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.

Quick Look: Bear for iPad

The screenshot above should also make it obvious, but if you were wondering if iOS has just received another really good-looking notes app that also sync with the Mac, then the answer is yes. Bear uses simple plain text for all of its formatting, so the notes you type out are easily transferrable — at any time — to any other platform or service. However, just because you’re using plain text, it doesn’t mean your notes have to look plain: Bear also handles rich text formatting with Markdown, and it displays pictures right alongside body text.

The Simple Bear Necessities

Whereas other plain text tools like iA Writer 4 focus more on being plain text writing machines, Bear feels like it focuses specifically on taking great notes in a flexible format. There are extra writing elements like word counts and read times in the right sidebar, but I’ve definitely become a bit of a snob when it comes to writing apps: without some sort of focus mode to keep text centered, I don’t consider Bear a full-fledged writing app for my purposes. That’s fine though, because in my brief testing period, it feels like a fantastic app for notes.

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Using the iPad Pro Without the Smart Keyboard

As an update to my previous post on everyday carry, I have been leaving the Smart Keyboard at home and bringing just the iPad Pro around with me. I thought that I’d get into the habit of bringing a stand around with me, but it had felt like just one more thing to bring around. So for the past few weeks it has been just the 12.9-inch tablet and the Pencil for occasional diagrams and a few handwritten notes.

It still surprises me how much more comfortable I find typing with the iPad Pro flat on a surface, or propped up on my legs. A typing stand like the Smart Cover or TwelveSouth Compass make it easier to view my text when there’s glare from the ceiling lights, but on the typing angle also forces me to tilt my wrists upwards. I can type comfortably for quite a while this way, but I inevitably walk way from the experience with some wrist pain or discomfort. Not being able to rest my fingers on the keys just makes typing on glass that much more fatiguing. Typing with the iPad completely flat isn’t as good as a physical keyboard, but it’s far easier on my wrists, and ultimately more enjoyable.

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Quick Look: Amaziograph for iPad

Amaziograph isn’t a pro-level app, but it’s one of those apps that really shines on the iPad Pro. Pick up an Apple Pencil, spend $2 on Amaziograph, and start to re-discover the fun of creating tessellations and mirrored images in just a fraction of the time it takes to create them manually.

The mechanics of Amaziograph are dead-simple to learn. You choose one of 10 initial grid types, each with different kinds of mirror or tiling effects. Then you just start drawing and watch as your strokes are multiplied across your screen. This is one of those apps where the act of creation is really part of the experience. There’s a genuinely soothing effect to seeing how your drawing can come to life as you add a little line here, a circle there, and finish things off with a blast of colour. It can feel like you’re drawing with 10 of your greatest clones, and they’re all perfectly in sync with you.

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Tapping and Typing

I wrote a few weeks ago that I was going to stop carrying the iPad Pro and Smart Keyboard everyday, and I’ve been following through on that. I also carry a laptop to and from work, and the combination of the two devices is more than a 15″ MacBook Pro and charger.

I have been trying to do a better job of just using and not over-thinking the iPad Pro. That definitely happens naturally at home. I hate to repeat it, but it is a fantastic content consumption device. I use it almost daily for Netflix and podcasts, and I have pretty much stopped using my awesome UE Boom speakers because the iPad Pro already sounds good enough for music in the kitchen.

But when I’m out and about and want to handle longer form writing and messaging, this is where the iPad Pro slows me down when compared to my Retina MacBook Pro.

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Reflecting on Year One With the iPad Pro

I like the feeling of being prepared, and having devices along with me is my hi-tech version of a security blanket. I always have my phone, and most of the time, I’ll want to have a device with a larger screen for writing or longer browsing sessions. For the past year, that device has been the 12.9-inch iPad Pro because it was the lightest possible companion at the time.

One of the things I was eagerly awaiting were the new MacBook Pros that Apple announced last week. My current 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro is about 3 years old at this point, and I was considering an upgrade to a newer, faster, and lighter model. For reasons of comfort, I was also thinking that, if the new MacBook Pros were light enough, a Mac may once again replace my iPad Pro as an everyday carry item. Macs support mice and trackpads and more keyboard shortcuts, so I can work on them for longer periods without feeling as much fatigue. I’d then leave the iPad at home for more home entertainment, drawing, and cooking-related tasks.

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Quick Look: Screens 4.2 for iPad

It’s been a while since I talked about Screens, the VNC app that helps me remotely control my Mac from my iOS devices.Screens 4.2 came out this past week and introduced an interesting set of in-app purchases.

