something should be possible and I’ll spend time trying to build an automation only to find out that it’s not possible. A recent and very frustrating example. I often want to use a screenshot on a website but the native png screenshot files are huge. I can save to Files then share the png to a Shortcut to convert to a jpg, set quality and size. But I cannot do this directly from the screen shot interface to Shortcuts. I have to take the extra step of saving the file then opening it up. Why?

Another example. With iOS 13.2 a new feature is handoff from iPhone to HomePod or HomePod to iPhone. Sounds nice but in practice that’s been very slow or unreliable for me. Instead, I’ve got a Shortcut which has the added benefit of also working with iPads. If I’m playing a podcast or music on iPhone or iPad I can tap a widget or icon on my home screen to very quickly send the audio to the HomePod. It’s quicker and easier than using the Airplay picker which sometimes seems to have a long delay. BUT, I have to tap. I should be able to use Siri. It would be very cool to step inside after a walk and just say “Hey Siri, HomePod” to have my audio hop over to the HomePod. But there’s an error and it fails. While I mostly want to do this from the Phone I’ve also tested with iPad and it fails there too. Again, why?

Oh, and a note about using shortcuts that have been saved to the home screen, this experience feels weird because it actually opens the app when it runs the shortcut. Why not just do it with a progress indicator in the icon similar to what we see when an app is updating? Having the whole app open up seems janky.

I love the idea of Shortcuts but in practice it’s still bumpy and still very much for the tech crowd. I’ve asked my extended family and of 16 or so using iPads and iPhones, ranging from young students to older, retired folks, not a one is using Shortcuts. Most of them don’t even know that the app exists let alone what it does. And really, I think that’s for the best. I consider myself a fairly advance iOS user and if I’m struggling with Shortcuts they would very likely have an even more frustrating experience.

All that said, with iOS 13 Shortcuts have taken a big step in the right direction. I hope Apple keeps pushing it forward. I’m not sure it will ever be an app for most people but there’s great potential there for power users if reliability and consistency can be improved.

iPad Journal: Workflow and Workspace Updates

A few updates…

iPadOS
I’ve been using iPadOS now since installing one of the early public betas in July. Word on the internet has generally been constant complaint that iOS and iPadOS 13 have been way too buggy. In my use I would not agree. It’s been buggier than iOS 12 which was notable as one of the more stable iOS releases in years. But my experience is that 13 has been a fairly stable release.

The most noticeable bug in my use has been slowness in working with the new Files app. In general use Files is actually quite fast but when I’m using other apps and have need to pick a file for uploading to a website or attaching to an email, I often have a fairly long delay while I have a blank Files picker window. Eventually, usually in 30 seconds or so, the app will show the files and I can carry on. As of mid-November recent incremental updates to 13.2 seem to have fixed the problem.

The most notable changes that have a positive impact on my workflows:

  • Multi-window apps, while not game changing, have been been fairly helpful in reducing a bit of friction. Especially true of the Files app.
  • Widgets on the home screen have been more useful than I expected!
  • Better, free-form local storage of files on iPad have been helpful.
  • Safari download manager has been one of the more notable benefits of the new Safari.
  • Multiple slide-over apps is a fantastic new addition to multi-tasking.
  • Column view in Files and the new long-tap contextual menu are both great additions.
  • The new organization of the sharing menu is proving helpful. Initial organization of shortcuts in that menu takes some time but I think the result has been worth it.
  • The Apple Reminders app has gotten some very nice updates with 4 built in smart lists and sub tasks. John Mitchell at Everything is Ablaze has a fantastic post about updated Reminders.
  • Last is the new accessibility mouse support. I’m not using it all the time but I am using it for certain tasks.

Accessory and configuration changes

In August I had my Smart Keyboard Portfolio replaced under warranty. I’m using the new one less. Partly due to concerns about longevity I’ve been limiting use to mobile use out of the house. In the house/office I’m spending more time with Bluetooth keyboards and different stand/shelf arrangements. One thing to note here is that during the colder months my tiny house interior is my primary workspace and I often make use of perspective changes to keep things interesting. I can work at a window, a beanbag/futon, my desk or standing desk. It’s a small space so I’ve done a lot to maximize the ways I can use it. You’ll note in the image of my desk that the wall contains a variety of shelves. One or two of those often has an iPad on it. It’s easy to adjust as needed for different heights and positions.

An interesting and fun result of the change from the SKP is that I’ve been using the iPad with no case. It’s either in a stand or on a shelf when I use a Bluetooth keyboard with it. Or it’s in my hands being used as a tablet. Either way, I like this non-laptop arrangement as it feels more true to the iPad. It’s quite nice to have the iPad up at eye level while I’m using an external keyboard with it. In those cases I’m using touch less and am relying more on keyboard shortcuts to navigate between and within apps. Or using a Bluetooth mouse.

