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.

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.

Elon Musk on ‘Recode Decode’ with Kara Swisher

I really need to listen to this podcast more often.

As far as interviews with big corporate bosses go, this is a genuinely interesting and frank one. Musk addresses a range of questions from Swisher regarding the Model 3, conflict online with journalists, the toll on his employees, engineering feats at The Boring Company and more.

Musk on journalists…

Count how many negative articles there are and how many I respond to. One percent, maybe. But the common rebuttal of journalists is, “Oh. My article’s fine. He’s just thin-skinned.” No, your article is false and you don’t want to admit it.

The stress of running Tesla this past year…

It’s been terrible. This year felt like five years of aging, frankly. The worst year of my entire career. Insanely painful.

Confidence in Tesla’s lead over other car companies in software and self-driving…

The other car companies… I don’t wanna sound over-confident, but I would be very surprised if any of the car companies exceeded Tesla in self-driving, in getting to full self-driving. 

You know, I think we’ll get to full self-driving next year. As a generalized solution, I think. But that’s a… Like we’re on track to do that next year. So I don’t know. I don’t think anyone else is on track to do it next year.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts or Overcast and read the transcript on Recode.

Photo Metadata on iOS

With the recent announcement of new 11- and 12.9 inch iPad Pro models, there have been many thoughts flying around online about what does and does not make the iPad a pro machine. There has been a particular focus on elements such as file management and the inability to connect external volumes to the new USB-C port. To me, this will certainly arrive in a future iOS release… Apple would not have replaced Lightning with USB-C on the iPad Pro if it weren’t serious about the iPad as a productivity device. We’re getting there.

For some time, I have been wishing for a particular feature set to be added to iOS, which unfortunately I think is much less likely: the ability to edit image metadata in the Photos app, such as keywords, titles and descriptions. Photos on iOS already has an impressive range of features based on machine learning, such as facial and object recognition, memories and even synchronisation with contact and calendar information to organise photos automatically. With this in mind, I would assume that Apple deems such manual image management as redundant on iOS.

As an example of when this would be useful, this week my wife and I received our wedding photos from our hired professional photographer. She (the photographer) did a fantastic job of culling and editing the selection before giving it to us, however, I wished to add precise locations to our over 800 photos. Also, rather than just dumping them into an album, which I could easily do on iOS, I wanted to include keywords and descriptions, so that they are all easily searchable in the main ‘Years > Collections > Moments’ interface. All of this still has to be done on a Mac, as no native interface exists for this on iOS. Whilst this process certainly isn’t a chore on the Mac and I have no real issue with it, it’s an example of functional inconsistency that could easily be resolved by Apple. Since my images are synchronised across all of my devices with iCloud Photo Library, it’s only logical that I should be able to interact with and adjust these photos in the same way on each device. There are third-party apps that can achieve this but I don’t wish to risk my data privacy.

In its promotional videos, Apple has shown how its new iPad Pro models attach to other devices via USB-C… imagine connecting a DSLR, importing photos and having full, manual control over their metadata. That sounds like a pro activity.

Some people wish that iPads had mouse pointers and trackpads; others wish for laptop-style hinges to prop up the display, such as the Brydge keyboard. These are major design points that can change the entire interaction model of the device (for better or worse). They’re interesting to consider but much of what makes the iPad so enjoyable is that it is a versatile slab of glass. Its minimalism and difference from traditional computers are the things that make it so fun to use.

To me, it comes down to the finer points of software consistency. I don’t want to have to choose which device I pick up based on what it can or can’t do; I want to choose which device I pick up based on how I want to use it: touch or pointer. If Apple can address such niggling points and offer consistent app experiences across its devices, this will see the iPad’s pro status confirmed. With the addition of pro apps such as Adobe’s upcoming Photoshop on iPad, I’m hopeful that we will start to see a new era of feature parity across iOS and macOS.

Podcast: ‘When work stops working’

One of the major topics in the world of work today is the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ or in other words, the current wave of digital automation. As computers and artificial intelligence become more complex and capable, many humans are (and will continue to be) replaced by robots and other digital systems.

Whenever I’ve heard businesspeople discuss this current revolution, it’s often expressed with an unmistakable sense of optimism…

“Think of the benefits! People won’t have to work as much anymore.”

“There will be huge efficiency gains.”

“So many new jobs will be created because someone will have to maintain the robots!”

Those are some of the typical lines that are trotted out by companies today.

I’ve never really been satisfied with any of these assertions, as they always seem to be delivered by people in high-up, managerial positions. Current CEOs and top-level managers get to enjoy their profit today and are unlikely to be affected by future automation. As the global population grows, there is a chance that not everyone will be addressed. Also, not everyone has the intelligence or inclination to become an advanced software developer or robot maintenance specialist. No amount of carry-on about the coding revolution in schools will convince me of that.

I was very pleased to listen to a recent episode of ABC RN’s The Philosopher’s Zone, titled ‘When work stops working’, which deals with some of the issues of modern work. Whilst it doesn’t (and can’t possibly) offer all the answers, it deals with the questions of what work means today in a more considered, philosophical and ethical fashion. Where are we heading? What are the ethics to consider? In a world where no one has to work, how is wealth distributed fairly? How can we change the culture of work? I’m definitely not entirely pessimistic about the future—change is good and inevitable—but the conversation needs to go deeper.

Source: ABC Australia

If you’ve ever wondered what work is actually for, have a listen to the episode. Work is such a major part of our society and it goes on to influence individuals’ personal identities. We should all take much more notice of how our jobs shape our lives.