There’s a saying that only poor craftspeople blame their tools. But tools have a lot of say in the craft. That’s what I discovered over a month when I went exclusively-iPad for personal work.
On January 28 I powered down my trusty MacBook Pro. I shut the lid shut with a click and set it on a bookshelf next to my desk. Until February 28, I’d go iPad-only for personal work.
My personal laptop, a 13” MacBook Pro from 2013, works fine. But now, in 2019, that “2013” part is on my mind. Someday my laptop’s battery, processor, or hard drive will fail. From experience, planning to replace it before the screen goes irreversibly dark is sensible.
While researching options, I realized that I did a lot of personal work on my iPad — even researching laptops. That seemed odd.
What if …
Years ago I sold my last desktop computer in favor of a laptop. I’ve only used a desktop once since, because it’s what my employer provided, not what I necessarily needed.
So, what if …
Is it time to jump again? Could my next full-time computer be a tablet?
That’s how February began, but not how it ended. Over the next four weeks, the experiment went from:
“Can my tablet replace my laptop?”
“How do my tools influence my work?”
It was a month that challenged assumptions I didn’t know I had about creating and managing the information in my life. Here’s how it played out.
28 January 2019
I’ve hit trouble already: A certain large file is only on my Mac, so I fired it up — “just this once.”
But it won’t copy. Neither AirDrop nor iCloud likes the 8.2GB file. Nor do they give me a definitive error message. So … I don’t know what’s wrong.
I can copy the large file to my iPhone, so the problem isn’t file size alone. Something to ponder.
Big picture: At the time, I wondered what other files I’ve taken for granted. It was a good question.
Choosing a note app
I often take notes in Byword, but today I learned its iOS version won’t let me save names with “unusual” characters like question marks. Not a problem, exactly, but an unexpected quirk.
Also, Byword for iOS usually lets me reorganize files in iCloud — but today that consistently crashes the app.
Another problem: sometimes tapping one file or folder will open another. And it doesn’t have a typewriter mode that I can find.
Update: Enough already. I’m moving these notes to Bear. One hour in to this experiment, and I’m already changing how I work.
Big picture: This was an early example of how my workflows would adapt. Occasionally I use precise file-naming schemes to organize files. Byword sets limits on that, and its irritating crashes interrupted me enough to chose a competitor — rather, to take effort to move to a competitor. Moving is when irritation of usage overcomes irritation from migrating. Corollary: The more entrenched your information is, the more headaches you’re willing to tolerate.
Not for iPad
I wanted to upload a photo for Apple’s ShotOniPhone campaign because, why not? To do so, I decided to resurrect my old Instagram account. The Instagram iOS app isn’t optimized for iPad use, so it’s either very tiny or oddly inflated.
Strangely, I found Instagram in the App Store even while using the “iPad Only” filter.
I’ve discovered that the text editor in Spark, my current email app, is sluggish and prone to skips. It’s practically useless for messages that are longer than a few sentences — unacceptable.
Apple Mail is smoother, but slower to update messages. Neither of them supports Markdown — my favorite writing markup style — nor hyperlinks in text. I’m tempted to spend $5 for Airmail, just to try it. I like their macOS app, so maybe their iOS app will satisfy my needs.
Another idea: I wonder if having fewer messages in my inbox would help. My work email (a fairly old system) has more than 1100 messages in the inbox. But even with less than 50, it’s teeth-grindingly difficult to use. Would modern apps have the same problem?
When writing notes, I like to stand my iPad portrait-wise to get more words on the screen. I also like iOS’s split-screen feature to, for example, type notes Bear while I research in a web browser.
(And yes, I deliberately typed “portrait-wise.” The alternative — “vertical orientation” — makes me sit up uncomfortably straight.)
But each side is often too narrow to be practical. Some websites are almost claustrophobic. Turning my iPad horizontally solves the problem, but gives me fewer words vertically.
Big picture: Is this a problem, or an example of how tablets vary from a laptops? Where is the line between “problematic” and “unfamiliar”?
At home, I’ve started standing my iPad on a stack of books to prevent neck strain. After months of using a Roost laptop stand, the difference is uncomfortably apparent. But we’ll see if yet-another-thing-to-carry-around lasts.
Only on my Mac
As expected, some files I need today exist only on my laptop’s hard drive. I booted it up and copied the files to iCloud. I also let my various apps and notifications catch up for a few minutes: txt messages, other cloud syncing, software updates, and email.
I’ll file this under “moving process.”
Typing messages in Spark, my email app, is slow. Almost unusable. When I type several letters quickly, the app freezes while trying to find suggestions.
The on-screen keyboard is a bit faster than my Logitech Bluetooth keyboard … though I’m more prone to typos on glass.
No other text app I have has this hesitation, and I wonder how I never noticed the problem before now.
Big picture: This issue reminds me that I have expectations for my tools, like responsiveness and availability. I wonder if exploring replacement apps will reveal features I didn’t know I needed.
