The Advantages and Weaknesses of Writing a Major Assignment on the iPad Pro

I’ve been -too- very slowly working through a professional teaching qualification which requires lots of essay writing and research. Last year I was working on my assignment with my old iPad Air (first generation) and a few tools like DEVONthink and some PDF readers. However, this year I have my new 10.5” iPad. So I thought it would be interesting to compare any differences, especially as last year I ended up using my MacBook Pro a fair bit.

My Problems with using only the iPad Air

Most of my issue with the iPad Air came from moving between reading and writing and handling PDFs.

1. No split view on the iPad Air

The original iPad Air had slide over post iOS 9 but not split view. When slide over was in use, the background app became unresponsive so you couldn’t keep a PDF open in the background and your note taking tool in the foreground.

2. Small slideover apps

Slide over apps are kept in a tiny iPhone wide display. This isn’t really suitable for some PDF viewers which will open a PDF as wide as the apps container (meaning very tiny text until you enlarge it). This made writing and then pulling up a PDF to check a poor experience.

3. Awful app switching

The app switching interface in iOS 9 and 10 was excruciatingly frustrating. Sometimes it “just worked” and the app you needed would be one of the first three suggested…other times you spend ages hunting for the right app.

4. Issues with Word Docs

I decided to write in scrivener (so I could organise different sections) but then do final edits in word (as scrivener had some formatting issues). Correcting the formatting issues was easier on my MacBook Pro and syncing between scrivener on my MacBook Pro and iPad caused some issues.

5. It was just easier to use both

Although I could have pushed through with using “only” (terms and conditions applied) the iPad, it was just easier to use both and I didn’t want to waste time solving a problem, I just wanted to get the assignment done. In the end it as easier to use both iPad and MacBook Pro as this meant I could use the iPad for my PDFs or notes, and the MacBook Pro for writing up.

BUT, I still used the iPad for writing

Now, there were some moment where I really valued using the iPad on it’s own. I really enjoyed typing in portrait mode on the iPad and it was great to go to a coffee shop with a couple of books and just type out my essays with fewer distractions (one of the main reasons I love the iPad for writing). Still, I’d often have to brush them up at the end on my MacBook Pro.

So has it changed with the iPad Pro 10.5?

Well.. yes and no. In preparing to write this, I realised that I had been influenced a lot by my previous experience and I perhaps wasn’t giving my iPad Pro the full work around. At the same time there are still some issues I face when using the iPad Pro only.

3 ways the iPad Pro 10,5 is VASTLY superior for writing an large assignment

1. Better Slide Over and Split screen

Split screen and slide over work much better on the iPad Pro 10.5 than the iPad Air. For one, there is split screen on the iPad Pro, whereas previously I didn’t have it! That’s great for keeping both items on the screen for extended periods with writing and a PDF, however I use slide over more as it takes up less space, and my note taking app can be quickly slide off screen and back on screen when needed.

2. App selection improvements

I’ve put a few essential apps on my dock (like DEVONthink and Scrivener) and the most recent apps are often also in the suggested area. This when combined with summoning spotlight for those rarer apps make it much easier than before.

3. Improvements in Scrivener, DEVONthink and Word

These are probably the three apps I use the most for my assignment, Scrivener for managing the whole project (I like keeping my draft writing so I can return to ideas that I decided to cut out and I can reference the longer formed way I wrote something before I cut it to fit a word limit), DEVONthink keeps my notes and PDFs as well as some webarchives of useful articles, and Word for final finishing off of an assignment to ensure the correct formatting.

Scrivener syncs perfectly for me now (just need to make sure you save before editing) and DEVONthink just grows and grows (plus I have some great workflows form Club MacStories to save items. Thanks Viticci). Word now costs me money (as you need a subscription on Microsoft office 365 for an iPad Pro) but it works well and gets the job done (if only you could edit styles on the iPad). I love that I don’t need to pay for a whole year, just the couple of months this assignment will take.

Three Persistent Issues with the 10.5” iPad Pro

1. Split view still isn’t great on a 10.5 screen

For a long time I debated the merits of the 10.5” iPad Pro vs the 12.9”. As I was writing my assignment last year I thought the 12.9” was a must have for split view. However, after I finished my assignments I looked at the type of work I did the rest of the year, where portability is the top priority for me. And the speculation of the 10.5” iPad offering better split view seemed good enough.

Still, I’m sure a larger screen and better split view of a 12.9” iPad would be much better still.

2. Some apps still don’t support split view

Annoyingly enough there are some apps that I use (particularly book reading apps) that don’t support split view! Of course they can be used with slide over as it isn’t dependent on them but slide over is still useful.

3. PDFs can be…awkward

PDFs are great except when they aren’t. It issues with readers, some apps handle them better, but sometimes they will fit the width of the app screen (i.e. a thin slide over app) and even when you can pinch to zoom in, they may suddenly go back to the old perspective.

A conclusion

With this assignment I’ve been using my MacBook Pro along side my iPad more again, mainly so that I had the extra screen real estate for keeping my research on.

