It's nearly halfway through the year already, and I'm surprised to say that apart from the odd accessory, I haven't purchased any new gadgets this year. And the only big things last year was my new MacBook with Touch Bar and an Echo Dot (which I rarely use now).
That probably isn't anything spectacular for most people, but I'm a young lover of technology, and a general fan of most things new and shiny. But with a mix of being a student, and the prolonged life of most devices nowadays, I simply haven't needed to upgrade anything.
But there are a few things that I think may be due an upgrade in the next six months - my Apple Watch and my iPad.
As I've wrote about before, I'm still using my Series 0 Apple Watch. And while it's providing me with everything I think I need from it, I was slightly tempted to upgrade to the Series 2. So if Apple were to come out with another updated model - the new features, speed increase, and the fact that my current watch screen has had a chip for about a year may push me to upgrade.
So there isn't an immediate requirement for me to upgrade my watch, I think a Series 3 would be time to do so. I've had my current one for quite some time.
My iPad is another weird one, I'm currently using an iPad Air 2, so it's still a relatively new device. But it's not a pro.
Ever since the Apple Pencil was announced, I really wanted to get one, but this was when my iPad was still pretty new, so I knew I couldn't warrant an upgrade so soon. And the 12.9" iPad Pro was also a thought, but with the "recent" purchase of a new MacBook Pro, I thought that I would simply not use it enough. However, I'm growing into using my iPad more and more everyday, and while I'm not Federico Viticci, CGP Grey, or Matt Gemmel, the iPad is becoming more of an important device in my life.
Usually the need to upgrade a device is because it is no longer fit for purpose. But that doesn't apply to my iPad, and it's mainly because of the software. Sure, Apple makes iOS available on a huge number of previous devices, but I'm talking about apps. I've started using a few apps recently that while have reignited my iPad usage, also reinvigorated my iPad, giving it a new sense of power.
These apps are Workflow, Magic Launcher, 1Password, Ulysses, and Todoist, just to name a few. Granted these apps have been available for a while, but I'm now starting to use them properly. Which has made a lot of difference to the way I see my iPad, and has now led me to understand even more how people have moved fully to iOS. One of the best parts of these apps are the widgets you get to use in the Today view. By seeing more at a glance, and to compile bigger actions together in Workflow/Magic Launcher, it lets you do more by actually doing much less.
Putting all of this in the simplest terms, my iPad has become so much more, and it's leading me to want to use it to do even more of my daily tasks.
What I want in my future iPad is Pencil support, a slightly larger screen than my iPad Air 2, a smart connector for an external keyboard, and general speed improvements. Everything else is down to iOS. And in that regard I'm hoping to see a deeper Siri integration, native drag and drop, and a better way to handle choosing apps in split view.
Apart from these two apple devices, there's nothing else that I particularly need. I think I'd like to get a Nintendo Switch, but then again I'd probably stop using it quite quickly, as I do with most other games consoles.
Then there's the next iPhone, but for once I don't have a desire to upgrade my phone at all. I'm using a 7 Plus, and it's a mature device that I honestly can't think of many features right now that would push me to upgrade.
What I've learned over the last 6 months to a year, is that hardware isn't really ever the issue, software is. Which is what got me in this predicament having a bunch of old devices.
Software nowadays can be an elixir of life for old devices, and as much as hardware manufactures won't like it, they're lasting a lot longer than they used to.
Can you do real work on an iPad?
Well if the real work is writing, then I argue that it is probably better at it than most other devices.
A writer’s provisions are the tools they use, and their imagination. This is why a lot of effort is put into finding and using the appropriate tools, because it allows the focus to be on the writing.
In my opinion, because of the writers need to focus on what they are writing, the best tools are the ones that don’t make themselves a distraction from the end goal. The ideal environment needs to adapt to the writer and not the other way around, which is where I think the iPad fits in perfectly. It’s of course, not a new product, but still the argument on whether work can be done on it successfully continues (although this seems to be dying out).
With the iPad, you have a fully portable device that is not only able to be taken anywhere, but it’s also able to be used anywhere. It also benefits from the consumerism around the device, because this has led to a wide array of accessories being made, such as external keyboards, stands, and now the Apple Pencil. Especially with iOS being such a flexible platform, and apps for pretty much every single scenario.
I have a MacBook Pro and while I like to write using it, I still find the iPad to be more suited to the job. With tasks like visually organising notes and ideas with the touch screen, or making use of the Apple Pencil, it’s as if you’re really interacting with the content, without any unnecessary distractions.