Frustrating Firefox limits
Well, shoot. There’s no way to edit or organize bookmarks in Firefox for iOS. I can save them, delete them, and access old ones. But I can’t rename them, tag them, or sort them into folders on my iPad. I have to use my Mac for that.
With my goal of not using my laptop, I’m not sure what to do about any bookmarks I want to create. Maybe save them to Pocket?
I miss a bigger screen
My iPad is a 10″ model. This evening I tried my wife’s 12″ in my messenger bag. It worked, and now I want a 12″. Ten inches is cramped.
2 February 2019
A new email app
To get around problems in Spark, I bought Airmail. I figured $5 in the name of (subjective) science wasn’t a bad investment. So far the app is snappy and straightforward, although I can’t seem to get an app-specific password from Apple iCloud. The site just won’t let me in. Not sure what’s up there.
Update: After some experimenting I discovered Apple’s secure ID site was balking at TunnelBear, my VPN.
My bank is down
My banking app keeps asking me for credentials. An error message says that their quick login feature was down yesterday. It worked today, and I enabled a biometric login (fingerprint) after filling out the usual set of credentials.
Big picture: This makes me aware of how using this platform often relies on external functions — and how, after decades of working off a local hard drive, I’ve kept an unconscious bias towards local files over online files.
Video by phone
This morning I video-chatted with my brother via Discord. But I used my phone, not my iPad. My phone’s audio was better, and he said the video looked great. I propped the smaller device on a tripod, and sent/received links on my iPad while keeping Bear in split mode.
One interesting result is that I spent some time before the call setting up a lamp next to my desk. It was a rainy day, and lighting wasn’t flattering. So I set up better lighting that worked out well. Later, I decided to leave it. Now I have a better-lit desk.
Big picture: I didn’t expect spinoffs like improving my desk setup from this experiment.
New trick: moving the cursor
Hey, this is cool: Running two fingers over text blocks moves the cursor, even with my Bluetooth keyboard connected. It’s quick and accurate, too. I thought this technique required the on-screen keyboard, but apparently not. This is much easier than tap-and-hope or using arrow keys.
WiFi glitch isn’t a problem
My iPad’s WiFi will occasionally drop for a few seconds — then rejoin. This weird glitch hasn’t impacted my work, but I wonder if the problem is with hardware or software. I haven’t noticed my phone dropping WiFi, but I rarely check that.
For the record, I use TunnelBear almost all the time. It’s pretty reliable, and I rarely notice any slowdown. But this brief WiFi gap occurs with or without TunnelBear, and on different WiFi nodes.
Tools change my workflows
Normally plan the coming week’s meals on Sundays by copying previous weeks’ schedule in Fantastical for Mac. Copying a dinner is easy: option-drag from one day to the next. Fantastical for iPad requires more steps, and is less visual. Its UI is such that I can’t see the calendar as I make copies. I have to remember which day I’m doing, or write them down in advance — and that defeats the purpose.
Big picture: Here’s another example of adapting workflows based on tools’ shortcuts. Like my new desk lamp, it’s even changing my lifestyle a bit. I’m reconsidering my meal-planning process altogether and, while I’m at it, maybe I should factor in nutrition vs. cost per meal ….
A surprising improvement
This experiment is worth the effort. Here’s an example.
I usually scan paper documents that I want to keep — bills, records, contracts, etc — with a Doxie Go scanner. Doxie’s software makes PDFs with searchable text thanks to optical character recognition (OCR). That’s critical when I want to find vital information like, for example, my car’s VIN. All these records go into a reasonably-secure archive.
The Doxie Go uses a SD card that’s supposedly WiFi capable. I never got that to work, though, so I just plugged the card into my Mac’s SD port instead. One extra step? No big deal.
But my iPad has no SD port, so the Doxie Go is a dead-end. I could shoot photos of the papers, or use iOS’s Notes app. But neither would make PDFs with searchable text.
Maybe I’ve finally hit a real tablet-replaces-laptop-show-stopper.
Update: Well, duh. Searching the App Store (and the web for reviews) for OCR software, I learned that Readdle, which also makes my go-to PDF app, also makes Scanner Pro. (Side note: They also make Spark, the email app I’m abandoning. Um, awkward.)
I downloaded it at once and, yeah, this can work.
Snapping a few papers with my iPad’s camera looks decent. Maybe not as good as the Doxie, but good enough — and critically, the OCR works well too. So this might make a good long-term substitute. Bonus points for saving several steps over the Doxie process.
That’s important because my Doxie is about six years old. It’s battery doesn’t last as long as it used to, and I know the motor will eventually die. But that’s alright. Now that I have this app, I won’t have to buy a new scanner.
Big picture: Yet another example of trying something new leads to happy surprises.
Week one: looking back
So here’s day eight in my personal-platform-change experiment. Aside from needing a few files on my Mac’s hard drive, I haven’t had to turn it on in a week.
- Apps’ designs are more important than the iPad’s form factor.
- My workflows evolve depending on the tools I use.
