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 May 5-11, 2018 Edition

The Ride by Christopher Parsons

During my Master’s degree I was given the opportunity to provide feedback on early work being written by Jim Tully and Jurgen Habermas. Reading their work and thinking about it seriously and critically so as to suggest improvements taught me the importance of grace in feedback and, also, that even superstar scholars produce first drafts that leave significant room for improvement. Most importantly, it taught me that the finished material that I was reading in journals and books came from authors who’s draft writing was flawed, just like my first drafts.1

Engaging with drafts is probably one of the hardest things that you can do, because you want to be as helpful as possible and — at least in academia — that often means being incredibly critical of the work in question. The intent shouldn’t ever be to ‘kill’ the work; whatever criticism is provided ought to be nuanced with the view of improving it. A reviewer should indicate why a particular section, or paragraph, or sentence is a problem, provide ideas for resolving the tension if any come to mind, and even suggest alternate ways of thinking about the idea, concept, or text under review. At all points the goal should not be to edit and critique, not for the sake of editing and engaging in critique, but instead in the service of supporting the author so that their work communicates their ideas, descriptions, and conclusions in the most concise and illuminating ways possible.

Because the first authors I provided serious feedback to were paragons in my field at the time I had to be careful, nuanced, and generous in my comments. I had to really engage with the work and not give it a quick read and spit out half-baked analyses and critiques. Unfortunately, not enough reviewers of academic texts provide this kind of thoughtful response, likely because most reviewers are rushing to read and review the piece so they can get to their own commitments. As a result, comments and feedback can be abrupt, not engage with core arguments, and be overly brief to the point of being unhelpful to the author.

Reviewing is one of the most thankless jobs in academia, and more broadly in the literary community. Authors know the importance of strong reviewers. But this reviewing element of the writing process is entirely invisible to people who just read the finished work and, by extension, leads to conclusions that authors somehow produce brilliant prose out of nowhere. Lost is the fact that all manuscripts are really multi-authored; it’s just that the ‘lesser’ secondary authors who engage with the author at the earliest stages to course correct the text, to provide suggestions, and to suggest different phrasings, are left off. And that’s perfectly fine. But I think that it’d be a lot less scary for people to start writing if they realized that the process writing almost always involves a large number of non-authors who help to evolve a work from first to final draft, and how significantly ideas and intentions behind a work’s publication can change from inception to conclusion. In effect, I think it’d be useful to know that the ‘stars’ in any given literary field stand at the forefront of a small army of helpers, assistants, and supporters, as opposed to heroically on their lonesome with their finished manuscripts.


The Paywall Craze

Paul Om wrote,

… I think the paywall craze which is sweeping the media herd will be a big reality check for the news and magazine publishers. So many of them are drinking their own spiked kool -aid. They will soon realize the size of their “real audience” and will soon realize that they don’t pass the “value for money” threshold. There are very few publications that have a feeling of must-reads and must-haves.

This feels pretty dead on; the issue, today, is that there is so much content that the act of choosing is the hard part. I think that the only content that is going to be subscribed to is either that which is regarded as essential to someone’s life or that they spend money on in order to focus their time and attention on it. Sure, there’s some popular media that will survive a shift to paywalls but I suspect a lot of organizations will realize just how little their readers actually value what was being produced. And that’s going to hurt for the media organizations and for the writers working there.


Inspiring Quotation of the Week

In many ways, fame is the industrial disease of creativity. It’s a sludgy byproduct of making things.

—Mike Myers

Great Art

I really love these illustration by Jenn Woodall

May banner by Jenn Woodall

Know Your Enemy by Jenn Woodall

Painting for ‘GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS’ who at Northern Contemporary Gallery by Jenn Woodall

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

  1. I mean, their work was more complex and nuanced that my work at the time. But in all our cases the first draft was the first stab at explaining and arguing instead of being the first and final word(s).
Aside

2018.1.23

Good: I’m on track to getting a bunch of writing done today! Bad: It’s writing that was foisted on me by an external party and the writing is to their (immediate) deadline. Depressing: All of the writing might get tossed away should their editor decide to can the story.

The reality of a day in the life of a public intellectual…

Aside

2018.1.19

Peer review is a hit and miss proposition. Sometimes whoever reviews the work is clearly unsuitable. Other times the reviewer’s suggestions would have you write a totally new paper. And other times the reviewer shows how the argument you’re making can be helpfully deepened and strengthened. That last kind of review is rarer than it should be but, when you experience it, can help to transform a good paper into a considerably stronger and more meaningful piece of work.

The Roundup November 19-24, 2017 Edition

It’s another week closer to the end of the year, and another where high profile men have been identified as having engaged in absolutely horrible and inappropriate behaviours towards women. And rather than the most powerful man in the world — himself having self-confessed to engaging in these kinds of behaviour — exhibiting an ounce of shame, he’s instead supporting an accused man and failing to account for his past activities.


I keep going back and forth as to whether I want to buy a new Apple Watch; I have zero need for one with cellular functionality and, really, just want an upgrade to take advantage of some more advanced heart monitoring features. The initial reviews of the Apple Watch Series 3 were…not inspiring. But Dan Seifert’s review of the Apple Watch Series 3 (non-LTE) is more heartening: on the whole, it’s fast and if you already have a very old Apple Watch and like it, it’s an obviously good purchase. I just keep struggling, though, to spend $600 for a device that I know would be useful but isn’t self-evidently necessary. Maybe I’ll just wait until Apple Canada starts selling some of the refurbished Series 3 models…


While photographers deal with Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS), which is usually fuelled by the prayer that better stuff will mean better photos, I think that writers deal with the related Software Acquisition Syndrome (SAS). SAS entails buying new authoring programs, finding new places to write, or new apps that will make writing easier, faster, and more enjoyable. But the truth is that the time spent learning the new software, getting a voice in the new writing space, or new apps tend to just take away from time that would otherwise be spent writing. But if you’re feeling a SAS-driven urge to purchase either Ulysses or iA Writer, you should check out Marius Masalar’s comprehensive review of the two writing tools. (As a small disclosure, I paid for Ulysses and use it personally to update this website.)


New Apps and Great App Updates from this Week

Great Photography Shots

If tapeworms are your thing then there’s some terrific shots of them included as part of an interview with tapeworm experts. A few gems include:

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Image

chartier:

Robb Lewis lays out everything you need to understand about the SEO industry in < 256 characters.

I’ve been with “professionals” who jeer at notions that content matters, or that you can get people to care/read anything longer than 300-500 words. Been told that my long form writing is a death sentence if I want to disseminate ideas. Words can’t express how glad I am I never took their “advice”.

Valve’s Handbook for New Employees

Valve’s Handbook for New Employees has made its way to the Internet. While such handbooks are normally incredibly dull – I mean, really, who hasn’t almost fallen asleep or committed suicide to escape reading one? – Valve’s is excellent.

It lays out corporate culture, modes of engaging with other employees, identifying tasks worth doing, and how the company actually functions. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and is scattered with jokes. Valve has, effectively, created a whimsical and useful document that embraces employees. Employers could learn from what Valve has done.