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Working on the iPad: One Year Later, Still My Favorite Computer

My iPad Pro Home screen.

My iPad Pro Home screen.

Four years ago, I struggled to move from a Mac to an iPad. Today, I only have to open my MacBook once a week. And I wish I didn’t have to.

In February 2015, after years of experiments and workarounds, I shared the story of how the iPad Air 2 became my primary computer. The article, while unsurprising for MacStories readers who had been following my iPad coverage since 2012, marked an important milestone in my journey towards being Mac-free.

As I wrote last year:

Three years ago, as I was undergoing cancer treatments, I found myself in the position of being unable to get work done with a Mac on a daily basis because I wasn’t always home, at my desk. I was hospitalized for several weeks or had to spend entire days waiting to talk to doctors. I couldn’t write or manage MacStories because I couldn’t do those tasks on my iPhone and I couldn’t take my MacBook with me. I’d often go weeks without posting anything to the website – not even a short link – because I couldn’t do it from my bed. I began experimenting with the iPad as a device to work from anywhere and, slowly but steadily, I came up with ways to speed up my workflow and get things done on iOS. I promised myself I’d never let a desk set my work schedule or performance anymore.

Being tied to a desktop computer isn’t an option for me. No matter what life has in store for the future, I have to be ready to work from anywhere. I have to consider the possibility that I won’t always be okay, working from the comfort of my living room. That means having a computer that can follow me anywhere, with a screen big enough to type on, and a higher degree of portability than a MacBook. That means using an iPad. That means iOS.

The past 12 months have cemented this vision and raised new questions. But, more importantly, the iPad and iOS 9 have been essential to launching a project I’ve been working on for years.

At this point, I can’t imagine using a computer that isn’t an iPad anymore.

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Samsung’s Head of Mobile: “We Didn’t Copy Apple’s Design”

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Samsung’s chief of mobile division J.K. Shin explained why the company is heavily committed to the Android platform and why, considering the history of mobile devices, the fight with Apple won’t be “legally problematic.” In the ongoing series of lawsuits between Apple – which first sued Samsung back in April claiming the company copied the “look and feel” of the iPhone and iPad with its Galaxy phones and tablets – a document uncovered over the weekend revealed Samsung’s lawyers asked the court to get access to final versions or production units of Apple’s next-generation iPhone and iPad, so they could evaluate whether the products they’re working on could be subject to Apple’s legal action in the future. The bold move came after a judge ruled Apple’s legal department (not engineers or executives) could see Samsung’s upcoming Droid Charge, Galaxy Tab 8.9, Galaxy Tab 10.1, Infuse 4G and Galaxy S 2 – some of them unreleased devices, but teased and unveiled anyway by the company months ago.

The Wall Street Journal reports the following statements:

We didn’t copy Apple’s design,” Mr. Shin said. “We have used many similar designs over the past years and it [Apple’s allegation] will not be legally problematic.” He suggested the scale of the lawsuit could grow, though he didn’t provide more details.

Android is the fastest-growing platform and the market direction is headed toward Android so we’re riding the wave,” added Younghee Lee, senior vice president of sales and marketing. Samsung also aims to differentiate itself from Apple and other tablet makers by continuing to offer various sizes, Mr. Shin said.

Samsung is a key partner in Apple’s production chain for iOS devices, as also confirmed by Apple’s Tim Cook at the Q2 2011 earnings call when directly asked about what effects the lawsuit against Samsung’s mobile division would have on the collaboration between Apple and Samsung’s component business. In fact, whilst LG’s shipments of iPad displays in the first quarter of 2011 reached only 3.2 million units, a report claimed Samsung shipped 4 million iPad displays in the same quarter. It is unclear at this point what Mr. Shin meant by “not legally problematic” referring to a lawsuit that could grow in the coming weeks, though it appears none of the companies is willing to back down until the court decides or a settlement is reached.


iBackupTunes: Copy, Backup & Share Your iOS Music Library

Released yesterday in the App Store, iBackupTunes by drahtwerk is one of the most powerful music apps for iOS I’ve recently installed on my iPhone and iPad. This time, though, I’m not talking about a new iPod replacement app that aims at enhancing music playback with Wikipedia or last.fm integration: instead, iBackupTunes is “powerful” in the way it lets you copy songs and albums off your synchronized iPod library, back them up locally on your device and share them with others, even wirelessly. Whilst the procedure of importing songs might sound a little too complicated at first, iBackupTunes provides a graphical user interface that makes it easy to choose music, listen to it, and back it up. Read more


Establish Simple Networking Reminders with MicroCRM. 20 Codes Up for Grabs!

Whether you’re a freelancer, a contractor, or perhaps even a technician, life is full of social networking. Everyday we continue to add contacts to our address book, but every so often we come across leads - pathways to financial opportunities. Your leads, who may eventually become your clients, are important to keep tabs on and stay in touch with.

MicroCRM is to tracking these potential contacts as what TaskPaper is to GTD - dead simple.

