September 16, 2011

What I use the iPad for

I’ve had the iPad since the US wifi launch. I bought the 3G version when it came out, and I upgraded to the iPad 2 with 3G at launch. When Apple releases iPad 3 I’ll get that too. In the short lifespan of the iPad it has gone from web browser to reading device to an actual tool.

Or to put it more plainly, the iPad is by far the most used device, for both work and pleasure.

So what do I really use it for, and how well is it working out compared to the almost always more fully fledged Mac alternatives?

Email and web browsing

To talk about email properly, you need to know my situation. On a regular work day, somewhere between 300 and 500 emails pass my inbox. A lot of those are press releases and other kinds of PR material that are automatically categorized with filters (I’m using Gmail) and as such I won’t have to process them until they are needed. I still get a sizable amount of email personally, as well as more general inquires to Odd Alice, my web agency in Stockholm. All in all, email is a bother and a nuisance and a time thief. I hate it, please tweet me instead.

With that in mind, the iPhone and later the iPad was a life saver. Suddenly I could crack down on the inbox at spare moments, on commutes and whenever I had a minute or two to spare. The iPhone taught me to write shorter emails, something I’ve started doing at all times to ease the load for everyone else as well. The iPad is an even better email device, and although I miss Priority Inbox from the Gmail interface (which I sometimes use) and an interface designed for use of labels, I find the Mail app good enough. I’d wager almost 85% of all the emails I process and send are from an iOS device, where the iPad is just over half of that amount, depending on how much travel I have on that given day.

Think about it, more than 40% of all the emails I send are sent from my iPad. That’s pretty awesome and although I could use another device, the fact that I’m opting to use the iPad more than warrant its existence in my setup.

Mobile Safari
Web browsing on the iPad

Casual web browsing is done on the iPad, but when it comes to googling troublesome errors and looking up parameters for some tag or another, I’m using the Mac since that’s where I’ll need it. The days when I sat in front of the TV with a laptop are over, as are laptops in bed. My iPad is my primary web browser, and no, I don’t miss Flash at all, thank you very much. If anything it has improved my web experience. Take that Adobe!

Writing and publishing

I’m a writer first and foremost, always has been, and as such I’m also obsessed with how I actually write down the words when I really should be writing. Every device with some sort of input method is tried and, most likely, discarded as an Author Creation Engine.

The iPad, however, is still around when it comes to writing. I use it for this more and more, in fact half of the longer blog posts I’ve written for this site and its Swedish counterpart have been written on the iPad. The reason is the same as why the iPhone camera rules Flickr: the best tool is always the one you have at hand when you need it, and the iPad sits in my bag when I’m out and about, lies on the table when I’m home, and next to the bed at night.

I’ll do a separate post on my iPad writing setup, which I’m actually using right now, but it involves a stand and an Apple bluetooth keyboard. I am, however, by no means tied to this. In fact I find that I only bother with it when I know I’ll crank out a whole lot of words, which I’m obviously doing right now. The onscreen keyboard is good enough, I write at a decent speed with it, but even if it had been full-sized it’d be awkvard when compared to an actual physical alternative. Not counting emails, which I just about always type out on the onscreen keyboard, I’d say that 95% of everything I write on the iPad is written without any additional tools. The bluetooth keyboard has no place in my bag, unless I’m traveling.

In the interest of numbers plucked out of the air to prove my point, I’d reckon that 30% of my writing is done on the iPad. This does not count email nor shorter stories I write for publishing online, but longer posts, articles and whatever book project I might be working on count. 30% isn’t a whole lot, and a lot of the time I could just as well pop open my 11″ MacBook Air, but I find it less demanding to just type away in the WriteRoom app.

WriteRoom
This essay is written in WriteRoom

I would write more on the iPad if it were better suited for online publishing. Every site I work on/with when it comes to publishing content runs WordPress and that means there are a bunch of apps available. Problem is, none of them are perfect, far from it in fact. As a blogging tool the iPad will do, assuming you just publish regular blog posts and have no needs of image creation, and very limited needs of image processing, but as soon as you need more custom or advanced features in your CMS, the iPad is lacking. WordPress is, aside from simpler options such as Tumblr and Posterous, to my knowledge the CMS that is best suited if you want to use the iPad as a publishing tool. It will be even better with a future version since that will make the admin interface iPad (and general tablet) optimized, but until then this is not your perfect publishing tool.

However, I will say this: the better the publishing apps get, the more I write on the iPad. This article would be a breeze to publish using Blogsy for example, but I won’t. I find myself writing the posts using the iPad, and then syncing it to the Mac (using Dropbox) for the final edits and the actual publishing. This works pretty well, but it is a shame that a fully functional online publishing setup centered around the iPad still isn’t around the corner.

For the record, I take notes and jot down ideas with Simplenote, although I do that less often on the iPad than I do using my iPhone. My todo lists are in Simplenote, using the web app on the Mac and the universal Simplenote app on both iPhone and iPad. It works really well, especially now that you can share things such as grocery lists with others. I’m a happy paying Simplenote customer. Evernote doesn’t do it for me I’m afraid, and since I now can keep tickets and similar credentials in Dropbox I see no need to revisit the service.

