Tablets, Phones, and Laptops

About one year ago, I purchased an iPad. It’s been an amazing device. I read my news on it, read my email there, play games, and use it as a reference. I thought I would write blog posts, read books/pdfs, and create more with it. While I do some of the latter, it’s difficult at times. The iPad (and iOS) isn’t set up for content creation as I do it. I know that’s a bit of trope in the tech press: the iPad is for content consumption not creation. I think that it’s an unfair statement in general, but for me, it’s true.


You can’t fault iOS for a lack of good apps. Off the top of my head, some of my favorite apps are Drafts, Editorial, Calca, and Pythonista. These are all text-based apps, I know; more on this shortly. Adobe has made some nice photo apps and there are a number of cool audio apps. Obviously, the list of great ‘productivity’ apps is large. I particularly like Fantastical. You can do some serious creation in iOS; apps aren’t the problem.1

My creation tends to be text based. I try to write some blog posts now and then, a task reasonably well suited for an iPad. If you have an external keyboard and a decent place to set up. Typing on your iPad/keyboard setup on the couch pretty much sucks.

I used to do a bit more Python programming. Editorial and Pythonista are pretty cool in terms of Python functionality and provide great toolset to automate iOS. While I really appreciate what they provide for me, when it comes time to the kind of programming I do, and more importantly, the way I interact with my files, iOS’s file system is somewhat limiting. I have a library of shell scripts that I’m isolated from on iOS. In short, give me a good text editor and the command line, and I’m a lot more efficient in my work.


The iOS file system is the most limiting part for me of iOS. I’ve been on a text-based personal ‘file system’ for many years. I started using Markdown in September of 2004; it was released in March of that year. I lived in BBEdit for many years, before making the switch to Vim sometime around 2009 or 2010. I haven’t had Microsoft Office installed on my computer since 2008 or so. That computer has been used for everything in my personal and professional life since around 2002. I write in text files, store data in text files2. Text files are simple, and iOS’s walled garden approach to files makes such a simple flexible system a pain in the butt.

Dropbox and the widespread adoption of Markdown has made the text-based approach even more feasible. iOS functions well in this ecosystem. I’m just not sure if iOS can function as the primary or sole denizen. The lack of a fixed keyboard and the limitations of the iOS file system just make it too annoying for me. Both of these issues can be worked around (Dropbox and an external keyboard), but simple actions like sitting on the couch typing, trying to rename a file, or move 3 or 4 files at once reveal the weaknesses in the system.


iOS is a great photography tool. The camera on my iPhone 6 is spectacular. I can even review photos in my Lightroom library on my iPad, and flickr is in general more pleasant to navigate in the flickr app or in flickstackr than on the web.

So I would never say you can’t do good photography on or with an iOS device. However, for the kind of photography I do (or don’t do, as is the case of the last year or so), I need a computer. A scanner, some good input/output options, and a lot of storage space, all items which aren’t really compatible with iOS as of this time.


I think we can all agree that today’s mobile devices are amazing. I get a lot done on my iPhone. Therein lies the problem. All of the ‘creating’ I do on my iPad, I could for the most part do on my iPhone. I do like the bigger screen of the iPad when it comes to reading Nation Geographic, my news, or quickly replying to an email. But for the most part, the iPhone, particularly the newer ones like the 5 or 6, gets it done 95% of the time. It doesn’t hurt that my iPhone has internet access in many more places than my wifi-only iPad.

The solution?

I’ve been on laptops for the last 12 years. For most of that time I was mobile with my laptop. The past year or so, my laptop has been chained to my desk. Before the iPad, when I wanted to do something computer related, I’d walk into the other room and do it. Now I just pick up my iPad and ultimately don’t do whatever it was I was going to do, be it write a blog post or work on some photos. Having a large desktop monitor is awesome, but having a portable laptop that you can actually use on the couch or a coffee shop is awesome too.

Which leads me to this: I think I’m going to try out a Macbook Air. Maybe some day, a big ass iMac, or even a Mac Mini, will find its place on my desk, and the laptop will be the portable alternative. But for now, I think the laptop, if small enough, will unchain from the desk more often.

The choice between an Air and a Macbook Pro is tough. The Macbook Pro 13″ has a retina screen, is pretty goddamn small, and is more powerful. It’s really the better computer. I think the Macbook Pro 13″ is a no-brainer over the 13″ Macbook Air. However, the 11″ Air is really portable. iPad portable. I go back and forth on this everyday, and will probably continue to for the next 4 or 5 months before I actually buy a new computer. That’s why it’s going to be an experiment of sorts. Is the screen too small for me? Will it be too slow? I don’t know. I do know that I want to try a computer that is so small I can put it in the documents slot of my ‘padfolio’, and take it to meetings at work. The less I use the piece of shit Windows laptop I have to use at work, the better.

  1. I whole-heartedly recommend all of these apps for iOS or Mac. 

  2. Remember, I was a scientist. All of my data was stored in text files and my data analysis system was programmed in Python. 

4 thoughts on “Tablets, Phones, and Laptops

  1. Buff and I both have a laptop (her a MacBook and me a netbook), but both of those are showing signs of aging badly, so we may want to re-invest.

    However, we’re more Zen at the equipment than you, I think. While you’re being industrious and multitasking, completing tasks while you watch TV, we’re both completely slugs or completely doing work/play.

  2. Reading on iOS is also much more pleasurable than reading on my computer in a web browser. Speaking to that point, #FUCKGoogleChrome, seriously. I feel like a god damn guinea pig with their recent spat of market-stink-fingering-experimentation. Their web browser is getting to be the “new” Facebook. RT that and CC me on it.

    Back to iOS: the fact that apps like Reeder, Pushpin, and even Google News (*ahem, which is not Chrome at this point) get rid of ads makes my reading experience so much richer. I usually opt to read articles on the internet on my phone because apps are smart, whereas browsers just let me down and datamine me in the face. This is not to say that applications for more streamlined reading do not exist for something like OS X, but it is to say for the technological layman, this is not transparent.

    What I do like to do on my laptop is write**. In fact, I love it. This is something, in the last couple of months, I have started doing more of / re-discovered. I sit at a table. I sit on a couch. I sit on the floor – it does not matter where – and I write. It is intimate. It is sexy. It feels so goooooood. I hate writing anything on my phone, and all my experiences on pad like devices at this point have felt like Hanx Writer at best – which is to say, closer to coding on a Texas Instrument than typing on a analogue clacky-cool typewriter. I really love writing on my laptop.

    **I have been writing in Pages or BBEdit these days, but I do write in Word (which I hate) for legacy reasons. Feel free to suggest other writing programs, because Pages is getting there, but it is still a little clunky in my opinion.

  3. Brian – that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing. Just vegging out. I was rarely doing any of my project type of stuff that I sometimes enjoy doing.

    Mike – check out Slugline or Ulysses for writing. They are both plain text apps, the first is for screenplays and the second is for basic writing. Also, too, you might find some stuff you like on this list.

Comments are closed.