Getting Things Done on the iPad

Whilst writing my iPad Pro review I had intended in going a little more in-depth about how I actually get things done on my iPad. I took umbrage to many of the main stream iPad reviews that were written by people that are clearly not regular iPad users, and haven’t really taken the time to learn iOS.

Matt Gemmell, in writing his iPad Pro review sums up this feeling perfectly:

Also, be extremely skeptical of anyone who makes a judgement about switching to an iPad when they haven’t actually done it themselves (this goes for most judgements about most things throughout life). This group includes the apparent majority of tech journalists, most of whom seem to have an annual ritual of spending one week with the newest iPad, and then saying it’s not a laptop replacement yet in some general sense. How would you even know? I certainly didn’t until six months or so in.

As my review progressed, going into too much detail about my own personal uses didn’t seem to fit at the time and started to feel that it would be more suitable as a separate post. So, here we are.

Before I dig into a few of my own use cases for an iPad Pro, I should clarify that I have replaced my personal computer with an iPad, since about 2014. I do, however, still use a Windows PC everyday at work. While the iPad doesn’t fully replace all computing in my life, it does touch on many facets, even in the work place.

Why an iPad?

As I’ve previously mentioned, I’ve been using an iPad as my primary computer since 2014. At the time, I believe this would have been the (still) fantastic iPad Air 2. I still have this Air 2 (though it had a screen issue which led to Apple giving me a fresh refurbished model about a year ago), though it’s now used by my daughter for some YouTube or kids games etc. The Air 2 enjoys its retirement I’m sure …

In 2014 my wife and I lived in a small house, with a spare room that was used as my home office / study. Within lived my 27” iMac. This was, at this time, my main computing device. Also at this time, I found out I was going to be a dad. This was, of course, amazing news, but my iMac didn’t agree. The iMac knew it’s time lording it up in my spare room was numbered. The room was quickly converted into a nursery and, after a short stint in the corner of the living room, was quickly retired.

I loved that iMac because it looked so pretty, but functionally I didn’t miss a thing, even then. I did very little (read nothing) on the device to warrant its existence. I didn’t admit that, however, until I had no choice but to let it go.

Since then, the functionality and utility of the iPad has grown as has my usage of it. As mentioned earlier, many iPad Pro reviews focused on what an iPad can’t do, many of which it can do, yet clearly on time has been exploring just how. To this end, I wanted to share a few instances of how I use an iPad to, in some small way, counteract the message that you can’t get things done on an iPad.

Blogging

One of the easiest things to get done on the iPad, even prior to the Pro, was blogging. Since the Pro, however, this has become even easier. The Dent is currently hosted on WordPress.com, and posting there via the web is, surprisingly, quite robust.

After trying out many, many writing apps over the years, with apps like Drafts and Ulysses being particular highlights, I’m currently using a bit of a classic, namely iAWriter. I’ve been using it again for a few weeks now and I’m really in love with the app. It does exactly what I was looking for in a writing app. The UI itself minimalist, and the Focus mode really helps you … well, focus! This mode dims the text you’ve already written, and keeps only the current word, line or paragraph (whichever you choose) brighter. You get the choice of a light and dark mode which is really important for a writing app in my book. One of the big selling points for Ulysses, according to many people, was the fact it can also post directly to WordPress. Well, it turns out, so can iAWriter. Once you provide your credentials any post you write (including images) will be uploaded to your WordPress site and saved as a Draft, ready for you to publish at your convenience. iAWriter is one of my favourite types of apps, in that on the face of it it’s very simple, yet once you dig in a little you find some really powerful features.

Podcasting

I currently host a short-form, podcast called The Dent and am also the co-host of a long running show called Pocket Sized Podcast. When it comes to The Dent’s companion show I record, edit and post entirely from the iPad alone. For Pocket Sized Podcast I record via the iPad, but the main host, Scott, does all of the great edit work.

For both shows I use the fantastic Ferrite to record my side of the conversation. I also use it to edit (what little editing I do) for The Dent. Ferrite is both a powerful audio recorder and multi-track editing tool which is just a powerhouse on the iPad Pro. The app features Pencil support as well, which is really invaluable when it comes to precise editing and manipulation for complex recordings. While his post is now a little dated, Jason Snell wrote an interesting piece about using Ferrite for podcasting on his blog, which is well worth checking out.

