Home Is Where The iPad Is

I’ve previously mentioned, in my post about getting things done on the iPad, that one of the main factors in making the move to an iPad as my primary computer was space. Or lack thereof. This particular issue changed for me, about a year ago, and I’ve since setup a cosy little working space for myself in one of our spare rooms. While the room is, admittedly, pretty horrendous for podcasting (I literally have to cover myself with a blanket when I record …), it’s a great area for getting other tasks done.

I posted a couple of shots on Twitter a few days ago of my current setup, which seemed to get quite a bit of interest. I know I, also, really enjoy seeing, and hearing about, different people’s setups so I thought I’d go into a little more detail about what I’m using currently.

The iPad Pro

I’ll start with the most used item first, which is of course the iPad Pro. Essentially everything else on the desk is there to support or enhance my usage of the iPad.

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The iPad itself is the 12.9″ iPad Pro (2018). As I mentioned during my review, one of the reasons for moving up to the 12.9″, from the 10.5″, was so that I could use the device on the desk more, and it hasn’t disappointed. I’ve seen a lot of people, quite fairly, saying that the 12.9″ is, despite the body size reducation, far too big of using away from a desk. I, personally, disagree with this, and find it very comfortable in any position or circumstance I can throw at it. It is, however, so very nice on a desk. I will refrain from gushing over the device too much more, however …

When I’m using the iPad away from my desk, I use the Apple Smart Keyboard Folio. This accessory has had some negative reviews, given its pretty crazily high price point, but for me it’s as much a part of the iPad Pro as anything else. I’ve never been big into large, noisy, mechanical keyboards, so the low profile really fits my use case and preferences very well. It’s a joy to use, and I like that it now covers the entire device.

In a very un-Apple like move, the Smart Keyboard Folio has absolutely no Apple logo across the entire product. While it makes the device very clean and minimalist looking, it is extremely boring. I’ve never been a big fan of putting stickers on my devices, even accessories, but the Folio is just so dull I had to give in. I saw Daryl Baxter tweeting about some retro 6 colours Apple logo stickers he’d recently purchased so I picked up a set from Amazon. Once received, I placed the sticker on the back of the Smart Keyboard Folio, in the orientation Apple themselves should add logos to iPad devices, in landscape.

When I’m sat at my desk, particularly for some writing, I will switch things up a little. I place the iPad itself in a smart little stand, the AboveTEK Elegant Aluminium iPad Pro Stand (catchy name!) which I highly recommend. The stand comes with 2 clamp like attachments, one for each iPad size, which can be swapped out without too much hassle, should you need to. If, like me, you treat your technology with kid gloves, you’ll be happy to know the clamp itself has some soft, rubberised, padding inside, so it feels secure, yet gentle, when holding the iPad.

The stand itself looks very much like the foot of the iMac, which is another nice touch. Like the iMac, this base is nicely weighted, so even when you’re pressing on the screen it feels very secure. The clamp can be tilted back and forth for better viewing angles, and can even twist so you can use the device in different orientations, if needed. The only down side, which is pretty minimal, is that the way the stand holds the iPad, you can no longer connect, or charge, the Apple Pencil. Luckily, I have a solution for that too! Back when I had the first generation Apple Pencil I would often find myself nowhere to put, or store, the device, so I picked up little accessory called the Belkin Stand for Apple Pencil. Despite the fact I now have a home for my Apple Pencil 99% of the time, this little stand is still on hand for when the iPad is clamped into the stand.

Now that the iPad is comfortable in its snazzy stand, I can get on with getting things done. When using the iPad in this configuration I use the ‘Space Grey’ Apple Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad. There isn’t much more to say about this accessory, really, other than that I really love typing on it. The key travel is limited, which is exactly what I want, and you can’t deny that it looks rather pretty …

The podcasting setup you can see in the image above, along with the details behind this, was again detailed in my Getting Things Done on the iPad post, so feel free to check that out if you want some more information on this front.

