iOS9 Makes the iPad Awesome(r)

I mentioned using my iPad as my “go” machine for weekends and vacations so I don’t have to bring a full laptop. An iPad, WINGStand, and keyboard have generally proven enough for me to get a couple of hours of work done (or a work emergency) without much fuss.

With iOS9, which came out last week, its even better.

iOS9 multitasking on the iPad makes it even better. I can pull up a chat application, or email, or Twitter, while I keep a terminal open and do my work. Rather than having to bounce back and forth between apps, or having to work some network mojo to get onto my corporate chat system using a client on a server somewhere, it’s all right there in the iPad window.

If I do need to switch apps, now I can use the same cmd+tab keyboard shortcut that I use on the desktop to pop between apps.

Oh, and then when I’m waiting on something to run, or just want a background distraction, I can watch a movie in the picture-in-picture mode.

iOS9, on the surface, might seem like a smaller update, but for the iPad, it’s a pretty significant update and makes me even more confident that I can take off for a week and get by just with my iPad.

A Couple of iPad Accessory Reviews

I recently grabbed a couple of quick accessories for my iPad, as I’ve been getting a lot of use out of it as my “weekend” getaway computer[1].

The Anker Bluetooth Ultra-Slim Keyboard seems like a really great deal. It’s usually under $20, is the same size as Apple’s bluetooth keyboard, has an actual easy physical on-off switch. For less than $20, it was easily worth a try.

It’s very clicky and loud. Probably too clicky and loud for my tastes, but some folks might like it.

It’s a fine keyboard. Except for two major things.

The Esc key is only accessible when you press a modifier key. Since I planned to use this as my keyboard for quick, emergency fixes, that means lots of vim. Sure, I could remap the escape key in vim. Or the key could just work on the keyboard without a modifier. A simple switch to flip the keyboard from having the function/esc keys act normally, and their iPad special features act behind the function key would go a long way.

I also had an issue where ctrl + another modifier key didn’t seem to work.

I bought another Apple Bluetooth keyboard. The Anker will probably work for someone, but it’s not right for my use case.

It also didn’t work with my other recent Amazon purchase …

The WINGStand iPad Stand is two little clips that wrap onto your Apple Bluetooth keyboard and hold your iPad in place. They are small enough to unclip and throw in a pocket, and then clip on and use when you want to do some work on your iPad.

Better than a full time iPad stand, where you keep your iPad and keyboard tethered 100% of the time, you can use your iPad like an iPad when reading in bed, but turn it into a workstation in a pinch. Which is exactly what I needed for my weekend getaway computer. Couldn’t ask for more for $15.

  1. The weekend getaway computer basically amounts to me trying to figure out how to travel (we’ve gone to a lot of weddings recently, and have more coming up—including our own) without having to lug an entire laptop. If I can do email/ssh on an iPad with a keyboard, why bring anything else?  ↩

Apple is Settling All Debts

I won’t go into too much detail on the announcements coming out of WWDC. That’s been done better and more thoroughly by many others. I will say that this feels like Apple settling all the debts they’ve accrued over the past few years.

“Oh, you wanted apps to be able to talk to each other? Here you go.”

“Widgets on your notification screen? Yep. You got it.”

“You wanted apps to use the TouchID? Ok.”

“That whole ‘I should be able to move files around in iCloud’ thing? All set now.”

“Objective-C not modern enough for ya? Meet Swift.”

There were a bunch more announcements that basically amounted to “We told you to chill while we put in place the way to do these things safely, securely, and without trashing your battery. Here they are.”

And I think that’s a big part of what iOS 8 and Mac OS 10.10 are: the culmination of a few years worth of groundwork and infrastructure building that came together and bloomed all at once. It’s going to allow for almost everything people have asked for, and more, and to top it off, Apple brought out things like Continuity where you devices simply act as logical extension of one other. It’s a simple, powerful feature that will be hard for other companies to duplicate.

(All of this assumes Apple’s cloud services continue to get better … which seems likely given I’m not sure they could get much worse.)

John Gruber has a very nice take on it.

