Ted Goranson - Personal Blog

The blog of Ted Goranson. This is both a personal blog and an ongoing update on his projects.

The iPad Setup

Published: 18 Mar 2013
Revised: 23 Oct 2014

Edited on 12 Oct 2014: to update the apps.

In a previous post, I asserted that I don’t need an iPad, and instead was using an antique PowerBook. I even started a rather ambitious carved wooden case to substitute for the Pismo's classic black plastic. Sort of a jalopy mentality I guess.

But I have indeed purchased an iPad. I was in Australia for four months without tools and a broken Pismo. Simultaneously, my life shifted and I found myself temporarily without much work time. So I bought the iPad, thinking that I can work in more places on short notice, even tucked in bed. I bought the fourth generation full-sized retina unit, 64G a few months ago and have been spending an inordinate amount of time setting it up. Getting my tools right is an obsession.

Here is a report on tools I have selected. It has been difficult for me to find useful reviews and surveys of tools that matter and perhaps this will be of use to you.


The iPhone's apps.

I should mention first what I have on the iPhone. The phone is used for the usual stuff (Mail, Camera, Web, Phone, Playing music, Messaging in that order), lists and making increasingly rare notes.

The dock has: Apple Mail, Apple's Phone, DuckDuckGo and Apple Maps (yes, I value my privacy).

The following list has changed radically since the initial post.

Clear is frequently accessed for shopping lists. I've shifted to Overcast for podcasts; the audio processing is the primary reason.

For notes, I now use Drafts 4. I used to frequently use the phone for opportunistic notes, but seldom do now because of the kids. But Drafts is excellent. I have premium accounts with Instapaper, Evernote, Simplenote and Dropbox. I have a Transporter and have just bought Transmit. But I use none of them on the phone.

I expect as my professional life picks up, I will need a task manager and calendar strategy, but I have no idea what it will be. Calvetica is still on the iPhone now. Don't particularly like it.

I very much like Dark Sky for weather notations and have found no reason to leave the longstanding Weatherbug.

Photo strategy is in suspension as well until I find out what iCloud and Photos can do. I used to use Aperture, Smugmug and Dropbox .

I never use Siri. Haven’t played a game in a few years, but really liked Zen Bound 2. Don't do Twitter, Facebook or whatever Google is serving.

There are about 80 other apps parked on the thing on the off chance that I will use them. Some are likely to have never been updated from years ago. Most notable are some drawing apps selected from hundreds that are candidates for the Kutachi glyphs.

The device is a 32G iPhone5, bought in a panic when the 4S started acting bad. The bumper is this one at less than $2. It continues to astound me that in my pocket is more computing horsepower than the machine I was introduced to in the 60’s in a secret facility as the world’s most powerful computer. In my pocket!

iPhone Six

I really like the small size of the 5, enough to want to buy a 5s when I need a new phone. The ability to work with my normal sized thumb has always seemed elegant. But I'll probably keep up and get used to the larger size of whatever Apple offers. Part of that 'getting used to' will be to snicker less when I see see someone using one of the plank-sized Google spyphones.

One reason is that I expect Apple to offer a more private payment service. My two main credit cards these days are with very trusted operations, ones I know firsthand do not mine my life for advertisers. Applepay would make them fractionally more convenient, but I would like yet more privacy. The touch sensor is necessary for this.

The other reason is the watch. I will not use any fitness tracking software, and frankly don't understand the desire to shift responsibility so. But I would indeed use worn health monitoring sensors. Absolutely.

iPad (new Notes)

An update as of October 2014.

I have retained the following section as I wrote it about a year ago. Since then, we have seen two profound iOS updates, and many candidate apps couldn't keep up. My life has become less productive as the kids demand more time, which should mean that the iPad becomes more useful.

Instead, I seldom use it. I really like the idea. Some of the apps I'll list below are just astonishing and the touch paradigm is still magical. What's wrong?

I find it uncomfortable to use. It is too heavy to use in bed as I expected. Otherwise, I am sitting in a soft chair or at a desk; neither of these seems right and I always reach for a MacBook.

Also, I just could not find a formula for managing files that worked for me. I know other folks have, and the options are many. But I have heavyweight desktop environments that are integrators for my projects and getting iPad notes into them has too much friction. I don't think smaller is the answer here.

The killer app for me was supposed to have my dozen magazine subscriptions consolidated for me to read on the iPad and excerpt. But the magazines use 5 or 6 different methods and none of them seemed to make life easier. They go largely unread.

So instead of using the iPad, I bought a comparatively heavy old non-retina 2010 MacBook Pro 13" and use it for the writing I thought would go on the iPad. The lap ergonomics work. Much of that writing goes into Ulysses, which I am getting used to, and I love their Mac to Mac sync.

But I have an incredible time and money investment in the iPad, and this is what I have worked out.

Drafts 4. Gosh I bought them all, even Federico Viticci's book on Editorial. But Drafts does what I need, which is to allow me to capture something and repurpose it.

Filemaker Go. I prefer this even to the desktop Filemaker environment, and it will likely be what drives me to time on the iPad. Fast, economical, beautiful.

Instapaper has a few thousand saved articles for me consume in my work. Reading these articles in Instapaper is far better than in their original web context. The workflow here is small notes to Drafts and the document discarded, or larger docs to Evernote for further work.