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Recording and editing The Dent is easy because I am, essentially, talking to myself. For Pocket Sized Podcast, or other shows I’ve been a guest on the iPad alone isn’t enough, unfortunately. For this, I will need to use Skype or FaceTime Audio to complete the call to the other hosts. This, however, is still simple, though it is an extra step. On these occasions, I will simply hold the call on my iPhone, whilst recording into Ferrite as usual. This is a little bit of a cheat, I appreciate, but needs must, and I am still iOS focused at least …

Photography

Don’t worry, I don’t take photos with my iPad Pro. I do, however, really enjoy editing photos on my iPad Pro. Since my daughter came along I have, admittedly, taken less photos that actually need editing. I now take far more photos than ever, for obvious reasons (dogs and kids are cute it turns out) but I wouldn’t generally edit fun family snaps. When I do take photos that need editing, the iPad is my go-to, however. My favourite photo editing app is actually only available on the iPhone, unfortunately, and that is Darkroom. The good news, however, is that an iPad version is currently in beta and will hopefully be released soon.

One of the real highlights of editing photos on the iPad Pro comes from using apps like Pixelmator, in conjunction with the Pencil. The precision and power you get from combining these really is incredible. I certainly don’t push this particular workflow anywhere near it’s limits currently, but I’m looking forward to exploring it more over the coming months / years.

Video Production

Okay, so classifying anything I currently do, or have done, with video as video production is most certainly pushing it. So far, I’ve uploaded just two videos to The Dent YouTube channel but both videos were recorded and editing using an iPad Pro and the fantastic LumaFusion. These videos are, essentially, experiments. Experiments designed to learn the ropes of a very powerful, professional grade bit of software. This blog, the podcast and now the YouTube channel are all experiments, to some extent. This is never going to be a profession for me, but it’s all good fun, and something I find relaxing to do (not to mention it lets me spend more time with my beloved iPad). If you want to see what some real professionals can do with the iPad Pro with LumaFusion, I can highly recommend the fantastic Chris Lawley’s entire YouTube channel which is completely produced from an iPad Pro. YouTuber Jonathan Morrison also released a fascinating video about his process behind producing another video entirely on the iPad Pro with LumaFusion. Jonathan is most certainly a professional, and he came away very impressed with what the iPad Pro could do.

Jobby job

While I included a caveat at the start of this article saying that my day job requires that I use a PC due to necessary software, that isn’t to say that the iPad Pro isn’t infiltrating my life even there.

I currently bring the iPad to work with me every day, and it sits by my side while I work. The iPad comes to meetings with me for note taking, or for marking up some ideas with the Pencil should they come up. I’m currently using the stock Notes app, after a foray into many other third party apps such as (the admittedly great) Bear. As with many stock Apple apps, I find the integration hard to ignore, especially when my requirements are fairly light at this point in time.

I also use the iPad to manage my time and tasks / projects as well. I’ve long held a misguided belief that I should be using the same apps across both iPhone and iPad. I really like Things 3 for work related tasks, but it was just too much for every day / personal use. To this end, I would often switch between Things 3 and GoodTask 3. I’ve now settled on a happy medium. I use Things 3 for work, mainly on the iPad (where it looks truly lovely) and GoodTask whilst at home. Happy times all around!

All Work and no Play …

While everyone is ranting and raving about not being able to do real work on an iPad Pro, or if it can replace your laptop, they seem to be forgetting that you don’t actually need to have work tasks that you do on your personal laptop in order for an iPad Pro to replace your laptop. I’m firmly in the camp that you can do work on the iPad, but I also appreciate that most people don’t ever do work on their personal computers, be they iPads, iMac, PCs or Chromebooks.

The vast majority of people use their personal computers in exactly that way, as personal devices to use when you don’t need to get work done. As some people like to point out, the iPad really is a fantastic consumption device. It’s great to read on, watch some Netflix on, chat with friends on, and even game on. Paired with an MFi controller and you’ve got yourself a, in my opinion, near perfect entertainment centre.

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I’m going to close this article out not with my own words, but from those of Federico Viticci. I think the Tweet from him below sums up my feelings on this whole subject perfectly.

Are You The Product?

As the big technology companies we know and love today continue to grow, there are fewer and fewer facets of their businesses and models to differentiate them. Almost all of the huge technology companies today harvest us for our personal data (both knowingly and sometimes even unknowingly to help fund, and enhance, their offerings.

These companies will often give you a service or feature for free, though they are very rarely really free. Just because you don’t physically pay for something, it doesn’t mean it’s free, however. Companies like Google and Facebook have a need to collect, share and monetise the data you’re giving them, to better sell ads, which is how they ultimately make their money. You are not a customer to Google or Facebook, you are a commodity. You pay for the use of all of Google’s services by providing them with a ‘data currency’. Much like I cannot dictate to Apple what they spend the money I have given them for my iPhone on, I also cannot dictate where Google spends my ‘data currency’.