- A tool’s advantages come from completing more tasks with fewer steps.
- iOS is known for its single-app interface. Switching requires a little more thought, but after a week I don’t miss a dozen windows on one screen.
- I love how slim and light my tablet is. Even though I carry more parts (stand and keyboard), the tablet feels easier to carry.
- I wish its screen was two inches larger.
- I also wish my keyboard, stand, and tablet weren’t three separate things.
Judging my AirPod charge status
Unlike on my Mac, I can’t tell how charged my AirPods are without taking them out of my ears. Typically they give a warning charge when they reach about 10%, but I try to keep them above that.
Update: If I swipe right on the home screen, I can see how much power my AirPods have. Neat.
Mac on and off
Today I booted my MacBook for the first time in more than a week to install a security patch. Otherwise I didn’t need to use it, so I shut it down when I was done.
The battery is fading
Seems like my iPad’s battery has been running down faster than usual. Starting at 100% charge, I notice it dropping at 7–8% per hour.
Part of that comes from using it more, especially with media like Spotify or YouTube. But I don’t have an objective way to measure its performance over the past few years.
Aside: A little research shows that overcharging and reaching 0% are bad ideas.
- Battery Myths Debunked (PC Magazine) says you can’t overload a device’s battery by plugging it in overnight. It also advises readers to not let their batteries drop to 0%,
- Why You Shouldn’t Charge Your Mobile Phone Overnight (Time) agrees that overcharging isn’t downright dangerous, but will degrade battery life — over a period of years. And don’t let it reach 0%.
I’m aware that my iPad is a little old for another reason: speed.
I started its recent security update before my iPhone’s update. Same software, same WiFi. But the iPhone, an XS Max, finished sooner. Nothing unexpected, just an observation.
My wife, whose iPad is a generation younger than mine, let me try Spark with her Bluetooth keyboard. Spark didn’t have that hesitation problem I experienced.
Recently I compared the same functions, like launching apps, rapid typing, and painting, on my iPad Air 2 and a 2018 Pro in an Apple Store. The new Pro was faster in elusive ways. It felt more responsive. Quicker. Snappier. But knowing the ’18 Pro is about four years ahead, am I biased? Unmeasurable metrics are questionable.
Aside: Apple’s trade-in program says that, as of this writing, my iPad is worth about $129.
Dependencies on the outside
My banking service stuttered today. I could log in to its iPad-friendly app, which has never given me trouble. But today, the app couldn’t reach the bank. I tried with and without my VPN, but kept getting “connection timeout” errors. I’ll try again later.
What do I use my iPad for?
My iPad app usage hasn’t changed much since I started. But now that I’m using it full-time, I’m also cataloging what I use it for.
Apps for media consumption
- Browsing the web (Firefox and Firefox Focus
- Videos (YouTube and TED)
- Knowledge discovery and bookmarks (Pocket)
- Books (Kindle)
- Listening to music and music discovery (Spotify)
Creativity and productivity apps
- Writing fiction, blog posts, and general notes (long-form in Ulysses shorter bits in Bear, including what you’re reading now, and temporary bits in Byword)
- Recording entertainment we watch (Numbers)
- Journaling (Day One)
- Photo editing (Darkroom, a recent discovery … which tends to crash)
Daily living apps
- Checking the weather (Dark Sky)
- Monitoring my budget (YNAB)
- Recording paper records (Scanner Pro)
- Retail research (Yelp)
- Checking email (Airmail, ProtonMail, and earlier Spark)
- File transfers and management (iCloud, Dropbox, Backblaze which, sadly, doesn’t always work on iOS)
- Scheduling, appointments, meal planning (Fantastical)
- Messaging (Messages and Slack)
- Apple Photos for image management
- Most of my ’net traffic goes through TunnelBear
- DuckDuckGo is my search engine of choice
- My trusty keyboard, which has lasted for more than three years, is a Bluetooth Logitech K811
- I prop my iPad in landscape or portrait orientations with an aluminum Tech Matte stand and save my neck by placing the stand on a Gaiam yoga block because we it was convenient
Still can’t copy large files
Tonight I tried to copy a 4GB file from my Mac to my iPad via AirDrop. It gave up about 25% of the way through.
Aside: I’ve used 41.5 out of 64 GB on my iPad’s hard drive. That’s not bad, but it’s prompted me to review my photos and videos. Do I really need all this stored locally?
Don’t forget your passwords
This morning I had a heart-stopping moment when I couldn’t get in to 1Password, my secure password manager. Turns out the service doesn’t share master passwords across devices, a smart security feature I didn’t know about. So when I recently changed my password on my Mac, the change didn’t automatically carry over to my iOS devices.
I didn’t think about that because both devices use biometric logins. But for some reason, not today.
Luckily I remembered my old master password, and was able to change my phone’s and tablet’s respective logins. Makes me aware of how much I rely on 1Password — and other services, like Dropbox and iCloud — for pretty much everything. One lost password, one hack, one accidental deletion, and poof ….
