The iPad-only Writing Environment

Enter the challenger: iOS

But years go by like so many summer fields; I bought an iPhone about nine years ago, and then I got an iPad Mini as a gift, and I came to love iOS. Or at least, like much of it. Despite this, I relied on a succession of trusty Mac laptops to provide the core of my experience — my go-to place for writing, developing, 3d modeling, even gaming.

First Stop: Hardware

I bought the iPad knowing I’d be using it for writing, and so I got it with an external keyboard. For my iPad Mini, I snagged a used Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover, something that they don’t make any more, and it worked ‘fine’; my fingers are just narrow enough that I could type without miskeying, and it had a Control key, so the lack of an Escape key was bearable. (Ctrl-[ is another way to type Escape, in case you didn’t grow up on VT100 terminals). The pair together was slim enough to slip in my pocket, on some pants, and I could have a writing environment ‘anywhere’.

Workflow 1: Writing for the web

For blogging and whatnot, there’s usually a web interface that works “jes’ fine”. Most of the time I “actually” write in a separate text editor, often ByWord (which supports Markdown and Dropbox syncing), and then cut/paste into the web, to avoid losing text when a web page decides to bail on me.

Workflow 2: Scrivener.

Scrivener is a wonderful application that I used heavily on MacOS, and this past year it got an iOS port after many years in beta. (And, knowing one of the beta testers, that was a very long tease.) The iOS version is comparable, but missing a few key features I enjoy (notably, I can’t find “Scrivenings” mode, which lets you edit a bunch of snippets all at once). It’s sufficient for writing, however, and retains its primary utility at helping you maintain a zoomed-out look at the structure of your story.

Workflow 3: vim + git

But the bulk of my writing has always been done in vim, at the command line.

The solution: iVim + Working Copy (so far)

Three years ago, this just couldn’t be done from iOS; the best you could do was install an SSH client (I use Termius, or Cathode when I’m feeling funky) and get back to someone else’s command line.

Workflow 4: Writing for work

The last type of writing I do is for work. This is almost exclusively done using Microsoft products, usually Word, but often OneNote and sometimes Powerpoint.

Conclusions

For now, it seems, iOS is a perfectly acceptable substitute for a laptop; but it still feels like a substitute. I miss a larger screen, especially when editing-for-flow. A bunch of stuff can be done, but it’s a dancing bear — it’s not so much that the bear dances well, it’s just astonishing that the bear dances at all.

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Alex Feinman

Alex Feinman

Obligate infovore. All posts made with 100% recycled electrons, sustainably crafted by artisanal artisans. He/him/his.