Now that the iPad Pro has moved to a USB-C connector, I decided to fully embrace this, and grab a dongle which can take advantage of it a bit more. I picked up a Lenovo USB C Hub, after zero research online. It’s proved to be fairly competent, however, which I’m pleased about. With this, I can charge the iPad, connect my external microphone, connect an external monitor, among other things. I’ve been pretty happy with it so far.

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The Monitor

As soon as I started getting my new office / study setup I decided that I wanted to get a 4k monitor on there. My initial rationale was that, despite external monitor support on the iPad being a little (very) half-baked, I thought it would be a good device to still connect to an iPad when watching films (which actually do take advantage of the screen). Beyond watching films, I will sometimes connect my iPad to the monitor when playing games, or even when writing if I need an even larger screen to work with, though this is less common to be honest.

As we all know, all work and no play makes anyone a dull boy, so I also have my old Xbox (which has been replaced by an Xbox One X) hidden away under the deks, which is also connected to the monitor (which has built in speakers) from when I need to unwind.

The Elephant In The Room

I can already hear the comments coming in about the little square device to the left of my desk:

But, Andy, you said you were iOS only …

Well, that is still true. When the study / office was ready, I was still using the 10.5″ iPad Pro as my main device. The new models were still 6 months, or more, out, and I started to get itchy feet, so to speak, because I had already picked up the monitor. Cue an evening of some browsing of the Apple Store website and a little deep dive into the refurbed Mac section … I came away from that visit with a low end 2014 Mac Mini on order. When it arrived, I realised I’d made a terrible mistake.

The HDD on this old model was beyond showing its age. It literally took about 10 minutes to power up, and hung constantly. It was, essentially, unusable, especially when coming from an instant on, massively over-powered and quick iPad Pro. Not one to ever stop throwing good money after bad, I picked up an external SSD and enclosure and have since been running macOS off this. To be fair, this seemed to speed things up considerably, and it’s now far more usable. The issue is that, now that I’m so invested in iOS, I have almost nothing I would need a Mac for. Right now, and I kid you not, the Mac Mini is fired up once a month, when I get a new book from Audible, so I can download it, add it to iTunes, and then manually sync the file with my iPad and iPhone so I can listen to the book in Apple Books instead of the Audible app. Yep, that right there is £600 (for the Mac Mini + SSD + enclosure) well spent …

The Lights

The light panels at the back of the room always get quite a good reception, whenever I share an image of my room, so I didn’t want to neglect detailing these a little also.

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They are the Nanoleaf Light Panels. You can place them in any configuration you want, providing they are connected. Given that each separate panel is a triangle, your design choices are slightly more limited, but you can still come up with some interesting designs. The light panels are HomeKit compatible, which is a must for any Smart Home stuff I buy currently. You can colour each panel separately, if you wished, colour them all the same, or use some of the presets to produce a really nice, vivid, almost moving, texture across the entire set. I highly recommend these lights, particularly in a space like this. They really bring the room togehter!

So, that’s it! I’d love to see some of your own office setups, so please feel free to get in touch with me on Twitter with what you’re currently working with!

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.

The 2018 iPad Pro

You’ve probably read a fair few iPad Pro Reviews, most of which have walked the well trodden ground of previous iPad Pro reviews and asked the question:

“Can an iPad replace your laptop?”

Pretty much all reviews from the big named sites, such as The Verge seemed to come away with the same answer, NO. They didn’t, however, to me at least, give very valid reasons for this case. I do appreciate that reviews from an individual writer are, intrinsically, personal views. I have nothing against the fact that Nilay Patel, in his review for The Verge, could not replace his laptop with an iPad Pro. I do, however, begrudge the idea that most of these reviews put across that no one can replace their laptop for the things they want to do. I, for one, have done just that and I know many others that have also.

This review will not be a deep dive into all of the things you can’t do on an iPad. This is a review from a dedicated iPad user, for iPad users.

