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

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