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MacStories Unwind: Safari Extensions, a CARROT Weather Update, and iWork App Changes

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Sponsored by: Daylite – The CRM with Apple Fans in Mind

This week on MacStories Unwind:

MacStories

Club MacStories

  • Monthly Log
    • Federico on Marvis Pro
    • John on setting up devices from scratch
  • John published the latest Macintosh Desktop Experience column all about his Loupedeck Live workflows
  • MacStories Weekly
    • Craft
    • Federico shares a Working Copy Shortcut for managing hidden folders on iOS and iPadOS
    • John has an iPhone drag and drop tip
    • Club Member JC shares their work setup

AppStories

Unwind


AppStories, Episode 242 – The iPad mini: Small Wonder

This week on AppStories, we go beyond the specs to figure out what it is about the new iPad mini that makes it so special.


On AppStories+, Federico explains how he has begun experimenting with his email setup again and shares a new feature of Working Copy that he’s testing. Also, John reports on the latest happenings in Epic’s litigation against Apple and what it means.

We deliver AppStories+ to subscribers with bonus content, ad-free, and at a high bitrate early every week.

To learn more about the benefits included with an AppStories+ subscription, visit our Plans page, or read the AppStories+ FAQ.

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iOS and iPadOS 15: The MacStories Review

A quieter release for even stranger times.

In my career as an iOS reviewer, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a response as universally positive and enthusiastic as the general public’s reception of iOS 14 last year. From the “Home Screen aesthetic” popularized by TikTokers to the incredible success of widgets and the resurgence of custom icons, few iOS updates managed to capture the cultural zeitgeist as globally and rapidly as iOS 14 did. The update broke out of the tech community and, perhaps for the first time in decades, made UI personalization a mainstream, easily attainable hobby. For once, we didn’t have to convince our friends and family to update to a major new version of the iPhone’s operating system. They just did it themselves.

The numbers don’t lie: five weeks after its release, iOS 14 was already set to surpass iOS 13’s adoption rate; in April 2021, seven months after launch, over 90% of compatible devices were running iOS 14. Which begs the obvious question: if you’re Apple, you’re planning to follow up on what made iOS 14 successful with even more of it, right?

Well, not quite.

With the world coming to a halt due to the pandemic in early 2020, Apple could have easily seized the opportunity to slow down its pace of software updates, regroup, and reassess the state of its platforms without any major changes in functionality. But, as we found out last year, that’s not how the company operates or draws its product roadmaps in advance. In the last year alone, Apple introduced a substantial macOS redesign, pointer support on iPad, and drastic changes to the iOS Home Screen despite the pandemic, executing on decisions that were likely made a year prior.

Surprisingly, iOS 15 doesn’t introduce any notable improvements to what made its predecessor wildly popular last year. In fact, as I’ll explore in this review, iOS 15 doesn’t have that single, all-encompassing feature that commands everyone’s attention such as widgets in iOS 14 or dark mode in iOS 13.

As we’ll see later in the story, new functionalities such as Focus and Live Text in the Camera are the additions that will likely push people to update their iPhones this year. And even then, I don’t think either of them sports the same intrinsic appeal as widgets, custom Home Screens, or the App Library in iOS 14.


It’s a slightly different story for iPadOS 15, which comes at a fascinating time for the platform.

As I wrote in my review of the M1 iPad Pro earlier this year, Apple needed to re-align the iPad’s hardware and software on two fronts. For pro users, the company had to prove that the new iPad Pro’s hardware could be useful for something beyond basic Split View multitasking, either in the form of more complex windowing, pro apps, or desktop-like background processes; at the same time, Apple also had to modernize iPadOS’ multitasking capabilities for all kinds of users, turning an inscrutable gesture-based multitasking environment into a more intuitive system that could also be operated from a keyboard. It’s a tall order; it’s why I’ve long believed that the iPad’s unique multiplicity of inputs makes iPadOS the toughest platform to design for.

Apple’s work in iPadOS 15 succeeds in laying a new foundation for multitasking but only partially satisfies the desires of power users. Apple managed to bring simplicity and consistency to multitasking via a new menu to manage the iPad’s windowing states that is easier to use than drag and drop. Perhaps more importantly, Apple revisited iPad multitasking so it can be equally operated using touch and keyboard. If you, the person reading these annual reviews, have ever found yourself having to explain to a family member how to create a Split View on iPad, tell them to update to iPadOS 15, and they’ll have a much easier time using their iPads to their full extent.

But after three months of running iPadOS 15 on my M1 iPad Pro, I can’t help but feel like power users will still be left wishing for more. Yes, iPadOS 15 brings extensive keyboard integration for multitasking with a plethora of new keyboard shortcuts and yes, the new multitasking menu and improvements to the app switcher benefit everyone, including power users, but iPadOS 15 is a foundational update that focuses on fixing the basics rather than letting the iPad soar to new heights.


While Apple is probably preparing bigger and bolder updates for next year, there are still plenty of features to discover and enjoy in iOS and iPadOS 15 – some that could still use some refinement, others that already feel like staples of the modern iPhone and iPad experience.

Let’s dive in.

