Nearly one year ago, Serif released Affinity Photo for the iPad as a full-featured photo editing powerhouse. Unlike what companies such as Adobe do, where a Mac app like Photoshop is broken down into less powerful versions on iOS, Affinity Photo was brought to the iPad with no compromises whatsoever. Today, that same philosophy is bringing us Serif's second major iPad app: Affinity Designer.
Where Affinity Photo focuses on photo editing, Affinity Designer is a vector-based illustration tool. And with full support for the Apple Pencil, iOS 11's drag and drop, and system technologies like Metal, the app looks like the ultimate portable design studio.
For a limited time, Affinity Designer is available at a launch price of $13.99, 30% off the regular price of $19.99. If this kind of app in any way interests you, it looks like a steal at this price. One important note is that, similar to Affinity Photo, due to the power demanded by Affinity Designer, it's only available on a select number of iPad models: all iPad Pros, plus the iPad Air 2, and the 5th and 6th generation iPad.
Despite Apple's message that the iPad Pro can be a viable PC replacement because, among other features, it natively supports a dedicated external keyboard, its software still isn't fully optimized for keyboard control. This isn't surprising at all: iOS was designed with multitouch in mind; as long as the iPad shares a common foundation with the iPhone, it'll always be first and foremost a touch computer. The iPad Pro line, however, is nearing its third anniversary, and its external keyboard integration still feels like an afterthought that's hard to reconcile with the company's marketing.
Take multitasking for example: after three years, Split View, one of the iPad's marquee exclusive features, still can't be controlled from an external keyboard. If you buy an iPad Pro with a Smart Keyboard and assume that you're going to be able to assign an app to a side of the Split View, or maybe resize it, or perhaps change the keyboard's focus from one side to another...well, do not assume. As much as Apple argued against vertical touch screen surfaces in laptops years ago, the iPad Pro ended up in this very situation: if you want to take advantage of all the great features iOS 11 offers to pro users, you will have to take your hands off the Smart Keyboard and touch the screen. There are dozens of similar instances elsewhere in iOS. For the most part, the iPad treats external keyboards as inferior, bolt-on input devices.
It's with this context that I want to cover Things 3.6, a major update to the task manager's iPad version that gives us a glimpse into what Apple could do with external keyboard control on iPad if only they understood its potential.
I've been able to play around with Things 3.6 on my iPad Pro for the past couple of weeks. This isn't another "keyboard-centric" update that only adds a handful of shortcuts to trigger specific commands. Instead, the developers at Cultured Code have focused on an all-encompassing keyboard control framework for the whole app, from task lists to popovers and multiple selections. With version 3.6, Things has the best implementation of external keyboard support I've ever seen in an iPad app.
In a recent episode of Connected, we rounded up some of our favorite "iOS little wonders" and Myke was surprised by one of my picks: the ability to launch individual notes on iOS through shared links. The ensuing discussion inspired me to assemble a list of tips and tricks to improve how you can work on an iPad with iOS 11.
Even though I covered or mentioned some of these suggestions in my iOS 11 review or podcast segments before, I realized that it would useful to explain them in detail again for those who missed them. From keyboard recommendations and shortcuts to gestures and Siri, I've tried to remember all the little tricks I use to get work done on my iPad Pro on a daily basis.
After several years of being iPad-only for the majority of my work, I often take some of these features for granted. And admittedly, Apple doesn't always do a great job at teaching users about these lesser known details, which have become especially important after the productivity-focused iPad update in iOS 11. I hope this collection can be useful for those who haven't yet explored the fascinating world of iPad productivity.
Let's dig in.
Tom Warren, writing for The Verge, poses an interesting question: if Apple is going to release a Home button-free iPad, are they going to implement the same Home gesture as the iPhone X?
