iPad Productivity Report – 11/21/2016

Which iPad, how’s the Pok3r, and reader questions.

A Quick Typing Update

This past Saturday I received the Pok3r mechanical keyboard for my iPad setup. My initial impressions of this keyboard are very high — I think this maybe the keyboard for my iOS setup. I’ll have more to report on this in the coming weeks, but I will say that my shift away from the Smart Keyboard to a mechanical keyboard seems to have been the right move on the surface of it. But also a costly one, as I am now trying to find out how to get one of these keyboards.

On thing I do need to point about about the Pok3r is that it can be powered (with backlight) from one of the non-powered USB Camera Connection kit adapters. This greatly simplifies the setup and overall aesthetics of having a mechanical keyboard and iPad Pro.

Of course I would have to complicate matters, but that’s a matter for another time.

Power Apps

A common question I get, which I actually find pretty boring: which apps do you use the most. The apps I use the most are:

  • Ulysses: everything writing.
  • OmniOutliner: everything outlining and planning.
  • Coda: every update to my websites.
  • Transmit: moving files.
  • Pixelmator: pretending to be good at tools like this.
  • Workflow: automating the tedium.
  • Pythonista: stealing scripts others have found to automate the tedium, thanks Viticci.
  • Prompt 2: restarting MySQL when it shits the bed.
  • Screens: fixing my Mac mini server when it shits the bed.
  • 1Blocker: keeping shit from hitting my eyes.
  • Notes: notes.
  • 2Do: tasks.

I think the far more interesting apps are the ones not listed above — the ones I perhaps don’t use as often, but which are still very powerful and useful. Let’s look at those.

  • Soulver: I still contend that this is the best way to calculate, and I use the shit out of this app. A lot of people swear by Pcalc, but like using an iPad for everything, I think if you can mentally shift to calculating with Soulver, you are better off in the long run. I also love that I can save a calculation, or reference prior calculations later on. Insanely good app.
  • Ferrite: What an amazing tool for recording and editing audio. I don’t podcast very often anymore, but the handful of times I have used this app, it has impressed me. This is exactly the type of app I love to see being made for the iPad.
  • Documents 5: if you complain about a lack of file system on iOS, then get this app. Otherwise get this app because it is very handy. It’ll download just about anything from just about anywhere and then try to open it. It’s also the best way to unzip and zip up files.
  • Pages: I think Pages gets a lot of flack, but I actually couldn’t do my work without Pages. It is where I write, edit, and comment on proposals and contracts. I have all our templates loaded up and ready to go, seamless.
  • Numbers: I don’t think Numbers is the greatest app on the iPad, but it is the best spreadsheet on the iPad I have found and it is just so simple. I very rarely use this, but when I do, I really enjoy it. I will say, it needs to get over some of its limits though.
  • Web Tools: This is an amazing app for troubleshooting web development. I often run into times when I need to see the console output, or just inspect a website — this is the tool I use for that. It’s something you just have on your iPad, because when you need it, not only do you need it, but it’s the best.
  • OmniGraffle: I think I’ve used this just a few times, but it is surprising how great of a tool it is. Top notch — I’ve never even owned the Mac version of the app, just the iPad version.
  • iCab mobile: there are times when I encounter a website that will simply not show me a non-mobile version of the site. Or times when the site freaks out because I am on a mobile browser. Or times when I really need to do something odd on a website. For all of those times, iCab mobile is the browser I use. It’s so robust, and so handy.
  • AnyFont: The company I work for has a large set of fonts we use for documents sent out to clients. On the Mac this isn’t an issue, we just install them all in a few clicks and call it a day. However, on iOS, this is an issue, but I get around it with AnyFont. This app allows me to grab any font file and install it on the iPad as a selectable font system wide. It’s insanely tedious, requiring many taps, passwords, and screen changes for each font weight and font style. However, it’s essential and been around for a long time.

On the one end of the spectrum you have apps like OmniGraffle, and on the other you have AnyFont — but the fact that both exist to fill needs on the iPad (from simple to complex) is what proves to me the iPad is a true computing platform for users. An app like AnyFont doesn’t exist if the tool isn’t being using in a wide variety of settings. Likewise a tool as expensive to create as OmniGraffle doesn’t exist for iPad if there isn’t a real market for it.

I find talk of these apps in aggregate to be rather boring, but it’s an often asked question — so there you go.

Reader Questions

Markus O. asks:

I have not yet gone 100% iPad, but I am trying to get closer to it every week. One of the biggest problems, or maybe just a concern so far, is ergonomics. I have a 9,7″ iPad Pro and while I love to get work done on it, I really feel like all this looking down on my device, no matter how I sit, isn’t good for my neck. I also feel like lifting my arm up and touching the screen is a lot more of an effort compared to using a mouse. How do you work with your iPad, and do you have any ideas about improving ergonomics when using an iPad a lot?

Move around a lot. One of the advantages to the iPad is that it is easy to pick up and hold, and set back down to type. Typically I read with the device in my hands, write with it propped up higher, and do other work in more of a traditional laptop mode. I’m also not always at my desk, perhaps I’m in my reading chair in my office, or just pacing around while I hold the device.

