When I published my Beyond the Tablet story a few weeks ago, I was optimistic we’d get a handful of iPad-related features and optimizations at WWDC. I did not, however, foresee an entire OS designed specifically around iPad. And the more I think about it, the more I see iPadOS as a sign of Apple’s willingness to break free from old assumptions and let the iPad be what it’s best at: a portable computer inspired by the Mac, but based on iOS.
Posts tagged with "iPad"
Google Docs has long been a huge problem on the iPad, for two reasons. First, Google’s own iPad app is god-awful and the company seems hell-bent on not updating it to work better. Second, Google Docs in Safari on the iPad right now redirects you to that app even if you “Request Desktop Site.”
On iPadOS, however, Google Docs in Safari seems great.
Admittedly, I only spent about five minutes poking around, but I went straight for the stuff I didn’t expect to work at all — and it worked. Keyboard shortcuts for formatting and header styling, comments, cursor placement, and even watching real-time edits from another person in the doc all worked.
In iPadOS, Apple is setting the Safari user agent to the desktop version (previously, Safari on iPad has used a mobile user agent), but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Setting the user agent will cause websites to display their desktop varieties, but those were built with the expectation of mouse interactions rather than touch. There’s a lot more details to uncover here, but it looks like Apple has done a huge amount of work under the hood to make touch interactions work intuitively in the desktop browser paradigm.
We’ll have many more details on the new Safari changes over the coming weeks and months, but at first glance it’s great to see that Apple wasn’t kidding about iPadOS Safari being truly desktop-class.
Today during the WWDC keynote, where Apple unveiled the next major version of its mobile software platform, iOS 13, the company also had a big surprise to share: iOS is now exclusive to the iPhone and iPod touch and has given birth to a new, dedicated operating system for the iPad, named iPadOS.
iPadOS includes all the existing features of iOS, including the host of updates coming in iOS 13, but adds to it a long list of enhancements that address common pain points among iPad Pro users. From an updated Home screen to multitasking improvements, Files upgrades including USB drive support, a desktop-class Safari, and much more. All of these features aim to make the iPad a more capable full-time computer than ever before.
Earlier this spring, in its last major update, Ulysses added Split View editing on the Mac, a feature that was thoughtfully implemented and which I immediately wished existed on iPad. Today, in version 16 of the app, Ulysses on iPad gains its own powerful split view editor, plus adds a new native publishing option: Ghost joins the existing WordPress and Medium integrations.
Way back in 2016, in the era of iOS 9, I laid out the tentpole features I wanted to see come to iOS and the Mac. Now, three years later, so many things from that wishlist have become a reality that it’s probably a good time to revisit the topics that haven’t yet come to pass, and plan a new wishlist for the years to come. I originally planned this list to have a Developer/User split, but it became clear that the two go hand-in-hand; if you’re doing complex things on iOS today, using the various automation apps, you are but steps away from needing the same things that developers do.
Today, Federico published Beyond the Tablet: Seven Years of iPad as My Main Computer, a comprehensive evaluation of the advantages and shortcomings he’s experienced using an iPad as his primary computer. Weighing in at around 50,000 words, Beyond the Tablet rivals Federico’s annual iOS reviews in scope and depth of coverage. As a result, it felt appropriate to release the same sort of extras for this story that we’ve provided for iOS reviews.
For the past seven years, I’ve considered the iPad my main computer. Not my only one, and not the most powerful one I own, but the computer which I use and enjoy using the most.
I’ve told this story on various occasions before, but it’s worth mentioning for context once again. My iPad journey began in 2012 when I was undergoing cancer treatments. In the first half of the year, right after my diagnosis, I was constantly moving between hospitals to talk to different doctors and understand the best strategies for my initial round of treatments. Those chemo treatments, it turned out, often made me too tired to get any work done. I wanted to continue working for MacStories because it was a healthy distraction that kept my brain busy, but my MacBook Air was uncomfortable to carry around and I couldn’t use it in my car as it lacked a cellular connection. By contrast, the iPad was light, it featured built-in 3G, and it allowed me to stay in touch with the MacStories team from anywhere, at any time with the comfort of a large, beautiful Retina display.
The tipping point came when I had to be hospitalized for three consecutive weeks to undergo aggressive chemo treatments; in that period of time, I concluded that the extreme portability and freedom granted by the iPad had become essential for me. I started exploring the idea of using the iPad as my primary computer (see this story for more details); if anything were to ever happen to me again that prevented being at my desk in my home office, I wanted to be prepared. That meant embracing iOS, iPad apps, and a different way of working on a daily basis.
I realized when writing this story that I’ve been running MacStories from my iPad for longer than I ever ran it from a Mac. The website turned 10 last month, and I’ve managed it almost exclusively from an iPad for seven of those years. And yet, I feel like I’m still adapting to the iPad lifestyle myself – I’m still figuring out the best approaches and forcing myself to be creative in working around the limitations of iOS.
On one hand, some may see this as an indictment of Apple’s slow evolution of the iPad platform, with biennial tablet-focused iOS releases that have left long-standing issues still yet to be fixed. And they’re not wrong: I love working from my iPad, but I recognize how some aspects of its software are still severely lagging behind macOS. On the other hand, I won’t lie: I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of “figuring out the iPad” and pushing myself to be creative and productive in a more constrained environment.