Freeing Up Space for iCloud Backups

Over the past few weeks, since upgrading to iOS 7, I’ve been getting error messages that the nightly iCloud backup hasn’t been able to finish because I don’t have enough free iCloud space. The odd bit about that is that I don’t remember seeing an error like that at all in the previous few weeks (or months, really). I’d occasionally seen the error due to connectivity issues, but never due to issues with storage space.

I let it linger for a few days, but knowing that my device wasn’t getting backed up bugged me enough to take a look.

Getting to the iCloud Backup settings isn’t entirely obvious.

Settings > iCloud > Storage & Backup > Manage Storage

That’ll drop you off on a screen that lists each of your devices that you are backing up. For me, it’s an iPad 2nd gen and iPhone 5S.

Drill into the device your on, and you’ll be greeted with a list of what is getting backed up on that device. You’ll see a list of apps, how much space the backup of that app takes, and an on/off switch to control whether or not you backup the data for that app.

Everything looked normal at first glance, until I noticed that Instapaper [1]

1.2GB of backup used for Instapaper. Double that, when you realize it’s installed on both my iPad and iPhone.

Half of my iCloud space taken up by one app.

Why is that a big deal? Well, Instapaper syncs all of its data with the Instapaper web site. So even if every article on my devices was deleted, I could just re-download them from the web. So there is literally zero need to back the articles up to iCloud[2]. CLick that button to off, and all of a sudden, all my backups are finishing with room to spare.

I’m guessing that some change in iOS 7 or a recent update to the Instapaper app changed what data it was backing up, leading to it filling up my iCloud storage. It’d be a nice thing for Instapaper or Apple (wherever the fault lies) to fix that in a future release. Regardless, if you find your device complaining about not being able to backup to iCloud, look for apps where the data can easily be recovered from the web (or another source). Wouldn’t you rather restore some web data to a single app than have to piece together all of the settings and apps on your phone because you weren’t backing it up?

  1. Instapaper is a “read later” app, where you can save articles you find online to read later (handy when you’re killing time in a line, or maybe in that other place where you do your reading.


  2. And, honestly, why the hell is it backing up 1GB of data? It’s all text and maybe some images.


A Trip to Blacksburg (or Can I Work on an iPad?)

I took a trip to Blacksburg last weekend to see some friends and check out a VT game. It was my first time back in over 5 years, but I knew it was going to be a short weekend. Fly in on Friday night, hang out all day Saturday, then fly back out on Sunday morning. With such a short window, I didn't want to bring a lot with me. The big question: iPad or laptop.

I decided that I would be able to make it over a weekend with just the iPad and a keyboard. I have a VPN client and a couple of ssh apps; in a pinch, I could hop online and get some work done.

And, wouldn't you know it, first thing Saturday morning, some scripts didn't finish and needed to get checked out. With Prompt 1 and the Apple Bluetooth keyboard, I made quick work of it.

This got me thinking about whether or not I could do most of my job on an iPad with a keyboard. My job, these days, is a lot of email, web apps, and a little bit of programming. All very very possible on the iPad. The only thing that I think might not be convenient on the iPad is our jabber/IM setup. We have a pretty massive contact list and I have yet to find an app that handles it well.

But, my experience last weekend, combined with iOS 7 (background apps), makes me thinks it might be worth a shot one day to just grab a keyboard and my iPad and see how effective I can be.

In that vein, I've been typing this in Editorial 2 – on the built-in soft keyboard on they iPad. Not my fastest typing, but it's manageable. And, if all goes well, this will get posted directly out of Editorial, using one of the workflows that's available on Editorial's workflow site.

If it doesn't go well, it's very likely to be my fault setting up the WordPress workflow in Editorial. 3

  1. Prompt on the App Store 

  2. My post on Editorial 

  3. Though, in my defense, that's something that's not terribly straightforward. It might take me a try or two.  

Listening to the Radio or Why I Bought an App Called Radium

Growing up, I listened to the radio a lot. We had this cool old tuner that, every once in a while, would pick up stations from around the country. Turns out, that’s is (was?) a hobby for lots of people, but for me it was just cool to hear slices of a random baseball game from some other part of the country.