When in use the keyboard is usually in my lap. The shelf/desk swivels and is useful in a variety of positions.

When I want to use the iPad as a tablet it is super easy to pick it up and use. With the Smart Keyboard Portfolio I often kept it in the case and just folded the keyboard back behind the iPad. That was fine as it was easy and the case was pretty light, so, very little friction. But there’s even less friction with this new arrangement and no case at all weighs even less!

A side benefit is that because I’m relying more on the multi-device Logitech K811 keyboard I can very easily switch between iPads. I tend to switch to the older iPad Air 2 in the evening. I just put the iPad Pro on the desk for charging and grab the smaller Air for the evening. The same shelf/stand combination by my beanbag works for either iPad and the keyboard is always there. Yet another side benefit, as much as I like the feel of typing on the Smart Keyboard, the K811 remains my favorite keyboard to type on and of course, it has backlighting and media/function keys. It’s a pleasure to use.

All that said let me now completely contradict myself! I’m about to try out a change which would be putting the iPad Pro in a Zugu Case. Why mess with my system that seems to be working so well? There two downsides to the current arrangement (there always seem to be downsides to any set-up!).

First, the stand is is very sturdy but is somewhat limited in the angle I can use. Adjusting the angle requires taking the iPad off because the hinge for adjusting the angle is very tight by design. As a result I tend to keep the iPads at one angle in that stand and it mostly works. But sometimes I do want to change it and it’s not as easy as it should be. The Zugu case has 8 different angles and is super easy to change between them.

The second downside of the current set-up is that sometimes I want to use the iPad while laying down or in a position where I might want to type but not be near my shelf/stand combo. The shelf/stand is perfect when I’m sitting in a very particular spot, namely on the beanbag futon. But sometimes my animals are there and I end up reclining on the futon. Or I may be on the beanbag but may be reclining or at an odd angle.

The Zugu case is reported to be VERY sturdy and stable, easy to use in a variety of places and angles. It adds back the same weight and thickness of the Smart Keyboard Folio and I can still fold it back like the Folio when I want to hand hold the iPad like a book. I’m expecting the combination of the Zugu and K811 keyboard to be a replacement of sorts for the Folio that I’m relying on less. I’ll write about it after I’ve had a few days using it.

New Keyboard: Logitech K780

In late fall I was doing a lot of work at the table on my porch and wanted an easier way to use two iPads together without dragging out stands. I ordered the Logitech K780 which is one of two that Logitech makes that has a built in tablet holder. I have the other one and use it as well. I’ve written previously about using two iPads, specifically when I’m using text content sent by a client in one document on the iPad Air 2 which I’ll copy/paste using the handoff feature. My previous arrangement has one iPad low, the other on a stand above. This new keyboard allows for them to be used side by side. The K780, like the K811, is very nice to type on. It does lack backlighting but I can deal with it. The convenience of being able to slot two iPads in is really nice. I didn’t care for the angle that the iPads are held at so I added some felt spacers to hold them at a steeper angle.

It’s all a bit fussy I suppose but I think of it as an ongoing experiment and enjoy the process. If it makes working more comfortable I’m okay with changing things up a bit. Regardless of the changes I make, I continue to be very happy with the iPad form factor and consider the experimentation a feature that comes with the flexibility of a tablet.

iPad Journal: iPad Keyboards

Okay. I have to admit I have a problem. Keyboards. Possibly cases too. And stands. Just, in general, iPad configurations. The beauty of the iPad is that as a computer it is not hard wired to a keyboard. That, along with iPadOS, is what I love about this device. But, along with this freedom from the keyboard comes the possibility of seemingly endless configurations.

I’ve written recently about this obsession. And now I’m writing about it again. Here’s the thing, I move around a good bit when I’m using the iPad. I use it on my porch, on my futon, my bean bag, at a desk/shelf thing, at the library and when I’m visiting my folks. Much of the time I’m happy using it with Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio. But not always.

The benefit and shortcoming of that keyboard is that it is attached like a laptop. It’s very stable to use in the lap and fine for a table. Until it isn’t which is usually when I want to elevate it to a higher level, closer to my eyes. At that point there are stands I can use to raise it up. At that point though I need an external keyboard.

So, this is where my various and ongoing experiments come in. Different ways to raise it or position it and the various keyboards to then use with it. It’s a lot of fun and I quite enjoy the many possibilities.

The last time I wrote I was primarily experimenting with the iPad for working on podcast transcripts by flipping the Smart Keyboard Portfolio over into an A-Frame configuration and using the K811 Logitech keyboard with it. It’s a great set-up that I use for podcast transcripts or night-time work because the K811 has back-lighting as well as media control keys. Having the play/pause key on the keyboard is a great help over the course of transcribing 40+ pages of text.

