Tablets in general, and the iPad specifically, are great mobile computing devices for two major categories of actions; Consumption/Entertainment, and Productivity/Value-Creating. If you’ve been on this blog before, you know that the focus is on the Productivity/Value-Creation side.
One important channel of productivity is writing, whether in the form of hand-writing or typing. This is especially true for writers, educators, journalists, and similar professionals.
The iPad, as the leading tablet product, is great for this kind of activity. It is more mobile than desk computers (not hooked into a desk!) and laptops (less weight, longer battery life, less peripherals, etc.). It is also more suitable for writing/typing than smartphones, given its larger screens and more optimized writing applications.
This post provides you with ideas and tips on using the iPad for writing on the go.
# Physical keyboard on the go
To write on the iPad, you have several options; using the on-screen keyboard, the Apple Pencil, or a physical keyboard.
Using an on-screen keyboard is OK for quick entries, but it has a number of disadvantages; it takes up valuable screen space, it is slower, and you tend to get tired after typing the first small paragraph. Using the Apple Pencil, and with a suitable app like GoodNotes, you could write your thoughts, then use the OCR feature (optical character recognition) to convert that to text. The issue again is speed, in addition to the reliability of OCR for longer texts.
For true mobile computing, I would argue that a physical keyboard is the optimal input method. It is faster, doesn’t take up screen space, and it offers many (app-dependent) keyboard shortcuts (like cmd+C for copying).
Naturally, there are many options available for a physical keyboard accessories. The first to come to mind (for the iPad Pro) is the Apple’s Smart Keyboard (for the 10.5″ model) or Smart Keyboard Folio (for the 2018 11″/12.9″ models). It is specifically designed for the iPad Pro, attaches easily, and also serves as a cover/case. The main disadvantage, I believe, is the price. The iPad Pro is not cheap as is (especially the 2018 models). With the addition of the Apple Pencil, your total investment could break through your budget ceiling!
My personal recommendation to you is to get the Kanex Portable MiniKeyboard (Used to type this article!). It is a bluetooth keyboard designed for iOS (it has CMD/OPT/Ctrl keys). For optimal mobility, it is very light, foldable for easy storage, and could work for about a week on one charge. In addition, I appreciate the fact that is ergonomically designed to reduce stress on your wrists and shoulders.
# Mobile keyboard setup
An important adaptation of iPad usage that needs to be made, compared with regular laptops, is the setup and dynamic use of the screen-keyboard-Pencil. In other words, people are used to having a physical keyboard with a mouse (or trackpad) to work on a device’s applications. With the iPad, you do not have a mouse-like input. So what is the optimal way to make it work?
Let me give you some ideas based on what I found to be easy/efficient/joyful. This applies to the Kanex keyboard, but could also work with other bluetooth keyboards. The optimal setup would depend on the usage scenario, which could be Typing, Screen, or Annotation centered.
– Setup-A: Typing-Centered
In this setup, your primary focus is on typing. You could be working on an article, a report, an essay, or similar task. This task at hand is not about hand notes, nor document annotations. It is plain and simple typing.
In this case, the iPad would be set up in a laptop-like placement. With a bluetooth keyboard, the iPad would be placed in front the keyboard.
Now, what about your need to touch the screen for menu activation or app switching? The default solution is to just use your fingers. Another cool and effective solution involves using the Apple Pencil as a pointing device! This is useful because the screen could be a bit far away needing you to otherwise stretch your hand. This setup would take some getting used to, but is well worth it!
– Setup-B: Screen-Centered
In this setup, your primary focus is on hand writing notes or drawing/illustrating. You would be using the Apple Pencil and would just occasionally want to type something.
In this case, you would need your iPad to be closer to you for the optimal writing/drawing engagement. For this, I would recommend placing the iPad right opposite to you, and the keyboard behind it. Assuming that you are a trained typist (you could type using ten fingers – without looking!), you would just move your hands forward behind the iPad when you need to type a few words.
This is probably an unusual setup, but is worth experimenting with. You would need a third party bluetooth keyboard that could be placed behind the iPad. I’ve been using this setup for months, and it works wonderfully if my main focus was not typing.
– Setup-C: Annotation-Centered
In this setup, your main focus is on annotating on documents. You could be reading something with a highlighter (your Apple Pencil!), grading student papers, or annotating comments/notes on a report or a work-in-progress document.
Since typing is not the main focus, this setup is similar to Setup-B in that the keyboard could be moved forward, with the iPad taking a prime location right opposite to you.
For annotations, you are probably working on an A4/8-by-11 document. It wouldn’t hurt placing your iPad in landscape mode, but it would be more natural and efficient to place it in portrait mode. Of course, you would need a suitable cover/case, like the Pipetto Smart Case shown below.
The Mobile Computer Blog is a proponent for productive use of mobile devices, especially the iPad. For that to happen, it is of great importance that you have a physical keyboard. Apple’s Smart Keyboard is a good choice with several advantages, but it comes at a premium cost. Another solution I recommend is a buying a good third party bluetooth physical keyboard.
How you set up the iPad with the keyboard and Pencil would depend on the primary focus of your task. This article has showed you three setups for three usage scenarios. Ultimately though, you would need to do your own on-going experimentations to discover the setup(s) that work best for you.
As a closing note, I would like to emphasize the versatility of the iPad as seen above and the many usage possibilities it offers depending on your usage scenarios. For me, that is part of the joy of using the iPad for mobile computing!