I have yet to actually write a proposal using the Pages app, but it is certainly good enough for it.

Reading and research

A lot of my day goes to reading and research. This is where the iPad shines, truly. My RSS feeds are best read on this device using one of the many great apps out there (I use Reeder). Stories I want to act upon I’ll usually email to myself, or just write-up right away. Some day I’ll do a more elaborate system for managing storycrumbs but it’ll have to wait, this works well enough right now thanks to Gmail’s labels.

I rarely read anything on its website anymore, and although Reeder have a nice interface, everything longer than a few paragraphs gets bookmarked to Instapaper. This is an extremely useful tool, always chock-full with interesting things to read since I bookmark a lot to it. I have no hopes of getting to the bottom of my Instapaper reading list, and that’s fine. Instapaper and Reeder together are preferable to any newspaper out there, and I use them as such.

Reeder
Reeder is my RSS app of choice

PDFs go straight to iBooks and/or Dropbox. I’ve got my whole primary filesystem in Dropbox already and the app does a pretty good job showing me the contents of my files, so I have no real complaints there. The only time I open a PDF on any of my Macs is if I need to pull graphics from it, or if I am to annote something, usually a preview from a book. Chances are that last thing will be done on the iPad in the near future, I just haven’t gotten around to exploring if it works well enough.

I wish the iBooks store were available in Sweden but alas, it is not. Kindle works well enough although I hate having to buy the books using the web browser. Ebooks I’ve gotten from another source goes into iBooks, much like PDFs, which works great. Since I’m cramped for space at home all new books are digital, and I have even started buying up my favorites that I know I want to re-read. The iPad is good enough for reading books, but e-ink is the superior screen technology for this. I get that, and I could actually see myself buying a dedicated ebook reader for reading in the sun, a Kindle most likely, but overall I think the iPad does a great job.

I’ve never been a comics guy, but I do enjoy them every now and then. There are several ways to read them on the iPad, but I’m lazy so I just keep buying them slightly overpriced in apps like Dark Horse Comics and Comixology. Since I don’t want any printed copies littering the apartment, this is perfect.

So yeah, I read just about everything on my iPad. This alone makes it worth the purchase, and it has made me avoid the Mac for reading. I love the way this is going, now just make the iPad 3 lighter, thinner, and give it better battery life. Right, moving on.

Social networking

I’m a pretty avid Twitter user (@tdh for my English tweets, @tdhse for Swedish) so it would make sense to tweet using the iPad. Problem is, I rarely do it because I find the apps available to be, well, bad. The ones that really should be good, like the official Twitter app, are unstable, and the alternatives, such as Twitterific, are just not to my liking. Here’s hoping Tapbots will create an iPad version of Tweetbot for iPhone, the best Twitter client by far.

Facebook? It bores me, but sometimes I need it for events or for one of the pages there (my own for example). Safari does a well enough job with that, the apps available are all less than satisfactory. I do think Facebook will get there with their own app, making it universal and usable for all, but until then I don’t think that browsing Facebook using the iPad is a particularly exhilarating experience. Then again, Facebook rarely is.

Google+ then? This one might grow up to be something, but for now I’m not hooked, and as an iPad user I yet again feel that Google just doesn’t get it. The mobile interface makes sense for the iPhone (although there’s an app there as well) but for the iPad? Laughable, I never use Google+ on my iPad and probably won’t until Google learns to do their site iPad friendly.

That’s about it for me when it comes to social networking. The iPad should be the perfect device for this, but the options are lacking. This surprises me still. Compared to the amount of time I spend using social networks on my iPhone or the Mac, the iPad barely registers a blip on my radar.

One thing I find myself doing more often on the iPad is using various instant messaging protocols. BeejiveIM is my app of choice but there are other options if you want to chat should that one not be to your liking. This works nice, I think, especially when I’m slouching around in the living room. To me, IM is primarily a communication tool for work however, so the Mac clearly dominates my use. Let’s say 10% are from the iPad, and another 2% might be the iPhone for comparison’s sake.

What about design and code?

How I wish the iPad was an option for design work, but it is obviously not. I’m still tied to Photoshop (or Pixelmator when they get their type tool working) and Illustrator when it comes to doing design for various mediums. These applications have features the iPad can’t even begin to hope to replicate, or offer decent alternatives to.

Sketchbook Pro
Mocking up in Sketchbook Pro

The iPad isn’t even an option for the actual design work, but it does have a place in the mockup process at times. I have used apps like iMockups to create mockups of primarily apps but also websites, but not as much as I thought I would. My design process often start on paper (in a Moleskine notebook, obviously) and no mockup app have been able to change that in the long run. However thanks to apps like Sketchbook Pro and Adobe Ideas, I have started to integrate the iPad in the process. Right now I’m experimenting with a pen (!) for my iPad, and I’m intrigued thus far. Expect a follow-up on this, but for now the iPad isn’t really something that helps me do design.

