Apple returned from near obscurity to dominate consumer electronics after reinventing the smartphone. The iPod MP3 player was an important step on the way to the iPhone. Follow-up acts don’t come much better than the iPad, which changed the face of personal computing although the Mac and the MacBook ranges are still important.
The first few paragraphs of this review were handwritten on an iPad Pro running iPadOS 14. Apple included a new feature in the operating system called Scribble.
It allows you handwrite in any iPad text field. Scribble then converts your handwriting into text.
Scribble works with the Apple Pencil. If you don’t own one, this could be the justification to buy the Pencil. It doesn’t have to be the Apple Pencil, any powered iPad stylus will work. It doesn’t work with fingertips or with passive styluses.
If you’re old enough and spent a lot of time with Apple hardware you may remember something similar was possible with the Newton MessagePad.
Scribble works better than you might dare to expect. It is fast enough to covert handwriting on the fly. Using it feels natural enough over the short haul. After a while it can get more tiring than typing, although that may be unfamiliarity.
That could also be because I am a touch typist and have never been great at handwriting. In my case Scribble is an accurate description.
Either way, I gave up trying to write this entire post using Scribble at the sentence you are reading now. In other words, it’s good for a couple of hundred words. Don’t plan on using it to write your magnum opus.
Scribble quick notes
To date I’ve found it is excellent for making quick notes, filling in forms, compiling lists and the like. It excels if you need to pen a fast reply to an email.
While you can use Scribble in any text field, certain iPadOS apps have full support. The first paragraphs of this post were written directly into the Apple Pages word processor. If you own an iPad, Pages is free.
When you touch the screen with your Pencil while in a Pages document, the draw palette shows up. To choose scribble, you have to pick the leftmost pen tool, it has an A on it to make things clearer.
Reading my handwriting can be challenging at the best of times. Scribble got almost everything right for the first paragraphs. We’ll discusss the word almost in a moment. Where it doesn’t recognise your writing, you can quickly fix the text using one of four simple pen gestures. Newton owners might find them familiar.
To delete a written word, you scribble over it. That’s straightforward enough and needs no training. You can select a word by drawing a line through it or by circling it. In practice the circles are easier and more accurate, although you may find otherwise.
Inserting text works when you tap and hold the pen tip at the insertion point. A gap opens in the text and you can write in your extra text. Drawing a vertical line between text characters will either add a space to separate two connected words or open a space when two words are closed up.
It doesn’t take long to pick up these gestures, I was doing them all without a second thought before I stopped scribbling this post.
There is one glaring omission. You can’t go to a word and, say, capitalise it. With the Newton you can turn a lower case character into a capital with an upward swipe. With Scribble you have to delete and write the word again remembering to use a giant initial letter.
You can’t Scribble everywhere yet
Scribble doesn’t work with all iPadOS apps. The software has to be enabled by the app developer. It doesn’t work with Microsoft Word or Google Docs. If history is anything to go by, third party app developers will embrace it over time.
Other Apple iWork apps can use it. I was pleased to find it works with iA Writer. And, as mentioned earlier, it does great service with the iPadOS Mail app.
Scribble is one of those features that you can overlook. Yet it has the potential to upend the way you work with an iPad. My favourite aspect of this is that Scribble makes it much easier to write on an iPad when you are standing. As a journalist this is something I need to do when on reporting jobs.
The iPad is a great tool for writers. For many professional and part-time writers it is a better option than a laptop.
In this feature we’ll look at why the iPad could be a better option for you. We’ll examine which model iPad to choose, explore keyboards and outline writing applications.
You don’t need an expensive high-end iPad model for writing. The standard NZ$569 (mid-2020 prices) iPad has everything you need. It’s powerful enough and has a screen you’ll have no trouble living with.
Write on any iPad
Writing is an undemanding application for a computer or a tablet. It barely skims the surface of a device’s capabilities. That said, you need enough computing power for the screen to keep up with fast typing and to display crisp, readable text.
Every 2020 iPad meets that standard including the iPad mini. Indeed, every iPad from the last five years will do the job and do it in style.
When I’m away from my desk, I use a top-of-the-range 12.9-inch iPad Pro for writing. It has far more power than I need to put down words, in my case I use the extra grunt other applications.
