All posts by Thomas

My name is probably Thomas (yes, it is). I'll be able to help you figure out why Evernote isn't syncing, or recommend your favourite new RSS reader to you. That's partly because I am enamoured with the iOS ecosystem and hardware, but mostly because I'm Canadian.

Multitasking on the iPad Pro


One of my primary reasons in testing the iPad Pro was to see how much of a difference it would make to multitasking. I was playing around with a few apps in Split View on my iPad Air 2, but it was more like a mode that I would activate intermittently — not my default way to work. Split View came in really handy as I finished articles up on the Air 2. I’d split iA Writer and Safari and copy links across the two halves of the screen, without ever having to leave the app. This was a lot less work than tabbing back and forth between the apps in iOS 8.

Portrait of Two iPads

The iPad Pro’s gargantuan screen is large enough to display two full iPad apps in landscape mode. I say “full” because running two apps in Split View on the Air 2 will result in two iPhone-class apps running adjacent to one another. For some apps this just means the sidebar will disappear, but it can be a more drastic difference in other apps. Safari, for example, stops displaying tabs along the top of the screen and adopts the tab button (displayed along the bottom bar) of the iPhone version of the app. These UI changes can be a little jarring, even though the content of the app stays the same.

It has to be said that multitasking on the Pro is just silky smooth if you’re just using touch. The Air 2 isn’t slow, but the Pro is like butter. There are some really great combos I’ve played around with over the past week:

  • Safari + Evernote for note-taking
  • Safari + Procreate for drawing
  • iA Writer + OmniFocus 2 for attacking work
  • Tweetbot + Messages for idle chatting while I watch TV

This doesn’t look like much when I condense these app combinations into bullet points, but it’s the first use case that has proven really interesting to me. Having a full-width version of Evernote beside my browser has been indispensable for doing research. I’m thinking about a trip to Japan next year and I made copious use of Split View to copy itineraries from Safari into Evernote for later comparison. Things got even better once I added the Pencil to the equation because I no longer had to disrupt the flow of researching and writing.

It has also been very useful to write a draft outline in bullet points and have that displayed beside iA Writer on the Pro. I usually do a 75/25 split in these cases, as I like having a lot of room for text. But it’s a lot better than keeping my outline below the text, which is how I used to work on the Air 2.

Pro Optimization

The only downside to getting used to Split View is that you really notice when it doesn’t work. We’re still waiting on Google apps like Hangouts, YouTube, and the entire Google Docs suite to support iOS 9 multitasking. These apps are starting to be a thorn in my side because they will always launch in full-screen and they aren’t optimized for the iPad Pro’s larger screen (so the UI is just a blown-up iPad Air 2 UI). This will eventually be solved over the coming months as apps catch up to iOS 9, but it does affect my workflow in the mean time.

The Split View Launcher Already Feels Outdated

For the purposes of discussing Split View in this article, the primary app is the one running on the left side of the screen (using the existing card-view app switcher), while the secondary app runs on the right (and uses the Split View switcher).

With that said, I stand by what I wrote a few months ago: the Split View launcher isn’t designed to scale. Swiping down on the secondary app to reveal a single column of app icons just sucks. It’s slow, there’s no way to activate search, and you end up having to scroll through a very long list of icons if you haven’t used a particular app in a while. I only mention that in this article to state that: yes, this still sucks, even on the iPad Pro. Perhaps especially on the iPad Pro because you’ll want to do more multitasking on this device.

Preserving App States in Split View

It’s taking me a while to learn how iOS treats the secondary app in Split View. Let’s take an instance where Safari is my primary app and OmniFocus 2 is running as the secondary. If I press the Home button and check Google Hangouts (which does not support Split View), Hangouts will display as a fullscreen iPad app. I could still load OmniFocus 2 over Hangouts at this point, but only as a SlideOver app (which basically runs it as a layer on top of my current primary app). Still with me?

split view mechanics

Here’s where it can get a little disorienting, and it’s the part that I’m still trying to get used to. Once I’m done in Hangouts I’ll press the Home button and want to get back to what I was doing before (Safari + OmniFocus 2). I could tap the Safari icon, but since OmniFocus 2 was loaded as well, I should also be able to tap on that.