The radio became my companion for the long, 11ish hour drives from Rutland to Blacksburg and back (Mass Pike West, 84S, 81S). This was the late 90s, so I had sometimes had a Discman that I would plug into the cassette deck to listen to CDs (if they didn’t skip too much), or would listen to mix tapes made by me or my friends. But, more often than not, I would spend minutes as I drove scanning up and down the dial for some random radio station in the area. Maybe I’d catch a good radio station and hear some song that I really liked. Today, I’d Shazam it and know exactly what it was. Back then, I’d listen longer, hoping to not lose the signal, and wait for the DJ to tell me what it was. Or worse, try to google the lyrics when I got home, and hope to stumble upon the song.

There was something incredibly interesting to me about hearing advertisements for car dealerships in Harrisburg, PA, or catching part of a church service when driving through West Virginia really early in the morning. The worst was losing a station you’d been listening to for an hour or so, after you’d gone 30 minutes catching nothing but static intermixed with the faintest signal.

Today, I still am endlessly entertained by radio (and TV) in other places. Whenever I travel for business and end up renting a car, I’ll find my way to the local rock/indie station, or maybe the local sports station. Listening to people call in and complain about whatever their local team is doing wrong. Arriving at the hotel, I’ll often throw on the TV and watch the local news. Living in Boston, I’m spoiled. I get real, HD news, and everything is, at least, remotely professional. Sometimes, in a smaller city, you get a reminder of what things were like a few years ago.

That whole story is a long preamble to what will likely be a short sell. When flipping through some RSS feeds, I came across a review of Radium. It’s a nice, small Mac app (with a companion iOS app) that makes it easy to listen to internet radio. I know there’s lots of ways to listen to the radio on the internet, but this one just clicked for me. Hit the icon, type in a genre, or more fun, a city, and find a station. When you’re listening, if a song comes on, you know what it is and can add it to a list (and then purchase it through iTunes).

In an age of podcasts, massive streaming music libraries, and satellite radio—also covered by Radium, if you’ve got a subscription—I don’t know why I want to listen to the radio. But for at least a few hours a week, I find myself clicking on a radio station (RadioBDC from Boston, KEXP from Seattle, NPR, random sports radio) and listening and feeling a bit like the old days when it was so exciting to pick up a signal from halfway across the country. Throw in the iOS app, and you can drive your car around while picking up a radio station from Texas, or listening to news talk from Maine.

As a postscript, I should mention that both the MLB and NBA apps for iOS are wonderful for the same reason. Listening to the radio broadcast of a random basketball game, while you walk home from watching the Celtics play, has been one of the pure old-timey joys of living in an always on world.

The app links in here are tagged with my iTunes affiliate link. If you buy something, I might get to buy an extra song someday.

Editorial: Why Android Probably Can’t Have Nice Things

“Editorial changed how I use my iPad: I can now work from my mini without worrying about the apps and features I’d miss from my Mac. I want to work from my iPad, because Editorial is a better, faster, more efficient writing and editing environment than Sublime Text 2 on OS X, even considering all the Markdown-related scripts and macros I have in Keyboard Maestro. As a hub that connects apps and text with workflows and native UI elements, Editorial has reinvented the way I use iOS and third-party apps for writing, researching, taking notes, discovering links, and sharing them with other people. For me, Editorial is more than just a text editor.”

(From Federico Viticci’s insanely thorough review.)

I don’t know if, right now, an app like Editorial could exist in the Android world. It’s such a thoughtfully written application, with massive amounts of attention paid to the little bits that iOS doesn’t handle well right now (inter-app communication, cloud storage). At $4.99, a price that’s considerably less than what comparable destkop apps go for (Sublime Text is $70, Textmate is $54), it’s a steal. I optimistically hope that it’ll make the developer enough money to continue to fund his insanely good work. He must thing he can; according to most reviews, this app has been in development for nearly a year.

There are, presumably, enough iOS users for whom a powerful text editor is worth $5.

I’m not sure if, even with the growing Android market, there’s enough users out there who would pay $5 for a text editor. Certain types of apps (games and system tools) seem to work in the Android market, but I’m not sure a text editor is one of them.