- 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.
- An interface that seems too complex because the app itself offers so many features.
It’s only been a couple weeks since I decided to give Obsidian yet another try and yes, this is going to work out. I’m so glad I decided to give it a try again. A few brief thoughts too about interstitial journaling.
First, my primary use of any markdown/text app is for writing blog posts. In this regard Obsidian is generally on par with any other markdown editor and so it’s easy to just copy my archive over. That’s the beauty of working from folders of files. I duplicated and tweaked my previous Shortcuts for quickly creating new posts from the Home Screen or for link blogging from a web page that now save to my Obsidian folders.
As for journaling, I’ve only ever been irregular at that effort. Obsidian has the daily note feature to help the process along so I took a look at various templates in the hopes that perhaps I’d find one that might help in the process. After a few days I found it wasn’t quite what I wanted. As I browsed around I hit upon “interstitial journaling”. My first thought was, no, not for me.
If you’re not familiar, the basic concept is to just record a timestamped entry when you’re between tasks. Note what you’ve finished, what you might work on next or if you’re taking a break. A sort of running commentary on the day but geared towards productivity. But I wasn’t looking for a productivity hack or anything focused on that. I tend to do fine getting work tasks done without any additional tools or apps. I’d rather my journaling be a bit more open. But something about frequent, time-stamped writing appealed to me. The structure isn’t topical, it’s not definite or set. I’m viewing it as a tool for simple self awareness and as an opportunity to note thoughts and activities as they seem worth noting.
A week in and I have to say that I’m really digging it. I set aside any desire to focus on some sort of constant productivity/task journal and have simply used it to check in. The time stamping pulls me in, I honestly don’t know why. But I do know that I’m writing more as a result. Also worth mentioning, there’s a behavioral phenomena called the Hawthorne effect that several folks have mentioned. The idea being that people “modify an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed.” The idea in relation to interstitial journaling is that as one starts paying attention to the moments of a day with the added intent of recording those moments, a kind of self awareness sets in.
I suppose in a round-about way I am, in fact, being more “productive” but frankly, I’m just not fond of all of the nerd focus on productivity. I’d much rather think of it in terms of cultivating self awareness. Regardless of the framing, I’m finding it enjoyable and useful. And, unexpectedly, I feel like my days are longer and almost more meaningful as a result of the increased focus on my daily activity.
It’s worth noting, that most of what I’m doing with Obsidian I could have accomplished with iA Writer or other markdown editor. It’s a strange thing really but it’s a fairly small design detail that partly served to prompt my look back to Obsidian. I wanted to be able to more easily navigate and see all my files in folders at the same time. Most markdown editors have a sidebar file browser that functions as a singular column list of files. It makes for a lot of clicking or tapping to navigate. Obsidian offers disclosure triangles and it just feels easier and faster to view the contents of multiple folders at once.
That said, Obsidian is extendable via plugins so it does actually do quite a lot beyond a standard text editor. But out of the box it can be used in a more standard way. As I poke and prod I expect I’ll share a bit about some of the more advanced features.
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 micro.blog plugin so I used that to post to micro.blog 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.
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.
New keyboard day. The iClever is thin and light, it folds in the middle with a split layout that takes a bit of getting used to but after an afternoon it’s feeling pretty good.
Each side is angled outward a bit which aligns better with the positioning of arms and hands placed in front of a person.
A note: This post started as reply to Jason's excellent post about the iPad being his computer again. I decided to turn my reply into a blog post instead.
In his post Jason focuses on three key attributes of the iPad that he feels are important: Simplicity, familiarity, and flexibility. Though I agree with those points I wanted to focus on flexibility as that's what I find most draws me to the iPad. In online discussion the iPad is often compared to laptops, usually Mac laptops. This makes sense given that a tablet is thought of as a mobile device. But as Jason points out, attach an iPad to an external display, keyboard, trackpad or mouse and it starts to feel like a desktop. Add a hub and a couple of attached drives for a more complete desktop replacement as needed.