What I expect when I tap on OmniFocus 2 is to return to my previous setup: Safari as primary and OmniFocus 2 as the secondary app. That was the layout I had specifically set up before I went to check Hangouts. As a user I expect that iOS will remember and respect state that I left my apps in.

However, what actually happens when I tap on OmniFocus 2 is that it loads up and displays full-screen. There are no secondary apps, just OmniFocus 2. In order to turn OmniFocus 2 back into a secondary app I have to go back to Safari, reactivate Split View, and tap the black divider bar to finalize the arrangement.

I think I understand Apple’s logic here — that any icon you tap on the home screen will become a full-screen app — but I don’t think it plays very well with how multitasking is presented on iOS 9. Apple is obviously trying to offer a sense of app persistence in multitasking with Split View and Picture-in-Picture. However, I think this current implementation misses the mark.

A better solution would be to allow two ways to return to my Split View setup. I should be able to tap either Safari or OmniFocus 2 to return to my custom arrangement: Safari as primary, OmniFocus 2 as secondary.

The Best Split View Use Case

I haven’t had terribly long with the iPad Pro, but I have had a few months’ experience with Split View with the iOS 9 beta on my iPad Air 2. So I know that Split View works smoothly without any lag on the Air 2 and Pro, but that it has some significant gaps while using a hardware keyboard. There are times when keyboard shortcuts need a few seconds to respond after you switch to an app, and other instances where keyboard shortcuts just don’t work (I’m looking at you, Spotlight!).

So my recommendation for taking full advantage of Split View on the Pro is to stick to a Smart Cover and Pencil. This keeps you from having to reach all the way up to the top of the iPad Pro’s 13-inch screen to hit “Done” or tap a search result. iOS in its current iteration heavily favours the finger over the keystroke. Luckily, the software keyboard experience on the iPad Pro is pretty good, so a sans-keyboard setup can work out.

In my final iPad Pro article I plan to talk all about the Apple Pencil and how I think it helps to define this device (far more than the Smart Keyboard does). Working with Split View and a Pencil for notetaking really is a different and markedly improved multitasking experience that no other device can replicate.

More on that soon! :)

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Writing On iPad Pro Without A Hardware Keyboard

I’ve written before about the strange fascination I have with the concept of using just an iPad and a stand (usually a Smart Cover) for writing. The major problem for me is that my wrists really haven’t liked it in the past. I’ve tried all manner of wrist positions and chair heights. I’ve kept the iPad farther in on the desk so my elbows had support, and I’ve tried leaving the iPad near the edge of the desk, so my wrists didn’t have to bend so far up to hit the keys. None of that has really worked on previous iPads and I do think it has to do with the fact that I can’t rest my fingers on the keys. Without having somewhere to give my wrists a break, my fingers and palms can quickly start to sweat. That usually forecasts some wrist pain soon after.
What’s interesting to me is that some other writers on Twitter have been trying to use the iPad without a hardware keyboard. Ben Brooks at stated he typed 1800 words on the iPad Pro, and Josh Ginter told me he got more used to the iPad Pro after the first weekend. They don’t have any history of wrist pain or RSI, but they still piqued my interest in the device’s software keyboard. The iPad Pro may lack Force Touch, but its software keys very closely mimic the size of a full hardware keyboard. That’s a first for an iPad.

I’ve now written over 3000 words on this keyboard and my feelings are are still up and down. I’m still slower in writing on an iPad, and I still try to type far too quickly for my own good. I’m a pretty fast and accurate typist on hardware keyboards, and my finger as often fly too quickly for the software keyboard to register keystrokes or gestures properly. A big part of learning to use this iPad pro has been to slow down a little bit.

However, to my surprise, this experiment has been working out. I started out by just leaving the iPad flat on the table. It actually works quite well and makes the keys very easy to press. However, it’s definitely a recipe for a sore neck if you’re going to type more than a few hundred words in a sitting. I tried using the Compass stand from TwelveSouth, but the iPad Pro is just too large for it. The best stands for the iPad Pro are actually those designed for laptops. I pulled out my old AviiQ foldable laptop stand and it’s working wonderfully for the Pro. The entire tablet screen is supported, so there isn’t any shaking of the device as I type.

