In praise of my Ipad

I'm back. I need your ironic glasses, your skinny jeans and your...fixie.

*Checks time machine chronometer, realises twenty-five years too late to terminate Sarah Connor, gets back in time machine, disappears*


I'm back! I mean, I finished a major redraft of the sequel to Extinction Game, which will be out some time next year. I've basically been welded to an office chair for the past couple of months and haven't really seen much of the outside world, and...

Oh yeah. My iPad. I can't remember when I bought it exactly. Just over a year ago? Something like that.

I think there's a kind of growing-in process with an iPad. You're not sure if you actually need one, but you like the idea of getting one. Because, you know, Star Trek. In Star Trek, everyone had some wizzy little tablet-looking prop (that looks unbearably clunky in retrospect) and whenever you tried one you thought hey, this is pretty cool, then checked the price tab and thought...maybe next year.

But things tend to be a little cheaper in Taiwan, so it made sense to get one while I had the cash. So I did. And I've talked about it before. But it's gone from being kind of cool, but do I really need it? to downright indispensable.

In the morning, it's my newspaper. I check Facebook, not just to see what friends and other writers are up to, but to check various newsfeeds plugged into the service. I read the Guardian, a couple of online magazines. I could use my laptop, but I don't want to get milk and coffee all over it. I could use a phone, but who the hell wants to eat one-handed?

In the afternoon, it sits next to the Macbook. I use it a lot for checking online resources because, frankly, it's faster than the Macbook. It has a flash memory, an attribute it shares, so far as I understand, with the current iteration of the Macbook Air, which Emma has. And that's a whizzy little beast itself. That flash memory means what I want to get just pops up. Often, I don't need to even type anything: I just tell it to open Google, then use the voice-activated search which works really terrifyingly well.

It's also my TV a lot of the time. I've been using Netflix and BBC using a VPN service, and it's terrific. I watch when I'm having my lunch, or stick it on top of the fridge to catch the UK news when I'm doing the dishes.

It's a games machine and a comic reader. Granted, I don't play that many games any more, and I don't read that many comics primarily because of the cost and because I won't pay serious money for anything with DRM on it, but still. I have become a touch immersed in Minecraft: Pocket Edition, and I'm still working through a bunch of graphic novels I got from HumbleBundle.com.  They look great on my iPad.

And it's fast. Fast. It's wonderful using a machine that responds more or less instantly while my Macbook grinds its way noisily through a process, and I am forced to watch that little spinning blue ball until it finally does what I damn well want it to.

I even use it to work on, most usually with a bluetooth keyboard. I could use my laptop, sure, but I killed one of the keys through sheer overtyping the last couple of years, and the Macbook now lives, more or less permanently, on top of a Rooster stand, and I now type using the same Mac bluetooth keyboard I use with the iPad. Now, if I want to move about, or even go outside, I have the iPad to work on.

And that, interestingly enough, is where the iPad - or indeed many tablet computers, by their very nature - are possibly superior to the laptop as we currently know it. The things that go the most wrong with laptops in my experience are either the keyboard, the trackpad, or both. Those, after all, are a person's primary points of contact with a computer of any type, and hence are the ones most likely to be affected by wear and tear...at least, they are if you're a busy working writer.

And because the average laptop, whether Mac or any other flavour, is a fully integrated device, you can't easily swap one part for another the way you can with a desktop. With a desktop, all you need to do with regards to a faulty keyboard, mouse or screen is buy a new one.

To me, ultimately, tablet/laptop hybrids are the way to go in the future, for economic reasons as much as anything else. By separating the tablet from the trackpad and/or keyboard, you create the possibility of replacing parts that are relatively cheap to replace. I can't do that with my Macbook. I can with my iPad. Having a separate or detachable keyboard creates an extra layer of versatility that a fully integrated device lacks.

Most recently, because of the inherent vulnerability of the keyboard and trackpad on integrated machines, I've been considering that in the nearish future instead of using a Macbook to work on, as I have for a few years now, I might switch back to a Mac Mini with separate monitor, keyboard and trackpad, but also have an iPad with a good quality keyboard and/or cover for when I want to be on the move.

In fact, the primary reason I haven't already done that is because you can't get Scrivener on the iPad. Yet. But it will be released sometime this year: the iPad version is currently undergoing testing and the minute - the second - it becomes available on the iPad, I'm buying it. And when it does become available, the iPad, as much as a good laptop, stands a very good chance of becoming indispensable as well for a good many writers.


Orin Thomas said...

You could get a Surface Pro ;-) (Tablet with click on Keyboard - and with USB so you can take offline backups of your work - something more challenging with an iPad)

(yeah, I know, you'd melt with MS Hardware instead of fruity products)

paul f cockburn said...

I understand your situation well; my MacBook Pro has long become, essentially, my desk-top; it seldom ever leaves my office-space, let alone the flat – while my second generation iPad Air and Logitech keyboard/cover have become my principal means of writing when "out and about". Or even, sometimes, when sitting on the sofa in the living room and I can't be arsed moving!

Not that I'm currently in a business position to upgrade or expand my selection of Apple products, but I did spend a while checking out the new 12" MacBook in the Apple Store recently and, apart from the price (which is rather high for the computing power you're getting) and the odd-feel of the new keyboard (which I guess I'd get used to), one critique I'd heard about it really struck home. It's the laptop "for those who don't already have an iPad". Similar size, similar weight (and equally available in gold and space grey); but, of course, without the ability to disconnect that keyboard and just hold it like a tablet. These days I genuinely find it too distracting to be watching anything on the screen with a keyboard glowing away underneath!

I was among the "first adopters" in the UK back in 2010, despite honestly believing that I didn't really need one – after all, I had a smart phone and a laptop, so how could such a "third category device" possibly fit into my life? (If you're wondering, the main reason I gave myself for buying one was to get an idea of how it would affect the evolution of magazines.) Of course, I very quickly discovered how it fitted into my life – and, indeed, would be the one device I'd definitely save from a fire!