Things I’m Grateful For, No.2: My iPad

Does anyone else use an iPad for serious, lengthy writing? I do.

In fact, I’ve got so used to using the iPad as my writing device, that, after many years without a desktop computer, now I’m actually back to working from one, it’s a bit of a mental challenge to get into a composing mood.

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When the iPad first came out, I thought it looked stupid. In fact, I felt disgusted. A computer without a keyboard? It seemed to me a portent of society’s disturbing descent from active creation to passive observation, a regression to cultural childhood. The screen, not the user, would be in control; mankind’s imaginative freedom would be lost.

Additionally, the stripped down nature of iOS seemed a joke. You could only do one thing at a time. You couldn’t even upload files to websites. 

But the iPad continued to get better, and its programs kept looking more enticing. And eventually, when my last laptop broke, I didn’t have much money, and the iPad’s lower price started to make more sense. That was two and a half years ago, and I’m since written, taught from, and read a whole lot of books on that same iPad 3. Now, when I leave for campus, it’s completely natural to put my iPad in a bag along with a wireless (bluetooth) keyboard.

In fact, when I have to carry around a laptop, that’s when I feel uneasy, worried I’m going to break it, constantly checking how it’s sitting in my bag.

Recently, iPad sales have slowed rather drastically, prompting some pundits to predict the device’s demise. But if I’m any guide, one reason for this decline in sales is the thing’s essential durability. Like I mentioned, I’ve owned my iPad for two and a half years, and it basically works as good as new; in that same time period, I’ve seen laptops slow down and become erratic; I’ve watched phones become useless as their batteries die. The iPad, in contrast, shrugs off the passage of time. Perhaps around November 2015, when iOS 9 comes out, I’ll need to upgrade, but by then, I’ll have been using it for a good three and a half years.

I’ve dropped my iPad on the floor and cracked the glass in one corner: it continues to work, unfazed.

And the tablet nature of the iPad has grown on me. It’s a very conducive framework for writing: one screen, one window, one application. What you look at is what you are working on. These days, when I’ve been using a “real” computer for a while, I find myself annoyed by how many windows have piled up on the screen like scattered notes across a messy desk, how it takes a moment’s effort to spot the exposed corner of the program you were just using.

I regularly use three different writing apps on the iPad. Does that sound crazy? It works for me. I use the amazing Drafts app for general note-taking and casual writing; Byword for longer, serious work, and Word to produce the finished product.

In theory, I could start a single piece of writing in Drafts as an idea or outline, export those notes into Byword for drafting, and then finish it in Word to get paragraph indents and page numbers.

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Drafts is an amazing application. The idea is that you start with text, not with its destination. You write something on your iPad in Drafts, and when you’re done, you swipe from the right side of the screen and out pops the right-hand sidebar, containing all the possible “actions” you’ve set up, any number of options for publishing or exporting the data. You might design an action, “Email to my brother,” or “Tweet and post to Facebook,” or “publish to blog by email.” With one click, Drafts will carry it out.

There’s so much more to the app: the review in MacStories may make your head explode.

So far, I’m not quite enamoured of Byword: I use it simply because I need a writing-focused, minimal program that syncs with Dropbox, and the other options in the app store haven’t worked for me.

However, I do plan to buy Byword for the desktop Mac, thus putting my writing in sync across my devices, at which point the love affair may begin.

Word for iOS is pretty great. It’s much better than Apple’s own Pages. I still don’t enjoy creating in it, though. It would feel like cooking dinner in a suit. All those unnecessary buttons and toolbars, none of which have anything to do with the flow of words.

Do you write on your iPad? What program do you use?

What do you think?

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