Writing on an iPad: An Update
Earlier in the week I mentioned I was trying out writing on my iPad, using a bluetooth connected keyboard, and some of you were wondering how that had worked out for me — if indeed it worked out at all. Well, in fact I wrote an episode of my upcoming project The Human Division on the iPad (roughly 10,500 words), so here’s an update.
First, some technical notes: for this thing I used my newly purchased iPad (the 2012 iteration), the Apple keyboard that came with my Mac Mini (it has a bluetooth connection) and a cheap plastic plate stand we had lying around the house. I bought myself one of the Logitech iPad keyboard covers, which are well reviewed and looks like could be useful when I travel. But as I got it in white, it hasn’t shipped yet, and it will probably be a week or so before it does. In the meantime, this setup works well enough.
I tried various word processing options, including Google Docs, my current go-to writing tool for THD, before settling on using Pages from Apple’s iWork suite. I chose it because a) it’s the best-integrated word processor for iPad, as far as I can see, and b) it now saves to iCloud, Apple’s cloud storage option, which means I can write it on the iPad and then go up and write on it some more on my desktop, if I choose. I’m not hugely in love with Pages as a word processor in a general sense, but for what I need to do (i.e., type words with minimal formatting), it does well enough.
In terms of the iPad as a writing device, it’s sufficient but not great; basically you give up a lot of fine motor control in order to work on it. By this I mean that moving the typing cursor around on the screen with your finger is a lot less exact than you can achieve with a mouse or trackpad; likewise other editing options appeared to be constrained or more rudimentary on the iPad than on a standard computer. Even something as relatively simple on a standard computer as italicizing was a longer and more annoying process on the iPad. What I ended up doing was saving a lot of the formatting and editing for when I was working on the computer. This was annoying but not a deal breaker for me, and it did signal that writing anything on the iPad, for the moment at least, will go better if you still have access to a more standard computer along the way. And I do.
If I were a person at Apple, my suggestions would be to make iPages (or, really the whole iOS) have a standard interface emulator, so I could also hook up a trackpad and have finer control over the cursor. It possible this does exist and I just don’t know how to access it, of course. In which case, I’d be happy for someone to show me how to do it (and also how to make smart quotes function on the iPad iteration of Pages, since I couldn’t figure that out, which meant I had to go and find & replace them into the document when I was done).
Now the positives: Writing on the iPad does make it easier for me to ignore the Internet, which considering the deadline I have at the moment is a major plus. It’s also convenient for me to pick up and move about the house; I ended up getting out of my office and writing at the kitchen table, which was a nice change. Since the new iPad has screen resolution better than my 24-inch monitor (2048×1536 vs. 1920×1200) on much less real estate, my typing looks fantastic on the iPad and, well, less so on my previously awesome monitor (yes, I know, I can get a better monitor! Thank you for spending my money for me). And, you know. Writing on an iPad makes me feel like I’m living in the future.
That said, I’m not entirely convinced the iPad — from a UI point of view, not a processing guts point of view — is entirely ready to replace the laptop as the best mobile computing environment for people who actually have to do, you know, work. As I said, if I didn’t have a full computing environment to do formatting and editing in, I think I would find the iPad unsatisfactory. I have some travel in the next month and if my Logitech keyboard arrives on time I’ll give going without my laptop a shot and see how it works. But if it were serious travel, like the travel I did earlier in the summer, I’m pretty sure I would be bringing along the laptop.