February 9, 2020

Three weeks using the iPad for work

It has now been slightly more than 3 weeks since I managed to destroy my work laptop (pro tip: laptop + water => no laptop). Instead of spending a couple of days in getting an old laptop in working condition”, I decided to go iPad-only while waiting for a new laptop.

Fortunately, during the autumn I’ve been trying to set up my laptop/iPad/iPhone so that I would be able to do as much as possible from any device, so much of the work was already done. But I hadn’t expect that I would have to actually use it that way.

What have I learned during these weeks? The first and perhaps most important thing is that yes, I’ve been able to most of my work using the iPad (sometimes together with the iPhone). But I haven’t been able to do everything.

Before going into details I better describe what I typically do during a workday:

  • Read and answer email
  • Write notes
  • Prepare lectures and presentations which consists of
    • Writing small pieces of code and test them
    • Make drawings/diagrams in order to explain stuff
  • Generate PDFs from presentations/documents
  • Generate HTML from presentations/documents
  • Do some planning
  • Reading papers
  • Writing longer stuff
  • Calendar stuff

Email

It’s pretty easy to handle emails on the iPad. While Mail isn’t my favorite mail client it does work, I do miss MailMate but for a few weeks Mail is just fine. However, if I was going to have to use Mail for an extended time I would become really frustrated.

Writing/reading notes

Also not a problem, much of my note writing happens in Bear and since it’s works the same on Mac/iPhone/iPad nothing has really changed. I also use DevonThink and it also syncs between my devices, but the Mac version is nicer for serious” work.

Writing code and test it

This is slightly more difficult using the iPad. I’m used to using BBEdit (my favorite text editor and probably my most used program) to edit my files, then depending on the language I run the code using iTerm either on my Mac or one of the departments Linux boxes. Well, it does work fairly well on the iPad using Textastic as the editor and then use Working Copy and Secure Shellfish to connect with the Linux boxes. To access the servers I use Prompt . It works well but it’s not as smooth as I’m used to.

Preparing presentations

Well, here comes one problem. As long as I use my old Keynote presentations everything is just fine. However, I tend to prefer to write new presentations in Markdown using Deckset to make my presentations. But … Deckset is macOS only!!! My solution has been to access a Mac, convert the presentations to PDF and then use GoodReader to make the actual presentation. So this is a significant problem but there is another more important problem, but more about that later.

Graphics

I use OmniGraffle for all my drawings and it’s a really fantastic program that handles everything I need. And yes, it’s available both on macOS and the iPad … but I don’t have the iPad version. Fortunately I haven’t had any reason to make any illustrations yet and hopefully the new laptop will arrive before I need to make one.

Converting documents

My usual combo here is writing in BBEdit and preview/convert using Marked. Textastic can generate HTML but I like the BBEdit-Marked combo better, so I usually save these documents until I get home and can convert them on my old Mini at home. So it works but …

Planning

I use OmniFocus and since it works everywhere” it’s not a problem.

Reading papers

This is kind of fun, here I normally use my iPad so being forced to use the iPad doesn’t change anything. I use Bookends to keep references and papers in sync between iPad and Mac.

Writing longer texts

On my Mac I use BBEdit and Ulysses so this also works fairly well using my iPad. I’m actually using Ulysses for writing this. But if the text contains a lot of code snippets I really, really prefer BBEdit.

Calendar stuff

I have all my Calendars on iCloud so everything already worked. On my Mac I use BusyCal and on iPhone/iPad Fantastical.

The biggest problem

So while I’ve been able to find apps that makes it possible to do most of the stuff I need on the iPad, I haven’t mentioned the biggest problem. The problem that really irritates me is the screen, it’s too small for how I work. Hey, I think that the 15” screen on my now dead laptop is too small - I want my 28” screen back !!!

I quickly noticed that I’m used to have many windows open at the same time. Here is what I’m using when I prepare lectures:

  • BBEdit with several files open
  • OmniGraffle with one window open
  • iTerm with at least one session active
  • Browser usually with a couple of windows open, usually several tabs in each window.
  • Marked (preview)
  • Deskset (preview)
  • Transmit for file transfers

In addition to this I usually have Mailmate and BusyCal running also and sometimes use them as reference for questions to be answered.

In other words I find it quite frustrating to use such a small screen as the iPad screen (I love it for photo editing, concentrated writing/reading, etc) for doing my daily work. Transferring data from one app to another is quite frustrating with only 2.5 windows available.

Files app - hmmm

I have also noted that sometimes the Files app doesn’t really want to copy/move files. So I’m never sure that I’ll be able to move files to the place I want.

All-in-all

It works, I can do most of my work on the iPad (sometimes I use the iPhone to get more windows) but I really want a working Mac again … soon. I really miss BBEdit, Marked, MailMate, OmniGraffle and Marked, and I look forward to use them again. Soon I also need to run LaTeX with some custom Python scripts and there are some command line programs I would like to run locally.

So while going iPad only isn’t realistic for me at work I would have no problems using it on extended business trips or vacations. I would actually prefer the iPad then.


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