If you have been thinking about using your iPad as your primary computing device, you're not alone. Tablet computers have become so powerful and practical that you can almost ditch your desktop and go iPad-only for day-to-day tasks, and with a few useful apps and accessories, you probably won't miss lugging that computer around. Here's how I made my tablet into a productivity workhorse.
This post originally appeared on Asian Efficiency.
Why Go iPad-Only?
Let's get the obvious question out of the way first: why would you want to give up your laptop for a tablet? The answer's different for everyone but for me it comes down to:
- Usability: carrying a iPad is much easier, faster and convenient for a lot day-to-day work.
- Mobility: taking a laptop with you can be overkill for lots of trips. Going iPad-only can save you a lot of back-pain, hassle and storage.
- Cost: an iPad is much cheaper than a laptop.
There are lots of benefits but you won't truly value them unless you try going iPad-only for a while. It wasn't until I went iPad-only every Friday of the week when I realised how awesome it was.
I'll also mention here that a lot of these strategies work for any tablet, not just the iPad. If you're more of an Android or Windows user, you can absolutely do the same thing with a lot of these tips. Because everyone's experience is different — and this is about my experiment with the iPad — I'll be referring to the iPad in this post. But it's possible with many other tablets.
First let's look at the devices that I usually use, and what I planned to change by switching to an iPad Air and an iPhone with unlimited tethering:
- I usually work full-time from home on my 15" Macbook Pro, with a 27" monitor.
- On a day-to-day basis, my work mainly involves writing, training team members, designing and tuning systems, product development, and customer support over email.
- Before my iPad-only experiment, 90 per cent of my iPad usage was reading Kindle books and Instapaper articles. The remaining 10 per cent was either watching YouTube, Netflix or playing games.
- Monday through Thursday, I work on my desktop.
- Every Friday, I usually would take my iPad and work from coffee shops for the whole day.
Admittedly I didn't completely go iPad-only, instead focusing on one day a week to see how possible it would be to do all my work on a tablet. The majority of my work involves writing, and one day a light bulb went off when I realised I could do the vast majority of my work on the iPad.
Obviously this isn't possible for everyone — that should go without saying. If you do heavy image or video editing, or need specialised programs for work, this post isn't for you. But if you mostly perform tasks that a tablet can handle, you can turn it into a laptop replacement, and even get some extra benefit out of it.
Preparing Your iPad
With all that background info out of the way, let's get started with setting up your iPad. I'll go over the basics first and provide some intermediate/advanced ideas later on.
Storing Your Files
A lot of people are concerned that when they go tablet-only, they won't have access to the files that live on their desktops or laptops. That's a valid concern and one that can be easily addressed by keeping your data in the cloud.
There are lots of solutions, but I recommend Dropbox over iCloud. What I like about Dropbox is that it preserves a traditional file structure and hierarchy. For my kind of work, I need to deal with a lot of different files that are organised in a specific way so that everyone on my team can easily find and access anything they need.
iCloud is really good for personal use if you don't mind clustering your files, but if you like more organisation and sharing options, go with Dropbox. It's built more for collaboration, not to mention it integrates with tons of other apps. This makes it easy to build your work ecosystem so that everything integrates seamlessly.
I won't go too deep into the cloud configuration on my computer, but here's my basic setup:
- I use Dropbox to store the majority of my files. The only things I store locally on my desktop are large media files, app installs, and temporary junk in my Downloads folder. Everything else goes to Dropbox.
- I happily pay $US99 every year for 140GB on Dropbox (though you can get quite a bit of extra space for free).
- I also have Dropbox for Business (unlimited storage) that we use internally at my company for sharing files among the team.
- I store big and rarely used files on an external hard drive.
Utilising the cloud infrastructure is really key to being able to go iPad-only. Gone are the days when you had to email your files back and forth — everything's available on all your devices.
Remember, you need to keep all the files you use regularly in the cloud so that you can maintain your workflow. Instead of wondering about whether to store files locally or online, just make Dropbox your default answer.
A quick word about internet access: When you store everything in the cloud, you will obviously need to have a consistent internet connection to access your files. This can be the biggest hurdle to going iPad-only.
I'm fortunate enough to live in where most places provide Wi-Fi, and in a worst case scenario, I can tether my iPhone that has unlimited data. So wherever I go with my iPad, I can access the internet. You could also consider a personal Wi-Fi hotspot.
If you're planning to go iPad-only, it's worthwhile having tethering enabled on your phone plan and paying for the extra data.
Syncing Your Calendars and Emails
Now you have access to all your files, but you'll also need to synchronise your notes, calendars, and emails. We want to be able to sync as much data as we can over the cloud. That way, if you change something on your iPad during the workday, you'd want your desktop to be synced up by the time you get home so that you can continue where you left off.
