Productivity and the iPad Pro: A Policy Wonk’s Review

Tools by Christopher Parsons
Every time Apple announces a new iPad, a slew of technology reviewers and YouTube personalities ask whether the newest iPad can finally replace a laptop. And, in almost every situation, they argue that the device can mostly, but not quite, serve as a replacement. But reviewers’ workflows—often involving film production, audio editing, and other marginally esoteric requirements—tend to be pretty different from those of non-AV professionals.

I don’t make videos for a living, nor do I engage in audio engineering. I’m a professional policy wonk and amateur photographer, which means that I do a lot of national video and audio interviews, a lot of writing and text-based communication, some image editing, and depressing amounts of media consumption. I also read a crazy numbers of PDFs and have to annotate them. And for the past two weeks I was consigned to work off my iPad Pro (2018) and iPhone Pro because my MacBook Air was getting its keyboard repaired.

So how successfully did I continue to work just from my non-laptop devices? Spoiler: it was pretty great and mostly convinced me I can lead a (mostly) iPad Pro work life.

The Tools

As mentioned, the hardware that I principally relied on included my iPad Pro 11” (2018) and iPhone Pro.

For the iPad I also had a Logitech Bluetooth keyboard and a Magic Trackpad, as well as a cheap stand. For importing my photos, I have an old USB-C hub that has a SD card reader. For the iPhone, I routinely used a knock-off Gorilla Pod tripod, Manfroto head, and AirPods.

On the software side of things, I used Mail, Pages, Wire, GoodNotes, Mendeley, Reeder, Photos and Darkroom, Safari, Google Drive and Docs, Tweetbot, and Apple Notes to get my daily work done on the iPad Pro.

For interviews I was at the mercy of whatever the interviewers wanted me to use on my iPhone Pro, which was usually either FaceTime, Skype, Signal, WhatsApp, or Zoom, and I used Google Meet for non-broadcast communications.

Successes

The Setup by Christopher Parsons
On the whole I was able to do everything using my iPad Pro and iPhone Pro that I was doing when I was relying on my MacBook Air and iPhone Pro. My reading and writing were largely unimpaired, and my communications with colleagues were not noticeably affected.

Specifically, I was able to continue importing and editing photos, and worked in Google Docs and Drive to leave comments and contribute to documents that were in progress. Email continued to be dealt with using the native client, and I kept on working on Word documents using Pages. Apple’s cloud storage meant I had access to all my files on my iPad, just as on my MacBook Air.

Working with PDFs was simple and easy: I imported them to GoodNotes and shared them into Mendeley after I’d annotated them. I then deleted them from GoodNotes to avoid having multiple iterations of a document in different apps.

All of my communications were easy to maintain, though it was admittedly annoying to have to pick up my phone whenever I received or needed to send a message in WhatsApp. It’d be great if Facebook committed to the service, and made it available on all iOS devices like Signal has already done.

Minor Annoyances

There were one or two things that were annoying. I had to take a photo with government identification, and then strip away some of the more sensitive information. It took me a bit of time to figure out that I could move the photo into Notes, scratch out the offending information, and then output the edited photo to Files to then be uploaded. But it was annoying, not impossible.

I also continue to struggle with a good blogging process on iOS devices. I used Ulysses for years but the lack of new updates for non-subscription users was grating. Other non-subscription-based apps, however, don’t really support images as well nor upload as nicely to this blog. So I’ve actually started using the (mediocre) WordPress client. It’s not impressive, but neither are any of the other clients.

Major Pain Points

First, Google Docs is a terrible application that doesn’t work well. Period. In documents where there are a lot of tracked changes and comments it becomes basically non-functional. It got so bad that I’d write text in Apple Notes and then just copy it into Google Docs, or else I’d be stuck waiting for minutes for a sentence to finally be input. Google Docs is generally a dumpster fire, though, and it’s a shame that Google hasn’t properly developed their app or service in all the years that Google has operated it. (In my MacBook Air, editing in Safari is only a marginally better experience. Google really needs to get its act together.)

Second, Slide Over is incredibly confusing to get working. I’ve owned an iPad for years and it was only in the last two weeks that I finally figured out how to control it, and doing so required watching an instructional video. It is bonkers that this feature is so unintuitive to use and yet so easy to trigger. That said, once I figured it out, it was a very positive and transformative productivity enhancement.