The full keyboard layout is definitely an asset. It’s easier to hit the keys because the spacing is a little more generous. It’s also far more convenient to reach numbers and symbols without ever having to dig into the specialized symbols menu. Writing in Markdown on the iPad Pro is awesome, especially with the trackpad mode added in iOS 9. I’m starting to prefer this trackpad style selection to using the arrow keys on a MacBook.

I still think that Force Touch could be an asset to the iPads that Apple releases next year, and I really hope they find a way to let us rest our hands on the screen. However, for the first time in the history of the iPad, I can actually write on this device without pain long enough to pump out 600-word posts like this one — which is something I haven’t been able to say of any previous generation iPad. A MacBook would still be the more sensible portable computer for me, but I have to admit that there’s some charm to an iPad-only writing setup.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this is defining feature of the iPad Pro, but it’s definitely useful for other writers who have wanted to use “just the iPad” but always required a hardware keyboard for the previous models. 

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The Problem With Importing XAVC-S Video On The iPad Pro

iPad Pro video import

Read most any iPad Pro review and you’ll see the same line written in different ways: the iPad Pro is powerful enough to render three streams of 4K video simultaneously in iMovie. That’s quite a lot. It’s something my own 2013 Retina MacBook Pro would probably have issues handling. But nobody ever seems to talk about how the heck you’re supposed to get those high resolution files onto the iPad in the first place. I’ve tried asking around on Twitter but haven’t heard any responses from early access reviewers. I have a feeling that they either AirDropped 4K videos from an iPhone 6S, or simply transferred high resolution footage from a computer.

iPhone 4K video looks gorgeous, but I did buy a mirrorless camera and fast lens for a reason. I want to get shallow depth-of-field videos that the iPhone just can’t achieve right now, so simply relying on AirDrop of iPhone videos isn’t a great solution for me. Transferring files from a laptop works, but if you’re going to do that, why not just use the laptop? Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere are far more powerful than any current video editing app on iOS, and they make the cutting process so much faster to boot. Unless the portability of the iPad is of paramount importance, I will always do my video editing on a desktop machine with desktop-class software to achieve better and faster results.

One of my personal tests for the iPad Pro is to see if it can help me edit movies while out and about. Given its price — $1600 CAD for 128 GB Wi-Fi and a Smart Keyboard — and its positioning as pro-level tablet, I think it’s reasonable to expectation to import videos in XAVC-S format from my Sony A6000. I do not expect to create an elaborate movie — just preview and play a bit with what I’ve shot in a day.

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So About That iPad Pro…

Hmm, I really didn’t except to be writing this any time soon, but I listened to so many darn podcasts about the iPad Pro that I wanted to give it a shot. However, it wasn’t the extra RAM, more powerful processor, or the larger screen that piqued my interest. It was all of the talk about the full-sized software keyboard.

I found it really intriguing to hear that people are writing longer form pieces on the software keyboard alone. I’ve written a little about the ergonomics of the iPad’s software keyboard and I thought it would be impossible to make the keyboard ergonomically viable without Force Touch. Typing with a software keyboard and Smart Cover for ten minutes is enough to give me wrist pain, and I thought the only solution would be to allow me to rest my hands on the glass without triggering keystrokes (hence the requirement for Force Touch). But maybe a full-sized keyboard is enough.

That got me thinking about what else I might want to test if I got an iPad Pro. The Smart Keyboard is interesting from a portability standpoint, but it doesn’t seem like anything special for the iPad itself. I really liked the keys when I tried them in-store, but I was disappointed by the single viewing angle afforded by the accessory. I’m far too spoiled by my Logitech Ultrathin. The Logitech Create looks cool, but adds far too much bulk and weight for me to consider it. The iPad Pro already weighs 1.5 pounds and I don’t want a keyboard that will double its weight.

That just left the Pencil, which is the killer accessory of the Pro, in my opinion. I see a lot of articles discussing the Pencil as if it’s a tool for Other People…as if only a subset of people are really qualified to discuss its merits. I disagree with that take on it, and although I think professional artists and designers will benefit the most from this accessory, I wanted to see how a heavy note taker might take advantage of the Pencil as well. I love using Paper and Evernote was recently updated with support for drawing within notes, so I have plenty to test in two of my most-used apps. If the Pencil is as good as Apple promises, it really will allow us to do something that we never have been able to before: to treat a metal and glass like a piece of paper.