Apple could have designed the iPad with journalists like me in mind. They are more portable than even the slimmest, lightest laptop. Their batteries tend to last hours longer than most laptops. And they do a good job of hiding complexity.
It’s no trouble to pull out an iPad and work on in a cafe, on an airplane tray-table, or, at a pinch, on your lap. Sure this is true of a good laptop, but it is more so with the iPad.
Why is the iPad a great writing tool?
When Apple launched the first iPad it pitched the tablet as a media consumption device. It was clear early on that it could do more. Today’s iPads are better than laptops for many creative tasks.
When it comes to writing the iPad has many advantages:
It has long battery life. Sure, you can find laptops that will go 12 hours between charges. Yet, measure-for-measure, an iPad will last longer between charges than a conventional computer.
Focus. While you can now open two or more side-by-side screens in iPadOS, the operating lends itself to doing one thing at a time.With the iPad you can focus on writing without other apps distracting you. Turning off notifications and concentrating is much easier.
Portable. The iPad is more portable than any laptop. It can go places laptops don’t.
One aspect of the iPad’s portability is that you can work on it even when you are standing.It’s possible to thumb type on the screen keyboard while your are standing. I’ve done this at press conferences. I’ve done this waiting in queues to board planes.
This means you can write in more places, more often. Yes, you can do that on a phone, but it’s not the best writing experience. It is not easy to write standing up with a laptop.
The same applies if, say, you are sitting cramped on a crowded plane flight. At a pinch you can tap out words holding the iPad in vertical or portrait orientation when there’s no room for a keyboard.
Being able to use the taller portrait orientation is an often overlooked bonus.There are subtle ergonomic problems with writing across a wide screen. This tends to make errors harder to spot. A narrow width is easier to proof-read. If you are writing words to print on paper, the screen orientation more closely mirrors how your words will appear on the finished document.
iPads have glorious, well-lit high resolution screens. Higher resolution means your eyes don’t tire as fast. You can work for longer stretches and retain concentration for longer.
No waiting. An iPad is always ready to go the moment it is switched on. Yes, modern laptops can do the same, but you can always start writing in seconds on an iPad.
Pick an iPad, any iPad
iPads range in size. The smallest is the iPad mini, with a 7.9-inch display. That’s roughly 200 by 135mm. At the other end of the scale the 12.9-inch iPad Pro display measures 280 by 215mm. It has more than twice as much screen.
The Mini weighs 300g. That’s roughly the weight of two phones. The larger size iPad Pro is 640g, about half the weight of a laptop with the same size display.
Even when you add a keyboard, iPads are smaller, lighter and more portable than almost every laptop. The nearest non-iPad competitor would be a Microsoft Surface tablet.
If money is no object, you can choose the iPad that you find comfortable to read. If it is an object, pick the iPad you can afford.
Cellular or not?
Few people need the models that include cellular phone technology for connecting to the net.
You’ll find Wi-Fi is available in many of the places where you will want to write. Where it isn’t, you can tether your iPad to your phone and connect that way.
This works with both iPhones and Android phones. The experience is better and smoother if you have an iPhone, but don’t get hung up on this point, it isn’t a deal breaker.
Cellular adds around $220 to the price of a Wi-Fi iPad. The other option that adds to the price of an iPad is storage.
While you don’t need a huge amount for storage for written documents, you may want to store music, other audio, photographs and video. These are all storage hungry.
There is a terabyte storage option for the iPad Pro. This adds NZ$900 to the price of the base 128GB model. It will be overkill for many readers. I have a huge music collection, store audio and video files and struggle to fill a 512GB iPad. That size of storage will add roughly NZ$500 to the base price.
The exact amount of storage you need should take into account what other devices you own. If you have a computer and an iPad, then you won’t need to splurge on a lot of storage. Likewise, if you can offload files that you don’t need all the time to an external drive, you can save money.
One thing you must be aware of is that it is near impossible to upgrade iPad storage. It’s a decision you need to get right before you buy.
Based on my experience, I’d suggest you should budget for at least 256GB of storage and consider buying 512GB. That’s the amount I have on my own iPad, it has enough headroom for me to never worry about running out of space.
iPad keyboard considerations
A keyboard isn’t essential if you own an iPad. You can do a lot without one and there is always the Apple Pencil and handwriting recognition.