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    Fast Capture with Quick Note for iPad and Mac: The MacStories Overview

    When I’m researching, speed is essential. Whether I’m planning a family trip or preparing to write a story like this one, the first step is research, which starts with collecting information. This stage is almost always a speed run for me, no matter the context. That’s because the goal is collecting. Reading, thinking, organizing, and planning come later.

    There is an endless number of apps and automations for collecting information, but I’ve always found that the best options are the lightest weight. You don’t need to fire up a word processor to collect links, images, and text, for example. By the same token, though, a plain text editor doesn’t always fit the bill either, reducing links to raw URLs and often not handling images at all. Moreover, the notes you take are completely divorced from their source, losing important context about why you saved something.

    This fall, when iPadOS 15 and macOS Monterey are released, Notes will gain a new feature called Quick Note that’s designed to handle this exact scenario. Quick Note can be summoned immediately in a wide variety of ways on both platforms, and your notes are stored where they can be easily found again. Best of all, notes can be linked to their source material in apps that support NSUserActivity, a virtual Swiss Army Knife API that enables a long list of functionality across Apple’s devices.

    Notes needs work to make it easier to get the information you gather with Quick Note out of the app, but already, there is a long list of apps that support the feature thanks to the wide use of NSUserActivity among developers. Some years, Apple introduces interesting new features that I hope will take off, but there’s a lag because they’re based on new technologies that developers don’t or can’t support right away due to compatibility issues with older OS versions. Quick Note isn’t like that. Even during the beta period, it works with apps I use that haven’t done anything to support it. As a result, I expect we’ll see many developers support Quick Note this fall.

    Although Quick Note already works well on the iPad and Mac, there’s still more Apple can do to make it more useful. Chief among the feature’s drawbacks is that its capture functionality is nowhere to be found on the iPhone, which is disappointing. There are also many built-in system apps that would benefit from the sort of tight integration with Quick Note that Safari has implemented but don’t yet.

    Let’s take a closer look.

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    Three Weeks with iOS and iPadOS 15: Foundational Updates

    iOS and iPadOS 15.

    iOS and iPadOS 15.

    For the past three weeks, I’ve been running the developer beta of iOS and iPadOS 15 on my iPhone 12 Pro Max and M1 iPad Pro, respectively. Common wisdom says you’re not supposed to install early developer builds of iOS and iPadOS on your primary devices; I have to ignore that since work on my annual iOS and iPadOS reviews starts as soon as the WWDC keynote wraps up, which means I have to get my hands on the latest version of the iPhone and iPad operating systems as quickly as possible. As I explained on AppStories, putting together these reviews is some of the most challenging work I do all year, but it’s rewarding, I have fun with it, and it gives me a chance to optimize my writing setup on an annual basis.

    The result of jumping on the beta bandwagon early is also that, at this point, having used iOS and iPadOS 15 daily for over three weeks, I have a pretty good sense of what’s going to be popular among regular users, which features power users are going to appreciate, and what aspects of the OSes still need some fine-tuning and tweaks from Apple. And with both iOS and iPadOS 15 graduating to public beta today1, I have some initial impressions and considerations to share. You could also see this story as advance work for this fall’s proper review, and you wouldn’t be mistaken: in this article, I’m going to focus on areas of iOS and iPadOS 15 that I’ll also cover more in depth later this year.

    Let me cut to the chase: I don’t think iOS and iPadOS 15 are massive updates like iOS and iPadOS 13 or 14 were. There are dozens of interesting new features in both updates, but none of them feels “obvious” to demonstrate to average users like, say, dark mode and iPad multiwindow in iOS and iPadOS 13 or Home Screen widgets in last year’s iOS 14. And, for the most part, I think that’s fine. The wheel doesn’t have to be reinvented every year, and the pandemic happened for everyone – Apple engineers included.

    In many ways, iOS and iPadOS 15 remind me of iOS 10 and 12: they’re updates that build upon the foundation set by their predecessors, bringing welcome consumer additions that, while not earth-shattering, contribute to making iOS more mature, intelligent, and deeply integrated with Apple’s ecosystem.

    If you’re installing the iOS 15 public beta today and want to show it off to your friends, know this: Live Text in the Camera and custom Focus modes make for the best demos, followed by the new Weather app and rethought multitasking controls on iPad. SharePlay is neat but can feel already dated now that more countries are rolling out vaccinations and returning to a semi-regular social life; the new Safari needs more work; Mail is surprisingly unchanged despite the rise of remote work in the past year. That’s how I would describe iOS and iPadOS 15 in two sentences as of the first public beta released today.

    Of course, however, I want to share a bit more about iOS and iPadOS 15 while I’m busy working on my annual review. So for this preview story, I’ve picked three areas of iOS and iPadOS 15 I’ve spent the most time testing and tinkering with over the past few weeks. This year, I’m including a ‘What I’d Like to See Improved’ sub-section for each of the areas I’m covering in this story. I thought it’d be fun to summarize my current criticisms and suggestions for each feature, and it should be interesting to revisit these in the fall when iOS and iPadOS 15 are released.

    Let’s dive in.

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