Also, it may sound strange, but the Workflow app for iOS is another reason for why I favour the iPad for writing, as it makes all the management tasks associated with writing much more streamlined and adaptable. The way I think of the comparison between writing on an iPad and writing on my Mac, is the ratio on which actual writing is done, compared to the time you spend managing your writing and the related process. For me, my Mac is okay for longer-form writing pieces where I spend a long time writing, that the amount of time editing, submitting to blogs, embedding images, and so on isn’t a big deal. On the other hand, with my iPad I have all of my processes automated with apps such as Workflow, Opener, Trello (Trello has a website you can use), so I can focus on the writing, regardless of the situation.
I of course can’t complain too much, because my Mac is the newest MacBook Pro, so it’s super light, and the keyboard is nice to type on. But I still believe the iPad edges out in front.
An iPad may take longer to get used to, and maybe a while to find and configure the writing tools for you. But once you’re there, you’re free to just write.
Over at MacWorld, Jason Snell has written about how his MacBook has become secondary to his iPad:
For the past year I’ve been traveling with a 12.9-inch iPad Pro and leaving my MacBook Air home whenever possible. Traveling with only an iPad can feel freeing and it can also feel confining, depending on what you need to accomplish. This week I took a trip and brought my laptop along like the old days, and was reminded about what the iPad does well and where the Mac still has the upper hand. - MacWorld
This is the closest opinion piece about iPad/Mac that matches mine. I also love my iPad (I have an Air 2), but there are some things that it just can't do. Like hacking around in the Terminal, manage files better, and also programming - It's possible on iOS, but it's massively better on the Mac.
My Mac will always come first, but in the scenario of travelling, my iPad usually comes out on top. Because it's mostly work that makes me use my Mac.
The problem with the iPad is both hardware and software related. Anything work related you can do on an iPad can, in most cases be done faster on a Mac. No question. - Dan Counsell
This is probably the most common idea behind a the majority of iPad articles, whether it can truly be a device that replaces your Mac.
Well Dan Counsell (Founder of RealMac Software), has written his thoughts on it, and I thought it was worth sharing.
That's not a headline that many would expect, but Razer have indeed created a mechanical keyboard for the iPad Pro.
They've made this keyboard, and packed it into a case which also features a metal kickstand, and a protective outer case for the actual iPad.
The kickstand isn't fixed to any specific angle, like most other cases/stands, and can be adjusted to any preferred position. That's a pretty big improvement on the rest.
They also developed "ultra-low-profile" mechanical switches for the keys, which you can read more about. They say the force needed to recognise a key press is 70g, but I don't really know what this means. I use a mechanical keyboard sometimes, but I don't see any huge difference between them and my MacBook.
It also allows you to type in dark environments, as it features backlighting! Which once you've tried, you can't not have.
The battery life is okay if you use the backlighting constantly, which will give you approximately 10 hours on a single charge. But if you turn off the backlighting, it will last approximately 600 hours. So I guess it isn't that bad, just don't use the backlight too much.
It's available in the store already for a whopping £159.99, but it seems it's currently being shipped from the US. So while you get free shipping, there will probably be a customs/tax charge with it.
Overall, I really like the design, and I much prefer typing on a mechanical keyboard to a glass screen. But not enough to spend that amount of money unfortunately.
Another really great app has come to the iPad, one which really enforces the reasoning that you can actually do real work on an iPad.
Continuous is a fully fledged .NET IDE for the iPad, made by Frank A. Krueger, which lets you program in C# 6 and F# 4. It has support for things like code highlighting, code completion, and even live code execution. It's really feature packed.
It's even more than just an IDE:
But it’s not “just an IDE”. I didn’t want it to simply be sufficient - I wanted it to be great. I also thought it was a nice time to push the state of the art in .NET IDEs a tad.
For ages compiled languages like C# and F# have forced a sequential development loop on programmers: the Code-Compile-Run-Test loop. We code something up, wait for it to compile, then wait for it to deploy and run, then we get to test it.
I hate waiting for compilation and deployment so I designed Continuous to minimize those steps. It does this by eagerly compiling your code - never waiting for you to tell it when to start. It runs your code as soon as those compiles complete successfully and displays the results of that execution right next to your code. Now you can focus on the code and the results of that code instead of being distracted by all the silly machinery of a compiler and IDE. - praeclarum.org
I won't be using it myself, as I don't use these languages. But I can totally see that this is a great app for other programmers, and also another big step for the iOS platform as a whole.
You can read more about Continuous, the reasoning behind the app, and also some more geeky details over at praeclarum.org.
If you want to check the app out, then you can buy it from the App Store for just £7.99! That's really spectacular pricing for an app of this calibre.