iPad Pro as Your Everyday Computer

Some Background

I’ve been a committed Mac user since I was five years old, with my family’s first Power Macintosh 6500 in 1997. From classic Mac OS through to modern-day macOS, Cupertino’s take on the desktop interface has always worked for me.

My mental model of computing is built around the Mac but in recent times, I’ve moved much of my everyday computing to my 10.5-inch iPad Pro. My earliest experiences with iPad (aside from playing around with others’ models from 2010), was when I could afford the third-generation iPad in 2012. I absolutely loved it and certainly appreciated its status as an ‘in-between’ device, as Jobs sold it: more capable than a smartphone but more portable than a laptop.

The Mac is still the hub for my heavier content, such as original iCloud Photo Library files and HD iTunes downloads, however, the iPad now serves as the device that I pick up first to edit photos, create documents, watch online video, complete emails and other creative tasks.

The Home Screen

To frame my thoughts on using iPad Pro, I thought that it would be interesting to run through my first home screen. The apps that make up this space—particularly the dock—determine how you use the device. My home screen is below, followed by a list of apps (with links to those from third parties).

Dock

Three Other Visible (Suggested) Apps in the Dock

The Rest of the Home Screen

The Wallpaper

The ‘Why’

I could go on forever about why I use certain apps and place them on the first home screen but we don’t have all day. I could talk about how useful the Affinity apps are (despite my seriously amateur artistic status) or how great it is to read with Books. Not to mention, Shortcuts is really powerful, but I’ve got nothing on the famous Federico Viticci. Instead, reflecting on my move to spending most of my time on the iPad Pro, I thought it would be better to highlight five of the more interesting third-party apps on iOS that have transformed the way that I think and go about computing.

One of the apps that I use the most on my iPad Pro is Twitterrific. In recent years, Twitter has received more and more criticism for its handling of online abuse, fake news and bots. I don’t see any of this when I use Twitterrific, as it offers powerful muting, muffling and most importantly, no ads. The ability to customise the interface with themes, colours and icon shapes is also fantastic and the app respects the recommended two-column interface that works so well on iPads. Altogether, Twitterrfic turns Twitter into a pleasant online space for me and I use its Twitter list function heavily to follow news and blogs that I don’t want to see in my normal feed. It’s also great to have to the side in split view.

Whilst Twitter is my main link to new and the outside worl), Icro for Micro.blog has radically shifted the way that I think about microblogging and sharing updates online. Icro on the iPad Pro offers a simple interface for posting images and sharing quick thoughts, with what can only be regarded as a very engaged and genuine user base, who are generally over the foolishness and narcissism on Facebook. I’ve met a number of interesting people using on Icro on my iPad Pro, whom I wouldn’t have met elsewhere.

Moving on, Ulysses on iOS has changed the way that I think about writing. In fact, I’m wrote this blog post with it. My idea of documents has always been the traditional model of creating individual files, all of which are accessible from a shared file system like the Finder on macOS. Ulysses focuses on a more stripped-back writing environment, based on Markdown XL, with a dark theme, unobtrusive user interface and grouped projects with ‘sheets’ that replace individual documents. With the ability to set writing goals, tag sheets and post directly to sites, it has enabled me to focus more on my writing and use the iPad Pro with less friction. Most importantly, because of its ease of use and minimalism, I’m more motivated to write.

Staying on the topic of text, Day One is one of those apps that can really enhance your computing experience… if you commit to it. As a journaling app, it offers powerful tagging and media capabilities like Ulysses, along with the ability to create multiple journals for different purposes, such as holidays, for example. I was very inconsistent with my use of Day One in earlier days but with the addition of the Smart Keyboard on iPad Pro, two items that are now always with me, writing a long-term journal is now much less of a chore. Tie that in with split view and drag-and-drop, and you suddenly have an easy way to integrate photos, videos, links and other information that’s relevant to your chronicle of the day.

Last of all, this may be the most unexpected choice: V for Wikipedia. Without a doubt, Wikipedia is one of the most revolutionary tools of the digital age, giving people access to abundant information no matter where they are. That being said, Wikipedia makes a lot of sense on the desktop but hasn’t always been super-nice to use on smartphones and tablets. There’s often a lot of scrolling to be done. V for Wikipedia is one of a number of third-party Wikipedia clients that presents the site in a way that is easier and more digestible on portable devices. This app is undoubtedly the nicest and offers quick chapter navigation, bookmarking, search, beautiful type and an engaging and dynamic front page that shows the most read Wikipedia articles on any given day.