Occurred to me that Backblaze doesn’t work on iOS yet. If I went all-iOS, would I keep using Backblaze except for legacy archives? For how long would I pay just to keep increasingly-old digital archives? In 2020, will I even recognize website PHP that I wrote in 2010? At what point or in range do archived files lose their value?
Keyboard vs. split screen
I’ve been using Firefox and Bear to take notes as I research different topics. Getting each app to respond to the keyboard is confusing.
Bear usually takes precedence, even if I close the writing options that spans both sides, and tap on Firefox. Tapping on the browser’s location/search bar, seems to get the keyboard’s attention.
Update: Through experimenting with various apps, I figured out that the keyboard follows text focus. That is, if I tap anything in an app that requires text entry — like a browser’s search field, a note app’s text field — they keyboard switches apps.
New shortcut: conjuring the dock with the keyboard
Oooh, cool. Typing command-option-D brings up the dock in any app. Suddenly creating split-screen apps faster and easier.
I know this is minor since you can reveal the dock by dragging up from the bottom of any screen, but I’m surprised how much taking my hands off my Bluetooth keyboard, especially when my iPad is propped up, interrupts my work.
I found this shortcut by holding down the “command” key on the home screen. Doing that shows you every keyboard shortcut in most apps, but I hadn’t thought of it on the home screen too.
New shortcut: quick-switch to AirPods (and others)
I also discovered that tapping an icon in the music control center (swipe down from the upper right) is a faster way to pair my AirPods. Maybe I should make a video or two about iOS’s hidden shortcuts and workflow improvements. CHOOSING AIRPODS Turns out that choosing AirPods is easy
Tablet setup wish list
I’ve come up with a feature list for my “ideal” tablet setup:
- Larger screen: I need more pixels. That’s always been the case, even with laptops.
- Faster processor: Some apps take longer to launch than I’d like (Day One), and newer ones have been known to crash (Darkroom, Day One).
- More storage: A larger hard drive to store media (mostly music, sometimes PDFs) locally.
- A better stand: Something adjustable to raise my iPad so I don’t hunch over as much.
- More options in the system-wide search, like “don’t search the web,” and “this word, but not that.”
- Custom keyboard shortcuts: “Turn on/off my VPN,” “connect to AirPods,” “split-screen my favorite two apps” on command. I plan to reinvestigate Siri and the new Shortcuts app (née Workflow).
- The ability to move multiple app icons: Organizing apps hasn’t changed since the early days. Why can’t I grab a whole series of apps, or even a screen, and change their order? (Update: I just learned that iOS 11 and later have a way to move multiple app icons. Cross this one off the list.)
- More unified cloud storage: I need to figure out better organization. My Mac’s hard drive is messier, but I can see a day coming when “where’s that info?” applies to my iPad setup.
On that last point, it’s interesting how my information is getting pigeonholed into apps. On my Mac, I can move data freely between Byword, BBEdit, and Excel. That’s harder to do on iOS. Strict adherence to format is key … that’s one reason I like Markdown.
Meanwhile I have several “wish list” files, none of which I can quickly add to on a whim.
Big picture: Four of those eight points would apply to a laptop, or even a desktop computer.
Also, it’s interesting how listing my wishes or complaints prompted me to look up potential solutions. For example, “I wish I could move two icons” became “cool, I can move two icons.”
What would I discover if I applied that to macOS? Or Field Notes? Or daily tasks, chores, and workflows? “I wish scrubbing the bathtub was easier” might become …?
Usefulness is addictive
The more I use an app, the more invested I get. Take Bear, for example. The more useful notes I store in that app, the less likely I am to abandon it.
I almost did. I bought Bear shortly before starting my current day job, and over the next few months used it to capture work-related notes. Bear has a terrific way to organize notes, and I like many of its themes. But after a while, I stopped using it for work. The reason: I rarely referred to anything I wrote down.
The app wasn’t the problem. As an experiment last year, I stopped using Evernote for a week. Three or four weeks later, I remembered that experiment. Hadn’t missed that app in the slightest. Today, it’s not even on any of my devices.
Aside: “How to take notes that matter longer than one day”? “Delete old notes to fight digital cruft”? Article ideas to consider.
Moving these notes again
This morning I wanted to search for a few words in these notes, but couldn’t do so in Bear. I wonder how I never noticed the app doesn’t have an in-doc search function. It also doesn’t have an export-to-Ulysses share function.
I tried the obvious: Copy/pasting the entire doc into Ulysses. That worked because both use Markdown-based text. Unfortunately, none of my screenshots carried over. (See my earlier note about sharing data between apps.) I had to drag/drop them individually between the two in split-screen mode.
This is the second time I’ve moved these notes between apps, though the first time I had much less to move.
Aside: When sending screenshots to Bear, I can create a new file, or append or prepend the image to an existing note. But when sending screenshots to Ulysses, I must create a new note. Minor example of varying workflows.
Big picture: If I was developing a text app, and wanted to make it compatible with others, then figuring out the most popular APIs would take priority.