For many people, this is both obvious, and completely acceptable. For most, the return you get from Facebook or Google is well worth the cost you pay, in terms of privacy and control of your personal information. This is, of course, a completely valid way to do things, and I’m not here to tell anyone otherwise. I’ve been a heavy user of Google for many years now, though I am trying to find alternatives to many of my use cases, so I can take back control of my data a little.

The point of this article isn’t to convince anyone that they shouldn’t use data harvesting services, it’s more a Public Service Announcement that there are alternatives out there which are completely viable. While Facebook and Google are at one end of the spectrum, Apple has positioned itself well and truly at the other end. I have, clearly, very much brought into the Apple ecosystem and find myself sharing many of the same beliefs and viewpoints when it comes to how my data is used. If you want to read into Apple’s own stance on privacy across their devices and services they have a fantastic micro site which I would highly recommend running through. They clearly take this very seriously.

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Finding Alternatives

Many of the services we use today, for the various things we do one the web, are so engrained into our brains, and even muscle memory, that it’s difficult to even consider using something else. When someone says they are going to look something up online they don’t say ‘I’m going to go and look that up online’ they say ‘I’ll just go and Google that’. It’s become second nature, so it’s easy to see why people often won’t even consider alternatives, or even know where to look. The list below, and the rest of this article, is just an informational piece about what else is out there, that will respect your desire for privacy, but that will also help you to be productive online. Take from it what you will.

Search Engine

Even for people that don’t generally use Google services, it’s often hard to escape Google as a search engine. As mentioned above Google is search for many people. That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of alternatives out there. Seeing as this is an article about privacy, however, there is really only one recommendation I can make, and that’s DuckDuckGo. While this search engine is near enough the least used of the major players trailing Google, it’s seen some massive growth recently. It was a big spike a few years ago when Apple added them to its list of built in search engines in iOS and again, more recently, following some high profile privacy issues from Facebook et al. I’ve been using DuckDuckGo on and off over the years, and it’s really grown a lot better over this time. It’s my default on iOS now, and the occasions I have to fall back to Google are few and far between. DuckDuckGo doesn’t track users, it doesn’t show you ads and it’s got a few interesting unique features. To save taking up too much space and time here, I’d recommend checking out their About page which has a lot of great information.

Maps / Navigation

As an iOS user, you don’t have to look very far for a Google Maps alternative. Apple Maps launched with iOS 6, way back in 2012 and, whilst it took a lot of heat at the time, this also has been steadily improving over time. Lane guidance has been added recently and Apple are in the middle of a huge redesign operation. I’ve been using Apple Maps as my default navigation and mapping system for a year or so now and it’s been very good in my experience. The navigation side of it is slowly improving as well, with ETA accuracy now getting very good. If you haven’t used it for a while I would recommend checking it out.

There’s more to Maps than just navigation, however. The Google timeline can be very helpful or interesting to some people. This feature shows you all the places you’ve visited, thanks to the 24/7 tracking Google can do of you, and your phone. If you want this information, but you don’t particularly want Google (or others) having it also, you’re in luck. I recently discovered a small little app called Visits. Visits tracks your location throughout the day and presents a local copy of this in the app. You can then simply browse through your timeline whenever you want.

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You can edit each location to give it a custom name, also, which is a nice touch. The developer stresses that your data is your own, and that privacy is very important to them. You can only trust this so far, I guess, but it seems legit and it’s a nice, streamlined way of getting some interesting metadata in your life.

Photo Storage

Google Photos is a service which is pretty hard to beat. As long as you’re happy with some quality degradation, you can store as much as you want in Google Photos. Not only that, but Google’s algorithms will parse your photos and put them into albums, or even add some automatic editing effects. Why would Google give you such a robust system for free? Well, once again, this is far from free, in many ways. You can get away without paying a penny, but this cache of millions of people’s photos must be an absolute goldmine for feeding Google’s AI / Machine Learning juggernaut. While, presumably, no real humans are pouring over these images, Google’s AI system most certainly is.