For the past few days I've been using the iPad in the Twelve South HoverBar Duo clamped to my little wooden lap desk. Still very portable in my house but not in the way a laptop is. This wouldn't be a solution for a coffee shop, but in-house, it's excellent! I can sit at my desk with it or I can recline back in a chair or couch. The HoverBar Duo lets me raise, lower, swivel or move it closer or further away. Far more options than I'd get in a laptop configuration or even with the stand that I often use. Not only do I have more variability in position but it frees up more space for the keyboard/trackpad/mouse. Lastly, this is more stable than the iPad in a stand on the same lap desk. Back around 2004 Apple sold the G4 iMac which had the arm mounted screen. This feels like that only it's portable!
I think this modularity of the tablet as a display that contains the computer and its own power source really speaks to the strength of the iPad. Agreed with Brandon that it is something different. It absolutely is. But I consider it a better laptop than a MacBook and a better desktop than a MacMini! Better? Yes, absolutely. Because in addition to the free-form modularity of the iPad, I also have a touch screen and built in internet. In other words, in terms of hardware, there is no doubt the iPad Pro is an equally powerful computer (given the existence of the M2 Pro, Max and Ultra processors this is only true to a point) but is also the more flexible option.
Four years ago the argument that the Mac was the better, more complete computer was a stronger argument than it is today due to the limitations of iPadOS. But since then important features have been added to iPadOS. Full cursor support for trackpads and mice, a greatly improved Files app, additional windowing options with Stage Manager and, on M1 iPads, full external display support being the most notable.
No, the iPad is still not a Mac and that's for the better. macOS will always be the more complex, higher-maintenance operating system from the user perspective. But with each year iPadOS becomes more capable while retaining ease of use options for those that prefer or need simplicity. In other words, just as the hardware is more flexible, so to is iPadOS becoming more flexible. Unlike macOS, iPadOS starts with the easy to use, simple tablet experience. But for users that want a more advanced computing experience, the options are there waiting to be turned on.
My ongoing experiment to use Freeform to process and note what I'm reading on the web.
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.
iPad Stories Follow up
A few days ago I posted links to recent stories by fellow iPad enthusiasts. Since then a couple more have come through my Mastodon and RSS feeds. Both of these are really fun reads.
First, there’s Michael Sliwinski, founder of the Nozbe to-do app. I’ve been reading Michael’s blog for awhile and this recent post about the versatility of the 13" iPad Pro is excellent. I think he perfectly sums up why so many of us love the iPad:
I love the form factor of a tablet. Keyboard is optional. This super powerful M1 iPad Pro 13” is a beautiful slab of aluminum and glass that can be used for reading, watching, playing and you can do it in both portrait and landscape modes. And when you hold it in your hands, you only interact with it via touch. After more than a decade with it, it hasn’t stopped being the best form of interaction for me. And it just brings joy.
He shares a variety of ways that the iPad get’s used during a day from company tasks to using Apple’s Freeform app for math homework with his daughter to mobile video editing with LumaFusion.
There’s also Brandon McMullen who shares his thoughts on the iPad. I really appreciate the detailed description the various tasks that he accomplishes with the iPad in his office at a construction company:
I use it to view & annotate blueprints, scan and sign documents, deal with employees time and expenses, as well as remote in to my work PC (using Jump Desktop) when I am out of the office.
Then, for entertainment and reading:
To me, the iPad is the ultimate entertainment device, where the Mac is more limiting. I can go laptop like experience with my Magic Keyboard case and switch seamlessly to tablet mode to write or journal with my Apple Pencil. I can rotate my iPad to portrait mode for a killer reading experience for catching up on my RSS feeds with Reeder or reading my saved articles through Pocket.
And, like Michael, he points out that being able to hold the iPad as a tablet without a keyboard is a more personal experience.
I think that the iPad’s secret weapon is its modularity, it can conform to what you need it to be way better than a desktop or even a laptop can.
Finally, he shares observations of how others are using the iPad around him.
As far as how I see others use the iPad, I can only speak to my circle of friends and family and anecdotal evidence I see when I am out and about. But I feel like at least for the people around me, the iPad is widely used and accepted by all sorts of people. My wife uses a 12.9″ iPad Pro and iPad mini 6 as her only computers… My two young boys both have iPads in kid protective cases for learning, schoolwork, and Apple Arcade games (no ads or in-app purchases!). To them, the iPad is the only computer they have ever used and they can navigate it effortlessly. My parents both use iPads as their only computers.