I wonder how common APIs for text and images are in the Swift programming language. Are there competing standards? For now long did macOS (and Mac OS X, and System 6/7/8/9) struggle with standardizing formats vs. advancing them?
What standards do I rely on without realizing it, and how can I prepare myself if they change?
Inconsistent data dragging
I’ve been experimenting with drag-and-drop between apps in a split screen. Text to text is easy: any selectable text, like words in a browser window or book app, can be dragged into any text editor app, like Bear, Notes, or Ulysses. Same for images, assuming the receiving app supports images.
Unsurprisingly, videos are not draggable. Neither are Spotify tracks. In fact, Spotify doesn’t support split screens at all, let alone dragging.
Dragging between Ulysses and Bear works great, and even transfers hyperlinks and images without a fuss. Wish I’d known that when I copy/pasted these notes to Ulysses — then transferred each screenshot by hand.
But it’s not perfect. I can drag items from Bear into Ulysses, but not from Ulysses to anything else, including Bear, email apps — or text within Ulysses sheets.
Big picture: Both “I wish I’d known that before” and “I didn’t know it could do that” are a recurring, and unexpected, themes.
Cleaning out contacts
Thinking about information management, today I reviewed my digital contacts. For example, I have email addresses and phone numbers without names; companies I lost contact with 10–15 years ago; discontinued online services … when I was done 133 of my 248 contacts were in my “to delete” list.
Ten minutes of work, and now they’re easier to search and sort.
Yesterday a friend lent me her GoPro Hero 5. I’m exploring ways to attach it and its stabilizer to my day pack to record my occasional hikes. So far that’s involved creative applications of velcro and carabiners.
Meanwhile, I’m also exploring video editing apps for my iPad.
Getting video off of the camera was the first challenge. GoPro’s app looks like the best choice so far, even though connecting it to the camera — which required both Bluetooth and its own WiFi node — was tempramental.
Maybe I’ll figure it out over time, but today I spent 15 minutes trying to copy a few ten-second test clips. At one point I previewed video on my iPad live from the camera, but the app insisted the camera wasn’t connected. (I know I raised one eyebrow upon learning this because I could see it live, right next to “camera not found.”
Update: I finally downloaded the clips to my iPad. Once copied, I edited together a video with with GoPro’s basic iOS apps. Unsurprisingly, their pro app requires macOS or Windows. After additional research, I downloaded Splice.
Splice isn’t as flexible as Camtasia, my macOS video editor. For example, Camtasia lets me lay title text over video, then fade it out after a few seconds. Splice’s text lasts the duration of the clip. My first thought is to use a short photo to intro each video. My second thought is that, once again, my workflows adapt to my tools.
Another example just occurred to me. Officially I have no image editing apps at my day job. But I do have Keynote, Preview, and the ability to take screenshots. After a year working there, I’m surprised how little I miss Photoshop and Pixelmator.
Big picture: Here’s a thought experiment. Let’s say you decide not to attach files or images to email. Doing so might include using less space in your email and forcing yourself to organize your Dropbox account.
Pushing the dock
In addition to the three most recent app icons, my iPad’s dock holds 13 of my choosing. (I don’t know why 13. Maybe 16 is the limit, so it’s 13 + 3?) I only have four or five apps in the dock now, so there’s plenty of room.
But what if I wanted more? On a whim I tried adding app groups to the dock. It worked. Since groups can hold any number of apps, I could (hypothetically) put every app I own into the dock, ready for quick access or split-screen on a whim. DOC GROUP My dock with a new “writing” group.
Here’s a strange quirk: I can’t rename app folders while they’re in the dock. Seems like a bug. Currently I’m in iOS 12.4.1; maybe they’ll fix that in v12.5.
Firefox vs. iCloud
I can’t save PDFs from Firefox to Apple Files. To Dropbox? Yes. But not Files. It’s weird and annoying. I might move back to Safari to see which browser I prefer on iOS.
Big picture: Once again, I wonder about compatibility issues that developers face when writing “isolated” apps. Is that a limit of the platform, or a sign that it hasn’t matured as much as macOS and Windows?
Conventional wisdom says you can’t edit video on an iPad. But why, exactly? Would something on my specific tablet make nonlinear editing difficult? Or is video just a bad idea for iPads? Beyond “it just won’t work, obviously,” what were the exact shortcomings?
And … what if it did work?
- Transferring videos from the GoPro to my iPad requires connecting my iPad to the camera’s WiFi, toggling Bluetooth, and using the GoPro app to find a list of clips.
- My iPad has about 21.3 GB open, but the GoPro app said I didn’t have enough space. (I later found out I’d shot 12.19 GB of video.) I can’t tell which clips are which, preview them, or how large they are, so I finally decided to use the GoPro app for macOS.
- Downloading videos to my Mac is so much easier. Plug & play. Boom. Done. If my iPad had a USB-C connector, transferring files might be easier. But it doesn’t.