As with Maps, iOS users again don’t have to go far to find a powerful, alternative to Google Photos. iCloud Photos / Photo Library allows iOS (and macOS) users to store as many photos as they like (storage space permitting of course, unlike Google’s free tier). With Apple’s offering, however, you’re again a customer, not a ‘data cow’, ready for milking. So, while there is a cost associated (once you’ve used up your meagre free 5GB) you remain in control of your content. Apple does recommend some tweaks, or will create smart albums (called Moments) everything is handled on device.

What can’t be replaced … yet?

What’s pretty self evident from the above is that, for the most part, not only are there great third party alternatives to many Google / Facebook / other data gathering companies products, there are also great first party ones too. The iWork suite can replace Google Docs and Sheets. iCloud Drive can handily take on Google Drive and Maps is getting there when compared to Google Maps. There are, however, certain products or services that seem to have no real counterpart whatsoever.

YouTube has a complete monopoly on ‘home made’ video content. Your best bet in this case is to use YouTube logged out, though this does still allow for a modicum of tracking. Many tracking companies use some pretty sophisticated ‘digital fingerprinting’ these days which aim to match your data across services you’re logged into, with those you’re not, by analysing behaviour and even the IP of the device you’re logged into. There really is no escaping it.

The market is crying out for a viable alternative to YouTube, though it’s a service that, I would imagine, is never going to get a privacy focused version. No one is going to pay for a YouTube competitor at this point, and I can’t see how else you could fund something like that without it, without resorting to ads. This is one you’re likely stuck with I’m afraid.

Beyond this, it’s clear that we have a lot of options in what services we use, if we want to have privacy at the forefront of what we do. It’s also clear, sadly, that Apple are one of the few major tech companies that, on the face of it at least, are really taking this seriously and giving their customers the power to control this. It seems that, by using iOS / macOS, which I assume you do if you’re here, you’ve already taken one of the biggest steps you can to ensuring you’re the customer not a commodity.

The Best Camera …

Episode 294 of The Accidental Tech Podcast featured a question from a listener that really piqued my interest. Listener Matt Taylor asked:

Should I buy an XS for the camera or a $1,000 ‘actual’ camera. Use case: we have a new born

The emphasis was my own, but this was one of the key parts of the question for me. On the show, 2/3 of the presenters (John and Casey) suggested, quite unequivocally, that the real camera was the only real way forward and that there would be nothing but regrets if this wasn’t the choice taken. Marco, on the other hand, went the other way. I’m not writing this article to argue any of these guys were wrong, but I do feel quite strongly about what I personally would both suggest, and have experienced, so I wanted to at least share my thoughts. To me, the answer to this question is, without a doubt, go for the XS (though any smartphone with a good camera would also win my vote). I should caveat this article at this point to say that I’m writing this as a parent, of a young child, so much of what I’m going to say is to specifically address the part the listener said about having a new born. I should say, however, that even without this fact the iPhone would still get my vote.

For me, having an iPhone as a primary camera brings with it a multitude of benefits. A real camera will always win in terms of the physical quality of image, but will lose out in other, very important ways, which I will detail below.

Convenience

There’s a saying (coined by Chase Jarvis, and also the name of his book, that says:

The best camera is the one you have with you

This is a statement I believe wholeheartedly. For me, and for many, people, this is generally a smartphone (and quite often an iPhone) and while the pure quality of a photo from an SLR or even a micro 4/3 will undoubtedly be better, there is far more to making a good photograph than just pure binary qualities.

I would guess (based on zero facts!) that 99% of the photographs taken in the world each day are taken by amateur photographers. For these people, the key part of the photograph is the memory and feeling it conveys when you look at it later, not the number of megapixels in the image, or how well exposed it is. There has been untold moments in my life when I’ve grabbed my phone from pocket to take a quick picture of something happening completely unplanned or unexpected. A picture that I’d never have been in a position to take if I had to unpack a large, unwieldy camera from a backpack or the like.

Without going into too much detail, the birth of my daughter wasn’t the smoothest of times, and her first week of life took place in an intensive care ward (she was, and is, all fine though thank goodness). It was at this time that I took one of the most important pictures I’ve ever taken.

Now, this picture isn’t good from a technical standpoint, but the emotion it provided at the time when I could share it with my wife and family to show them the new member of the family was doing well is absolutely priceless and it’s something I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to get with a real camera. This I just one example of the benefits I’ve seen to having a thin device that’s always charged and in my pocket, ready when I am.

