For some time now, I’ve been on a mission to see if I could go “full iPad.” I should provide some basic context:
I’m not a “power user” by any stretch. These days, I’m essentially a “knowledge worker,” meaning I need the basic email / calendar / browser combo, along with some basic productivity apps (my company actually uses Google, so my “apps” are all web-based anyway). Because I write books, I do have some specialized needs in that area.
I’ve had a 3rd-gen iPad Pro for some time, and there are numerous great keyboard options. I’m fine with a touch screen; I don’t do a lot of work that requires the precision of a trackpad or mouse (and I use a trackpad over a mouse anyway). Apple Pencil provide sufficient precision for when I need it, and obviously iPadOS does support mousing devices like trackpads now.
I should also acknowledge the basic silliness of my quest.
I’ve used MacBook Airs for some time, and have an M1 Air with 16GB of memory and 1TB of SSD. I love the machine – it’s quiet (no fan!!), blazingly fast, and comfortable for me. It’s poor for media consumption, though. Because it’s not as tightly sandboxed as iOS and iPadOS, content providers don’t enable offline downloads as much on macOS, which means I can’t take movies on a plane and such. Not as easily. And I read a lot of comics on my iPad, and it’s just not the same on the Mac—starting with the screen orientation.
I said it was silly.
The new 12.9″ iPad Pro (5th gen) is basically an M1 MacBook Air with a touch screen and no keyboard. Same chip, same RAM (since it’s ON the chip), same SSD-ish storage. But it runs iPadOS, not macOS. On the plus size, that makes it far better for media consumption. On the minus, it can’t run all my apps. Also, it actually manages to cost more than the MacBook Air (the new mini-LED display is a contributing factor to that).
Now, I should point out that I’m largely a single-task worker. Meaning, I tend to run one app, more or less full screen, when I’m working. It’s in part because I’m accustomed to a smaller screen, where windowing isn’t as much fun. macOS has wonderful multi-desktop support, so I’m used to swiping from app to app on the Mac, just like I can on the iPad. The rare occasions when I need to have apps side by side, I tend to do a 50/50 split or a 30/70 split, which I can do on the iPad as well. I fully acknowledge that this isn’t everyone’s life, but it’s mine.
So it really comes down to apps, and therein came the sacrifices.
First, Photoshop. After I looked at what I really did with it, I realized I could do as much, a bit more, and do it easier, with Pixelmator Pro—which runs on macOS and iPadOS. I’m mainly putzing with book covers, drawing runes for my witchkind series (and the iPad + Pencil is more or less mandated for that task), and other small stuff. Photoshop was maximum overkill for me. Pixelmator is great.
Second, Scrivener, my writing app.
Let me first acknowledge the glory that is MS Word and the lesser glory that is Apple Pages, and then also acknowledge the glory that is iawriter, Notepad++, and whatever the hell else you kids use these days. These are not novel-writing apps. If you’ve never written a novel, you might not ever understand why Word is horrible for it. But it is, trust me. So I’ve been using Scrivener for some time, and I love it.
In order to keep it cross-platform (including Windows), the author has made the choice to handle sync via Dropbox, and it is buggy, unreliable, and ugly as snot. I’ve fully bought into the Apple vision of heaven, and I want my shit syncing in iCloud, and I don’t want to discuss it. Moving between iPad and Mac is hell with Scrivener.
But man, I like Scrivener. The ability to track my chapter outline, write while viewing the relevant outline bit, track character and location notes, and all of that, all in one screen, in one app, is marvelous. It produces flat-out gorgeous PDFs for paperback books (although a major learning curve is involved), and produces great EPUB and MOBI files (which permit only minimal formatting, so it’s an easier job). But the iPad version of Scrivener is dumbed-down, and can’t produce PDFs. Dammit.
Enter Ulysses. This is an Apple-universe-only app, with full feature parity across iPad and Mac (which is easy to do if you set out to do that in the beginning). It has its own learning curve, but it’s actually shallower than Scrivener, and it takes an interesting approach to PDF output: themes. Basically, you can download any of a zillion themes other people have made, and those customize what your output PDF looks like. It also does EPUB, although not MOBI, although that’s fine because Amazon will accept an EPUB for Kindle Direct Publishing.
I’ve started a new manuscript in Ulysses, and it’s going well. Honestly, it’s going great, because it uses Markdown, which I’d already become super-comfortable with when I was publishing on Leanpub. The Markdown runs through the themes when you output, so the themes can heavily customize how things work. Like, four dashes become a scene separator, effectively “extending” Markdown to understand novel-specific markup. Everything lives in iCloud, with a shared folder view right within the app. There’s no “sync;” everything is just single-stored in iCloud (I do run backups to another location, never fear). I can work offline with easy, and it figures it out.
I can even use it to publish articles to this blog, which is just awesome.
All the usual mail / calendar / browsing tasks obviously work well on the iPad.
So… like, I think I might be “there.”
I should point out that one pressing pain point for all of this is that I have to have a distinct MacBook Pro for work. So for the past bit now, I’ve been lugging that, my MacBook Air, and my iPad around, which just Had To Stop. I can hack traveling around with the Pro and either of the other two (they weigh about the same once the iPad is equipped with a decent keyboard), so I needed to consolidate down to just the one. And, as a bonus, while my work doesn’t like us using personal laptops for work stuff, they’re okay with us using mobile devices (like the iPad) for work stuff, provided we enroll the device so they can deploy our work apps (and remote-wipe those, and only those, apps at need). The sandboxed nature of iOS makes it less of a concern when it comes to things like downloaded content, along with the fact that you’re much less likely to download company intellectual property onto a mobile device. So on trips, the iPad can serve as my only device.
(Zoom is a bit of a PITA due to iOS security. I can have Zoom up “next to,” say, a Google Doc during a meeting, but it disables the camera because iOS won’t run the camera if two apps are up. Honestly, apart from that it’s fine.)
The next few months will be the experiment. I’ll keep ya posted, if you’re interested.
Oh, and do feel free to comment. Just keep in mind that you and I have different needs, priorities, and comfort zones—my choices don’t need to be yours, and yours don’t need to be mine, and that has to be okay.