In addition to discovering new apps I could cover on MacStories, rethinking how I could work on the iPad provided me with a mental framework that I likely wouldn’t have developed on a traditional desktop computer. If I was in a hospital bed and couldn’t use a Mac, that meant someone else from the MacStories team had to complete a specific, Mac-only task. In a way, the limitations of the iPad taught me the importance of delegation – a lesson I was forced into. As a result, for the first couple of years, the constrained nature of the iPad helped me be more creative and focused on my writing; before the days of Split View and drag and drop, the iPad was the ideal device to concentrate on one task at a time.
Over the following couple of years, I learned how to navigate the iPad’s limitations and started optimizing them to get more work done on the device (I was also cancer-free, which obviously helped). This is when I came across the iOS automation scene with apps such as Pythonista, Editorial, Drafts, and eventually Workflow. Those apps, despite the oft-unreliable nature of their workarounds, enabled me to push iOS and the iPad further than what Apple had perhaps envisioned for the device at the time; in hindsight, building hundreds of automations for Workflow prepared me for the bold, more powerful future of Shortcuts. Automation isn’t supposed to replace core functionality of an operating system; normally, it should be an enhancement on the side, an addition for users who seek the extra speed and flexibility it provides. Yet years ago, those automation apps were the only way to accomplish more serious work on the iPad. I’m glad I learned how to use them because, at the end of the day, they allowed me to get work done – even though it wasn’t the easiest or most obvious path.
When Apple announced the iPad Pro in 2015, it felt like a vindication of the idea that, for lots of iOS users – myself included – it was indeed possible to treat the iPad as a laptop replacement. And even though not much has changed (yet?) since 2017’s iOS 11 in terms of what the iPad Pro’s software can do, the modern iPad app ecosystem is vastly different from the early days of the iPad 3 and iOS 5, and that’s all thanks to the iPad Pro and Apple’s push for pro apps and a financially-viable App Store.
We now have professional apps such as Ulysses, Agenda, Things, Keep It, and iA Writer, which, in most cases, boast feature parity with their Mac counterparts; we have examples of iOS-only pro tools like Pixelmator Photo, LumaFusion, Shortcuts, and Working Copy, which are ushering us into a new era of mobile productivity; and both from a pure iPad-hardware and accessory standpoint, we have more choice than ever thanks to a larger, more inclusive iPad lineup, remarkable Pro hardware, and solid options to extend the iPad via keyboards, USB-C accessories, and more.
Seven years after I started (slowly) replacing my MacBook Air with an iPad, my life is different, but one principle still holds true: I never want to find myself forced to work on a computer that’s only effective at home, that can’t be held in my hands, or that can’t be customized for different setups. For this reason, the iPad Pro is the best computer for the kind of lifestyle I want.
However, the iPad is not perfect. And so in the spirit of offering one final update before WWDC and the massive release for iPad that iOS 13 will likely be, I thought I’d summarize seven years of daily iPad usage in one article that details how I work from the device and how I’d like the iPad platform to improve in the future.
In this story, I will explore four different major areas of working on the iPad using iOS 12 system features, third-party apps, and accessories. I’ll describe how I optimized each area to my needs, explain the solutions I implemented to work around the iPad’s software limitations, and argue how those workarounds shouldn’t be necessary anymore as the iPad approaches its tenth anniversary.
Consider this my iPad Manifesto, right on the cusp of WWDC. Let’s dive in.
The iPad has been a key subject at MacStories for years. In fact, it was Federico’s exploration of using the iPad as his primary computer that first led me to become a reader of the site, and subsequently an iPad-first user myself.
Today, I’m thrilled to introduce a new podcast on Relay FM where Federico and I get to talk about the iPad and challenge ourselves to do new things with our favorite device. The show is called Adapt, and the first episode is available now.
Adapt was born out of a love for the iPad, and a desire to continue pushing our own use of it forward. Federico formerly hosted an iPad-focused podcast with Fraser Speirs called Canvas, but since that show ended Federico and I have been dreaming up its spiritual successor, with a similar focus on the iPad but a unique new format.
It’s been about a year and half since iOS 11 was released into the wild, and with it, the long-awaited system document browser. PDF Viewer was one of the first applications that truly went all in with this new component, and we did this by fully replacing our custom solution with it on devices that were upgraded to iOS 11. This move certainly got us a lot of attention and praise from power users, but it also caused a lot of frustration for others who were unlucky enough to stumble upon the bugs and limitations of this new component. From a developer’s point of view, it was a mixed bag as well. On one hand, it allowed us to stop developing our custom document browser, thereby saving ourselves a lot of valuable development time in the process. On the other hand, it forced us to make do with a system we did not own and couldn’t even “hack” around when there were problems.
PDF Viewer will drop support for iOS 10 shortly, which will get rid of the final remains of our custom document browser, so we thought it might be a good time to take a closer look at how its system replacement is doing and go over the good, the bad, and the ugly.
File management is one of the main sections of an in-depth iPad story I’m working on right now, and the document browser is a key functionality I’m going to describe in detail. Overall, I agree with Bukovinski’s take: the document browser has brought consistency and speed to a lot of document-based apps, and I’m happy to see fewer custom file managers in apps these days, but it could use more customization options for developers, and the reliability of third-party file provider extensions is still largely hit or miss.