Live Photos

Live Photos were introduced to the iPhone range with the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus range. From the moment this feature was introduced I was in love. Apple should call this the ‘parent mode’ because it feels just perfect with people with kids. Children are, as you’d imagine, often fast moving and / or unwilling (or able) to sit still for more than 5 seconds at a time, so the chances of capturing a really nice picture (with an SLR or and iPhone) are quite low. This is were Live Photo’s have, again just for me, come into their own. The result of a Live Photo are three fold. Firstly, obviously, you get the photo you were after. Secondly, you get a great little video clip either side of the main photo to get some insight into what was happening at the time. The cherry on the cake is then also the sound clip that accompanies this which instantly adds 100% more context and vibrancy to scene you were taking a picture of. I, again, have many photos that technically don’t look very good, but thanks to Live Photo’s I still have access to some audio, at the least, which makes a dull picture once again become priceless.

Storage

This isn’t the most exciting point, so I won’t labour it too much, but the Integration between iOS and the iCloud Photo Library infrastructure makes managing and maintaining a possibly large photo database such a breeze. Yes, you have to pay for it, but what don’t you have to pay for these days that’s worth having?

All in all, as long as you care about the subject matter, any photos you take, regardless of the device that takes them, will always be important to you. If, however, you think you have your hands full with a newborn, you just wait. Having hands, bag space, and time free for taking real photos will only get harder and harder from here.

Anyone reading this article will continue to use whether phone or device they want (and so you should!)-, but for me my iPhone is my best friend when it comes to compiling some amazing memories of my single ride around this carousel we call life.

Why ‘Crystal Skulls’ Isn’t The Worst Indy Film

Before I get into this inane argument I just need to note that I actually wrote this post a few years ago on Medium. I’m re-writing it now for a few reasons. Firstly, because no one really read it when I posted it the first time, but mainly I wan to start consolidating some of this earlier stuff here in a more permanent location. If, by some miracle, you’ve read this before, know that I am at least plagiarising myself.

The following argument is something I thought about after the release of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull in 2008. It is the reason why I don’t think Crystal Skull is the worst Indiana Jones film.

Firstly, I should clarify what I mean by ‘worst’. After Crystal Skull’s release it was heavily critisised by cinema-goers and the critics alike. Most of these people had a point. Harrison Ford is a little too old and Shia LaBeouf a little too much of a jerk. All of these points, and more, I agree with. The hero of the story survives a nuclear explosion by hiding in a fridge for Christs sake. How can this not be the worst film of the lot?

The main point that was picked up was that the extra terrestrial theme ruins this film. This, however, I cannot agree with. This theme, in fact, fits perfectly into the style of the films. To me, it’s Temple of Doom that sticks out like a sore thumb, but more on that later.

The Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade where set in 1936 and 1938 respectively. During this time the world was sitting back, relaxing, whilst watching Hitler and his Nazi party quickly growing in power and clearly making moves to expand their influence.

This was one of the biggest things on the mind of people in this era and led to events that will never be forgotten.

Now, before this post gets even more like a history lesson, and a boring one at that, I’ll just say that it’s now believed (if there was ever doubt) that Hitler was completely off his rocker and not only believed in the occult and the validity of Biblical artefacts, he actively sought them out.

That is why, for Indiana Jones, the hunt for the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders and The Holy Grail in Crusade made perfect sense.

It is along these lines where my reasoning for Crystal Skull not being as bad, plot wise, that many think. If the ’30s and ’40s were the time of fearing Fascism and Hitler’s bids to find occult artefacts, the 1950s, when Crystal Skulls was set, was all about aliens!

In July 1947, in Roswell, New Mexico, reports began to filter around the world about a UFO being recovered after a supposed crash. Over the coming years the US, and the world, went alien crazy. In a way, aliens, and Soviets of course, became the Nazis of the ’50s.

This is why, to me, aliens (and the Soviets) are the perfect ‘force’ for Indiana Jones to face when the franchise moved into a different era. Indiana Jones was always supposed to be a modern retelling of the classic ‘pulp’ action books of the past so it makes perfect sense for him to face off against the biggest threat and influence on popular culture at the time.

This also, in a way, goes a little towards explaining the old ‘hide in a fridge to avoid nuclear explosion death’ thing. With this included we see our hero defeat the Soviets, aliens and nuclear weaponry, the big fears and fascinations of the time, in one fell swoop!

I’ve missed one haven’t I? Ah of course, Temple of Doom … When did the world fear blood drinking, monkey brain eating, Indian chaps? Oh yeah I know … NEVER!

This is why, to cut a long story short (too late) while Temple of Doom is my favourite Indiana Jones film, it is also the ‘worst’ in terms of context and relevance.

What do you think? Make sense or should I have left this argument back in 2008?