But this is all about writing on an iPad. A keyboard is always going to make that easier.
There is no shortage of iPad keyboards to choose from. Any iPad will work with any Bluetooth keyboard.
When you buy an iPad, chances are someone will attempt to sell you a keyboard as an add-on. Apple’s iPad keyboards are the most straightforward choice, although your choice should be down to what you find comfortable. That’s both from an ergonomic point of view and from a budget point of view.
At NZ$550 a pop, Apple’s Magic Keyboard is an expensive, Rolls Royce option. It’s good, when you use it at a desk or on a flat surface it is little different from a laptop keyboard experience.
The $320 Apple Smart Keyboard Folio is less expensive. It’s the one I choose for when I’m on the move. It has the best balance of function and price. Again, it gives the iPad a laptop feel. Yet it is more flexible and feels less robust than the Magic Keyboard.
Then there’s the NZ$260 Apple Smart Keyboard.
Not all Apple keyboards are available for all iPads. One aspect of the Apple keyboards that you might see as a negative is that they flex more than you might expect if you are typing on your lap. When used this way they are not as solid as laptops.
Two third-party brands to consider are Logitech and Brydge. You can save a few dollars when compared to Apple prices. Brydge makes hard shell keyboards that turn your iPad into something laptopesque.
When I looked there were a dozen Logitech iPad keyboards. The range covers all iPad models.
All the keyboards that are made to work with iPads offer a degree of protection. That’s important if you are mobile. The devices are not fragile, but once you start moving about the potential for dropping them or doing other damage increases.
Keyboards a matter of personal taste. I touch type and find there’s a huge variation in what works for me. The only way you can be certain is to have a quick test drive before buying. It may make sense to shop online for an iPad, I recommend you visit a physical store before choosing a keyboard.
Much of the time I use a first generation Apple Bluetooth keyboard and a mStand tablet from Rain Design to hold the iPad. It’s a simple and elegant approach.
Buying an Apple Pencil can be confusing. There are two models. The one you buy depends on your iPad model.
It’s not realistic to use a Pencil for long writing jobs. They are great for jotting quick notes when on the move. My regret is that I can’t use shorthand to write with an Apple Pencil.
File the Apple Pencil under nice to have rather than essential. Although there are people who say they can’t live without them. It’s a good thing to ask someone to buy you as a present.
There are iPad versions of two best-known writing apps: Microsoft Word and Google Docs. While they may be all you need, there are a wealth of alternatives that may suit your needs better than the juggernauts.
It’s controversial, but I argue Word is a better experience on the iPad than on a Windows or Mac computer. It’s stripped back and has an elegance that’s hidden on a conventional computer.
If your iPad has a screen smaller than 10.1-inches, Word is free.
Otherwise you can buy Word for the iPad as part of any Microsoft Office subscription. If you use the software at work, or on a computer, you may already have a licence.
A Microsoft Office licence costs around NZ$130 a year, although you can find deals.
There is a web version of Microsoft Word, which is handy if you need the software in a hurry and don’t have the app loaded.
One Word drawback is that it doesn’t dovetail as neatly into the Apple-iPad world as many other writing tools. You are pushed towards using Microsoft OneDrive instead of iCloud or Dropbox.
Likewise, when you try to mail a Word document, the software assumes you want to send it using Outlook, not the stock iPad Mail app.
Google does something similar with Google Docs on the iPad. You can use the app in its familiar web-based version. When you open a document, say from Google Drive, there’s an option to download and install a Google Doc iPad app.
If you don’t choose to download, opt to open the document in Safari, a second pushier screen pops up asking you a second time. Never forget that installing a Google app gives the company permission to spy on your iPad.
Google Docs works fine on a browser on the iPad. I’m hard-pressed to see any difference in the user experience when compared with Docs on a laptop or desktop computer. If you are all in with Google, the app might make more sense. Otherwise, stick with the web version.
While Microsoft Word has collaboration features, Google Docs is a better choice if you work with others to build documents. Better, not foolproof.
Apple’s own Pages word processor is included as standard with every iPad. It could be all the word processor you need. It will open documents created with Word or Docs and you can send Pages documents in the Word format.
As the name hints Pages is more page design oriented that Word or Google Docs. This works better than you might expect on an iPad, although you will need a larger screen to make the most of it. Pages is ideal, a better bet than Word or Docs, if you plan to create Apple Books or PDFs.