You can now use a Dark Mode for a very reasonable $0.99, and for $2.99, you can enable an accompanying iOS device to act as a trackpad for your remote connection. I have no need for a dark mode in Screens because I spend most of my time controlling my Mac from the iPad, so I barely ever see the Screens UI. However, the idea of the trackpad was interesting, so I cleared some space on my desk this evening to try the iPad and iPhone side by side.

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The 12.9-inch iPad Pro as Everyday Carry

I use my iPad Pro a lot when I’m home. It’s a fantastic media player for the house and it makes it a breeze to edit photos in Lightroom on a gigantic screen. But after having given it some thought, the number of times I actually use my iPad Pro and keyboard at work can be counted on one hand. It’s my go-to device for creating diagrams and I like writing on it because it has Ulysses, but these are conveniences afforded by the iPad — not tasks that require the tablet specifically.

In the meantime, the iPad Pro and Smart Keyboard add an extra 2.3 pounds of weight to my daily carry. This isn’t an issue when I carry a backpack around, but I can definitely feel the difference when I carry a messenger bag (which I prefer to do).

I’ve tried leaving the iPad Pro at home for a few days this past week, and frankly, I can get along just fine without it. My iPhone 6S Plus is big enough that I can pump out a 700-word article on it without too much discomfort. But I also feel that not bringing the iPad Pro around flies in the face of what I bought it for. It’s supposed to be a larger take-everywhere device that trades weight for a lot more comfort during longer work sessions.

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My Cross Platform (and Apple-only) iPad Apps in 2016

cross-platform-apps

Every once in a while I like to take stock of the number of cross-platform apps I’m using. On the one hand, this overview helps me look at how ready I’d be to move platforms, but it’s also a very pragmatic peek at how much I really rely on Apple’s ecosystem of apps and services. I’ve split this list into two parts, the cross platforms apps, and the apps that are still iOS / macOS only.

Cross Platform Apps

Evernote (iOS, Mac, Windows, Android)

For the umpteenth time, I’m back on Evernote, and I find I’ve been able to think more clearly because of this. I don’t like how they keep trying to up-sell me on Premium when I’m already a Plus member, but having my notes accessible on most any smart device or computer is really amazing. This is a huge selling point for Evernote, and their apps across each platform are improving.

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What If The iPad Pro Supported A Mouse

Last week’s post about the 12.9-inch vs. 9.7-inch form factor got me thinking about the what would make the iPad more comfortable for long term work. I came back to the idea of a mouse and how it enables me to use more complex sets of on-screen controls, without all the overhead of remembering a ton of keyboard shortcuts. I do love my keyboard shortcuts, but they’re not a do-all replacement for controlling apps.

It struck me the other day that one (seemingly) simple change to the iPad, especially the larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro, could be the addition of a pointer. Mouse or trackpad support would be fine.

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Reflecting on the 12.9-inch vs 9.7-inch Form Factor

Every once in a while, I’ll read a post about the 9.7-inch iPad Pro and wonder what could have been. I’ll look at my gargantuan 12.9-inch tablet and wonder if I’ve made the right choice (it would be 10 months too late, if so). Ben Brooks, who works exclusively off of iOS devices, just penned one of these kinds of posts about how the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is the ideal size for most activities. I’d tend to agree with him.

More Space

I was really excited about the larger iPad Pro last year because I was curious to see — just as with the 6S Plus — what iOS could be if it had more room to play with. The answer, as it turns out, is simply more comfortable. Not necessarily more powerful.

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A Second Round with OneNote for iPad

I’ve given OneNote another shot over the past few months, using it both at work and at home for tracking receipts and personal thoughts. I’ve written about OneNote before, but I don’t think I really gave it a fair shake, so I moved 2000 notes over to the service to really determine whether or not I could adapt to the service. Unfortunately, the answer is still no, but I have a more detailed idea of why.

In OneNote We Trust

OneNote has been around for years, but it was only in the past few that it became a free product. You don’t have to pay for any monthly plans because the app just uses space in your Microsoft OneDrive, and there’s more than enough space with a free OneDrive account that it’s indistinguishable from unlimited for most users. Microsoft is so large, and OneNote such a core product, that I really do feel like I can trust in the service to stick around for the foreseeable future. That factor is a big deal when thinking about which note app to invest in: with platforms coming and going, where will your cache of notes still be accessible in four or five years? With OneNote, Microsoft has built up enough trust with me that the answer feels like a pretty safe “Yes”.

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