He also shares observations of the many people around town that he regularly sees using iPads. He also offers more details about the importance of the iPad in the construction industry where it’s used out on job sites, going so far as to describe it as indispensable for his company. It’s a very interesting peak into real-world field work scenarios that I’d guess are fairly common but not often discussed.
I guess the point of saying all of this is once you get out of the tech nerd bubble, you see lots of regular people choosing to use iPad because it is the best computer for them. They are almost assuredly not even aware of the great Mac vs. iPad debate.
For those interested in the iPad as a flexible, modular computer it’s a great read. I wish Apple shared more of these kinds of stories.
Some recent iPad Stories
It’s been enjoyable to read the recent iPad related posts by several indie bloggers over the past few days. I’m considering the possibility of setting up an old fashioned web ring for Indie Apple bloggers that fall outside of the well known pundits. I think it might be useful and fun to have a little neighborhood of folks that regularly write about how they use Apple tech. My particular interest is the iPad but I wouldn’t want to limit it to that. Hmmm.
Here are the posts in no particular order. There’s Rob’s post, “The iPad Works":
I’m not suggesting that the iPad is perfect or that everyone can use it for their work. That would be almost as silly as suggesting that it can’t do any real work. We are fortunate that Apple has created, and continues to improve, several computing platforms. Each has its strengths, but also significant overlap in their capabilities and the types of work that can be accomplished using them. I find it odd that some pundits find the need to pit these platforms against each other, as if one must win out over the other. It’s not a competition.
Warner Crocker wrote “The iPad Mystery That Isn’t Really a Mystery":
So I say enjoy the ride while the riding’s good. There’s no Goldilocks iPad for all. There’s no Goldilocks computing platform for all. There probably shouldn’t be and I hope that always remains the case. Niches can be nice. And besides, we’d all be bored and begging for more anyway if the game just stopped.
Jason McFadden recently posted “iPad is not a laptop":
Viewing iPad for what it is correctly sets expectations and avoids disappointment. When you know what it’s great for, you’ll use the iPad for those things and find it a great device. But if you want or need the full power of a laptop, then the iPad won’t suffice.
And another by Jason: Maybe there’s room for tablets:
Hearing how others get “real” work done on iPad and enjoy the “iPad way” makes me welcome the tablet bug biting me. And I know I don’t have to ditch my excellent MacBook in the process; I’d likely use both. In fact, I kind of miss the Sidecar and Universal Control features I used before. The iPad can serve as a 2nd display to the MacBook, either as an extended macOS screen or simply as the iPad itself but with the mouse cursor effortlessly moving to it from the Mac.
I’m not planning on writing this up, but I have gone through iPadOS 17, and all my old posts about iPadOS 16, and collated a list of many of the things Stage Manager still gets wrong.
I appreciate when users take the time to document problems but it’s worth noting that in some cases “wrong” is opinion as opposed to broken. Just one example in the list, the dock disappearing when a window is moved down to bottom of screen. I like and want that to remain as it’s useful to me. I can swipe the dock up if needed or move the window.
Testing a mouse with the iPad. Works better than I expected but it’s an old, cheap mouse. Scroll wheel is a bit funky and every now and then tracking get’s wonky, seems like the bluetooth connection is lagging. Anyone use the Logitech Lift mouse with an iPad? Do the multiple buttons work on iPad?
Multitasking and Windowing on the iPad Pro
In recent days I've been thinking more about multitasking and windowing on larger iPads. I posted a couple days ago about using the iPad Mini more often in part because I'd been feeling that I might be better served by the smaller iPad Mini for non-work, everyday sort of browsing and reading.
Is Mac windowing the ideal?As luck would have it the same day I posted that story the weekly episode of Mac Power Users was released and the topic covered: window management on the Mac. In recent weeks and months I've been seeing the topic of window management on the Mac come up on Mastodon and podcasts. When I've seen it come up it's being posed as "why is window management on the Mac still a mess and when/how will Apple fix it?"
I can't help but puzzle at this because for the past couple of years much of the ongoing critique/frustration directed towards the iPad from the nerd community has been along the lines of "iPad multi-tasking is terrible, the iPad needs windowing like the Mac, the iPad needs macOS, etc." Then Stage Manager came last year and that critique got louder with the Mac being held up as the windowing that the iPad needs.