At its launch back in 2010, the iPad was heavily criticized for being a big iPhone. iOS 11 and the iPad Pro proved that wasn’t the case. Things further diverged with the introduction of the iPhone X, which has led to some confusion for anyone who regularly uses an iPad. I’ve been using an iPhone X and iPad Pro together for nearly six months now, and I often feel lost when moving back and forth between the devices — one with a physical home button, the other with webOS-like gestures. The result is a vastly different user experience, even though they run the same version of iOS on large rectangles of glass.
Now, Apple is rumored to be ditching the home button on the iPad Pro in favor of Face ID. It’s a move that makes sense, and it will present Apple with an opportunity to more closely align its tablet with the iPhone X gestures or to further differentiate the iPad as an entirely different computing platform (one that’s wholly separate from the iPhone, in the same way that the iPhone is distinct from the Mac, Apple TV, and Apple Watch). Either way, Apple is facing an iPad gesture dilemma.
I'm not sure if Apple should strive for gesture consistency between the iPad and iPhone at all costs (personally, I don't find switching between my iPhone X and iPad Pro confusing), but this becomes a fascinating design discussion if the iPad is indeed abandoning the physical Home button.
Assuming Apple uses the same Home button indicator at the bottom of the screen (you can't use the side on an iPad, as that's dedicated to Slide Over), how is the dock going to coexist with a vertical swipe gesture to go back Home? Should you perhaps be able to swipe on the indicator to exit apps, and around it to quickly reveal the dock? Alternatively, what if the half-step swipe gesture to open multitasking on the iPhone X becomes the new way to show the dock on both the iPhone and iPad? If the rumor is true, I'm extremely curious to see what Apple does with gestures on the new iPad.
In the wake of Apple's spring iPad and education event, I've received a lot of questions about how the base-model 2018 iPad fits in next to the 10.5-inch and second-generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro line — does giving Pencil support to the base-model iPad eliminate the need for a Pro-level iPad?
In short, no. But why? Here's how the two models compare, and why you'll probably want to stick with a Pro for more high-level work.
Great guide by iMore's Serenity Caldwell that covers all the key differences between the new 9.7" iPad and the iPad Pro line (including the first-generation models). I should call out two of them specifically: the first-gen Touch ID (it's worse than the second-gen not only because it's slightly slower, but because it fails more often), and the lack of three interactive apps at once when using Slide Over and Split View together.
As I noted yesterday, I think the new iPad, thanks to the A10 chip and Pencil, is a fantastic choice for users who want a solid iPad experience without the extra power of the Pro models. Arguably, True Tone, the Smart Connector, ProMotion, and a four-speaker system aren't absolute must-haves for someone who doesn't need the most powerful iPad experience; the Pencil is a natural complement to the iPad with a broader consumer appeal than other Pro-only features. It makes sense for the Pencil to trickle down into the iPad line.
The iPad is finally starting to grow up.
Despite the device becoming an instant sales phenomenon upon launch, iPad in its earlier years of life was never a legitimate PC replacement – nor was it meant to be. From birth the iPad existed not to cannibalize the Mac, but to supplement it. Steve Jobs called it a "third category" of device, fitting snugly in the space between a laptop and smartphone.
In recent years, however, the iPad has gone through a stark transition. If you want an iPad to supplement your iPhone and Mac, you can still get one in the $329 "just call me iPad" model introduced last spring. But the bulk of Apple's iPad efforts of late have centered on making the device a capable replacement for the traditional computer. The iPad Pro and iOS 11 represent a new vision for the iPad. This vision puts the iPad not next to the Mac, but instead squarely in its place. It's a vision embodied by the question, "What's a computer?"
I made the iPad Pro my primary computer when it first launched in late 2015. The transition pains from Mac to iPad were minimal, and the device has grown even more capable since that time thanks to improvements in iOS. My need for a Mac is now extremely rare.
My desire for a Mac, however, still exists in a few specific use cases. There are things the Mac has to offer that I wish my iPad could replicate.
Now that the modern iPad has many basics of computing covered, here are the things I think it needs to take iPad-as-PC to the next level.