Simplenote is still the way to get notes into Tinderbox, though I usually email to Simplenote from Drafts or Filemaker. I can check the lists in Clear and Things, but nothing else has managed to satisfy me, and that is sobering.

iPad (old notes)

As of Jan 14, what I hoped will be a new workspace.

I assumed that the experience with the iPhone would make the setup on the iPad easy. It helped not at all. I still bought easily five or six apps for each one I settled on. I am happy with Apple overall, but the app evaluation process is severely broken.

A main purpose of the machine is to allow me to gather and review material, usually already collected, and generate new essays to further the work here. The gathering part is annoyingly distributed among several platforms and apps.

Documents from Readdle, for the PDFs of my manually scanned but not recently read technical papers. I have other file utilities, but I just like the way this one works. My needs are simple, but I am particular about details and polish.

Instapaper — as on the iPhone — for online findings, usually from Science magazine. I know other services have since come along, but the quiet competence of this pleases me. I pay extra. This has recently been sold and the business model may drift away from me.

BookEnds — also on the phone — for the existing reference library and PDFs. The desktop application is superior to competitors for my needs and I would have gone with the developer just on that score. But this mobile app is just kickass. I have essentially my entire reference library on the device in fully indexed form.

GoodReader to send PDFs to, to be read. PDFPen to annotate them, sometimes linked to iCloud versions on the desktop. These are both best in class.

My text editor is Textilus. Gosh this was a tough effort settling on this. The advertised attraction for many of the others was markdown support, which I just don’t use. My iPad documents go as pure text to: Tinderbox (via a non-automated route at present), and RTF to Evernote (which is growing on me — more than Dropbox).

Again... all about trust and privacy.

... Poster for the Kutachi annotations and newly to Scrivener. (This is for the Essene/Matthew example. There is a Scrivener for iPad in development.) Textilus handles all these well, and iCloud and Dropbox too. It has a powerful extra keyboard row and all the ordinary features I need, including appearance options. I supplement it with TextExpander and Unicode Maps. I like the style of Daedalus and maybe a future connection with Ulysses III will prompt a re-examination. I spent weeks trying to like Nebulous because of the unique powerful macros, but small bugs, quirks and ugly got in the way.

Big lists are handled by OmniOutliner, linked to the desktop version by an annoying kludge that is promised to be improved in the next version. I bought them all, all the other outliners and this is still the gold standard. I read small lists on iOS with TaskPaper but find it difficult to edit them other than on the desktop.

I cannot comment on the periodical apps: Zinio, iBooks, Newsstand and so on as I am just setting them up with the several dozen journals I get. This is much harder than it should be. I can say that although I have a great relationship with Amazon, I’ve bought my few books so far from Apple because IBooks is a better experience than Kindle on the iPad. I haven’t yet found an acceptable iOS RSS reader.

Moviewatching on the device is expected to be big, but I just haven’t set it up yet. That and the PDFs are what drives the need for the large storage. I store no photos on the device.

I am a heavy user of Keynote and OmniGraffle on the MacBookPro, so have the iOS versions, but I have to say I find them too clunky to use for any heavy work.

A big surprise is FileMaker. Their iOS client is powerful and free. I am finding it a lovely experience adapting and expanding a layout of the FilmsFolded database for the iPad. The desktop version (for me it is FMP 12 Advanced) is frustrating in its peculiarities and quirks, but wow you can do some rather heavy application development for the iPad with this little guy.

Of all the things on the device, the most technically impressive and gee wiz cool is Star Walk. It can give you an annotated star map that is accurate as you move it over your head. Makes me smile.

My big chore at present is drawing app evaluation. The problem here is that I know I will need freehand drawings for the Kutachi project, but not precisely what. I know that I want to use a calligraphy brush with my pressure sensitive stylus (Pogo Connect), on a white or similar background. Textured paper may be nice. I want to vary the colors and have them interact. I’d like some gradient in the color. I’d like for it to be the beginning of a workflow.

So far as stroke editors, here are what still survive on the machine:

Noteshelf. It is nice enough. Has support for the stylus and integrates well with Evernote. It is the default choice at present, and I expect to work with it.

Paper by 53. Also supports the stylus and is elegant though feature constrained. It has nice watercolors but you cannot (even with the substantial inapp purchases) change the size of the brush! Thay say ‘this is not in development.’ The gestures really are elegant, on par with Daedalus.

Procreate. This also supports the stylus and is a real painting app, though I would only use it for brushlines on white. The file management is primitive.

Auryn Ink. This is a watercolor application that I would adapt. It has the advantage of stroke colors mixing with others under variable wetness. I am impressed and think I could do some cool things here. No support for my stylus.

Zen Brush. No control over the brush thickness. No color. But tantalizingly smooth integration with the stylus. A beautiful, simple app.

neu.Notes+. This isn’t quite what I need, because it has pens instead of brushes. But the traces are editable vector art, exportable to real desktop drawing apps.

Moleskine. Feature rich, but it looks and acts like it was developed on Android. Oops, but it integrates with Evernote.

The screen on this device is astonishing. I will never buy anything not retina. It has forced me to re-evaluate my approach to screen fonts, about which I will write later. I have a smart cover and find it amusing but useless. I pack it in a Roocase which pleases me. The small lightning connector makes my iPhone seem like a relic. I wish the iPad was even lighter than its remarkable current state. I can’t fathom using a smaller screen, because after all I have the iPhone.

© copyright Ted Goranson, 2013