Today I decided to invest in an Apple Wireless Keyboard for the first time since I’ve been an Apple customer. I’ve always enjoyed using them, but I’ve also always owned a laptop, so I’ve had little to no need to actually purchase one myself. Until yesterday.
Yesterday, I spent a large part of my day sitting in a coffee shop writing, not entirely unlike I’m doing right now. What I realized is that I genuinely enjoy the experience of blogging from my iPad. It really is the ideal setup for my style of blogging. When I’m reading and sorting through the news article, I can lean back and hold it like a book. When I’m ready to write I can bust out the keyboard and hammer out the letters and punctuation at my normal not-incredibly-impressive-but-still-faster-than-using-the-on-screen-keypad pace.
If you’re reading this, you probably already know that I tend to blog about on-goings in the Tech Industry or something that catches my fancy. Lately, however, I’ve been notoriously quiet because I’ve been dealing with the transition into full time employment. I’m still within that first year after college, and as much as I enjoy no longer having exams I’m forced to admit that finding room for all the “extras” I’m used to being able to do on the side is still a challenge. No longer do I have ample amounts of time sitting in a boring lecture class where I can zone out or time in the afternoons where I can key up a blog post while I’m cooking dinner and not miss the time. No longer is my computer a device primarily used for my entertainment with the occasional coursework mixed in. No, the situation is very much reversed these days.
I don’t think any of these reasons are the single reason I’m no longer blogging regularly. I suspect it’s more of a “death by a thousand paper cuts” scenario between these and about five million other reasons. However, I’m hoping that the solution might be the flexibility my iPad offers me in terms of mobility and the increased throughput the bluetooth keyboard affords me. So what exactly is the current state of using an iPad and a keyboard these days? I know there have been various articles on this in the past – but as usual I feel compelled to provide my own spin on it.
Of course, one of the best things about having a keyboard to use with the iPad is being able to type using your normal key patterns. Most things work exactly as you would expect, and even many of the macro keys at the top of the keyboard (i.e. volume, brightness) work exactly as they do on a normal machine. You can even make accents over characters exactly as you can on the desktop applications.
Now that we’ve established that this setup works pretty well on the basics, let’s see what happens when we try to do some more advanced things, such as key combinations and interacting with remote servers over SSH.
Pedal to the Metal
After using this for a few minutes some limitations of using the keyboard with the iPad became immediately obvious. None of them are really debilitating, or even devalue the presece of the keyboard when I’m ready to write something, but they do diverge from the normal unity of experience that I expected from Apple products.
What, specifically am I talking about? The absense of keyboard shortcuts. While some global ones work as you’d expect (Command-C and Command-V), other application-specific ones do not.
It may sound like a really simple qualm (I am, after all, using a keyboard with a device that really isn’t intended for a keyboard – I should be happy that it works at all), but there’s a lot to be said for the fact that in Apple Mail or Sparrow on my desktop, I can hammer out an email and then mash Command-Option-D to have the email dispached. On the iPad, however, no such option is made available to me. I’m required to reach over to the screen and mash the Send button. I am also unable to use Command-R to reply to the email I’m currently reading.
This state of affairs is fairly universal across the entire platform. Tabbing through things doesn’t work quite like you’d expect, and you don’t have the option of using the up/down keys to page through a list if you would like to do so. In Blogsy, I can’t use Command-B or Command-I to bold or italicize text. A minor inconvenience, but one that I notice nonetheless.
That said, I’m happy to report that in other areas the keyboard + iPad combo exceeded by expectations. Especially in the realm of interacting with a remote server using Panic’s Prompt SSH Client. While using Prompt I am able to successfully control pretty much any application on the remote server I could need (GNU screen, vim, you name it) and it all work seamlessly as if I was typing straight into iTerm on my Mac. Honestly, being able to maintain my blog’s server or respond to any emergencies at OpenStudy from my iPad with no fuss will pay for itself, I expect.
I highly doubt that I will ever do any part of my full time job solely on the iPad. While I could certainly use vim running on a remote machine as my development environment, there are a number of niceties to having a full computer that I do have to appreciate. Not to mention the fact that I doubt I could stomach the amount of money I’d be required to pay every month to make compiling things with scalac a good experience on a remote server!
That said, it is a delight to see what a good experience interacting with my iPad using a keyboard is for most routine operations. Despite the shortcomings I’ve found, I still think it’ll be a pretty excellent way to write and communicate.
That said, I’m interested to know, have you or someone you know tried to use a iPad for for some or all of your workflow? Be it for your job or you hobbies, like I’m doing, I want to know. Likewise, if you’re brave enough to withstand a little mockery from your coworkers for turning your iPad into a more “laptop” like device and decide to give it a shot yourself, let me know how it turned out for you.