December 2, 2018

Why do I try so hard to use an iPad for everything?

I’ve been trying very hard to adopt the iPad as a tool for Serious Work since at least 2013.

I’m not sure why.

It probably started when Federico Viticci (@viticci) started writing about switching to using an iPad only. He claimed to love, and actually prefer it, even though his posts were full of ways he’d learned to work around shortcomings in iOS and how everything was fine”. Still, it sounded fun.

Many people seem to get along well with only an iPad. I envy them, but why? I’m not at all unhappy with having a desktop Mac or two, and a Macbook or Air or whatever’s relatively portable. What’s the rush?

I’ve had several iPads, starting with the original in 2010. I now have the latest 12.9″ iPad Pro and it’s a wonderful, powerful, beautiful machine.

But…

It’s not a viable full-time device for me. Here’s why1.

The iPad doesn’t multi-task well. Yes it does!” you exclaim. No, it doesn’t. Not really. What it does is pretend to multi-task by letting me glue two apps side-by-side. That doesn’t count, unless your definition of multi-tasking is quite different than mine.

There’s no terminal. I don’t enjoy working on a device that doesn’t offer me a reasonable set of tools available using the command line.

I want a filesystem. I know, we’re supposed to be in a post-files era, but I’m not ready for that yet. Sending files between apps has gotten better, but it’s still awkward, slow, and inconsistent. Having to import photos from a card reader into one specific app just to get them where I wanted them in the first place is crazy-making.

The software I rely on isn’t available on iOS. Software such as…

  • Tinderbox. There is nothing like Tinderbox, anywhere, on any platform. Tinderbox alone is enough to keep me forever on macOS.
  • Capture One Pro. After flirting with Capture One several times over the years, I finally went all-in last year and it’s fantastic. Why would I want something so much less capable just so I can use an iPad? I wouldn’t.
  • BBEdit. There are some nice, surprisingly powerful text editors on iOS, but they’re nothing like BBEdit. (or VS Code, or Atom, or Vim, or Emacs, or…) for dealing with text.
  • DEVONthink. Yes, there’s DEVONthink To Go, which is nice and I rely on it on the iPad, but mostly as a way to get at the stuff I put into the macOS version. I use templates and AI and scripts all over the place in DEVONthink Pro. I would be worse off without them.

It’s not all bad, of course. I really love my new iPad. Here’s why.

Taking meeting notes and annotating PDFs with the Apple Pencil is fantastic. Once I learned to use Notability and LiquidText on the iPad, I’d never want to go back to doing those things on my Mac.

Photo retouching is more fun on a touch screen. I know I said that I rely on Capture One for processing photos, but for actually retouching them, the Pencil and fingers make great tools. I’m looking forward to doing more of it, but until there’s a way that I can reasonably manage photos on the iPad, retouching them there will be more work than it should be.

I’m doing a little drawing with Procreate. I have a soft spot for real sketchbooks and pencils, but the ability to freely experiment digitally is pretty great, especially since I’m not very good at drawing.

The iPad is great when I just want to go somewhere and write something. Calling the iPad distraction-free” isn’t accurate. I’m always just a gesture away from many of the same distractions available on the Mac, but it’s just a little harder to get to them. On my Mac’s 27-inch screen I can often see three or four app windows at the same time2. One of them is bound to hold something I can use to keep me from doing whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing. The barriers to multi-tasking on the iPad make for a distraction-reduced” environment. And a darn fine environment at that.

All this to say that for me to do the things I want to do on a computer, the way that I want to do them, I still prefer using a Mac. The number of things I prefer doing on the iPad continues to increase, and some day it may reach a tipping point. Today, though, I’ll continue using both devices for the things each is best at. There’s no reason to push so hard at switching. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. I’m not sure why I find it hard to remember that.


  1. You may have all sorts of ways to demonstrate why I’m wrong about everything I’m about to write. Good for you. These are my reasons.

  2. Of course I could maximize apps and/or use multiple desktops, but that’s not how I like to work.


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