My preference for this is Google Apps for Business. We use it at Asian Efficiency to host our email, calendar and other services. It works so well that I've never had to seek out other options.
All emails are synced over IMAP. I can clear emails on my iPad and when I get home, all emails are also sorted on my desktop. Same thing for my calendar. When I add or edit an appointment on my iPad, it will be synced up on my desktop and iPhone.
Google Apps simply works and it's worth the investment if you use it for your business. Of course, for personal usage, a normal Google and Gmail account is probably fine.
To synchronise your notes, I recommend Evernote. I also use nvALT with Dropbox, but I still use Evernote for clipping web pages and storing checklists. When I'm working on my iPad, I also use Drafts to capture notes and Notesy to edit them directly from Dropbox.
Finding the Right Apps
Everyone will have different needs and will require different apps, but there are a few things to consider when choosing which ones you're going to utilise:
- Try to choose apps that are available for both your computer and your iPad.
- Desktop apps that have native iOS apps usually work better than third-party apps with the same functionality.
- All apps that deal with files must have Dropbox support, if you're using Dropbox for cloud storage.
For example, my task manager is OmniFocus. Thus, I'm using the native OmniFocus iPad app too. This avoids any data conflicts and corruption.
It's also very important that apps support Dropbox so you can easily access anything you want to work on. Personally, I'll take a sub-par app with Dropbox support over a superior app with no Dropbox support.
Here are the apps I use the most during my workday:
- Editorial, for writing content
- Week Calendar HD, for managing my calendar
- HipChat is the instant messenger we use at AE
- Textastic, for coding and HTML editing
- Drafts, for capturing quick notes
- Evernote, to save and access reference materials
- OmniFocus for task management
- LastPass — we use LastPass Enterprise at AE for sharing passwords.
- Dropbox is essentially my "Finder" on the iPad
- Notesy, to directly edit text files in Dropbox
Other Hardware and Accessories
To get the most out of your iPad, I would recommend that you get some additional hardware and accessories. There's no doubt that an external iPad keyboard will speed up your typing. Plus, when you have a keyboard you can use tons of keyboard shortcuts that you wouldn't be able to use otherwise. Copying, pasting, navigating back and forth in your browser — all of these little keyboard shortcuts can make working on the iPad much more convenient and efficient.
There are lots of iPad keyboards available but the one I use is the Logitech Ultrathin. It acts like a keyboard and screen protector at the same time. I was a little sceptical about the Ultrathin due to some reviewers mentioning the weak stability, but I've never found any issue with mine. I love it and it makes working on the iPad fun.
I would also recommend an external battery pack. When you use your iPhone and iPad during the workday, you can't afford to have the battery die down in the middle of a project. Personally I use a Limefuel 15600mAh. It can charge your iPhone and iPad at the same time — it's wonderful and I've used it many times already at conferences, on the plane, at airports, and coffee shops.
The third accessory is a Grid-It to stay organised when you're travelling. There are lots of models, but the one I use is a Cocoon 11" Grid-It Accessory Organiser with Pocket for iPad:
I can easily carry my battery pack, cables, and adapters with it. My model also has a pocket in the back where I can slot in my tablet, even with keyboard still attached. When I go to the coffee shop, I can just grab my Grid-it and head out.
It's also great for travel. My backpack is so much easier to manage now. Before I had all these tangled cables and it would make things hard to find but now it's all nicely ordered.
The Pros and Cons of Going iPad-Only
After going iPad-only for a couple of months, my take is that a desktop or laptop is still superior when you need to get a lot of work done, but an iPad provides a valuable travel option. There are a few factors that leave me doing the heavy work on my MacBook:
- I know all my desktop apps inside-out. I know the shortcuts and I can easily navigate around. When you're a keyboard shortcut junkie like I am, you'll really wish there were more keyboard shortcuts on the iPad. That was my main frustration.
- Some tasks require a more powerful machine. Things like editing images or video editing and rendering are possible on an iPad, but usually require the speed of a desktop computer.
- The iPad doesn't support that much automation. When you're used to using TextExpander on the desktop, you'll find it challenging to be super-effective on the iPad.
That being said, there are lots of things I did like about going iPad-only. Oddly enough, one of the advantages are the constraints you have. Running one full screen app at a time forced me to focus much more on the task at hand. On the desktop, I can easily switch windows with CMD+Tab and get distracted. I got more writing done, the quality of my writing went up, and I was more efficient at doing the more simple tasks because I couldn't needlessly switch around.
Of course, the major benefit of my iPad lifestyle was the mobility. I can literally pick up my iPad and go anywhere to get work done. With my laptop, I have to be more careful and need to use my backpack. In the end, it's up to you — but even if you don't ditch your laptop completely, I highly recommend giving your tablet a shot as a work tool. You'd be surprised at what you can pull off.
Going iPad-Only: How to Do It with the Right Apps and Accessories [Asian Efficiency]