Third, I absolutely needed my iPhone for actual video conferencing. The iPad can do conferencing, but it’s form factor sucks for this kind of activity. That’s fine, and I’d be doing the same if I was doing interviews or video chats with a working MacBook Air in my possession. Still, you’re going to want another camera (and a headset with microphones) if you need to so high(ish) quality calls when you’re working purely from an iPad Pro.

And that’s really it. Beyond the Google Docs app being a trash fire (and, I would point out, it is also just a less-bad trashfire when accessed using Safari on a MacBook Air), the inane complexity of Slideover, and need for a separate device for video calls, the iPad Pro pretty nicely replaced my workflow on the Air. I missed the slightly larger screen, but not so much that it was a real issue.

Concluding Thoughts

I really appreciated and liked using my iPad Pro and iPhone Pro full time. It was easy to set up and tear down. It let me get my work done with fewer distractions than on my MacBook Air. And the screen is noticeably higher quality than the Air.

So if you have a relatively writing- and speaking-focused job, and are doing neither a lot of video or audio editing (or, I suspect, spreadsheet work) then the iPad Pro could be a good fit for your workflow. Does that mean that it’s better than working off a laptop? Nope! But also that what a lot of reviewers consider to be ‘normal’ and what authors and policy folks think are ‘normal’ are very different, with the latter category being pretty well supported on iPad Pros.

The Roundup for February 1-15, 2019 Edition

Rest, Deeply by Christopher Parsons

Welcome to this edition of The Roundup! Enjoy the collection of interesting, informative, and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee or grab yourself a drink, find a comfortable place, and relax.


A few top of line thoughts concerning the iPad Pro 11” versus the iPad 9.7” (2017).

  • The weight increase on the iPad Pro is really noticeable and makes holding it aloft for long periods of time less pleasant;
  • FaceID is magical. It’s just amazing to have a device with it;
  • iPad Pro’s screen is terrific. Hands down, the best screen I’ve ever used on a device;
  • Apple Pencil is really amazing for taking notes with (side note: GoodNotes seems pretty good?) but it took me forever to figure out wtf was going on when I couldn’t use it on a recent trip. The issue? The nib wasn’t fully secured and there were no indicators to alert me to the problem;
  • iPad Pro’s speakers are so good that I don’t need to bring a separate portable speaker with me (which I’ve done while travelling for years). Massive win for a regular traveller;
  • Battery life is amazing, as is true of all new iOS devices, though I wonder how that will change over time…
  • New ‘SOS’ features — with no explanation when I was setting up the device — meant that it was initially a pain to take the device through a border checkpoint (pro tip: press power + volume up);
  • Once more: the screen is just amazing crazy good.

Do I recommend iPad Pro? Kinda sorta? If you do a lot of professional work on it or require a secure device and can’t live in ChromeOS (i.e. the Venn circles I live in) then it’s a terrific option. Otherwise…consider whether the 9.7″ (2018) iPad is better for your life (and pocketbook).


Inspiring Quotation

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go do that. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.”

— Harold Whitman

Great Photography Shots

The top 25 photos posted to Flickr in 2018 are just absolutely stunning.

Music I’m Digging

  • DaniLeigh – The Plan // I’ve even listening to this album on repeat for days: the tracks alternate between melodic singing and stronger hip hop vibes. Tracks I’m particularly fond of include ‘The Plan’, Do It to Me’, ‘Blue Chips’, ‘Easy’, and (of course) the breakout track ‘Lil Bebe’.
  • Joy Crookes – Reminiscence (EP) // Crooke’s soft and husky voice powerfully communicates the emotions and experiences she has lived through and contemplated. Her experiences with relationships and social expectations — in particular, that she should change her life to accommodate a man — are both erudite and communicate both a willingness to engage in introspection while expressing self-confidence in who she is at the time of writing the respective songs.
  • Hauschka – A Different Forest // A piece of classical music that communities the experience of passing through nature, this newest album by Hauschka complements their broad and excellent body of work.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • The Economist: It’s note easy: the Green New Deal // We might be approaching a time where the primary threat to human civilization — catastrophic climate change — is becoming a ‘real’ political issue. This episode of The Economist takes a look at the proposed Green New Deal in the United States of America and, to my listen, does a good job in assessing what’s been proposed thus far as likely more an affirmation of principle than a proposal of actions and activities.
  • The Sporkful: Dan Savage Recommends A Polyeaterous Lifestyle // I’ve always found Dan Savage’s advice to be blunt, direct, and helpful. His discussions on The Sporkful are no different. Though not novel, his suggestions about romantic days (i.e. sex, first, dinner second) just make good sense, and his thoughts on not badgering your partner to do things that you like but they don’t are similarly common sense and likely to enable partners to live independent and fulfilling lives.
  • The Sporkful: Why Roy Wood Jr. Sees Pros To Bad Service And Confederate Flags // Roy Wood Jr. is a comedian. He’s also African American, and tours the entirety of the United States of America. As a result, he’s often in states where his body is perceived as either threatening or as something to be harmed. His discussion of what it’s like to try and determine ‘Is this a white person who’s going to harass or try to kill me?’ served to, again, remind me about the structural racism that is built into society and needs to be remedied. Unrelated, it was interesting to hear him talk about the relationship he had with his father and how, in Wood Jr.’s own case, his own parenting approach is as much to behave contrary to how he was raised as anything else. I particularly liked his rationales for not seeking to bribe his child into forgiving past bad actions; the accountability he recognizes in parenting strikes me as helpful for developing productive and positive longer-term relationships in the child’s unfolding life.

