iPad update

Herewith an update to this post. 

Since I still don’t have a Mac I can easily use without broiling my fingers, I have continued to work on being a better user of the iPad. I’m running the iPad OS 14 beta, and am find it very useful to create Shortcuts for common actions and put them among the other widgets and also directly on the Home screen. For instance, here are my widgets:

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For those top two I created emails addressed to myself with the students in those classes BCC’d. So when I need to email my classes, as often I do, I just tap the relevant widget and an already-addressed compose window appears. Then I type the email, hit send, and I’m back where I was. Very neat.

The Daily widget opens a spreadsheet in Numbers where I keep track of various daily activities (exercise, food, and the like). I don’t need an additional app for that kind of thing because the one-tap access to a particular file fulfills that function.

Yeah, it’s hot in Texas.

The Drafts widget allows instant access to an app that I have come to love and rely on heavily. The library of add-ons for Drafts makes the app almost infinitely customizable and automatable. Most of what I write starts in Drafts, and many things finish there as well, because I can send text messages directly from Drafts and likewise post directly to my micro.blog page. (Posting directly to this blog from Drafts doesn’t seem possible right now but I am working on it.)

Here are some Shortcuts I’ve added to my Home Screen:

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The “Reading Mode” shortcut is one from Apple that I have edited to meet my needs. When I tap it, it (a) puts my iPad in Do Not Disturb mode for a pre-set number of minutes, (b) starts up my preferred background sound in Portal, and (c) opens my Kindle app. The “St. Alban’s” shortcut also puts the iPad in Do Not Disturb mode and opens my parish’s YouTube page. I do this each weekday morning at 7:30 — well, okay, most weekday mornings at 7:30, which is the time when one of our priests, either our rector Aaron Zimmerman or our associate rector Neal McGowan, says Morning Prayer for his socially-distanced flock. Note that Apple allows me to choose an appropriate glyph for my “church app.”

There are still some things I need to do that I can’t do from the iPad, or can do only with great difficulty, but those are growing fewer in number. Certainly I’ve never had a Mac that was as precisely calibrated to my needs as this iPad is, though I suppose I could have had one if I had devoted enough attention to apps like Keyboard Maestro, or to the power of AppleScript. But Drafts and Shortcuts make automation very, very simple. It wouldn’t be easy for me to abandon the system I have developed over the past few months.

betwixt and between

My employer, Baylor University, graciously provides me with a computer, a MacBook Pro; but it also loads that computer with a whole bunch of enterprise software apps that from the perspective of an IT manager are useful but from the perspective of a user are sheer malware. The chief problem: these apps eat CPU cycles at a terrifying rate — consistently over 100%, sometimes spiking to 300% or more, which I didn’t even know was possible — which means that the computer’s fan runs full-speed all the time and the computer is still too hot to touch. As a result, I’ve had to turn the laptop into a desktop by hooking it up to an external monitor and keyboard, which works just fine … but I really need a machine I can carry around. So I started shopping for one.

If this had happened a year ago, I would have bought another MacBook straightaway; but the release of the new iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard complicated the choice for me. Not to prolong the suspense: I bought the iPad, and have been using it for a couple of months now; recently I’ve been using it full-time, because the MacBook Pro is in the shop to have its battery replaced.

How do I feel about my choice? It’s complicated.

On the plus side:

  1. Everything about the iPad is faster: It starts up, wakes from sleep, connects to Bluetooth devices faster, and connects to WiFi networks far more quickly than the Mac does.
  2. Its battery life is roughly three times that of my Mac. (No matter what Apple promises, my portable Macs always get 4–5 hours of battery life at most. If I get on a Zoom call that goes down to two hours.)
  3. The Magic Keyboard is fabulous to type on, better than any other keyboard I own (and I have several).
  4. Annotating PDFs with an Apple Pencil is an elegant experience (and using the Pencil is only going to get better with iPad OS 14). This matters because I read a lot of PDFs.
  5. Generally, the modularity of the iPad, its usability in a variety of configurations, is delightful.

On the minus side:

  1. The best software for the iPad is elegant, but rarely is it as powerful as its Mac equivalents. For instance, no text editor on the iPad has even a quarter of the functionality of BBEdit. There’s no blogging app remotely like MarsEdit.
  2. Because the iPad is so thoroughly sandboxed, it is impossible to create the kind of system-wide utilities that accelerate and simplify work on the Mac, especially repeated tasks. There are a number of individual apps on the iPad that support TextExpander, but on the Mac TextExpander works everywhere. You can’t have a Keyboard Maestro or a Hazel for the iPad. You can, of course, create Shortcuts that perform some of the tasks those utilities perform, but you have to run those shortcuts. Nothing happens automatically.
  3. For similar reasons, you can’t control the sound inputs and outputs on an iPad the way you can on the Mac: the magnificent audio software from Rogue Amoeba simply can’t be made for the iPad. (By the way, Apple’s App Store polices make it difficult for Rogue Amoeba even to make Mac apps, as they explain here.)
  4. While the Magic Keyboard’s trackpad works quite well most of the time, some apps don’t support it well, and it still behaves inconsistently at times. That should get better over time, though.
  5. The iPad has no Terminal.

What’s my overall verdict? Honestly, I just don’t know. I wrote this post for myself, as a way of trying to figure out whether I should have bought the iPad, but also as a way of figuring out what I should to in the future. Right now I don’t have much of a choice: I have to make the iPad work for me. But I have a feeling that as time goes by I’m going to be increasingly frustrated with its limitations.