Here’s an unhappy surprise: Photos for iOS is more of a media previewer than a media manager.
- I can’t move more than one photo or video at a time to an album.
- I can’t mark more than one at a time as a favorite.
- I can’t sort or filter an album by favorites.
- I can’t move albums into folders.
- Without WiFi I have trouble adding images from Photos into Ulysses and friends. Don’t ask me why.
- Minor point, but I can’t set key photos for albums.
So the touch screen UI wasn’t my biggest video-editing problem. Media management, compatibility, and workflows were. If I’m serious about video on an iPad, I need a larger screen, much more storage, and a more capable app.
Publishing to WordPress required some experimenting.
The latest WP version has a new editor which makes publishing harder for my particular process (there’s that word again).
I like to compose and edit my blog posts in writing apps, not WordPress itself. But I also like to review prose in context of a website. Seeing prose in its “final” form is a good way to optimize text and graphics. (File that under “another article idea.”)
So publishing new articles online involves some back-and-forth between my writing app and WordPress.
Until v5 clashed with iOS. Here’s why.
My writing apps use Markdown. In WordPress 4, I had a Markdown plugin. So far, so compatible.
But that plugin doesn’t work in WordPress 5. (Neither do Advanced Custom Fields, but that’s another story.) I decided to try v5’s new editor, and yes, I can see some advantages — though I don’t think they’re for me. (Feature creep disguised as ease-of-use: filed under “another article idea.”)
WordPress v5’s new block-based editor doesn’t readily accept blocks of HTML from Ulysses or Bear. (Ulysses’ simple keyboard shortcut for exporting selected text is much faster and cleaner than Bear’s full-of-CSS export.) Then I dropped the HTML into WordPress’s Code Editor.
To my surprise, not only did it work on the first try, but it removed extraneous block HTML that WordPress added behind my back.
That didn’t solve every problem, though. Once again, I had trouble switching between apps involving text in split-screen mode. Tapping the block editor in WordPress v5 didn’t bring keyboard focus to my web browser. I had to scroll to the top, tap the title field, and scroll back down to the part I was editing. That rigmarole was even clumsier than it sounds.
Aside: The fact that I needed a workaround trick doesn’t sit well. I keep writing how “I can’t do things” in this platform. If I’d started in iOS and moved to macOS, would I have similar complaints? What about Mac to Android, or Android to Windows?
I might leave Firefox for Safari.
A few years ago I split my professional and personal browsers. Chrome kept my day-job bookmarks, cookies, and logins. Firefox, my personal ones. I adopted Mozilla’s browser out of curiosity — and because Firefox is the only major browser not built by a for-profit corporation. As a browser, Firefox worked fine, so I kept using it.
And then I started this iPad-only experiment. As I mentioned earlier, Firefox for iOS doesn’t have a bookmark manager to speak of. Safari does.
Some apps let me choose a default browser other than Safari. But others don’t, so occasionally I receive a link that jumps to the Safari, the built-in browser.
Maintaining both is a minor annoyance: enough to get my attention, not enough to warrant switching back.
Update: I couldn’t find a link in my browser history. It was in Safari, not Firefox. Switching back to Safari is now an act of consolidation.
Big picture: Funny how I use different browsers as if I was switching identities, no matter what platform I’m on. From saved logins to perpetual cookies to bookmarks to plugins and themes, “moving in” to a browser is a very personal decision.
Slower Safari … Slowfari?
In certain ways, I’ve found Safari for iOS to be slower than Firefox for iOS. Safari doesn’t seem to save tabs for long, and so takes time to reload pages I haven’t visited in, say, more than a day.
Also, while loading a page, Safari doesn’t like to switch to other tabs or let me close the current one. It’s a momentary hesitation that discourages switching between tabs by keyboard shortcuts.
Earlier I had trouble copying large files to my iPad. Neither iCloud (WiFi) nor AirDrop (Bluetooth) could handle billion-byte files. So today I experimented with different sizes to discover where the file-transfer limits are.
I started with a 799.5MB a video file. My iPad happily downloaded it with no trouble. The Photos app, which received the file, coudln’t play it. All I got was a blank white screen with a play/pause button that didn’t do either. Maybe that’s the file size or file format (.m4v).
Point is, 800 megs copied wirelessly.
Next I tried copying the same video plus one more. Together they weighed 1.57GB, and copied over without a fuss … though I still couldn’t watch them.
Knowing they would at least transfer, I compressed both videos into one zip file, which weighed 1.55GB. Then things got weird.
When I went to AirDrop on my Mac, I couldn’t find my iPad. I could see my phone and my wife’s iPad. But not Pluto, my iPad. I hit the same problem when trying to AirDrop any file, even a paltry 1.3MB JPG. Pluto was gone.
I tried the obvious: turning Bluetooth on and off on both devices. Nothing. Both were sitting within ten inches of each other, so it wasn’t a range problem. Was my Bluetooth keyboard interfering? I turned it off. It didn’t help.
