How much of your job can you really do on an iPad?
By Macworld staff
Dan Miller (Editor, Macworld)
I do use the iPad for work, but not much. I could use it more, but frankly I see no reason to: I have a perfectly good (if heavy) MacBook Pro, which I don’t mind lugging around and which I find better as a work tool than the iPad.
That said, I could use the iPad for more of my work if I had to. As others have pointed out, the bulk of my job involved processing text. For most writing and editing, I work primarily in plain-text format these days, for which almost any iOS text-editor would do. Ditto for taking notes in meetings and elsewhere. (I generally use nValt on my MacBook for this, syncing its plain-text notes via Dropbox.) For those outside writers who still use Word, we have iOS tools for that, too.
But I still don’t like the iPad for writing or editing, largely because I don’t like the iPad’s onscreen keyboard. I’m a pretty fast keyboard typist, but I’m all thumbs when it comes to typing on glass. I could get a Bluetooth keyboard, but that’d be yet another thing to remember (or, more accurately, to forget). With the MacBook, I can just grab one thing and go.
Similarly, my image-editing needs are pretty simple—mostly resizing and cropping. I could certainly do that on the iPad. But, again, why switch? If I was actively editing and producing stories on the tablet, it’d make sense to edit their images there too. But I’m not, so I don’t. And, as others have pointed, our particular work app, that content-management system, is unusable on an iPad. Perhaps Apple and IBM will fix that.
I do take care of off-hours work communications on the iPad (if I haven’t brought the MacBook home). Email is great, as is Hipchat. The typing demands for those apps are lower, so that’s not as much of an impediment. And the portability means I can reply to people from wherever—the bus on the way home, the couch at night, the breakfast table in the morning. But at work? Again, I have a better tool at hand.
Ditto for off-hours Web browsing, Twitter, RSS, and other sources of work-related information. I’ll typically do a round of news reading first thing in the morning; I often do so from my iPad instead of my home Mac. It all depends on where I am when the urge strikes. If I’m walking by our iMac with coffee in hand, I’ll stop there. If I’m near my shoulder bag, where the iPad lives, I’ll grab that instead.
The fact is, I generally reserve the iPad for not working: After staring at a computer monitor for eight or nine hours a day, I’d rather not stare at one at home. So if I’m going online after hours—for Facebook, RSS, email, ebooks, or Netflix—I prefer the iPad then.
Dan Moren (Senior Editor, Macworld)
As someone who has on occasion forced himself to work on the iPad, I know I can get my job done from Apple’s tablet. While those iPad workflows have yet to beat what I can do on my MacBook Air, I’ve gotten to the point where I can accomplish most of the tasks I need to do in a day—albeit slowly.
As many of my colleagues have pointed out, an external keyboard is imperative for writing anything longer than a tweet or short email. I could write a full article on the touchscreen keyboard if I had to. But as someone who touch-types more than 100 words per minute, the onscreen keyboard feels like running through a molasses spill.
That said, for mundane tasks like checking email, posting to Twitter, reading RSS feeds, accessing my calendar, and chatting with colleagues on via instant message or HipChat, the iPad is more than sufficient. I can even access remote file servers via Google Drive, Dropbox, and GoodReader. And, in a pinch, I can use Screens to access my Mac’s desktop, which I have absolutely never ever done while sitting at the couch because I was too lazy to walk to my desk. Ever.
Overall, the biggest frustration about working on an iPad is the difficulty of multitasking. Part of that stems from having a slower iPad. My iPad mini (the original) essentially has the specs of an iPad 2, which means that every time I switch back to an app, there’s a noticeable pause before the app is responsive again.
Even worse, simultaneously using multiple apps is still impossible. I can’t, for example, easily look at a webpage and type up a story based on notes there; when I try to work on my iPad, I find myself using my iPhone as a second screen. For this reason, I’m really looking forward to iOS 8: Among other things, extensions should ease some of the pain of transitioning between apps. That alone could make a big improvement in my daily workflows, opening up all kinds of new possibilities.
In the end, it’s not hard for me to imagine that Tim Cook can get 80% of his job done on an iPad—then again, he’s also the CEO of a major company, meaning that he is also probably available to delegate a lot his day-to-day activities. Not that his job isn’t intensive, but it’s a different sort of gig from the kind of stuff the rest of us do all day.
Jason Snell (Editorial Director, IDGCSMB)
For a large part of my job, I’m on my MacBook. However, if I’ve got a meeting, I just bring my iPad mini, rather than my laptop. I can use the little tablet to take notes, check my schedule, and even call up a document I’ve got stored in Google Docs, Dropbox, or Office 365.
And when I’m working at home, I’m much less likely to be using the laptop (unless I’m specifically writing or editing a story). Instead, my iPad springs into action: I read and respond to a huge amount of email, check my calendar, schedule and reschedule meetings, and use Twitter endlessly. I can also keep up with colleagues with the HipChat app and, of course, Messages.
I could do almost everything involving my job on my iPad if I had to, especially if I had access to an external keyboard. The administrative part of my job is all email, Excel, and Google Docs; these days, the Microsoft Office apps for iOS and Google’s excellent suite have eliminated the barriers to editing those documents on the iPad. (Google’s Sheets app has transformed my use of the iPad; I have Google spreadsheets for roughly half a billion things in my life, personal and professional.)
The writing part of my job can be solved by any of the countless number of iOS editors out there, though these days I prefer Editorial, which has a bunch of nice built-in macros and the ability for me to build my own. I can (and do) write articles in Editorial using nothing but the iPad’s on-screen keyboard, but for really motoring through stuff fast, an external keyboard is essential.
The big problem for me with using the iPad full time is that, in addition to writing, editing, and management, I am a podcaster, and iOS just isn’t quite there yet when it comes to podcasts. To record a podcast, I use Skype and Call Recorder (which saves Skype audio) on my Mac. I’ve yet to find comparably solid tools for this on the iPad alone. When I’m recording my show, I’m also usually streaming it live, viewing listener comments via IRC, consulting my notes, modifying my live-stream server via a terminal window, and more. My little 11-inch MacBook Air can handle all that with aplomb. (Hooking up an external monitor certainly helps.) My iPad just can’t, at least not yet.
Surprisingly, one of the areas where my iPad can cut it in terms of podcasting is multitrack editing. I’ve used the Auria app to edit a podcast, and it really does do the job. But it’s much slower to edit a podcast with touch controls than it is to use a keyboard, a trackpad, and Logic Pro X. I can edit a podcast on my iPad, but it would take me way too long, so I don’t.
So podcasting aside, why I don’t I used my iPad more often? For the most part, it’s about speed. I’m faster at most tasks on my Mac than my iPad, and when I’m heads-down, cranking away at a story, I need all the speed I can get. Also, an 11-inch MacBook Air isn’t that much less portable than an iPad, especially with an external keyboard.
So to answer Tim Cook’s challenge: Yes, I could do everything in my job that doesn’t involve podcasting with my iPad. But I don’t, because my MacBook Air feels like the better tool for the job most of the time. Now, if I could plug my iPad into my big external monitor…
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