My ongoing experimentation with iPad set-ups continues. A couple of months ago while browsing the web I happened upon a new-to-me concept, the cyberdeck. The idea is to build modular, hacked-together computers that are semi portable. I spent a few hours obsessing over images that presented something very close to what I've been wanting for my iPad set-up for quite awhile.

    At its core a set-up that raises the iPad/screen to eye level, semi-portable, stable, and a place to store/use a swap-able keyboard.

    I've been using this stand for a couple of months now. It's the second stand of this style that I've bought. The other one purchased a couple years ago is now being used to hold a portable 15" screen. This current stand is a bit heavier, especially the base, and even more stable. A couple of notes about the stand and then I'll get into the purpose for adding the cardboard base.

    • The main point in using a stand like this is to raise the iPad fairly high, getting it much closer to eye level.
    • With two hinges it is adjustable to any angle, far better than the limited angles available with iPad Magic Keyboard or other folio style keyboards.
    • This stand is the older style of stand with a non-magnetic back and two support brackets on the bottom to hold the iPad. The newest magnetic stands look very clean and hold the iPad in place but only work with one size iPad based on the current model designs. They're also more expensive. These older style stands are sturdy and the cost is usually less than $25 compared to the magnetic stands that usually come in above $70.
    • I like being able to place my current keyboard of choice on the base while typing.
    An iPad Pro on a stand that has been built into a plywood lap desk. In front of the iPad is an iClever foldable keyboard. To the left is a Magic Trackpad and to the right a mouse.

    Editing to note that since original post the hacky cardboard component has been replaced with plywood. Still a bit rough but okay for a prototype. πŸ€“ Images below depict the original cardboard version.

    Now, why clutter it up with the addition of the ugly, hacky cardboard? In short, the cardboard is a cheap, easy way to experiment and improve the function of the stand. I often work from my futon with a pillow or two in my lap. I'm more likely to be working this way than I am to be at a desk. While this stand is very stable when sitting on a desk, the metal base is too small to be stable on a pillow which means using some sort of lap desk. In the past I've always used a plank of wood as my improvised lap desk and it works very well. I'll still do that when I need access to my trackpad or mouse. But most lap desks, be they the purchased variety with cushion attached to a thin board or my improvised wood planks are quite a bit heavier and more unwieldy to move. And though the stand is stable on the lap desk sitting in my lap, when I need to get-up I do have to be careful that the stand with the 13" iPad Pro doesn't tip over as I sit on the shelf next to my futon.

    An iPad Mini  sits in a stand that has a cardboard base and is resting on a pillow.

    Thanks to the weight of the inserted metal base and the larger surface area of the cardboard, I now have something that is stable on cushy, soft surfaces like pillows. It won't ever tip over unless I intentionally flip it. I've got two pieces of heavy-duty cardboard taped together for a very rigid, sturdy base. I cut a slot in the top piece of cardboard to insert the metal base up to the hinge and between the two layers of cardboard. In addition to the stability it provides its larger size also means a better placement for the keyboard. The stand base is very snug in between the layers of cardboard. When I need to get up or move I can easily move the stand, iPad and keyboard by grabbing the cardboard or the metal arms of the stand. Unlike the stand sitting on a lap desk, this feels like I'm moving one, integrated piece similar to a laptop or the iPad attached to the Magic Keyboard.

    An iPad Pro  sits in a stand that has a cardboard base. The image is taken from the side, rear and shows that an attached, folded Moft stand is clamped over the back metal slap of the stand to hold the iPad in place

    The last bit that makes this work well is having a way to attach the iPad to the stand rather than just having it resting on the brackets. The stand is metal and when I'm using the iPad mini I just use Apple's folio cover folded behind the iPad. The magnets of the folio stick firmly to the stand so the iPad isn't going anywhere. With the larger iPad Pro I have the Moft float stand. It's attached magnetically to the Moft case and I just fold it down over the back of the metal stand. It's not going anywhere.

    So, it's all a bit hacky but some free cardboard and duct tape make for a big improvement. I may well try a larger version next to accommodate use of a mouse or trackpad. For the moment it's easy enough to just use my wood plank lap desk when I need the extra pointer device.

    I made the mistake of putting the iPad Pros podcast on at 3am yesterday. Ended up listening and not going back to sleep. Even worse, it was an interview with MacSparky about Obsidian. I’ve tried that app several times in the past couple of years but it never stuck for more than a couple of months. It always seemed a bit too much and the interface too complex. Also, I considered the non-native interface ugly. If I’m going to be using an app several hours a day I want to be visually pleasing. I’ve been spoiled by iA Writer which has been my go to markdown editor for a few years.