Furthermore, V for Wikipedia shows the most searched items in your area, if you grant it access to your location. The thing that is most significant about this app is the feeling that it gives you as you use it. It transforms the site into a reading experience and makes you want to keep discovering new content. In essence, it takes what is an endless database of web articles and makes it seem like a well-designed and modern Britannica or Encarta. When I use this app, it takes me back to the sense of discovery that I had when I was in primary school, using Encyclopedia Encarta on CD-ROM.

What’s a Computer?

Shifting now, this brings me to the major point argument about computing on iOS. Many say that it needs to compete with a laptop and that it fails in doing so. Of course, there are areas where iOS falls down, such as connection to peripherals such as external drives. To me, this is a redundant argument. When Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad back in 2010, he clearly pitched it as an in-between device that combines the best of consumption and production into a portable package. Since then, it has changed to address the feedback and needs of pro(sumer)s who want something more. Given its original design purpose relatively short history in contrast to the Mac, people just need to be patient. The platform will continue to mature.

What is profound about iPad Pro (and iOS more broadly) is how the form factor enables a new type of computing. Stripping away the need for a desk and pointing devices, at least up until now, has given us completely different apps and contexts for computing. The Apple Pencil is the perfect example of a tool that works beautifully with the iPad Pro, but would gel with a Mac.

I will always love the Mac and see no immediate reason to stop using it. It’s powerful, it’s versatile and it’s nostalgic. The difference is that the vast majority of what I need to do on a computer is now addressed by iPad Pro. It has a keyboard when I need it to have one.

All of this is precisely why I avoid saying that the iPad Pro is my main computer. It’s impossible really to define what ‘main’ means for all users, as I check my Apple Watch more than any other device with wrist-turns all the day, overall I spend the most time on my iPhone and I use the Mac as my content storage hub. I choose to say everyday computer instead, as it’s the large-screen device that I use for the majority of my more taxing functions.

iPad Pro is both a computer and not a computer. It is yet another choice in a broad range of devices and I can’t wait to see where Apple takes it in the coming years.

ABC Life on the Art of Small Talk

I found this interesting article on ABC Life by writer Mia Timpano: Is having great conversation a science or an art? Turns out it’s a bit of both.

As someone who obsesses over daily minutiae, I really enjoyed the content. Small talk can be such a culturally-specific and personal thing, with everyone set in their own conversational habits. People certainly differ in the ways that they speak, how long they take to respond and whether they are concise or verbose.

To me, the biggest thing has always been eye contact. Everyone should be comfortable with pauses and extended silence—things can take time to process and the article makes this point very well—but simply hearing isn’t enough. It’s important to show that you’re listening to someone by engaging with them visually and providing real-time feedback.

Not everyone is a keen or enthusiastic interlocutor, however, I certainly think that a percentage of people have become worse in their conversational abilities, due to an over-reliance on smartphones and digital services.

Almost 20: ‘The Matrix’

The other day, I was flicking around our local iTunes library on the Apple TV. I put on one of my absolute favourite films: The Matrix. I only watched about 15 minutes’ worth, skimming here and there, but as it played, something occurred to me: the movie was released in the year 1999.

The Matrix is almost 20 years old.

I took greater notice of the special effects, the stunts and cinematography and you know what? It still holds up today. The Matrix truly set the standard at the time for Hollywood film-making (leading into the start of the new millennium), capitalising on fear about the seemingly inevitable Y2K bug. The idea of being a prisoner of some false reality was certainly a theme at the end of the nineties, as evident in other films such as The Truman Show (another personal favourite of mine).

Sure, some of the devices in the film look quite old these days, such as the famous falling Nokia 8110 and beige CRT displays, but that doesn’t matter at all. It all contributes to the aesthetic (along with the subtle green hue) of the film.

All of this also made me reflect on another major reason why I love The Matrix. It’s not just the look, the story, the effects and the soundtrack… it’s the setting. The Wachowskis decided on Sydney as the filming location, which gives it a completely different feeling from just about any other American sci-fi or action movie. The architecture is distinctive (take Harry Seidler’s prominent Australia Square Tower in a few shots), the phone boxes are different and the streetscape in general lends a different feel to the neo-noir aesthetic.

Beyond the fact that it’s obviously different from the normal appearance of American films, The Matrix also shows places throughout Sydney that Australians were able to recognise, albeit from odd angles and obscured views. This makes the locations eerily familiar, although somewhat foreign and other-worldly. Perhaps more than for any other viewer, American or otherwise, Australians can experience the matrix as it is described by the characters Morpheus and Trinity: a dream world that seems like home but just doesn’t feel quite right.

The Matrix still influences so much of what we see in movies today, be it slow-motion ‘bullet time’ in action sequences, atypical musical scores or stories that question reality (think Inception or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).

