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!

🎙 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.

Heavy Airs, Big Minis, and Pro iPad Pros

On the 30th October 2018, an almost unending troop of Apple (and guests) presenters took to the stage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music within the Howard Gilman Opera House, New York City, to show us there was ‘… more in the making‘. They were not wrong!

Night of the Living Dead (Mac’s)

Apple opened the show with a rundown of some new Mac hardware. This signalled the resurection of some long abandoned hardware, namely the Mac Mini and MacBook Air.

The Mac (not so) Mini

As I’ve alluded to before, Mac’s are not an area of focus, or interest, to me personally. That being said, however, it’s good to see these much loved hardware devices receive a well deserved refresh. It’s surprising to me that the Mac Mini is still so … not mini, given modern devices such as Intel’s NUC’s and others. As is often the arguement when it comes to Apple hardware these days, the fact you can get something smaller, cheaper, and possibly more powerful from another company is a moot point. None of these devices run macOS, so they are not going to appeal to the majority of Mac entusiasts, no matter the hardware.

With that said, the Mac Mini looks fantastic, and there are some options available to really push up it’s performance (and price) if you so wish. It’s amusing that, when discussing the new Mac Mini, the presenter mentioned, and I paraphrase:

‘It’s Pro because it’s Space Grey’

I understood what he was getting at, in that Apple’s Pro devices, such as the iMac Pro, do now come in these colours, but I found it quite amusing at the time. All in all, if this is the form factor you’re looking for, I’m sure you’d be very happy with the new models.

An Air by any other name

Alongside the Mac Mini, Apple also revealed the long rumoured MacBook Air refresh. As with the Mac Mini, there are plenty of other options available for a lower end, super portable laptop, but if this is the ecosystem you’re interested in there is again an interesting, viable option. Strangely, given the Air moniker, this device is actually heavier than the current basic MacBook model. The current MacBook line up is a bit of a confusing mess, to me, with very unclear distinctions between each device and what the logical progression is between moving from the cheapest / lower end device up the chain. This is, quite possibly, a symptom of me just not keeping up with the Mac hardware, however.

The Pièce de résistance

After a (rather random) update about some more in-store initiatives coming to an Apple Store near you, Apple moved onto the real star of the show. New iPad Pro’s (I’m sorry, I refuse to write ‘iPads Pro’). These beauties are really something to behold …

I wont bore you here by simply listing out the tech specs and the sales pitch on these devices, you can read all of that from Apple themselves. Done? Good. Now, onto some of my thoughts.

To get things started, I will tell you that I currently have an iPad Pro 12.9″, Smart Keyboard Folio and Apple Pencil Gen 2 on order. I’ll be getting the keyboard and Pencil on release date of the 7th November, though after a bit of a mess up my end, the iPad will be coming a week later.

The iPad

Prior to the event starting it felt like we knew very little about the iPads we would be seeing at the event, but as soon as they were revealed it struck me that we did actually have a very good idea what we were going to see. This didn’t, however, stop my jaw from hitting the floor when I actually saw the things. Good Lord, they are nice.

The design is very reminiscent of the iPhone 5 era design with a more squared off, angular design. You’d imagine that, given this similarity to such old iPhone hardware, the device would look dated, but that’s far from the truth. It looks extremely sleek and interesting. The pitch video sold it as an edge to edge screen, now that the homebutton has finally been removed. This, to me, is pushing it somewhat. If you watch the product video, that was strangely narrated by Phil Schiller instead of Jony Ive, the remaining bezel does seem considerably smaller, but there is still a fair bit that remains.

As is now par for the course with Apple and their own chipsets, the A12X chip that ships inside the new iPad Pros seems to be incredibly powerful once again. For many years now, the iPad Pro hardware has outstripped the development speed of the software side of things, but this feels like a real turning point year. The new hardware, along with the new USB-C connector, seems to line the device up for some powerful new features in iOS 13, or beyond.

On the software front, I’d love to see some more flexability on app management, in terms of how many apps you can run, how these can be windowed, and what can be shared and interacted with on an external monitor. Right now, options are limited, but Apple has all they need to now start addressing this come iOS 13 in June (for those of us brave / stupid enough to jump on the betas).

All in all, the device itself looks amazing. The 12.9″ model I’ve ordered has a greatly reduced footprint (almost 25% I believe) than the last 12.9″ iPad and is thinner and lighter than ever. This size, to me, seems like the logical one to go for and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

Sharpen my Pencil

Alongside the new iPads, Apple also unvealed a new, redesigned Apple Pencil. This, again, looks like a lovely new design. Even more exciting than a new design is the great new storage and charging method. The device finally now connects to the iPad magnetically to not only store, but charge, it.This looks, and acts, far more like the Surface Pro Pen now, which isn’t a bad thing in my book at all. I ordered one of these, despite the fact my current Apple Pencil is very rarely used. I can see this being the same, to be completely honest, though the new ‘button’ functionality you can access by tapping the device could open up some very interesting interaction methods. Once again, this is very reliant on software enhancements. The flat side will also prevent the bloody thing from rolling everywhere, which is a big bonus!

Keyed In

Now that the Smart Connector has, randomly, moved to the back of the device, Apple had yet another accessory to tempt me to spend more of my, and our, hard earned money.

The new keyboard, called the Smart Keyboard Folio, now covers the entirety of the back of the device, which actually looks pretty nice. The keyboard part, it seems, looks to be essentially the same as the previous generation, though it does have a new viewing angle (one for watching media, one for typing) which is pretty interesting.

I’ve worked my way through, at one time or another, pretty much all of the main iPad Pro keyboards (Brydge, Logitech’s various offerings etc.) and while many are great, I’ve always come back to the Apple Smart Keyboard. It’s simple, connects (and disconnects) extremely quickly and it’s just nice to type on. I’ve always hated ‘clacky’ keyboards, so it suits me just fine. At £199 it’s absolutely ridiculous, but in for a penny in for a pound I guess.

Wrapping up

As mentioned, I’m extremely excited to physically get this device. It looks amazing, and I can now bump up from a 10.5″ model back to a 12.9″ version without gaining quite as much size and weight. That, to me, sounds pretty exciting in of itself. I do, however, feel we’re only seeing half of the story that is this generation of iPad Pros. The hardware is, once again, a massive leap forward, but I think we’ll see the next chapter come the release of iOS 13. Like it or not, the Mac has clearly had it’s hayday. The iPad’s, however, has yet to come. I, for one, am very excited to see what comes next for my favourite bit of kit.

When I do finally get hold of my new iPad Pro I’ll be sure to share some thoughts both here, in writing, and on the podcast for those that are more aurally inclined.