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Hardware

Prior to picking up the 2018 iPad Pro 12.9″, my main device was last years 10.5″ model. I had the 1st generation iPad Pro 12.9″ prior to that. I switched to the smaller model, originally, because while I loved the screen real estate on the larger brother, the device itself was unwieldy, heavy and just generally a bit ugly. Now that I’m fully on board with using an iPad for my personal needs (I have to use a PC at work) I was, however, on the market for the larger size again.

As soon as I removed the new 2018 iPad Pro from it’s packaging I knew I had made the right decision. The device is now unbelievably thin, and light, and the new design is truly something to behold. It feels fantastic both in the hand, and on a desk and, as always, it’s simply a joy to use.

Apple boasted an edge to edge screen and, whilst it is undoubtedly more edge to edge than previous models, it’s far from fully edge to edge like you’d see in an iPhone X or XS. The screen does, however, look amazing it it’s new form. To be able to comfortably hold this device, when not using it as more of a desktop, I don’t think the bezels really could be reduced much more than they are already, however. The design of the case itself is very reminiscent of the iPhone 5 style, which is retro and modern at the same time. Looks wise, it’s the best looking iPad Apple has ever produced. The screen technology is still LCD, and not OLED like the iPhone’s though Apple (or their screen supplier at least) have either done some amazing work on making this screen, or my eyes are just so bad I can’t really tell the difference. I think it’s a little of column A and a little of column B to be honest.

The new iPad ditches the Lightning connector and replaces it with a USB-C connection. This has been praised as opening up a greater potential for the iPad Pro to connect to a greater variety of devices, though I’m as yet to truly understand what this really opens up. I’ve connected the 2018 model, and last years 10.5″ to an external and saw the same letterboxed mirrored display presented on both. I know USB-C allows for the iPad to now drive a 5k monitor, which Lightning apparently couldn’t, but right now that doesn’t equate to much. I learnt recently that iPad’s have been capable of showing something different on an external monitor to that which is displayed on the iPad, but I know of very few apps that have taken advantage of it. Whether the introduction of USB-C will change this is yet to be seen. I hold out hope it will, however.

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One hardware feature that I love, which i didn’t think I would, is the inclusion of FaceID. I’ve been using FaceID for some time now, in the iPhone X and now the iPhone XS Max and I’m not truly convinced that, in that case, it’s better than TouchID. It’s a fantastic system, in general, but for the way I use my phone it can be a bit of a pain. The phone is usually sitting on my desk at work and I always have to pick it up and stare at it, whereas before I could just top my finger on it to unlock and glance down. This, and other points, has been a bit iffy for me to date. FaceID on this iPad, however, seems to be a whole other story. Given the angle and way you use an iPad, the FaceID camera array seems to pick me up far better, and quicker, than ever. The viewing angle seems very good also. I can be trying on my computer at work and glance over my iPad sitting next to me and it unlocks instantly. I’m definitely now sold on FaceID, at least on the iPad. The fact you can also unlock the device by a quick double tap on the space bar is, also, very compelling. It’s one less interaction you need to do by touching the iPad at all. I appreciate it’s a touchscreen device, so touching it is of course to be expected, but it’s also very nice to navigate using keyboard shortcuts. It’s surprising just how much you can do on an iPad via shortcuts, so this is just another nice addition.

I’ve not been concerned, as yet, that I made a mistake in moving from a 10.5″ to the 12.9″. This size is better for a desktop / lap situation, which I do quite a lot. It is also, however, surprisingly comfortable for use without the keyboard in a more traditional iPad setting such as on the sofa or even propped up in bed.

Apple Pencil 2.0

I had the original Apple Pencil, just because it was an interesting new accessory, but my use case for it was very limited. I’m not an artist, by even the loosest of definitions, and the fact the Pencil was always dead whenever I did have a rare use for it, and that I usually had no idea where it was, put me off even more. My use case (or lack thereof) aside for a moment the 2nd generation Apple Pencil seems to be a huge leap forward in basically every way.