    In any case, listening to the podcast prompted another check-in with the app. But some of what was discussed in the podcast prompted me to take a more serious look this time. So, I spent bits of my day tweaking and moving previous files into an archive folder. I’d previously installed the publish to plugin so I used that to post to a couple times. It works very well.

    I settled into the app for the evening. I spent a bit of time following up on some of what was discussed in the podcast. Back to my earlier points that previously served as blocks to adoption.

    1. An interface that I didn’t like visually. The sidebar was a particular problem as there was no setting to change the font size and I found it difficult to navigate as a result. I shouldn’t have to strain my eyes to navigate my files.
    2. An interface that seems too complex because the app itself offers so many features.

    Obsidian is not just a markdown editor. iA Writer is a markdown editor. While Obsidian has as its base a folder of markdown files, it is, far more than an app for writing text. It is a modular system that uses plugins to do far more. And so the question becomes, do I need all that it offers? Are those extra features something I’ll use and are they worth dealing with greater complexity?

    Right off I’ll say that this time around I’m actually finding the interface not just tolerable but I’m actually enjoying it in a way I did not previously. Particularly the sidebar of the app is working for me now because after a brief search I found a way to modify the font size. This was a hurdle that had to be overcome for me to continue using the app. It is much more usable for me now and if I need to tweak it further I can. I’m not sure why this is not a setting in the app preferences but it should be.

    Something else about the sidebar that I value now is how the app does folder navigation. iA Writer, like many other text editors, has folders that a user taps to navigate into. It’s not an huge problem but it came to bother me that I had to navigate back and forth. Obsidian has a sidebar than can be pinned and even better, the folders are navigated with disclosure triangles so that I can see the content in any or all folders at the same time. Additionally, drag and drop of files into folders which iA Writer does not allow.

    Based on previous experience I didn’t expect to actually enjoy the visual design of the app so this is a big change that’s clearing the way for me to better appreciate all of the additional interface features. Honestly, I think it’s worth calling this out again: The tiny text of the sidebar was putting a kind of cognitive load on me that made the rest of the interface seem overly complex. It IS more complex because the app is more fully featured. But I was struggling just to navigate my files.

    So, now that I’ve got that sorted I’ve spent the morning reacquainting myself with other features of the app though I’m sure I’m still in the realm of the basics. For example, there’s a right sidebar as well that can be swiped in or pinned but I’ve no idea yet how to customize it. There’s the bottom row or ribbon of tools that I should probably customize. And then the “Command Pallette” that I need to investigate further.

    To sum up the experience thus far, this time around feels a bit more comfortable, exciting even whereas previous tries felt more like efforts that left me strained. Of course, it’s to be expected that a powerful, fully featured app requires more effort. I accept this with apps like the Affinity suite. I suspect that starting out with Obsidian requires users to have a patient, slower approach with an initial understanding that it will require more time and effort.

    After a day of use I have a feeling that it might just stick this time.

    I Recently started up a little social sharing experiment using Apple's Freeform app in which Jacob pointed out an interesting use of Muse by Avancee Agency. I really like the idea of processing links of interest using Freeform in the same way. Maybe do a weekly screenshot blog post.

    A screenshot of Apple's Freeform app being used to collect links and text excerpts

    Apple's Freeform as Social Media Collaboration Space

    I woke up at 3am with thoughts about climate change and started composing a blog post in my head. Sometimes at this moment I just fall back to sleep and the post never sees the light of day. But in this moment my mind is awake enough that I reach for my iPad. But instead of opening iA Writer to start a post I’ve realized that this might actually be a case for using Freeform.

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    Experimental iPad Configurations

    Before I dive into the discussion of my ongoing experimentation with iPad modularity I think it would be helpful to provide a description of the physical space and context of my iPad use. I work from a 200 sq ft tiny house which I share with 2 dogs and a cat. Over the past 15 years most of my work time is either in this small space or outside on a porch.

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    Pages and Publisher on the iPad Compared Pt 2

    This story is available as a pdf download. For the first few years of my switch to the iPad I relied heavily on Apple’s Pages app for many of my document layout projects. It’s a fairly powerful app and in most cases was easily capable in creating the newsletters and annual reports I often create for clients. When clients needed printers marks, bleed or other features I fell back to Adobe Indesign, then, later, Affinity Publisher, both on the Mac.