When it comes to writing actual code, yes you can do that, and you can even upload it to your server. I’ll play with that more later on, but honestly it should be a last resort since nothing about the iPad is ideal for writing code. Or, to put it this way: when I can use a 27″ iMac or Thunderbolt Display, why would I want to code away on the 10″ iPad screen? Not to mention why I should settle for decent code editor apps when there are awesomeness like Coda and Textmate on the Mac? Screen real estate is the killer here, every other hurdle is at least possible to sidestep for most of my coding projects. I just don’t.

So no, the iPad isn’t used for actual design nor code. I am trying to incorporate into the design process because I’m curious to see if it is a good idea, but there is a reason there are so many posts and claims that the iPad is a consumption device, not made for creating. While I think this posts shows what a load of crap that is, the iPad surely comes with its limitations.

Pure work-related things

I’m the head of my web agency Odd Alice, and that obviously means I have to use do administrative stuff. We’re two at the Stockholm office, with another employee in another city, and yet another one on a different location. Not to mention administrative personnel, freelancers and clients from all over the world, it is fairly obvious that Odd Alice need to utilize the web for just about everything.

We are still ironing out the best way to manage the company ad-hoc, but the everyday work is running smoothly thanks to BaseCamp, IM, email, Twitter and the occasional phone call. I can do all these things, sans the phone call obviously, using the iPad but aside from email I rarely do. There are BaseCamp apps that I’m told does a nice job, since the BaseCamp website suffers from Google syndrome which is to say that the iPad gets a version made for iPhone, and the desktop interface isn’t tablet friendly. I’ll definitely try some of those BaseCamp apps out, but thanks to email I can participate in discussions on BaseCamp at least (replying to BaseCamp emails will get translated to posts within BaseCamp, in case you didn’t know). That’s about it for work communication using the iPad, for all the reasons already listed.

Spreadsheets from the accountant or our administrator are shared using Google Docs which barely works on the iPad. Sometimes I read them on the iPad, but that’s more by chance than anything else. Apps like Numbers aren’t an option, we need everything accessible everywhere at all times.

All inquiries, style guides and similar ends up in Dropbox (we’ve got a shared folder which have all the company’s files) and that means I can access them on the iPad, which I do. I’d rather read these things on the iPad than on the Mac screen, just like with everything else, so that’s something for the iPad in my work workflow.

Finally, we use iPads at meetings, for keeping notes obviously, but we also bring additional iPads to pass around when we need to show something. This is a more social way to show and discuss work, and it works really well. It also carries something of a dazzle factor which never hurts. It’s something of a bonus that we can buy additional iPads with this as an excuse, as if it were ever needed!

Entertainment and casual stuff

There is no question about that the iPad can offer great entertainment value. I play games on my iPad, mostly casual stuff since the hardcore alternatives are a bit scarce (and also often lacking in quality, as is games on the App Store overall), and am happy to see how this new market develops. The iPad competes with video game consoles (I got them all), computer games, and portables like the PSP and the Nintendo 3DS, which means it rarely is my first choice when I feel like gaming. Unless when I’m traveling or are lying in bed of course, then it shines. There are games that I will play on the iPad in my living room, despite the fact that there is this 47″ Sony Bravia LED HDTV with all those gaming options attached to it, which is a testament to the fact that the quality of games on the App Store is improving. I’ve had some remarkable experiences in games on the iPad and can’t wait to see where it goes from here. So yeah, I play games on my iPad.

Other things I do to entertain myself include watching TV series (usually streamed using AirVideo) and casual web browsing. The iPad doubles as a music player at times, thanks to Spotify (please release that iPad app guys!) and some 20 GB of music I always keep on it. Obviously the sound quality from the built-in speakers suck, so I use headphones or connect the iPad to stereos, speakers or whatever is at hand when I want to enjoy some Bob Dylan or Alice Cooper.

There are some apps I use casually, things like Stumpleupon and Flipboard can keep me entertained, as can YouTube. Sometimes I look up where I’m going using the Maps app, but that’s really the iPhones job. Needless to say, there is always something on the iPad that can help me kill my precious time.

Flipboard
Reading Wired in Fllipboard

Wrapping it up

This is by no means everything I do with my iPad, but it is the tasks that define my primary use of the device. Obviously I love it and I can’t see myself without an iPad. It is one of those things I just can’t understand how I got on without, much like the iPhone was. Apple sure knows how to please me.

That being said, I understand that the iPad isn’t for everyone, and a lot of the things I do with it, you might prefer doing using a computer. That’s fine, I know I’m a tinkerer and that means that I at times will make things a little bit harder on myself. Sometimes, however, I’ll find uses that change my workflow, save time, or are just more enjoyable than their previous counterparts, which is the whole purpose.

Hopefully this article have given you a little inspiration on what you can do with you iPad, and why it is a disruptive device to so many people. I’ll no doubt follow-up on it, with lists of apps I use and whatnot, so stay tuned. For now, just archive it in Instapaper and congratulations on reaching the bottom, well done!

Thoughts? Let @tdh know on Twitter, or find me elsewhere. There is also a newsletter.