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The Pencil itself now has a matte finish which, along with the one flat side, make it so much nicer to hold. It’s also slightly short which makes it feel a little more balanced in the hand. It now magnetically attaches to the top / side of the device, depending on your orientation and actually charges at the same time. This is a huge improvement in my book. You can both store the device somewhere so it’s close at hand, but you can also ensure it’s always fully charged. I’ve no idea what this kind of storage method would do to such a small battery, but I would assume Apple would have thought about that and being constantly charged has to be better than being fully discharged most of the time, right?

While I am not an artist, as I’ve already said, I do find a few uses for the Apple Pencil, which this new version should make even better. One such use is, for example, when editing a podcast with Ferrite. Trying to trim and edit can be a little fiddly with your finger, but the Pencil is great at tapping around and getting really hands on with the content. The ability to, essentially, right click via the new tapping interaction on the new Pencil could be really helpful here, by providing quicker access to some useful functionality. I’m hoping that some non-drawing app developers will take advantage of this to add easy access to app features via this new input. Time will tell on this front I would imagine.

All in all, I am certainly not using this new accessory to it’s full potential, but I will be using it more and more I’m sure of it. The new design, new charging and storage method, and lack of tiny moving parts I’m likely to lose all add up to a great version 2.

The Smart Keyboard Folio

I’ve mentioned in the past, both on the blog and the podcast, that I am a big fan of the original Smart Keyboard for the iPad Pro. Having tried the Brydge keyboard, and various Logitech offerings, I always came back to the original. With this in mind, any revision would have to be pretty special to improve upon it. While the change is minor, the new version does improve things in a few areas.

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Firstly, the Smart Keyboard is, as the name implies, now a Folio, so this also now covers the back. It’s securely held in place at the back via magnets, yet it’s still very easy to pop off if you want to use the iPad without a keyboard. Because of the new design, when you fold the case over, to hold the iPad like a tablet, you touch the (now inactive) keyboard buttons at the back, which doesn’t feel great to be honest.

Along with the new style, the only other real difference is the two viewing angles that are offered. You can get a very upright ‘desktop mode‘ and the original angle. The desktop mode is nice, but doesn’t offer a huge difference. More options are, however, always welcome. To me, at least, this is still the de facto iPad Pro keyboard experience.

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Roundup

The iPad Pro’s are not cheap, by any stretch of the imagination. They are also, potentially, almost too powerful for what you can do with them right now. These two points, however, go hand in hand. The hardware is only half of the equation. Yes, they are quite expensive for a tablet, but they are also priced quite well when you consider it as a laptop. Some people like to keep telling us that you simply can’t replace a laptop with an iPad. As a blanket statement this is completely false. They are more than capable of doing this for me, and so many other people. This new, more expensive, hardware will be a hugely powerful and capable device for years to come. With this half of the equation covered, what remains? Well, the software of course. The apps available on iOS are, again for me, already way better for my use cases than anything found in competing systems. I don’t come across the same limitations others seem to find are insurmountable. With that being said, there is still a massive amount of long hanging fruit when it comes to what iOS can do for the iPad. Things such as touchpad support for taking advantage of hooking up the device to an external monitor, to better desktop / homescreen management and external storage support. A lot of the criticism thrown at the iPad as a laptop replacement seem to lead me to question if this person should be using an iPad at all. If the fundamentals of the OS don’t fit your needs, don’t use it. For the rest of us, however, I can see iOS on the iPad going from strength to strength. And while I am already not held back by the software, this amazing new hardware is opening the door to some very exciting future possibilities.

The iPad is yet to fulfill it’s full potential. It’s still in its infancy. I, for one, am loving watching it grow up and I will be there with it, every step of the way.

🎙 15: Shut Up And Take My Money

On the podcast this week I share some (slightly delayed) thoughts on Apple’s iPad focused event held in New York City on the 30th October 2018.

We saw some not so mini Mac Mini’s, some not so light as air MacBook Air’s and some iPad’s that require a small mortgage to max out.

if you want to read some more in-depth thoughts on this check out this earlier post.

You can find links to the show below:

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You can also find a direct 🔗 on the podcast page.