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    Pages and Affinity Publisher on the iPad Compared Part 1

    I've been using Pages since the first version available on the Mac many years ago. And of course I used the first version that was available on the iPad from day one. In the years since the app has gone through many changes as Apple worked to bring compatibility between the iWork apps on the two platforms which began with the Pages 1.7 on iOS and on the Mac, version 4.

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    A screenshot with app icons for Affinity Publisher and Apple Pages. The text reads Apple Pages and Affinity Publisher Compared

    Working on a fun and hopefully helpful two-part article. The overall topic is a comparison of Apple Pages to Affinity Publisher. Though specific to the apps on the iPad it generalizes pretty well to the Mac.

    Part one is centered from the perspective of Pages and I've written the post in Pages and designed it in Pages as a sort of 3 page example of what a user can do in terms of laying out a document with the app. I'll have that as a viewable/downloadable pdf.

    The second part is written from the perspective of Affinity Publisher and will feature a very similar designed document that will highlight some of the additional features found int the Affinity app.

    The goal is to help potential users see and understand the differences in terms of using the two apps as well as the potential results. Posting part one sometime today.

    The iPad Failing Again: Summer 2023 Edition

    Nevermind me, just over hear desinging an annual report for a client. It's late August 2023 and during this slow time for Apple-related news the pundits have all found time to circle back around to the age old problem of the iPad. The most recent round seemed to start with Jason Snell's post Giving up the iPad-only travel dream. I’ve noticed that a lot of my colleagues who were previously working hard to integrate the iPad into their professional work have backed off, retreating to the more flexible and powerful Mac side of the house.

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    A return to the iPad Mini

    An iPad Mini in a stand sits on a pillow with a black keyboard in front of it.

    For most of the past 6 years the vast majority of my computing has been with the 13" iPad Pro. Three years ago I bought an iPad Mini 5 primarily for reading and browsing. And it’s been perfect for that, especially books. So light and easy to hold.

    In fact, I was so enamored with the small size and light weight of the Mini I found myself using it not just for reading but also writing and even some website updates. There was a 3 to 4 month period where I only used the larger iPad when I had projects that required multi page layout in Pages (newsletters, annual reports, etc) or design projects that required Affinity Designer. Otherwise I used the Mini which reminded me of the joy of the tablet experience of the original iPad.

    An iPad mini leans against a small pack. In front of the iPad is a very thin, black keyboard.

    Even more, there was something enjoyable about just how minimal the Mini form factor is when paired with an ultra thin, light keyboard like the Logitech Keys-to-Go. It is the ultimate portable form factor that is still large enough to be usable for my aging eyes. The two easily fit in the smallest of cases.

    I gradually, unintentionally shifted back to the larger iPad Pro for most of my computing even when the larger device wasn’t optimal. Certainly the 13" screen is what I need to use when I’m working with Affinity Publisher or Designer. It’s also the iPad I tend to use for working with Numbers spreadsheets or updating websites because I’m likely to be referencing 2 or 3 apps at the same time for those tasks. The larger screen makes sense in those two scenarios.

    But my habit has been to use it for everything and the large screen is overkill for most things. For all the talk in tech circles about multitasking and multi windows on the iPad, I usually just need one app, one window. And that one window usually doesn’t need to be a full 13". Of course it works but has me covering much more screen with trackpad or touch. And so I’ve taken to shrinking each app window via Stage Manager so that I have a smaller, centered window on the large screen. But that doesn’t actually help that much.

    To put it another way, the larger iPad has been my laptop and the iPad mini my tablet but I’ve been using the laptop form factor for everything, including things that are best left to a smaller tablet.

    So I paused and asked, what are my most used apps and how well do they work on the smaller screen of the iPad Mini? iA Writer, Textastic, Apple Notes, Mail, Safari, Mona for Mastodon and ReadKit for RSS are my most used apps and they all work very well in both portrait or landscape orientations on the smaller screen.

    So, I’ve been making it a point to use the Mini these past few days. I’m leaving the larger iPad on my desk for the actual work related tasks that require the larger screen. For writing and blogging, browsing and simpler website updates I’m using the smaller, tablet-first iPad. I think it will make for a fun little shake-up of my daily routine.

    An iPad Mini sits in a stand on a wood shelf. The iPad is facing left, a black keyboard is in front of it.

    I expect that with the slower processor and less memory (3GB vs 8GB) on the older Mini I’ll notice a few slowdowns when switching between certain apps. But thus far, it’s really not been a problem.

    Thus far it’s been pretty smooth. And as expected, I’m really enjoying the ease of just lifting the iPad from the stand for hand held use when I’m not typing.

    Adventures in RSS apps!