There’s one Pages feature I love, even if it is not my first choice for writing on the iPad. Presenter Mode turns the iPad into an autocue. When I’m on a long radio broadcast, presenting live or doing similar work I use it as a prompt.
Every writer has their favourite apps. Different writing tools perform different functions. What works best for you depends on what writing you do and what you are familiar with.
For my everyday work the best writing app is iA Writer. It may not suit you. iA Writer is not a word processor, it is a text editor. That means it’s a barebones writing app with few features. You can download it from the App Store for NZ$30.
iA Writer uses Markdown. This is a way of formatting text without lifting your hands from the keyboard. It takes minutes to learn and can speed up writing.
Byword is a good NZ$6 alternative to iA Writer. The developers neglected the app for a while, but are now back on the job.
Other writing apps
Two other apps worth considering are Scrivener and Ulysses. I’m not familiar with either beyond testing them both many years ago.
Scrivener, NZ$19 in the App Store, sells as a writing tool to help novelists. That means it has database features to help track characters and other novel elements.
Fans swear by the app. It goes in the opposite direction to where I want to go with writing on my iPad. That is, it adds complexity.
Ulysses has the same Markdown formatting as iA Writer and Byword, but adds a lot of word processor-like features. This sounds contradictory, but it marries a minimalist look and feel with background complexity. You’ll either love it or be bewildered by it.
The app is a free download, you can test it without paying. After that it costs NZ$11 a month or $92 a year to use. That makes it expensive if you don’t expect to tap into its complexity.
You aren’t restricted to using an app made solely for writing. Many general applications include editors that may serve your purposes.
There are iPad users who write everything in the Notes app that comes as part of the iPad operating system.
Tools like Evernote are popular with iPad writers. Bear is another app that comes up in conversations about writing on the iPad. It is more a note-taking app than a text editor, but it covers all the bases. Simplenote is a free alternative.
Gartner says phone sales were down 20 percent in the second quarter of 2020. These numbers mirror the first quarter as the pandemic rages on.
Phone makers shipped a total of 295 million phones world wide in the second quarter. This compares with 370 million phones in the same period a year earlier.
Samsung and Huawei are neck and neck for first place. Both companies sold a fraction under 55 million phones. Apple remains third.
The relative positions hide a huge shift in performance. Samsung saw a 27 percent decline in units sold during the quarter. Huawei’s numbers dropped almost seven percent. Meanwhile Apple sales were flat. Which means the market shares have moved around with Apple being the winner.
Lesser phone brand Xiaomi, which we don’t often see in New Zealand had a 21 percent drop in sales. Oppo, which we do see in New Zealand, but not much, experienced a 16 percent drop in sales.
Gartner says Samsung’s new S Series phones did nothing to revive its business. Huawei did OK in China, it has a 42 percent market share in its home country. Without a strong performance there, it would have seen a Samsung-like drop.
Apple did best
In relative numbers Apple did better than its rivals in both the first and second quarter. Part of the reason for that was the lower cost iPhone SE which attracted upgraders from old iPhones.
There’s a lot of talk and analysis linking the sales drop to Covid-19. It’s true lockdowns and precautions are behind a shift from mobility to home working. Yet phone sales were already in decline.
Some analysts believed the arrival of 5G networks would trigger a fresh wave of phone buying. The faster mobile technology has its charms, but there is no incentive to buy a phone to download data faster. 4G is more than enough for every popular practical mobile application.
It was the second quarter in a row to see a drop in sales. Phonemakers shipped a total of 285 million phones during the quarter. This compares with around 350 million phones shipped in the same period a year ago.
Not only did the Covid-19 pandemic hit sales, it closed factories and disrupted supply chains. People were less able to get out and shop for new phones, yet they chose not to order online.
Follow the money
If anything, money that may have been earmarked for phones was spent on computer hardware enabling people to work from home. Other potential buyers hung onto their money as they face financial uncertainty.
Apple was the bright spot. iPhone sales were up 25 percent on the same period last year. It remains the third largest phone maker in terms of unit sales behind Huawei and Samsung. The company’s market share climbed from around 11 percent to roughly 16 percent.
