On writing on the iPad

Jason Snell for Macworld:

Now, even on the iPad’s screen I’m a decently fast typist. (The iPad mini, not so much, at least not yet.) I certainly can type on an iPad much faster than I can write with a pen on paper. But it’s nowhere close to my speed on a MacBook keyboard. Using the iPad slowed me down and got me to think about what I was writing in a way that using my trusty MacBook Air never would.

I’m no Oliver Sacks, but I’d wager that I’m just not taking more time to choose my words, but I’m actually using different parts of my brain when I write this way. And not only does the actual act of writing feel different, but the end result feels different to me too.

Like Jason, I’m an iPad early adopter. I got mine the same day they came out in 2010. I’ve found a very different use case for it than my Mac – I use it more as an information appliance and a gaming system, but when it comes to writing, something I do practically every day, I use the Mac.

One of the first things I noticed when I got my iPad was how different the writing experience was from a Mac or PC. Quite frankly, I’ve never cottoned to it – without exception, any writing longer than brief e-mails or tweets and other social media posts still end up being done on my computer.

So it’s interesting to read about his experience and compare it to my own. I have to give Jason credit for trying to understand why iPad writing is so different than keyboard writing. For me, it was simply an exercise in frustration that I gave up on, perhaps sooner than I should have.

  • I don’t mind doing small bits of writing on my iPad. I’m doing it right now. But if I think I’ll be getting into a session – say a quick idea jotted in Pages turns into the sudden inspiration to go for it – I always have my trusty Logitech ultraslim Bluetooth keyboard handy. It’s still not as nice as typing on my MacBook Pro, but it takes the pain of typing on a pane of glass away. Not to mention the strain of looking down at the screen.

    Articles like Jason’s annoy me. It’s like writing an article about the perks of having a ball and chain tethered to your ankle… “I never used to stop and smell the roses until I got this here ball and chain.” I suppose if you really wanted to you could find a way to extol the virtues of anything. It’s hardly surprising that a guy who writes for Macworld would find cause to celebrate the handicap his iPad’s keyboard imposes on his typing ability.

    Really though, this isn’t about the effects of typing on the iPad so much as the effects of typing on a tablet in general.

    • kibbles

      i disagree — i DO find it surprising that a professional writer finds cause to celebrate typing on an ipad for most of his work (as opposed to using one of the many BT keyboards). this is also what makes his article interesting.

  • Guest

    I admire anyone who’s learned how to type fast enough on a touchscreen that they can brag about preferring it to a conventional keyboard.

    Old typesetter that I am, I’ll likely stick with the conventional keyboard (and dream of a day when a Matias or Das Keyboard doesn’t make enough noise to piss off everyone else in the room)

  • I admire anyone who’s learned how to type fast enough on a touchscreen that they can brag about preferring it to a conventional keyboard. Seriously, that’s an accomplishment that puts Jason Snell on the bridge of Picard’s Enterprise, right alongside Data.

    Old typesetter that I am, I’ll likely stick with conventional keyboards (and dream of a day when a Matias or Das Keyboard doesn’t make enough noise to piss off everyone else in the room) until text entry is handled by neural implants, because feedback of almost any kind is essential to the things I do that matter the most to me. Tactile or otherwise.

  • JohnDoey

    I do all my writing for a long time now with Pages on iPad with Apple Wireless Keyboard. I also do all my songwriting with GarageBand for iPhone with Apogee MiC and Beats Studio headphones.

    The advantages are that when I’m writing (which is all the time) I have mobility and both of the apps I use (Pages, GarageBand) are always in the front. No app switching, no technical questions, no gigabytes, no computer stuff, just the work I am doing. My whole writing kit is less than 1 kilo and fits easily into a book bag.

    Also, when I sit down at my MacBook Pro with Apogee Duet, rather than an empty screen in Pages and Logic, I start with a completely written song. So I can focus on the production work, which is what the Mac is good at. Logic imports the GarageBand document automatically, and from then on it is a mixing session, my audio engineer hat is on, not songwriter hat.

    I have actually been working this way for many years, but the songwriting setup used to be a dedicated multitrack audio recorder and a MacBook Air for lyrics. The iPhone/iPad setup is bettering hundreds of ways. Better microphone, better sound, better user interface, more tracks, more instruments, lighter weight, the iPad fits on a music stand at the studio, and the iPhone/iPad setup both have 3G and general purpose apps to do other tasks.

    Generally speaking, there are too many problems that were solved by just putting in a Mac or PC. In many cases, you don’t want the complexity of a PC. A writer in 1950 did not sit down at a printing press and throw hot metal type to write and article. It was better to write the article on a small typewriter you carried with you everywhere and your fingers are used to it. The iPad is the typewriter, not the Mac. The Mac is the printing press.

    A few people who have told me iPad is not good enough for writing because they need more features. In every case, I ask them if they ever use Styles, the single-most basic word processing feature, and none knew how to do that. They were just typing into Word and setting bold and italics and whatever font they thought was pretty. In other words, they have no idea how to word process and should not even be using a word processor. Even Pages is above your head, buddy. Luckily, iPad has even simpler writing tools for you as well, so you can start producing effective documents instead of a giant mess.

  • CAugustin

    For me (a moderate touch typist), typing on the iPad is only slightly worse than on all these modern, flat-cap keyboards with short key travel that are used in nearly all notebooks and bluetooth keyboards. Using a classic keyboard with large keys, molded caps, long key travel and real micro switches (Das Keyboard could be interesting in this regard) would make a real difference, but not the “average” notebook keyboard. At least not for me.

    But what the iPad gives me when it comes to putting ideas and words into files: Convenience. Always there, always operational in just a few seconds, easy to carry, easy to put away wherever I am.

  • Manuel

    I take my Apple BT keyboard with me more and more alongside my iPad. Indispensable for any serious writing on the iPad, even longer emails. The difference for me is that I am a learned 10 finger typist which definitely doesn’t work on the iPad. Also, I believe the auto correction just isn’t as good in other languages as it is in English (I am German).

  • Professionally, I write a lot and I use the iPad mostly for shorter notes, ideas and fragments that get refined later on the Mac. Stripped down iOS wordprocessors (IA Writer is my personal favourite) are the best bet for that task on the iPad.

    Editing, on the other hand, is too frustrating to do on the device.