Good Reads

  • How the Slice Joint Made Pizza the Perfect New York City Food // Korsha Wilson has written a beautiful homage to New York pizza, and briefly extols on its history — with great black and white photos included! — and argues that the common love of the food truly binds New Yorkers together. I’d be lying if I said this was the most absolutely breathtaking writing, but it does capture the senses in the course of spinning a narrative.
  • European Genocide of Indigenous Peoples in the Americas Cooled Earth’s Climate // The sheer breadth of the harms incurred by the West’s genocide is staggering in human terms. But it’s also incredible that, as a result of land lying fallow, that nature was better able to absorb carbon dioxide and thus reduce the amount of heat trapped on Earth, to the effect of dropping global temperatures. Humanity’s ability to abuse itself while, also, inadvertently terraforming its environment is stunning.
  • Lagos, City of Hustle, Builds an Art ‘Ecosystem’ // The caliber of the art coming up in the emerging galleries in Lagos are absolutely stunning, though it strikes me as a shame that the revolution in the country’s art world is largely taking place in private instead of public galleries. However, the fact that artists seems to be responsible for the revival itself speaks well of the explosive talent in the community that will hopefully nurture itself as opposed to rely on public or private subsidies to find meanings or existence.
  • The Great Myth of Alberta Conservatism // Alberta is routinely cast as an ‘other’ in Canadian politics, by its own politicians as well as by commentators external to the province. A series of myths abound about the province which, largely, stem from perceptions emergent from populist conservatism. Jen Gerson seeks to recast some of these narratives; she recognizes that populism is largely enabled by a perception that Ottawa and the rest of Canada seeks the wealth of Alberta and, in general, regards Alberta as a sub-colonial aspect of Confederation. Her descriptions are useful for appreciating the contours of Albertan populism while, at the same time, indicative that the boom-and-bust province has clung to age-old grievances to the detriment of better relations with other provinces and the federal government. Moreover, it is challenging to believe the province is an actual ‘other’ as a Liberal federal government invests billions in a pipeline for the province’s exports and Albertan-based politicians led Canada for almost a decade. In this way, we see that the myths of Alberta may compose a political identity which fades somewhat when challenged with facts of the modern political era.
  • Can You Get Too Much Exercise? What the Heart Tells Us // As someone who regularly works out more or less everyday that I’m in my home city, I keep being told that it’s dangerous to work out so often. This article by the New York Times summarizes what we know: those who work out a lot tend to build up more plaque in their arteries than those who exercise less often. However, that plaque seemingly possesses different characteristics: it may tend to be denser and more stable and, as such, less likely to break off and lead to coronary distress.
  • Why Won’t You Love Me? // As someone who constantly grapples with a sense of abandonment by my biological father, this piece resonated deeply and strongly with me. My own father’s absence has taught me the value of simply showing up, though I wish it was through imitation of his behaviours as opposed to in contravention of them.
  • ‘Shoplifters’ Director Pierces Japan’s Darker Side // The review of the movie, itself, is somewhat interesting. But where this article thrives is in examining the rationales and philosophy behind the movie. In particular, I was taken by Hirokazu Kore-eda’s comment that: “If you think of culture as something that transcends the state, then you understand that cultural grants don’t always coincide with the interests of the state.” This perfectly captures the difference of receiving money from a government versus from a state.
  • Doug Ford’s TTC subway upload and Margaret Thatcher’s cautionary tale // With more and more concerns being raised that the Ford government is going to steal away Toronto’s subway, this assessment of the ‘successes’ of doing so in London should be sobering. In short, Thatcher’s similar activities led to under financing, corruption, safety risks, worsened commute experiences, and higher costs. Perhaps this isn’t the model that Ontario and Toronto should be mimicking?
  • The Problem With Compromise // The idea that couples’ problems tend to stick around in 2/3 of cases belies the point that compromise isn’t necessarily what will help people navigate challenges together. I liked the proposal that, instead, persons in relationships need to accept differences and subsequently adapt in the face of them. This approach also seems remarkably healthier because it recognizes — vis-a-vis adaptation — that a deliberate act of change is required, but that change might not entail mutual modifications in action or behaviour in all cases. Finally, the idea that expressions of gratitude are central to successfully managing adaptation and acceptance over time resonates with my past experiences: it’s through acceptance and celebration of one’s partner that relationships can truly bloom in the face of interpersonal differences and challenges.
  • My Body Doesn’t Belong to You // This short personal essay is about the negative experiences the author has at the hands and voices of men, with the harassment purely arising because she is a woman. The narrative — to feeling like her body is hers as a child, and now only hers in seclusion from men and with her girlfriends, speaks loudly to the casual misogyny built into Western society, and also to the absolute need to structurally reform social relations. The lines that stuck, and likely will continue to stick, with me the most were: “I am 24, and my body makes life dangerous for me. My breasts, my hips, the way I walk. Any woman’s breasts, any woman’s hips, the way any woman walks.”

