Strengths and weaknesses of working on an iPad

Several months ago, I bought an iPad. While we are, in general, Apple aficionados in the Armstrong house, this wasn’t a random gadget purchase. For a while Emily and I have wondered, “What if you don’t have your laptop available to you—what’s your backup?”

Well, last week my laptop became unavailable after an unexpected fall that left it more or less a fancy paperweight. So since Thursday morning I’ve been using my iPad for everything.

All my updates on the blog. All my correspondence. Even my work for my day job (when I’ve not been busy recuperating from a nasty cold.

So far, the experience has been interesting. There are a lot of positives and a few drawbacks as well. Here are a few of the strengths and weaknesses I’ve found so far:

Strength: Great apps keep you from missing a step.

I love Pages for the iPad for word processing. It’s got terrific functionality and a very clean interface. Whenever I’ve been working in it, generally I’ve been a happy camper. However, there are a few things it can’t do, like read annotations made with Word’s reviewing tools. That’s where CloudOn comes in. This app gives you all the features you need when collaborating with Word users, allowing you to accept changes, respond to their comments and more—which worked out well for me on Friday when I needed to work on a very important project.

Weakness: WordPress’ dashboard interface isn’t tablet-friendly enough (yet).

I love WordPress as a content management system and blogging platform. They’ve made some wonderful improvements in getting the dashboard mobile friendly and having an app that’s pretty decent.

However, many of the functions available are painful to try and use on an iPad. Accessing your media library or formatting text, come readily to mind. Personally, I’ve found that it’s not worth the hassle to try to add an image at this point. I’m sure there are some major improvements on the way with WordPress 3.5 and beyond, but for now, it’s left me a bit cold.

Weakness: You’re going to need accessories.

The iPad’s on-screen keyboard is great for short tasks like writing an email or a Facebook or Twitter update, but for anything more intensive, you’re going to need some additional hardware. My iPad’s case includes a very thin keyboard—so thin that it’s practically a touchscreen itself—which is really nice for travelling or taking notes in a meeting, but when I’m settled somewhere, my larger wireless keyboard is a better option. (Also there’s something comforting about the clackity-clack of keys when you’re typing, I don’t know what it is.)

Strength: The iPad forces you to focus.

You can really only do one thing at a time with an iPad, which is a wonderful gift to those of us who are easily distracted. Distraction kills productivity and destroys excellence in our work. It’s why we’re seeing new apps show up for our laptops and desktop computers and plug-ins for our browsers to keep us away from Facebook or other sites when we should be working…

This has probably been my favorite thing about working on the iPad full-time over the last few days. I’m only doing one thing, and it’s taking me less time to do it (or rather, it’s taking me the same amount of time without the distractions).

Strength: The iPad forces you to adapt.

Because there’s no mouse and no trackpad for the iPad, you are forced to adapt. Admittedly this has been the most difficult part for me of the whole experience. There are some things that are just easier to do with a cursor, at least for now. Probably my biggest struggle has been with correcting spelling and not accidentally copying in a block of text that’s on my clipboard (this happened at least three times during the writing of this article, by the way).

But it’s fun to figure out the mechanics of how to work on a totally different set-up and find out that, with some minor tweaking, you can do most of what you need to do without too much fuss.

Would I go full-time permanently?

I’ve wondered about this for a while. In theory, I could probably do it, after getting used to a few things and making sure I’ve got all the right apps and accessories. But there are some things I can’t do (or at least, I’ve not figured out how to yet).

I like doing the occasional bit of design work for the blog or for an eBook, but there aren’t a lot of good tools out there for the iPad—and maybe there shouldn’t be. I might change my mind, but for now, the thing I appreciate the most about the iPad is its simplicity. I can write a significant amount of text easily and effectively. I can store it and distribute it with ease. Used strictly as a writing tool, it’s wonderful. But for the rest, maybe it’s better to leave those to other tools. In a pinch, though, I’m more than happy to work on an iPad.

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  • Mark

    I’ve thought about using my iPad to blog, but I just can’t write fast enough on it.

    • Aaron Armstrong

      That’s definitely where the wireless keyboard comes in handy.

  • Peterdanieljames

    idraw is a great vector based design app like illustrator. I use it for the amateur design work on my blog and it works great.

    I agree the WordPress dashboard is in desperate need of a tablet version. Despite that, I use the ipad for most my blogging and borrow my wife’s laptop for the heavier stuff.

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  • Matt Brady

    I agree with your assessment of the iPad. For spending more time typing I like to use my wireless keyboard and an inexpensive mini easel to hold the iPad upright in just the right spot.