Rails Test Prescriptions Blog

Keeping Your Application Healthy Since 2008

iPad or Bust

With my laptop still on the disabled list, I’ve been using the iPad as my primary machine all week. Some thoughts:

Overall, it’s been largely non-disruptive, for two reasons. One is that I borrowed a bluetooth keyboard for the duration, and the second is that I’m not in a position at the moment where I need to code on my laptop, since my work site has developer stations. They keyboard changes the iPad experience quite a bit, really turning it into a nice writing station.

I’m going to whine first, because I think the whines are more interesting. The plus stuff is all variations
on “This gizmo really is cool, you know.”, basically, about 75% of my non-coding work was picked up pretty easily.


There are about three or four serious gaps in what I’ve been able to do this week. The biggest is the inability to do serious code or blog editing. I’ve been trying to find an app that would let me at least poke at the book files this week. Basically, it needs just a few features: a) read/write to drop box, b) support for either markup shortcuts or TextExpander, and c) ability to see non-standard extensions as text. There doesn’t seem to be an iPad editor that supports all these features.

None of the programmer or HTML editors that are there have the kind of reviews that would lead me to want to buy them site unseen. Maybe in a few months the space will mature. I’m trying MyWritingNook and keeping an eye on the as-yet-unreleased WriteRoom/iPad, which looks like it will be close.

Somewhat more surprising, there doesn’t even seem to be a decent blogging editor. The WordPress app is horrible — the editor is very basic, and the only thing that kept me from losing my last post entirely was having been warned that I might, so I pasted the whole thing before I tried to post it. This post is being written using MyWritingNook, which both supports TextExpander and lets me export via email so I can post. I suppose it would be possible to do a link post, but the workflow — going back and forth between Reeder, Osfoora, and the editor, pasting all the links — seems daunting. I probably should try one, though, the MyWritingNook flow makes it seem possible. Daniel Jalkut, paging Daniel Jalkut. Please?

The other serious gap is generally getting files onto the thing. There’s no concept of a podcast subscription, which is irritating. I have files on hard drives that I’d like to see, videos or ePubs, some of these things can be gotten onto the device in the absence of the home iTunes library, but it’s not easy or consistent. (Late breaking story — today the iPad media apps decided to crash and rebuild their library without any of my media files. Doubtful I can fix this before my laptop gets back).

There’s a minor issue with things that would normally run in the background. IM and Campfire, most notably. (I know you can have IM systems that push… haven’t found them to be totally reliable). A couple of widgets that I normally check frequently, that kind of thing.

Interestingly, I’ve only missed Flash a tiny bit. The worst web experience is that I’m forced to use the old MS Exchange web app for client-site email, and its bad enough with a mouse, and borderline unusable with a touchscreen.

I had to give a presentation last week. Luckily the slides were in Dropbox, so I could easily import them into iPad Keynote and edit from there. Keynote iPad is very dancing-dog like in the sense that it’s so amazing that the dog dances at all that it seems churlish to criticize how well it dances. Still, it’s pretty much Keynote light, or as I characterized it when giving my talk, like using Keynote with chopsticks. And I’m very clumsy with chopsticks. Not only is it kind of feature-light, it’s just about the only app that makes the iPad feel sluggish (the native iPod app is another). Plus, it was a little crashy. On the plus side, hooking it to a projector via the VGA cable was a snap, and it’s often a pain on Desktop Macs. The speaker screen could be a lot better.

Not Whining

Overall, though, those things are small potatoes and the overwhelming impression is how not-disruptive it’s been to be on an iPad for email, RSS, Twitter, basic text stuff, and so on. The iPad is still snappy, fun to use, and basically great for this kind of stuff.

Having the keyboard undeniably extends the power of the iPad — the soft keyboard is okay for short things, but I haven’t gotten nearly as fast on it as I am on a full keyboard, and it does take up half the screen. With a keyboard, it’s a really nice setup for writing. It’s light — my backpack is super noticeably lighter this week. Pages is quite responsive for just basic typing (boy would I love to see Scrivener on here, though MyWritingNook seems like a first approximation. I wish something could read my existing Scrivener files, though). It’s somewhat ergonomically flexible — I was able to use it with the pad on a coffee table and the keyboard on my lap and it wasn’t bad, and you almost by definition get the WriteRoom-esque full screen experience. The keyboard is acquired and de-acquired quickly enough that its feasible to swap back and forth in the same session. It’s got a lot going for it.

That said, the keyboard is not fully integrated into the iPad experience. One obvious missing feature is that you can’t arrow up and down through a select list, such as the suggestions when you type into the Safari address bar. Reaching over the keyboard to the touch screen to edit feels odd, like interface metaphors are colliding at full speed. It’s also hard to see if the keyboard is on — the only screen notification you get other than the soft keyboard not showing up is the bluetooth symbol in the upper-right. I’ve accidentally had the keyboard on in my backpack and had to pause to figure out why I wasn’t getting the soft keyboard.

Still, I’ve gone from skeptical about the value of a real keyboard as an add-on to seriously considering getting one after I have to give this back. And I’m very interested in what the bluetooth keyboard/iPhone 4 experience feels like. That has the potential to be a very interesting mobile experience.

The iPad, in general, encourages a really close feeling with the stuff you are doing. Watching something on the iPad feels like you are curling up with a movie in the same kind of cozy way that you do with a good book. The keyboard gets in the way a little bit, but there’s still something amazing about the size to power ratio going on here. I suspect that it will feel very cozy for writing fiction, I just wish I could more cleanly get it to work with my PML pragmatic files.

Also, as usual what Charles Stross said.


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