I’ve seen a lot of stories from people who have tried to use an iPad as their only portable computing device, and failed. What a lot of these have in common is that the person encountered problems that he or she couldn’t find the solution to, despite there being one. I won’t speculate to the reasons why that is, but instead I’ll share how I’m using my iPad mini as my only portable computer. I’ve been doing that for quite a while now, both as a teacher student, and during my teacher practice, which is what I’ll be doing for the next couple of months. When I walk out the door in the morning, my iPad mini is the only computing device I have with me (aside from my phone), and it’s frankly the only one I need.
When I used the iPad 2 for what I now use the iPad mini for, I carried it around in a laptop bag. While the iPad 2 is significantly smaller than even the 13-inch ultra portable laptop the case is for, it’s not really enough smaller that it prompted a complete change in what kind of bag I carried. With the mini, however, that changed. The mini fits in a DSLR bag I had lying around, a bag that is significantly smaller than your typical laptop messenger bag. It’s thicker than the laptop bag, but smaller in every other way, making it a lot more portable. Because of the thickness though, it’s actually capable of holding a lot of accessories, as long as they’re no bigger than the mini itself.
This bag currently holds the following:
- iPad mini with back case and Smart Cover
- Modified $26 iPad mini keyboard
- Lightning to VGA adapter
- USB host adapter for my phone
- Satechi Bluetooth Smart Pointer
- Vapur foldable water bottle
- DIY Bluetooth headphones
- Logitech m555b Bluetooth mouse
- Micro fiber screen cleaning cloth
- Maglus stylus
The keyboard and mouse are accessories I use when I need a more PC-like experience, normally when I’m remote controlling my home desktop PC (more on that in a bit). The mouse in particular is much more useful for remote PC interaction than for anything else, and I find it easier to remote control a PC with a mouse on a tablet than to control a laptop using a track pad. As such, carrying a 300 gram iPad that can remote control the processing power of a desktop computer is in many ways more useful than a laptop would have been.
The VGA adapter is something I use as a teacher, as it allows me to connect to essentially any projector, and do everything from show videos and websites to using it as a digital whiteboard. The Satechi presentation remote is a new addition to the bag that works very well for doing presentations from the iPad. I wish more apps would support dual screen mode, as those that do often do it very well, but I guess it’s still too niche to be a common feature.>A stylus is a must-have accessory for me, and I’m currently using my Maglus. I use it both as a student and a teacher, and it’s the accessory that I keep with my iPad the most. I find that handwriting is more flexible than machine typing, allowing you to jot down a bit of text without setting up a “typing station”, so I do more of that than I do machine text.
The rest of the accessories are just ones that are nice to have. I always carry a water bottle, and the Vapur bottle is brilliant in that when empty, it can be folded to take up very little space. The USB adapter for my phone is so small that it’s worth carrying in order to transfer something on or off a USB drive, which has happened a couple of times. Headphones are for audio (duh), cleaning cloth is for, well, cleaning. I should also mention that my phone can work as a WiFi hotspot for my iPad, so wherever I am I have the ability to get online with it.
This sounds like a ton of stuff to be dragging around, but because the DSLR bag has a lot of compartments for memory cards and whatnot, it’s surprisingly organized. Moreover, it all fits into a bag that in the computer world would essentially be a place to store your mouse and charger, not everything you need.
A charger isn’t on the list, because I don’t carry a charger with me when I’m just out for the day. The iPad mini has no problems surviving a full day of being used, so a charger serves no purpose.
Most of my productivity apps are located either directly on my home screen or in my Office folder, and can be seen in the images above. My most used apps are Goodreader, Goodnotes, Splashtop 2, and Scanner Pro.
Goodreader is my document storage app, and it syncs with Dropbox to keep everything in sync with my computer. It can sync entire folders, so I find it much better for Dropbox than Dropbox’ own app. On top of that it’s a very powerful document reader with tons of features. It allows me to keep multiple documents open in various tabs, annotate them, add bookmarks, and so on. I use it for storing documents, reading documents, grading papers, and just generally keeping track of everything. Goodreader is essentially my version of the ring binder some teachers carry around.
Goodnotes is a note taking app designed to allow you to create notes from scratch. Its hand writing features are more central than its text features, but you can combine both to create the notes you want. You can import documents to annotate on top of, insert blank pages, combine documents, import images, and so on. Even though Notability is frankly better at a lot of things than Goodnotes, I keep coming back to Goodnotes because Notability outright lacks some features, which is a bigger flaw to me than Goodnotes not doing some things as well as Notability. An example is external screen mode, which Notability doesn’t have at all. Goodnotes on the other hand shows only the note/page on the external display, hiding toolbars and whatnot. You can also zoom and pan the two screens individually. This makes Goodnotes great for using as a digital whiteboard, allowing you to use tools like zoom box writing within distracting students with a ton of tools flying across the screen; all they see is the page.