So I went out today and nabbed a 128 GB Wi-Fi model + Pencil to write about a few very specific use cases:

  • multitasking on the Pro vs the Air
  • whether the software keyboard is actually more usable than on previous iPads
  • the Pencil in extended use for non-artists
  • using the iPad Pro at a desk for extended periods of time

There are plenty of overall reviews for this device, so I’ll plan to hit up just a few specific subjects and decide whether or not to keep the Pro. I still think it’s inordinately expensive for what iOS file limitations and the available storage ($1500 CAD for the Pro and Pencil), but I was too curious to dismiss the device without ever really trying it out.

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We’re Still Defining The Tablet

The iPad Pro has a ways to go in terms of software growth, but based on this past week of iPad Pro reviews, Apple is setting the stage here. I’m reminded that software updates came to the iPad to add multi-touch gestures, split-screen multitasking, split screen keyboards (which disappeared on the Pro) over a number of years. These were not release features, but software iterations that came about as the world learned how to adapt to tablets. it’s reasonable to think that the iPad Pro is really just the first decisive step for the iPad as a main computer. But that’s not quite the focus of this post.

This year of giant tablets has made me question what a tablet is supposed to be. The most basic definition to me is that it’s a slate computer where the only built-in input device is a touchscreen. But having seen the Surface Pro 4 and the iPad Pro this year, it occurs to me that we’re all still struggling to find a general definition. My dad uses his iPad mini as a second screen for movies. My mom uses her Air as a PDF reader and mobile newspaper. I use mine as a mobile writing machine, photo editor, and large web browser.

Horace Didieu’s video review really nailed what I was thinking when the iPad Pro was first announced: this isn’t really a tablet you’ll want to hold any more. It’s one that you bring from surface to surface, from a lap to a desk. I’m sure it can be cradled in the arm like a clipboard, but it’s not in the same class as an Air 2. It isn’t a one-handed reading device, or a 10-inch eBook for bedtime reading any more. Anything over one pound is just too heavy for me to use in those ways, and it wasn’t until the iPad Air that I really felt like the promise of the tablet was fulfilled.

But looking back at the use cases I cited above, and thinking on the way my friends use their tablets: people use tablets in a lot of different manners, so hinging the definition of a tablet upon weight and portability could be a mistake. My dad’s iPad doesn’t need to be particularly light if it’s mainly a repositionable screen. My mother’s iPad Air doesn’t need to be a certain weight to display PDFs on a stand — and it’ll do an even better job of it with a bigger screen.

Maybe the key to a tablet is its incredible flexibility. You buy a base iPad Pro and choose whether you want to buy an optional Pencil or Smart Keyboard. The thing works just fine on its own, and it’s actually optimized for use with taps of the finger. However, the existence of a first-party stylus and keyboard are statements from Apple that tablets can and should be used for more.

Apple seems to be saying that “tablet” can simply mean “lighter computer” in much the same way that “laptop” meant “portable desktop”. What I’m really curious to see is how Apple embraces other input methods for iOS over the coming months. I’d love to see them enable even more keyboard and Pencil integration to really bring the platform forward.

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Given Current iPad Pro Pricing, I’d Rather Buy a 512 GB MacBook

iPad pro

Apple has finally let the cat out of the bag: the iPad Pro is available for pre-order this Wednesday and is hitting stores later this week.

Here’s a recap of US pricing:

  • $799 for 32GB Wi-Fi
  • $949 for 128FB Wi-Fi
  • $1079 for 128GB Wi-Fi + LTE

[If you’re a Canuck like me, you can check out Canadian iPad Pro pricing was detailed on iPhoneinCanada.]

When the iPad Pro was first announced, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. The larger screen and stereo speakers are great, but the 1.5 lbs. device weight worried me. I like that the Air 2 is less than a pound in the hand, and I think that’s what one of the integral parts of its design: that you can hold it and use it in most any position, unlike a laptop.

