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Digital Devices Conundrum


Find Silvano D'Agostino's online prose.

Digital Devices Conundrum

Silvano D'Agostino

When I bought an iPad Air 2 a few months ago, I boldly stated I would make it my primary computing device. I haven’t really followed up much, so let me consider briefly the roles iPad and iOS have in my life — both as a content creator and as a college student.

I made a very conscious decision to buy an iPad rather than a new MacBook last year; the first assessment to make is: I have yet to regret that choice, and it’s certainly changed the way I work. Most notably, my MacBook hasn’t left my desk much since. I take my iPad to class and meetings to take notes (using Byword and — because yes, I’m that crazy — iCloud Drive, or 53’s Paper and Notability with 53’s Pencil as a stylus for graph intensive work or sketches of concepts), I do virtually all of my digital reading[1] on iPad (using a combination of Instapaper, Kindle, and iBooks), and I consume most of my (moving-)pictures on it. Most of my writing actually takes place in Byword on iOS (75% iPad, 25% iPhone; the 75% accompanied by Apple’s external keyboard whenever I’m at my desk), although I almost exclusively copy-edit on the Mac. Which brings me to the things I don’t do on iPad; some because I can’t, others because OS X is simply more convenient.

While I read most of my email on iOS, I tend to answer them when I get to my desk, i.e., on the Mac. This is mostly a matter of my email workflow; the few messages that require immediate attention receive treatment on iOS, everything else is sorted or archived (if dealt with at all) and then answered via OS X.

As a heavy OmniFocus user for task-management and with my own adapted version of a Getting-Things-Done-type system, I do have the luxury of having all my tasks with me everywhere. I take lots of notes on iOS, but I do my big mind dumps on the Mac. For the actual “let me see what I have to do next” part, it just depends which device is closest/in use at that moment.

Web “development”, i.e., Squarespace editing (well, and some FTP stuff) belong in the “only Mac”-category. They may be possible on iOS, but the Mac is simply better at those kinds of tasks.

Papers are probably one of the trickiest problems in this computing-device mess. The writing itself is perfectly fine on iPad and I end up using Pages for iOS quite a bit more than I ever expected to write papers I am supposed to print or send as *.doc(x). Research, however, feels a lot more convenient on the Mac — especially since most library-tools have tiny touch-targets and no mobile-optimization whatsoever. I am also in love with Scrivener for certain kinds of projects (both academic and creative); while their iPad app is supposedly getting very close to release, the Mac is the only option for me thus far.

The biggest thing I simply can’t quite do on iPad is file-management; I look forward to Photos changing that to some extent, and iTunes Match for movies is a dream of mine. But the sorting of my numerous Byword files into my iCloud Drive folders works unreliably if at all on iOS so that I mostly sort on the Mac (which also seems like kind of a hack and not exactly what iCloud Drive is intended for, I think, but I like living on the edge, I guess). Editing and sorting of film and pictures is also just a lot more convenient on the Mac and not quite possible on iOS yet[2].

Is iPad my primary computing device? I don’t know. I didn’t talk much about iPhone here, but digital communication (Slack, iMessages and texts, Facebook-messages, Twitter, What’s App), some reading and writing, the vast majority of audio consumption (Overcast for podcasts, for music and audiobooks) as well as a large part of my personal organization (calendar and OmniFocus) take place there; it should thus be more than interesting to see how the Watch will take its place in this conundrum of devices (will it take away from other shares or increase the pie of technology use in my life, for example). As of today, I really think it’s a pretty clean three-way split between iPhone, iPad, and the Mac. My now nearly four-year-old MacBook is in dear need of replacement to be fair[3], especially if I intend to do more video work again, but while a lighter, thinner Mac would be tempting to take out more often, I have found iPad to be very convenient “on the road”[4] — they’ve all found their relevant niche in my life for sure.

  1. Read: Virtually all because fuck physical media.  ↩

  2. I would boldly predict it will never be; by the time that will be feasible, iOS is going to be a very different animal and presumably named something other than what we know today.  ↩

  3. Intel, get those Haswells ready, would you? (Then again, I’m wondering if this might be the time for my first desktop… that riMac is hella tempting!)  ↩

  4. I really wish there were a convenient way to use iPad as a monitor for shooting with a DSLR — that seems like such an obvious use-case to me, it’s sad that it’s hardly and only very hackyily possible…  ↩