    ReadKit on the iPad Warning: What lies ahead is a lot of rambling about nitpicky details that may bore anyone who is not me to tears. Proceed with caution. My exploration of RSS apps seems never ending. I'm sure I'm not the only one who never seems to be able to find the perfect RSS app (the same is true of writing/notes apps). Years ago I used NetNewsWire on the Mac and it held for a very long time.

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    In episode 176 of the iPad Pros podcast Chance Miller mentioned that when he’s using the iPad he misses TextExpander where he stores long text templates. While it’s possible to save text snippet shortcuts on the iPad they don’t retain line breaks. So any lengthy template of text will just result in a large block of text.

    But there’s an easy work around: Shortcuts. Just set up a simple Shortcut for each text template you regularly use. While it can’t be formatted with rich text it will keep line breaks. And if you use Markdown you can, of course, add all of that for the formatting.

    It’s just a two step Shortcut: Text > Copy Text to Clipboard. Give it a name you’ll remember, then use Siri to run it. With Siri’s new one word activation it’s quite fast to get your needed text then just paste. Or Command+Space and run from Spotlight then paste.

    Not as easy as TextExpander but still pretty easy/fast.

    Using the iPad with Stage Manager? Have a lot of Safari windows stacked up? Remember the different ways to activate App Expose to quickly pick the window you want:

    1. Double tap the Safari icon in the dock or tap and hold then select Show all Windows.
    2. If you’re using a Magic Keyboard (or another keyboard with the globe key) use the globe and down arrow shortcut.
    3. Look in the sidebar of recent apps on the left, tap or click the Safari icon (if it’s visible in one of the 4 spaces).
    4. Activate multitasking and tap the Safari icon anywhere you see it amongst your open apps.

    Of course this works with any app but I suspect that for many people Safari is one that is most likely to have the most windows open.

    The easy way to move Safari tabs on iPad into tab groups. Rather than individually long pressing tabs to move just drag and drop directly from the tab bar or use the tab overview. Multitouch tap and hold to select multiple tabs then drag into group in sidebar. Why haven’t I tried this before?

    iPadOS 17: Improved file content indexing

    For iPad users, it appears that with iPadOS 17 beta file contents are more thouroughly indexed and revealed in Files app search results than previously. Some of these were indexed before but some are new. I’m seeing results from text/html/markdown files in app folders for Notebooks, iA Writer and Textastic. Also content search results for pdfs, Numbers and Pages documents.

    A Shortcut fix for iPad AirPlay to HomePods when using an external monitor

    If you're using an M1 or M2 iPad with an external monitor you'll have noticed that the only audio available is that monitor. If there are no speakers or if the built in monitor speakers are lousy you have a couple choices for audio. Of course, AirPods are an option. Bluetooth to an audio speaker. If the monitor has an audio out you could plug in speakers. But HomePods are another option.

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    iPad Workflow- Using Shortcuts to process images for the web

    Convert image or pdf, resize, save, rename and extract alt text with two taps One of my regular tasks is updating the front page of our regional library website, either adding upcoming events or removing finished events. Our front page is a grid of event flyers with an expandable accordion under the flyer that contains a text description of the event, usually very similar to the flyer itself. A staff member emails the flyer with the accompanying text.

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    An iPad Pro Revival

    I don’t often speculate about upcoming Apple announcements but I’m going to make an exception with this post. And it’s nothing complicated, just putting a few pieces together. Most of it is probably pretty obvious to folks who have been paying attention Apple news over recent months. Before I continue, for anyone not familiar with my blog, I’m a full-time, very satisfied iPad Pro user. I’m not someone who struggles with the iPad, not someone who longs for macOS on the iPad.

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    Pundit fact check: Final Cut Pro and iPadOS

    Yet another installment of an “Apple pundit ignores the facts to write a clickbait story about the limitations of iPadOS”. It’s a bummer that they just make stuff up to fit their preferred narrative. Filipe EspΓ³sito over at 9to5Mac in his work of fiction, Final Cut for iPad highlights iPadOS limitations: This week, Apple finally released Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro for the iPad – two highly anticipated apps for professionals.

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    Why are Mac users so unhappy with their Mac?

    For at least a couple years the Apple pundit mantra has been “the iPad isn’t pro unless Apple brings its pro apps to it”. Well, Apple has begun that process last week with the announcement of Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro for iPad. As I expected the primarily Mac using pundits are moving the goal posts. Here’s one example that popped up today from Dan Moren in his Stay Foolish column at Macworld, Final Cut Pro changes everything and nothing about the iPad:

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