Media in WordPress
Today I published a new hiking article, this time with images and a video. The video was easy: grab the embed code from YouTube and add it via WordPress’s code editor.
Images from iOS to WP was easy. WordPress (and/or iOS) lets me upload photos right from my library. I found that uploading all at once was easier than one at a time. They went online at full-resolution, and I resized them in WP.
I know that’s not ideal. But perfect is the enemy of done. Point is, I accomplished what I wanted to do. I’m also getting the hang of publishing text.
But there’s a new problem. Advanced Custom Fields, a plugin I rely on, doesn’t work in WordPress 5. I know this isn’t related to my iPad experiment. But the issue reminds me how systems can interconnect in unexpected ways.
I’m starting to discover new form of muscle memory. One that involves tapping glass in addition to tapping keys. Looking back at my notes, this may be the first time that the “tablet vs. laptop” conversation is really about fingers vs. mice.
Tablet vs. laptop. I’m truly asking that, more than weeks later. Maybe I started by asking the wrong question.
I finally got around to adding my iCloud email address to Airmail. But there was a catch.
With TunnelBear turned off, I got to appleid.apple.com and created an app-specific password. In Airmail, the “new account” button is under “settings.” Minutes before, I’d searched for a particular message in Airmail, so the search field had focus — a blinking cursor. That, in turn, revealed helpful buttons along the bottom of the screen for “from,” “to,” etc.
Those buttons covered the “settings” link. I couldn’t take focus away from the search field. Hence, I couldn’t add an account because I’d run a search. The only way to deactivate the search was to quit and relaunch the app. After that, setting up an account.
Bottom line, I solved an unexpected interface gotcha by restarting (thus resetting) the app.
Big picture: Little UI glitches like that add up to time-wasting annoyances. None of them are bad enough to make me abandon an app or process. But they exist. Let’s recap a few:
- When I want to transfer text, Ulysses won’t drag/drop.
- Same for the Kindle app. (iBooks will, appending source information and a copyright warning.)
- Spotify won’t use split-screen mode.
- When I want to search in Airmail, I have to be mindful of what I tap.
- When I want to search long notes in Bear, I can’t. That encourages me to write shorter notes.
- When I want to organize photos in, um, Photos, I can’t. There’s no multi-select feature I can find.
- I can’t set Firefox as a system-wide default browser
“When I want to …” is another recurring theme. I wonder how much of that stems from my legacy macOS mindset. “When I want to X” could easily be “I want to do X the familiar, comfortable way.”
Migrating means more than effort. It means redefining “comfortable.”
I wanted to search Gmail for an email receipt from about four years ago. Turns out it was still there, though neither Airmail nor Spark could find it. They only search back a few months.
Instead I turned to Google Inbox. I wanted to try it before it disappears like so many other email apps have. It worked, I found my receipt, and got a move-to-Google-mail notification. I plan to try that app, compared to Spark and Airmail over the coming week.
I wonder what features it has that will disappear when the app fades away.
Big picture: To understand something, I must try something else.
Goodbye Safari, again
Firefox for iOS is far more responsive than Safari. I’m switching back … except that, maybe I’ll try Chrome for iOS, too.
Hey, what happened to the browser that invented tabs?
Reboot for AirDrop
I think I broke AirDrop on my iPad with that 1.6GB transfer. It wouldn’t work again until I shut down and rebooted the tablet. Since my Mac and iPhone continue to work well together, I think it’s a problem with my iPad.
Still, my Bluetooth keyboard and Bluetooth earbuds keep working well. So …?
Maybe Pluto’s showing its age. Maybe hardware’s improved over the last few years. Either way, AirDrop on this particular device doesn’t like giant files. And that kinda sucks.
If I want to watch a movie, I have to stream it.
If I want to transfer media, I have to find workarounds.
If I want to copy a large archive, I’m out of luck.
Call it the Gigabyte Ceiling.
A new stand
“Standing low” is a design quirk of my borrowed TechMatte iPad stand. The stand holds my tablet upright well, and folds up neatly for travel. But to recharging my iPad while using the stand means either turning the iPad sideways (horizontally), or upside-down. A plug protruding from the top of a tablet is awkward.
So I ordered a new stand, which arrived today. The Lamicall A1 stand doesn’t fold flat, but it does hold my iPad a few inches above the desk. That allows room for a cable underneath. It also raises the iPad up a bit more, which improves ergonomics … somewhat.
There’s a downside to this raised stand, though. When my keyboard is on the same hard surface — like a table, instead of a keyboard tray — tapping keys rapidly makes my iPad subtly vibrate. It’s an annoying distraction.
I placed a hand towel under the stand, then under the keyboard, to dampen the problem. Neither worked. But when I put the new stand on the firm foam yoga block, the problem diminished.
I also overlaid sticky feet onto the feet it came with, and the experience improved. It also varies depending on the table or desk. So … experimentation!
For a long time, I kept using Evernote … because I used Evernote. One day I was organizing notes for a project, and I realized how many notes I’d written once, and never seen again. As a test, I stopped using Evernote for one week.