Ergonomics is perhaps the biggest concern of mine with long term iPad usage, but it has so far not caused me any neck pain. Whereas my MacBook did when I switched to it for a months long period of time. There’s far less lifting of your arms needed too, if you learn the keyboard shortcuts. Scrolling would be the biggest issue, but for that I (and many others) tend to rest my hand on the desk and use my thumb to flick the sides of the screen for scrolling. It’s actually quite comfortable to do. The thing to remember is that while you can set desktop systems up in a much more ergo friendly manner, you cannot easily move around while using them, but with iPad you can — moving has been shown to be more important than monitor height.

My next question would be about devices used to prop up an iPad when writing, but maybe you want to adress that in the answer you give in the next member post. I have seen a lot of different stand that people use for laptops, and maybe they can work for iPads too.

None of them are very good. I’ve seen people using a wide variety of stands and each one has clear trade offs. I personally believe (despite my distaste for the company) that TwelveSouth’s Compass stand is the best you can buy. It’s decently well made (I had a brand new one break when I opened it just the other day) and compact. If you want something to get the iPad more in the air, I’ve yet to find a stand I’d recommend as they all tend to look absurd, or bounce around too much.

Work in progress — I don’t think most companies assume people want a tablet up high with a keyboard down lower.


Olivier S. asks:

Which iPad would you recommend for going all-in in iOS? I love my iPad Mini 4 and often use it for writing in portrait mode, a bit like a giant iPhone Plus. Anyway, I would like to read a general comparison between the different available iPad models and which one you would recommend.

This is a massive can of worms, and I think it widely varies on what you use the iPad for. But I’d start with asking and answering some questions of yourself:

  1. Do you need or want to draw on the iPad?
  2. How important is color to your work?
  3. How much weight do you want to carry?

This is like picking a Mac, but with far less performance trade offs. I’ve been longing for an iPad mini Pro, but can’t imagine using it for much other than writing notes. I think the iPad Pro 9.7″, or iPad Air 2, strikes the absolute best balance for most people. If your primary use is on a desk and not moving about, the 12.9″ holds a keen advantage there.

The iPad Pro 9.7″ is the most advanced of them all, and yet it wouldn’t be my pick if I could only have one — that would fall to the 12.9″. When deciding between the 9.7″ Pro and the Air 2, it comes down to whether or not you want the Pencil and Smart Keyboard cover. Both are invaluable tools for me, but costly. If you don’t like the Smart Keyboard, then the smart connector is of no consequence as there simply are too few products that use it.

I’m going to be looking deeper into this in future posts, but also remember new models are rumored in early 2017, so it might be best to use what you have for now, and see what comes out later. As for now, look for some deals on the iPad Air 2 come Black Friday, it’s a solid device and a nice way to dip your toes in. If you are just going to go for it, not willing to wait, I personally think the 12.9″ iPad is the best model of them all — I use it about 3 times as much as the smaller iPad. My reservations with the iPad mini 4 are that it isn’t very good when you use split view and that’s one feature that you need to use when you are full time on an iPad Pro. However, if you are just someone who reads and sends emails, or perhaps even just writes, the iPad mini 4 is probably a swell device. I am working on something to better visualize how I look at the iPad models, I’ll try to get that done for next week’s post.


Jordan F. asks:

I use a 12.9″ Pro, and an iMac. But I use the iPad 95% of the time, if not more.. and reaching that point where I’m tempted to go all-in on the iPad and sell the iMac. Only one problem: bit torrenting and playing the media on the big screen. I wondered if you are aware of an elegant (or just plain “can do it” frankly..) way I can manage downloading torrent files, storing the media, and playing it on my TV without a Mac/PC in sight? If I can crack that, I think I’m ready to drop the Mac..

Yeah this one is very challenging. I personally use a remote Mac mini for this, but will admit I haven’t used bit torrent in years. You could also setup something like a Synology at your home to store all your media and to download the shows for you, but again that’s another PC.

There are iPad only ways to do this, but they are certainly not great at all. Services like Bitport.io will download the files for you, and host them for streaming or download — but again this takes considerable time. I’ve yet to see any native iOS apps to do this task for you, but I’d love to know if there are some. This is one of those tasks best left to a PC or Mac — the storage needs alone for storing media like this is also not well suited for iOS at this time.

The more I am diving into iOS only, the more I am realizing that my remote Mac mini is actually overkill. It skews towards having extra computing power, when what I need is extra storage power. I think a Synology located in my home is next up on my tech purchases list. I will say that a Synology running a BitTorrent client, as well as something like Plex could make for a great media setup (assuming you have something hooked to the TV which supports a Plex app, like Apple TV). I was just about to order a new Amazon Fire TV box (to watch The Grand Tour), but I found out I can AirPlay from the Amazon Video app to my TV with fairly high quality results.

All this to say: it’s not so much the downloading of the media that is difficult, but housing it all can be a huge task.

If you have a question for me, get in touch.


Some upcoming topics for this weekly report: choosing the right iPad, the iPad Pro after a year of use, drawing apps, and more on mechanical keyboard usage with an iPad Pro. I’d love to know what you want to hear about, so drop me a line and let me know.