In the weeks since the announcement, I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of talk about the iPad Pro. The best coverage came from Fraser Speirs, who had some hands-on time with the new tablet and discussed it on Out Of School episode 155. He says that much of the focus in iPad Pro apps has been on a giant content canvas. On-screen controls are around the same size as they are on the iPad Air 2 — there’s just a ton more space for the content. The 13-inch screen on the Pro provides enough space that you can run full iPad apps side-by-side, without any compromises on space or layout. It’s apparently a lot like having two iPads working side by side and communicating with each other.

I do think there is a good point about how immersive full-screen multitasking can be, but I find the pricing to be prohibitively expensive. If I were to get an iPad Pro, I’d want the 128 GB Wi-Fi version to store all of my photos on, and I’d also want to try a Smart Keyboard out. Factoring the 13% tax in Ontario, I’d pay nearly $1700 CAD for that combo. There’s definitely a lot of power, but that’s a paltry amount of storage for that price range.

At $1700 CAD, the iPad budget starts to compete with my “new MacBook” budget. I could pick up a top-of-the-line 512 GB 12-inch MacBook for $1800 (taxes included). That two-pound MacBook would be just as light and portable as an iPad Pro and Smart Keyboard, and it would also run applications in split-screen beautifully. I mainly tote an iPad around as a writing machine, mobile photo editor, and browser. A 12-inch MacBook could fulfill all of those same needs, and provide me with more power and automation on OS X. This certainly isn’t a big issue to Apple because they’re always happy to cannibalize their own sales.

However, as an iPad fan, I’m almost disappointed to not want one this year. I’m definitely curious about the iPad Pro’s feature set, but it’s is currently priced and specced like a full-fledged laptop when it isn’t quite there yet. With the kind of work I like to do and the files that I deal with, any device above the $1500 price point is going to a device that runs a desktop-level operating system.

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Quick Look: Evernote 7.9 for iPad with iOS 9 Multitasking and Drawing Tools

Evernote 7.9 for iPad2

Evernote’s latest update to hit the App Store brings two great features to the iPad: drawing and multitasking. iPad Pro and Apple Pencil support were also added, but I couldn’t quite test that yet, for lack of all the necessary hardware. I’ll just have to take their word for it.


Evernote now plays nicely with other split-screen apps on iOS 9, so I can have it loaded alongside Safari or Mail for taking notes. This is a very big deal and is really changing the way I use the app across my iPad. I like keeping Evernote as my active Slide Over app, so that I can swipe left from any screen and quickly access or search my notes. This feels comparable to having a desktop-level widget on iOS, and I can only imagine how cool it would be to have Evernote open full-time on an iPad Pro.

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Quick Look: Subterfuge for iPad

Subterfuge for iPad 1

There are a lot of platformers, racing games, and puzzles on iOS, but there isn’t much in the way of unique strategy titles. People have tried to do real-time strategy games before, but games like Red Conquest just haven’t done very well (even though I thoroughly enjoyed that title). Subterfuge is a different take on real-time strategy because it’s basically turn-based in nature. Battles unfold over hours and days, instead of minutes.

But don’t worry: thanks to some really clever in-game features, Subterfuge manages to balance in-depth strategy with truly mobile and accessible gaming.

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The Treatment of Tethered Data on iOS

tethered data

I had a thought the other day about an issue with tethering: the receiving device doesn’t realize it’s on a tethered connection. When I used to tether my MacBook to the LTE connection on my iPad, the MacBook has no idea that there’s a nuance to this connection — that there’s a very limited set of 1 GB of data in the month, and not the 400 GB afforded to me through my home cable connection.

When I tether my iPad Air 2 to my iPhone 6S Plus, the iPad just thinks it’s on Wi-Fi, even though there’s a special icon to symbolize that the iPad is on a tethered connection. That’s interesting because it shows that there’s some recognition of the type of connection (tethered as opposed to a Wi-Fi signal from a router). But it’s too bad that this distinction is only visual, and not practical. iOS recognizes the tethered connection, but it won’t treat it any differently from a Wi-Fi connection at home.

At times this can be useful to ‘cheat’ the cellular download limits built into iOS (e.g., 100 MB maximum for app downloads over cellular). If I *really* need to download an application that’s over that 100 MB limit, the only way for me to do it over cellular is to share my iPhone’s connection with my Air 2. I like having the choice to sacrifice a large portion of my data plan to download a crucial app, when I’m in a pinch.