But a few things I’ve tried since that post are different methods for elevating the iPad up to eye level and also adding in two other keyboards for different situations. First, the elevation. I’ve got two things I’m using for this, each to be used in different settings. One is a home-made but very functional stand. It’s made from plywood and is the exact maximum height I want when sitting outside at the table on my porch. I flip the iPad into the A-frame configuration and I’m good to go. Now with iPadOS I can also use a mouse to make it easier for screen taps/clicks rather than always raising my hand up 8 inches. Mostly I try to use the keyboard but still, the mouse might prove handy. In this case I generally use the K811.

However, I’ve got another Logitech keyboard, the K480 which has a slot for tablets or phones. I purchased this a couple years ago for use with the iPad Air 2 and used it quite a bit. I still use it with that iPad on occasions such as this. Two notes about this keyboard. First, it’s HEAVY. This is not a mobile keyboard. It’s great at a desk or even in a lap as the iPad is pretty stable in that slot. Super nice to be able to just grab it and use it in the hand with no need to disconnect. Second, it’s loud and creaky.

As you can see in the image, I’ve got both iPads in action here and it works great, similar to having a Mac with 2 screens. My workflow in this case is that the smaller iPad is my reference screen with a document sent by a client for a newsletter or brochure design. Then the iPad Pro above is where I’m doing the design work. I can copy text on the iPad below then, using the magic of Handoff, paste the text into the document that I’m designing on the iPad Pro. I could use split screen just on the iPad Pro but when I’m doing design or layout work it helps a lot to have the whole screen devoted to just that document. The K480 is also a multi device keyboard so I’ve got it paired with both iPads and can switch between them with a flick of a little dial. Very handy.

I’ve also got a new stand for use when I’m working from my bean bag or the desk/shelf inside the cabin by the window. This raises the iPad up anywhere from 4 to 6 inches. When I’m working from the bean bag I often have a lap desk and this stand is a bit more manageable on my lap than the home-made stand which is way too big and heavy for that. It’s not quite as tall but it’s enough.

Usually, in these situations, I’m using the K811 keyboard. That said, I recently remembered that I also have the Logitech Keys-to-Go keyboard. I bought it three years ago for on-the-go work with my iPad Air 2. It’s an excellent keyboard. Super light, very thin and small. It’s got a similar covering and feel to Apple’s Smart Keyboards but with the benefit that it is completely silent (if you prefer that in certain settings) and also it has the special row of function keys along the top row. It’s smaller and some might think slightly cramped but it’s still very useable and I love it. I type about as fast with it as I do any other keyboard. This is a great keyboard for the library where I sometimes work because it’s so quiet.

The only negative is that after a year of use the top layer of fabric that covers the keys began to bubble up from the keys forming air pockets. It still works pretty well but now the fabric covering feels loose above the keys and it’s a bit of a distraction. But getting it back out the other day I was reminded of how much I enjoyed using it before I got the first Apple Smart Keyboard. It’s $70 at the Logitech website, usually only $45 on Amazon.

I’ve ordered another one and expect it will mostly get used when I go out to public places where a quiet keyboard is of benefit. Though, to be honest, I like it enough that it might get used a fair bit even at home. The great thing about the iPad is getting to choose what way I want to work and what tools I want to work with on any given day! I’ll also be watching it for signs of the above mentioned defect. Logitech offers a 1 year warranty and I’ll take them up on that if I have issues.

Which brings me to yet another keyboard related point that almost requires it’s own post but I’ll try to fit it in here. Namely the question of durability of these fabric covered keyboards. I love both Apple’s new folio and this Keys-to-Go. While they’re both missing back lighting and Apple’s offering is also missing the top row of special function keys, I’ve really come to enjoy the feeling of the fabric covering as well as the weather/moisture/dirt resistance they offer. That said, I think a keyboard should last more than a year. My previous Apple Smart Keyboard needed to be replaced after about 8 months. I suspect the current folio version will also need to be replaced before a year of use. As stated, the Keys-to-Go, while it still works, should not have the issue it has. It was only in use for about a year when I put it on the shelf.

Perhaps it’s just not possible to design a keyboard of these kinds of materials and have it stand up to 5+ hours of daily use for more than a year. I don’t know how widespread the issues are but I know that I’ve seen several references online to exactly the same issues I’m having so they’re likely not rare. I hope that Apple, Logitech and others can sort out the problems because I think these kinds of keyboards are a natural fit for the tablet form factor. Fabric covered keyboards offer dirt and weather resistance, can be very light weight and a pleasure to type on but if their expected lifespan is less than a year that would seem to be a problem. The lifespan of most of my keyboards, be they Apple or third party, laptop or Bluetooth, has ranged from 5 years on up. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect this new style of keyboard to last a minimum of 3 years.