One of the longstanding frustrations with the iPad Pro's Smart Keyboard is that it contains no place for holding the Apple Pencil. Last year Apple released separate accessories – the Leather Sleeve and Pencil Case – that could house the Pencil, but many iPad users still wanted something simpler: a Smart Keyboard with Pencil holder.
Twelve South, with its new PencilSnap accessory, appears to have made that possible.
The PencilSnap is a small leather holster, very similar to Apple's own Pencil Case, but with one significant difference: it includes magnets for attaching to other accessories, including Apple's Smart Keyboard and Smart Cover, and Twelve South's own SurfacePad. While we haven't been able to test the product yet, Twelve South stresses the strength of the magnets and tight grip of the Pencil holder – in other words, they're confident the PencilSnap won't get easily disconnected from its attachment point, nor will the Pencil come loose when you don't want it to.
PencilSnap is available for $29.99 in two colors: Black and Camel. If it works as advertised, it may well become the new go-to Pencil storage solution for iPad Pro users.
For a long time, Apple's App Store review guidelines prohibited apps from downloading executable code from the Internet. The company's original stance resulted in IDEs that couldn't sync scripts and programs across multiple devices – a serious limitation for the emergent movement of programmers embracing the iPad Pro as a portable workstation.
Fortunately, Apple started relaxing their rules earlier this year, allowing "apps designed to teach, develop, or test executable code" to download and run code. Pythonista, the popular Python IDE for iOS (and one of the best pro apps for iOS, period), has been updated this week with the ability to sync scripts with iCloud and edit external scripts in-place using Files' document picker.
As someone who used Pythonista heavily for years and remembers previous rejections based on old App Store guidelines, this is fantastic news. I moved my existing script library to iCloud, which means all my code is now shared between the iPhone and iPad – no workarounds required. Pythonista now supports the iPhone X and drag and drop for importing scripts, but, even better, the app can open scripts and edit them in-place (saving changes back to the original location) just by opening them with the built-in Files picker. This feature makes it possible to, say, use Pythonista as an editor for script files stored in GitHub repositories and managed by Working Copy – all entirely on iOS, and natively integrated with Files.
Version 3.2 of Pythonista gets rid of the most annoying limitations imposed by the old Apple, another sign that the company's approach to professional iOS software has changed over the years. While I don't use Pythonista nearly as much as I did a few years ago (you can imagine why), I plan on playing around with Pythonista 3.2 over the next couple of weeks.
I first linked to Louis D'hauwe's pixel art editor for iOS, Pixure, in March, when he introduced PanelKit in the iPad version of the app. If you've never played around with Pixure and PanelKit, imagine the ability to grab iPad popovers or sidebar panels and detach them so they're floating onscreen like tool palettes would on macOS. I was skeptical of this idea initially – I feared it would overcomplicate the iPad's UI – but it works surprisingly well on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. I know that after using PanelKit months ago, I tried a few times to grab popovers in iPad apps like Omni's, realizing that they didn't support PanelKit.
D'hauwe is back today with Pixure 3.0, another excellent update that, among various enhancements, brings a version browser (a feature more apps should offer on iOS), drag and drop, and advanced export options. With today's release, Pixure also includes PanelKit 2.0, a major update of the framework that now supports pinning multiple panels to the side of the screen as well as resizing them. Plus, your custom panel configuration is now saved across multiple app launches, so once you set up your workspace in Pixure, the app always remembers it.
Even if you're not interested in editing pixel art graphics, I recommend checking out Pixure 3.0 just to play around with PanelKit 2.0. Support for multiple panels on the side is particularly impressive – try, for instance, to resize and stack the Color Picker and Layers panels on top of each other. It's fun and intuitive, and I bet you're going to wish more pro iPad apps offered this kind of flexible, customizable UI. You can find Pixure 3.0 on the App Store and read more about PanelKit 2.0 here.