So this iPad user has been surprised to hear recently that at least some users think windowing on the Mac is too complex and needs to be fixed. 🤨🤪🧐
In the MPU episode one of the solutions mentioned repeatedly is tiled windows which is an option in Windows OS. On the Mac there is no Apple provided solution for tiling beyond 2 split windows but there are several 3rd party solutions and these seem to be fairly popular for those that don't want to spend a lot of time with arranging free form windows.
Multitasking and windowing on the iPad
When using the 13" iPad, more often than not, I only actually use one app at a time. And on the occasions that I need more than one app it's often just 2 apps that I need and the relatively simple Split View is likely all I need to do the task at hand. Before the introduction of Stage Manager with iPadOS 16 Split View served me very well. Though it is a more limited option the basic functioning of two Split View windows is also easier, faster and requires practically no maintenance by me. It provides a hint at why some Mac users want window tiling as an option.
I can understand why some users would want more than two app windows and that's why Apple tried to solve the problem first with Slide Over windows and then the floating windows found in picture-in-picture video and then Quick Notes. Though helpful all three of those options have their various limitations in terms of sizing and placement on screen. And of course in each case they cover up a portion of the screen. Some (myself included) wished for an option to have three tiled windows rather than just 2 Split View. I'll come back to that.
With the first version of Stage Manager users got something close to tiling. A kind windowing with floating windows with more sizing options than previously but still managed in placement. Almost tiling but not quite. Almost free form Mac windowing but not quite. And for the past year at least some iPad users complained quite loudly that it still didn't solve their problems.
For the past year I've been using Stage Manager on the 13" iPad Pro and enjoying it. In the cases when I needed 3 or more apps on screen it has been very helpful. But it's worth pointing out that even the 13" iPad is on the small size when compared to laptops in part because window chrome takes up more space. On the 11" this is even more true. With the added window chrome and border space around windows forced by the OS, really makes using 3 windows or more feel cramped. It works on the 13" screen but I can't imagine using that many windows on an 11" iPad.
In using Stage Manager on iPadOS 17 beta I've found that I spend more time managing windows than I did with the previous version. While it's true that I have much more control of positioning and sizing that increased control also translates into more time and effort from me. But this is exactly what many users clamored for. A more Mac-like, free form windowing.
But there absolutely is a trade off. While the previous version was more restrictive in some cases, for example if I just want two evenly split windows, it was much easier. I could set them up and if I wanted to switch sides I could just drag one and the OS would move the other for me. Now I have to move one window then move the other. It's a small thing but it can add up over a day as you find yourself adjusting tasks and workflows.
Between the two versions of Stage Manager I'm not sure which I prefer or if I actually would be better served going back to that simpler multitasking version Split View with Slide Over as needed. On the smaller screen of the iPad, with more window chrome, I'm starting to think that there is a third, better option.
Personally I was hoping for some version of tiled windows. Watching this video review of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Plus and at about 3:46 I see something very close to what I would consider ideal. Essentially, it's an improved version of Split View that allows for up to 3 windows that can be split into any size. It also allows for windows to be pulled into "pop-up view" which is, essentially, a free form floating window that can be any size and positioned on top of the background windows. It looks to be easier to manage than Stage Manager while offering more options than the iPad's Split View of just 2 windows that can be split into 50/50 or into a 25/75 view. I think a 3 pane Split View would be far more useful than the current model that allows for the addition of a Slide Over window that covers other content.
Whether we're talking about the Mac or iPad or some other computing platform, there is no perfect way to do app windows on a screen. There are options ranging between free form windowing and tiled/managed windowing. On the iPad I do think Stage Manager as optional mode is definitely an improvement and I suspect that many that wanted windowing on the iPad will be happy with the new freer form implementation.
For myself, I'll be wishing for tiled windows in the above mentioned Galaxy Tab review. An option for a third pane Split View with free-form splits of any size would be my ideal.
Love Notes to Newton is a film about what a beloved (but short-lived) pen-based Personal Digital Assistant created by Apple Computer has meant for the people who used it, and the community who adore it.
I never used a Newton but as someone who loves the iPad I really enjoyed this documentary. And have a better sense of the lineage of the iPad as a result. And so much fun to see nerds nerding out about things they love.