Splashtop 2 is the app I use for remote controlling my desktop computer. To be honest I don’t know if it’s the best remote PC solution, as the competitors’ lack of trial software means I haven’t tried many other solutions. In particular, I’m not that happy with Splashtop’s way of dealing with dual screen setups, which is frankly shit. It’s also quite peculiar that it doesn’t have an external screen mode, which could allow you to connect your iPad to a screen and control a computer in much higher resolution. That being said, it is fast. Fast enough so that I’ve actually used it while sitting on a bus, using my phone as a WiFi hotspot to give the iPad 3G access. The alternative remote PC services I do have experience are much more dependent on a good connection, and Splashtop 2’s system of using some special servers to speed up the process seems to be working.
As for what I need to control my PC for, it mostly comes down to two things: uploading files, and processing large PDF files. It is possible to upload files to various websites directly from the iPad, using apps like iCab Mobile, but honestly it’s just as quick to just put the file in my Dropbox, remote into my PC, and then upload it from there. As for processing large PDF files, that normally means doing things like rotating or cropping pages in a large scan, or running something through OCR (Optical Character recognition). I won’t give the name of the software I use for that as I don’t want to give that company free advertising right now.
That leaves Scanner Pro, which is the solution to living in a world with people that insist on still using paper for everything. The iPad mini’s camera is good enough to “scan” documents with it, and Scanner Pro is one of several apps that allow you to crop and improve the image to make it look more like a scan. The resulting documents are almost indistinguishable from real scans (if done right), so it really does work as a way to make sure you never have to carry paper with you again.
I use other apps as well, but these four are the main ones, aside from apps that come on the device- like Safari or email.
Proficiency is key
A lot of people expect the process of moving to a mobile platform to be done in half a day, and then they’ll be able to work as efficiently as they would like. When that doesn’t happen, they blame the software, the hardware, Apple, the cat- anyone but themselves. The truth is that you can’t just suddenly put away your laptop, pick up an iPad, and go about your business. You need to become proficient at doing things in new ways, and that means you can’t just give up.
As an example, take the whole process of scanning a document. To me, scanning something can be done in 30 seconds, as shown in the video above. That’s 30 seconds from it being a paper on the tablet to it being a digital document I can annotate in Goodnotes. For anyone who have just started doing this, the process would take longer, as you’d need to remember how to do everything and where all the controls are. Your goal should be to eventually reach the point where you can do it quick enough for it to not be an issue; don’t expect it to be magic right away.
If you work somewhere that has large copiers, chances are you also have a very fast scanner at your disposal. Most of those large machines can scan a bunch of documents in one go, perhaps even run them through OCR, and spit out a ready scan in your email inbox. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the equipment you have at your disposal, and use whatever is there.
Stop using the word “impossible”
I’ve seen people complain about the inability to view documents side by side in Pages, and then conclude that it’s impossible to view documents side by side on an iPad. That’s not how you get anything at all done. Assume that something is possible, look for the solution as if you know it exists, and don’t give up so easily. In this particular case, you could remote into a computer to put documents side by side, use Quasar on a jailbroken device, use Taposé or any other side-by-side capable app, or just pick up the phone you probably have in your pocket and put up a document there, if you only need it for reference.
The same goes for a lot of other things. If it’s a problem for you, it’s likely a problem for someone else, which means there’s probably a solution to it. Even if you find someone saying that something is impossible, keep looking until you believe that person. Like I’ve told people on several occasions, the fact that they sit on the internet and blatantly state something as impossible, luckily doesn’t stop me from doing it on a daily basis.
It’s a package deal
Of course there are things that are better accomplished by a 17-inch laptop than an 8-inch iPad mini, and things that paper do better than a digital device. For me, however, it’s the final tally that decides what I’m going with. I could bring my laptop with me, and that would allow me to type faster. It would also mean carrying a lot more around with me, be much more dependent on an AC outlet, not have a touch screen to be able to use the device as a digital whiteboard, not be able to carry it around with me in my pocket, not have a camera for scanning documents, and so on and so forth.
It seems to me that some people are so afraid of making compromises that they end up sticking with old compromises just to avoid the new ones, regardless of whether or not the total package would be an improvement or not. I’ve had people say that scanning a document on the go seems like too much of a hassle, while they’re standing there holding a 5 pound ring binder full of documents that it was too much of a hassle to scan when they got them, two years earlier.
To each their own.