However, the way tethering is handled can easily work against me, if I’m not careful. If my iPad has a lot of photos to upload to iCloud Photo Library, it would be very easy for me to accidentally suck my data plan dry while tethering. There’s no indicator anywhere in iOS to show that an app is uploading or downloading in the background, so this could easily happen without my knowledge.

I think the tethering interface in iOS could use some tweaking. The ideal would be to have an iPad recognize when it was tethered to an iPhone and treat the resulting data connection as if it were cellular. But that might be too bold. A simpler change would be displaying how much data was used, per device, during a tethering session. This would at least provide some context about the current session and let me make more informed decisions about how to use my precious cellular data.

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My Update On Apple Music

Apple Music
If you had spoken to me earlier this month, I would have told you that I was definitely going to be leaving Apple Music and returning to Spotify. It’s not the fact that I don’t “own” my music, because $10 for unlimited streaming and offline access (as long as I stay a subscriber) seems quite fair to me. Rather, it’s the implementation of Apple Music within iOS 9 that doesn’t feel right.

Simple things like the difficulty I have in seeing the list of songs in my currently playing album. This was never an issue when I synced with iTunes or used iTunes in the Cloud. But tapping the three dots (•••) and tapping on the album art doesn’t always work. Sometimes I’m just brought to an empty album that reads *null*. Having this happen multiple times over the course of a week has definitely put a dent in my desire to explore the service further.

Then there are instances of the iTunes versions of songs being different from what I had in my own library. A slight remix, starker instrumentals — you notice very quickly when a song you’ve listened to for years is suddenly different. I swear the Lost In Translation OST on iTunes is different than I remember.

But then I thought about the alternatives. None of the nearest competitors, like Spotify or Rdio, can currently interact with Siri. That means I can’t utter commands like “play more songs like this” or “play the song ABC”. That only works in the first-party Music app, and I love having that convenience around.

Then there’s the fact that I own an Apple Watch, and although it doesn’t communicate with my iPad, it has quickly become one of my favourite ways to choose and pause my music. I could skip and pause songs that play from my Rdio/Spotify through the Watch, but there’s no interface to choose specific artists or albums. Once again, Apple’s own apps and services hold the advantage here.

I try to keep things iPad specific when I write here, but that doesn’t seem like the best way to discuss a service like Apple Music that is so integrated with all of the devices I own. That’s ultimately what is keeping me on as a subscriber, at least for the next few months, as I give the device a chance to improve. There are a number of kinks to work out, but it’s hard to beat how well the entire service is baked into iOS.

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Apple’s Magic Keyboard As An iPad Keyboard 

Apple’s new $99 Magic Keyboard comes with iMacs, but I think it also makes a great accessory for iPad owners. I went to the Apple Store yesterday to test one out and came away very pleased with the results.

The travel on the keys is much better than the previous generation wireless keyboards, which required a little too much force to register a key press. This new Magic Keyboard feels a lot more like the 12–inch MacBook keyboard, which I also really like. My hands just fly along the keys, and I was able to type at my standard 80–100 wpm (words per minute) within just a few minutes of testing. The slight tilt in the keyboard also makes long form typing a little more comfortable on my wrists.

It also no longer matters that the Magic Keyboard lacks a dedicated home button, thanks to the new keyboard shortcuts in iOS 9. Command + Tab switches between apps, Command + H goes to the home screen, and Command + Space triggers Spotlight search. These shortcuts work on any keyboard attached to an iPad, and so they work perfectly on the Magic Keyboard.

Finally, the Magic Keyboard also makes a great tablet companion because it’s lithium ion battery charges with a Lightning cable. This is a big improvement over the previous 2x AA batteries required to power the previous wireless keyboard, and it also means you’ll only require one cable (Lightning!) to charge your iPad writing setup. The latter could be a deciding factor for a lot of people, since most every other Bluetooth keyboard on the market requires micro USB to charge. If you’re the type of person who wants to reduce bag clutter, the Magic Keyboard could be a great addition to your gear kit.

The only caveat is that you’ll need another accessory to stand your iPad up. I’d recommend the Twelve South Compass if you’re looking for a flexible stand that will be useful anywhere in the house; I vastly prefer it to the Smart Cover for use in writing situations.

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