Cool Things

  • “Roll High Or Die” spinning enamel pin // A d20 spinning enamel pin? So nerdy.
  • WANDRD Travel Journal Notebook // This looks like a really cool product for people who use paper to organize and record their travels. I particularly like how it’s divided into long, medium, and short-term adventures, and the miscellaneous travel aids included in the book.
  • One Breath Around The World // This is a stunning short video, where you are taken throughout the oceans over the course of a single breath and experience them in their freedom and wonders. Without a doubt its one of the best artistic pieces I’ve seen so far this year.

I Like The Apps, But Not The Design

A new version of the iPad is coming. The latest ‘craze’ around this version is whether or not it will come with a home button. To date, there’s been one particularly strong ‘In Defence of the Home Button’ post by Dave Caolo, which is effectively a listing of all the functions that Apple has tied to the singular button at the bottom of each iDevice.

This button isn’t going anywhere. And that’s really unfortunate, because better – or at least equivalent – options are out there.

The PlayBook is seriously lacking on apps. SERIOUSLY LACKING. But the hardware design of the device is stunning. I don’t need to pay attention to what is up, down, left, or right because of how RIM has integrated the bezel functionality. For a quick overview of the bezel options, check out the video below:

This isn’t to say that the Playbook is a winner hands down. Apple’s home button is linked to variety of accessibility options which are lacking on the Playbook. Also, Apple has a series of gestures that enable similar features as the Playbook, though I’m far less impressed at how they’re integrated. Because of how awkward these gestures tend to be, I tend to just use the home button, which can be incredibly inconvenient depending on the iPad’s orientation at the time.

My dream would be Apple getting creative and bringing the hardware design leadership of the Playbook to the app-rich iDevice environment. I’m not holding my breath through.

Link

parislemon: What If… (Office For iPad Edition)

parislemon:

Watching the back-and-forth yesterday about the whole Microsoft Office for iPad thing was nothing if not amusing. The basic rundown:

It’s coming, here it is.” “That’s not it.” “Yes it is.” “No it’s not, but we didn’t say it’s not coming.” “A Microsoft employee showed it to us.” “No…

MG has an interesting analysis on what Office for iPad might mean. I have to admit, if MS partners with Apple to bring real office software to the iPad then another sword will be levied at Google’s throat. I still – as a professional writer – despise using Google Docs for anything but the most minimal tasks: it just doesn’t meet my requirements for ‘real’ word processing.

The takeaway? Office would add to the ‘professional’ status of the iPad without taking away from the iPad’s ‘consumer friendly’ branding. This would further exacerbate the issues that Google’s tablets face while simultaneously challenging RIM’s own advertising that the PlayBook is ‘the’ tablet for professionals. It would definitely be a coup for both companies against their competitors, and so well worth watching for.