As we approach the 20th anniversary of the film’s release, let’s all be grateful that the Wachowskis dared to do something truly different, philosophical and brave, which set the standard for better American action cinema.

Abbott vs. Turnbull: Republic Debate (1993)

The last decade has been an extraordinary (and disappointing) one in Australian politics, with tiresome leadership spills, the rise of the often unpredictable micro parties and forever-shifting policies, particularly when it comes to energy and sustainability.

Things move quickly and we’re already into the post-Turnbull ‘ScoMo’ era (cringe). Before we forget recent events between Turnbull and Abbott too quickly, however, it is important to remember that history has a habit of repeating itself…

I couldn’t help being reminded of this fact when I stumbled upon a video of Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull on the ABC’s 7:30 Report back in 1993, debating the need for Australia to become a republic. Shared on YouTube by ABCLibrarySales, this great video shows that Abbott and Turnbull almost seemed destined to butt heads ideologically for the rest of their political careers.

As a side note, the question of Australia becoming a republic really doesn’t seem to have progressed since the 1999 referendum. The issue of a rebranded royal family with increasing popularity certainly isn’t helping things.

Bill Murray, Jan Vogler & Friends: New Worlds

This is something that I really meant to write about quickly last Sunday but ran out of time to do so…

The night before, I went to see Bill Murray, Jan Vogler & Friends: New Worlds with my mother and sister at the Sydney Opera House. It really was the most unbelievable show. Murray, known more for his comedic film performances than classical music or literature, performed spoken-word pieces (and sang in sections) along to classical music by Bach, Ravel and Schubert. The spoken content came from American literary greats Hemingway, Twain and Whitman.

Not only was Murray absolutely captivating, Jan Vogler (cello), Mira Wang (violin) and Vanessa Perez (piano) played brilliantly and supplied a powerful soundtrack for the evening. There was no need for any advanced lighting or sets; they simply performed on an empty stage, commanding the audience’s attention with evocative excerpts on life, death, religion, relationships, race and more. Personally, I’ve never seen such a live performance that can take you from feeling contemplative (and even sad) to cackling with joy.

At the end of the show, Murray and co. performed an extended encore of semi-improvised material, which they had rehearsed but seemingly not planned to include in the show. Murray stated that with ‘the best room in town’, they should keep going. He then took a bunch of roses, which were presented to him as a gift, and proceeded to run through the aisles and hurl them at the audience.

I’ll never forget this performance. It was truly one of the greatest things that I’ve ever seen. The man is beyond talented.

For an impression of the show, click here to view the trailer. You’ll also find other performances on YouTube.

The Problem with Follower Counts

Recode recently published this interesting article: ‘Twitter co-founder Ev Williams says in retrospect that showing how many followers you have wasn’t ‘healthy’’. It covers some intriguing comments that Twitter co-founder Ev Williams made about the effects of showing how many followers each user has. Here’s the key point:

“I think showing follower counts was probably ultimately detrimental,” Williams said at the Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal. “It really put in your face that the game was popularity.”

To me, Twitter has always obviously been about news and instantaneous communication. Instead, it has become yet another hub for trolls, fake news and harassment. The article goes on to discuss how follower counts, whilst viewed negatively now, were a major driver for Twitter’s early success and publicity.

Overall, the argument reminds me of a fantastic point that was made by creator of Micro.blog, Manton Reece. The site offers a friendly, engaging microblogging platform for people who are completely over the lunacy and bullying that is present on the major social networks. Besides costing a mere $5 per month to have your own hosted blog site, the real attraction is that there are no likes or follower counts. You can see who you follow but not who follows you. Not to mention, the lack of likes means that if you want to engage with someone, you actually have to reply to them. Manton set out his mission with further details here.

I joined because of a recommendation on Accident Tech Podcast by co-host Casey Liss, who was uncertain about his usage of Twitter, which he acknowledged has been instrumental in fuelling online narcissism and an upheaval in global politics. I still use Twitter happily but decided to reassess how I use it and other similar social media sites. I now post almost nothing to Instagram and I have focused my own following list on Twitter to those in whom I really have interest. It also helps in being able actually to read all of the content that you follow, rather than having an endlessly scrolling feed. I now use Micro.blog instead as a hub for quick thoughts, personal experiences and photos (the last of which I once posted to Instagram).

Sure, Micro.blog isn’t perfect and harassment can still exist there, however, the focus on genuine interaction combined with human content curation (no algorithms) and a payment plan means that users are generally much more engaged and also noticeably friendlier.

If you’re sick of the turmoil that’s often caused by follower counts, likes and excessive hashtags, check out Micro.blog. You own your content, so if you dislike it, you can export your posts and simply take them elsewhere.