At the same time, I am using my iPad Pro more than I used my iPad Air for all tasks as it is better suited to the task. At the same time I still wonder if the 12.9” would lead me to use my MacBook Pro even less. Luckily, I don’t need to write these long assignments all the time so this may not be an issue for me again in the near future.

Apps mentioned

10.5 iPad Pro Back Case from Khomo

When the 10.5 iPad Pro came out, there was one accessory that was missing from Apple’s line up. The iPad Pro Silicone case which provides protection for the back of the device. The first generation of iPad Pros had seen apple take a different approach by not making a “smart case” but instead separating the case into two part, one the Smart Cover or Smart Keyboard and the other a silicone back case with a gap for the Smart Cover or keyboard.

Nearly a year later and there still isn’t a 10.5 silicone case and using the old 12.9” case on the new iPad Pro 12.9 can cause some issues. However, there are some third part offerings and I recently grabbed one from Khomo on Amazon. But is it any good and should you consider getting one?

What’s the point in a back case?

You may be wondering why I’m even bothering with a back case for my iPad? For a long time many within the Apple community lamented the trend in phone cases as the phone “was meant to be held naked.” Likewise, adding a case adds bulk to the iPad and no functional benefits unlike a screen cover which can protect the screen and prop it up. Well there are a couple of reasons I can identify and they are important for working out is a case is good or not.

The Good

Starting with the good points, the Khomo case is very comfortable to hold. The texture of the material is akin to the material you find on the outside of the Smart Keyboard cover. This means it melds into the the Smart Keyboard and cover as well, feeling like it is from the same product line. This was one of the main reasons I chose the …, so that it would match my keyboard cover.

The raise lip of the case works well with the Smart Keyboard which when folded up doesn’t overlap but instead merges in. Forming a near flat layer across the top of the iPad. This also means you’ve got a little bit of protection if you happen to drop your iPad without the keyboard case attached as the case will hit the ground first and absorb some of the impact instead of the screen.

The bad

It’s not all perfect though, there are a couple of touches which are interesting design choices. Not having owned the last iPad Pro, I can’t compare these decision with the offical apple version. Regardless, they aren’t the most comfortable choices.

There is a gap at the bottom below the touchID home button and where the lightning port is. This helps for charging and is useful for locating the touchID sensor. At the same time, the absence of the lip of the case in this single location is a controversial decision. Now in defense of the case, if they left the lip here, I’m sure I’d complain that touchID would be uncomfortable, but perhaps a better alternative would be to have an groove there but still some material to keep the look.

While the last decision has some reasons to defend it, the second is much harder to justify. That is the difficulty in accessing the power and volume buttons in the case.

The case has cut out sections for the different buttons. These provide a clear indication of where the buttons are and can be found by sliding your finger along the edge of the case, except the buttons are deeply recessed thanks to this decision. As such, you have to move your hand round to a comfortable position to press the buttons properly. With the power button this is made worse by the size of the gap and slot for the speakers. This makes it harder to find the button and then press it.

The net effect is that I’ve change my habit from tapping the button off to closing my keyboard case to switch the screen off. This isn’t a great sign when someone changes their habit to adapt to your design decision.

A final comment that may be a disadvantage or advantage to you depending on your perspective is the lack of Apple Pencil support. Some cases do provide a slot to hold your Apple Pencil, but the Khomo case doesn’t. To fulfill this need, I stuck a Leuchttrum pen loop onto the side of the case. It holds the pencil well, but it will lead to the pencil’s power slowly draining. A problem with any case that holds a pencil due to its proximity.

What I haven’t been able to test

There are a couple of aspects of the case which I haven’t had the chance to check yet. These include how the case affects the temperature of the iPad (iPads can under some conditions get hot and turn off. When we walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain I was glad that my old iPad Air didn’t have a case to overheat.

I have no desire to intentionally drop my iPad Pro and see how resistant the case makes it. If you wish to make this test possible, the send me 1000 for a potential replacement and I’ll do the test.

Buy/Don’t Buy

Overall, I’m happy with the back case. It has set my sticker game back a bit but I like the look and the whole iPad feels a lot slicker now. The added protection is a real benefit too.

If you don’t care about a backcase, then don’t check this out. But if you’ve wanted some extra protection for your iPad Pro and bemoaned that Apple didn’t ship a silicone back case for the 10.5, you really ought to check this case out.

The back case was purchased out of my own product and the opinions expressed are completely my own.

Apple’s Education Efforts Miss the Mark

Making The Grade: Why Apple’s education strategy is not based on reality | 9to5Mac

Apple’s problems in education actually have less to do with the iPad being $299 or $259. They have a lot more to do with the story that they are framing in education being considered a pipe dream for a lot of the education market.

Education didn’t need a faster iPad. Education didn’t need Apple Pencil support. Those are great features for a consumer-friendly iPad, but education needed a clearer signal from Apple that they understand how school districts actually operate around the country and around the globe

Bradley hits the nail on the head here. As a teacher myself (in a very different situation from US teachers in public/state schools) I face some different challenges and yet still have the same reaction here. It feels like the kind of things when someone from outside an industry tries to “disrupt” it, and solves a non-existent problem. Sure the smart annotations features are nice, but I’d happily exchange them for the solutions Bradley hints at.