That was two years ago.
I wonder what else I’ve always used because I’ve always used it.
For a long time, I kept using a certain journal app. One day, I forgot the password. I fretted for a week, discovered Day One, and … well, don’t really miss whatever I wrote about. I wonder if the same will happen in Day One. Or Bear. Or Ulysses. Or Apple Reminders. Or Photos. Or Field Notes.
I wonder how often this has already happened without my realizing it.
Wow. Four weeks. More than 8,000 words. The experiment has ended.
I learned a lot from my iPad-only month — but not what I expected. The original question seems … inconsequential. “MacBook or iPad?” “iOS or Android?”
Looking back — and ahead — I wonder, “is there a better way to do X?” Or even, “how can I do X better?”
Maybe that’s worth writing about, and I’ll be mindful of which tool I use to compose my thoughts.
I planned to wrap up with nifty iOS shortcuts, favorite apps, general advice, and so on. But looking back, other, broader lessons seem more appropriate.
Assumption discovery: Before I could follow the advice, “question your assumptions,” I first to uncover the assumptions. Forcing myself to set aside my usual tools, habits, and workflows, made me realize that they existed at all.
Process momentum: I keep doing things that work, because they work well enough. Now I see that the effort of exploring better alternatives discourages exploring at all.
Platform commitment: The more time I spend learning iOS’s secrets and customizing it to fit my needs, the more I want it to work — and the more I overlook its shortcomings. Investing effort on a platform has made me cheer the platform on. Go Team Familiarity!
Power from shortcuts: I lean towards apps not for their features, and not for how powerful they are, but for how powerful they make me feel. The more I can get done in less time with fewer commands, the more often I use the app. But that’s perception. The more I think I’m doing, the more I keep doing it.
Reading paper, not bits: During February I started reading two nonfiction books on the iOS Kindle app. Almost a month later, I realized that I wasn’t absorbing much from either.
My memories of past chapters was hazy. Yesterday I picked up an old paperback, and wondered if my brain was getting atrophied.
Meanwhile, a friend gave me a nice gift.
March: back to the Mac
So, today I fired up my ol’ MacBook Pro. And … woah. The “giant” screen feels spacious, like I can stretch my limbs after sitting in a chair all day. More pixels makes navigating files easier, and I can maneuver around apps like Bear, Spotify, Reminders, and Ulysses with impunity — that is, with minimal effort.
Looking back at my notes, little annoyances add up quickly. And today, little conveniences add up quickly.
For example, almost every Mac app’s preferences are a command-comma away, unlike iOS’s, where locations vary and require several taps to discover. The Mac’s menu bar, with its many add-ons, is always available. And there are far more system-wide utilities for macOS than iOS.
MacOS also feels faster. Maybe because switching between apps doesn’t require a fade-out animation. Maybe because it has a faster processor with more memory.
Or maybe — just maybe — I’m hooked on workflows that affect the way I plan, think, and achieve.
Welcome back. Here’s something you don’t need
Last month I left macOS to for iOS. Now that I’m back:
Screen clutter is a surprising disappointment. I’ve started opening most apps in full- or split-screen mode to reduce distractions.
I also hid my Dock.
Then I cleaned my desktop.
I set my desktop to Mojave’s dynamic desktop landscape, and I like it.
Previously, I’d new tabs in my browser bombarded me with interesting articles, courtesy Pocket. It worked too well. I spent too much time evaluating which articles to read instead of — wait, what was I going to look up?
A decades-old addiction
Wow, seems like I use copy/paste for everything. I wish my iPad had a dedicated physical button for the job. It’s been around since before the 1970s. I’ve relied on it since the early 1990s. But now that it’s convenient again, I’m keenly aware of my pasteboard addiction.
(Who invented undo/redo? I owe him or her a drink.)
I’m not sure why, but switching note-taking apps several times made me aware that my handwriting sucks. That’s not surprising; I’ve been typing since the 1980s. What is surprising is how I want to change that — and why.
Researching note apps, I kept reading the benefits of pen and paper.
I own several empty Field Notes notebooks. Remembering to use them instead of taking digital notes takes serious effort. My first reaction smacks of design thinking: “extra effort is bad UX.” But now I wonder if “the easy route hides damaging habits” is more appropriate.
I’ve heard Apple’s ecosystem described as a “walled garden.” But maybe not. After a month, I think that their mobile philosophy is just different. In iOS, app utility is more important than the relationships between them. The idea isn’t about locking down control. It’s about spending more time on individual interfaces. And I that’s not for me. Not today.
My iPad-only experiment ends with two questions:
- When is the focused-over-sharing mindset right for me?
- What other mindsets are there?
There’s a saying that only poor craftspeople blame their tools. Now another adage seems more relevant: The right tool for the right job.
As people who create digital artifacts, from notes and snapshots to novels and movies, we can’t blame our tools for the quality of our work. We need to build awareness of how our tools craft our ways.