Canalys says the new iPhone SE accounted for around 28 percent of its sales.1 It reports: “Apple is demonstrating skills in new user acquisition. It adapted quickly to the pandemic, doubling down on the digital customer experience as stay-at-home measures drive more customers to online channels.”
The iPhone 11 was Apple’s best seller taking 40 percent of sales.
Canalys sounds a warning note about future sales. It says consumer purchasing power has stayed stable thanks to government stimulus packages. The market now faces problems as the stimulus money ends and expected job losses mount.
I’d recommend this to anyone wanting an iPhone without financial stress. ↩︎
It raised smiles 14 years ago when I carried a 1996 Apple Newton MessagePad 130 into the IDG Auckland office.
IDC is the publisher of titles like Reseller News, ComputerWorld and PC World. It was a workplace where the Newton was instantly recognisable.
The Newton looked odd among the 2006 Motorola flip phones, Blackberrys and Palm Pilots1.
Old dogs, old tricks
Odd, but not too ancient to use. My Newton still worked fine. I could still scrawl notes on the screen with a stylus2. It could still track my diary dates and manage my contacts.
Of course, the Newton couldn’t hook up to much else. The Newton MessagePad predated Wi-fi and Bluetooth. However there was a proprietary cable that would send a trickle of data to and from a PC or Mac.
The Newton needed AA batteries. I had a rechargeable pack that was an afterthought, but my MessagePad didn’t have internal rechargeable power like many modern devices in the 2005.
My motivation for digging the Newton out from the back of the cupboard and giving it another go was twofold.
First, I wanted to see if the technology was as far ahead of its time as it seemed in 1993 when I had my first Newton. In some ways it was.
The second reason was because, at the time, there were rumours Apple was working on something that would replace the Newton. According to the reports that something was also a phone.
The rest is history.
Hardware that goes on and on
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Newton MessagePad 130 was that it was still working after a decade. When the Newton line was first launched there was talk of the devices being short-lived. A year later I sold my working Newton on TradeMe.
So long as it isn’t dropped or hammered by hard use, a digital device can live a long time. It will always be able to do whatever it was purchased for in the first place3.
But keeping devices for years is not fashionable. In some circles it is almost viewed as subversive.
Technology companies carpet bomb journalists like me who covering the sector with new products. There is a constant stream of product launches. New this, improved that, enhanced4 something else and so on.
It can get tiring.
New, improved a bit
Often the new thing is better than the old thing. It is rare that it is so much better that we should bin the old stuff and buy the new. And yet that is what people do. Often far too soon.
The hardware you buy can, and should, last for years. There is more to not jumping to the latest model than being frugal. Electronic hardware is hard on the planet, an ecological time bomb. In the case of some materials it can also be the cause of much misery.
Upgrading less often makes the world a better place.
Wise technology buyers choose hardware with a long life. Even if you don’t intend to hang on to something for ages, you’ll get a better price if you sell your device on when you upgrade.
Hardware that lasts
There are two parts to finding products that last a long time. Some hardware brands take a pride in making things that last. Others design their gear so that it can be upgraded.
The sources and methodologies for the two sets of statistics are different, so we can’t read too much into the numbers. Even so, it appears Android phones are active for much less that iPhones.
Supporting evidence for this comes from Trademe. Second-hand iPhones retain value far more than second hand Android phones.
Another thing to consider is that Apple has historically provided software updates for longer than Android phone makers.
The point here is not to say one is better than the other. I’ll leave that to you. What’s important is if a phone’s lifespan is important to you, choose an iPhone.
You can do similar research with tablets and various types of computers. Apple hardware tends towards lasting longer than average.
Meanwhile some brands are easier to upgrade. You can’t do much to keep a MacBook Air up to date. It’s a piece of cake to put more memory, more storage or a faster drive in a Windows desktop computer.
There is something else to consider about device long life. If you choose a popular brand, that would be Apple or Samsung for phones, Apple, HP and Dell for laptops and so on, there’s a bigger community of people to support that product over the long haul.
You won’t have trouble finding someone to fix a broken Apple or Samsung phone, you might struggle if you pick a less popular brand like, say, Oppo.
Likewise there is a ready market in components like replacement batteries or screens for popular products. Finding parts for obscure hardware is tough.
You may have other tips for getting more out of your spending on hardware. Feel free to share in the comments below. There is a prize for the best tip.