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Bill Bennett

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Apple is one world’s largest companies. It got there by giving people the technology they want. Products include the Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and AirPods.

How the iPad Pro changed my computing needs

ipad pro apple pencilApple’s iPad Pro is the perfect tool for a freelance journalist. It’s light, powerful, has a battery that lasts all day and a good keyboard.

To my surprise I’ve found my writing is more productive on the Pro than on a Mac. That has a lot to do with the physical hardware. It is also down to iOS 9 which forces distraction-free mode on users.

Nothing pops up to distract me while working. I’m rarely tempted to switch screens unless it is necessary. Trust me, this enforced focus writing is just what I need.

I get paid by the word and can write more words per day on the iPad Pro. It’s that simple.

iPad Pro great for writing

Today’s iOS writing tools are excellent. There is plenty of choice. At one point I had seven different apps installed I can use to manipulate words and sentences.

At first sight Apple’s iPad Pro keyboard doesn’t look promising. In practice I can touch type on it all day. I’ve no idea if my iPad Pro typing speed matches my MacBook typing speed. What I do know is the iPad Pro writing set-up is productive.

My only niggle is that sometimes I must lift my hands from the keyboard and touch the screen or the Touch ID button. This doesn’t interfere with productivity, but it doesn’t feel like a natural action. Not yet[1].

The iPad Pro has earned its place in my technology armoury. The machine I’m writing this post on is a review model from Apple. When the review period is up I’m going to buy my own iPad Pro and a keyboard and an Apple pencil.

What does it replace?

There is one problem. I’ve not decided what it will displace.

Although I can do all my work on the iPad Pro, it can’t do all the other things I need to do. While iCloud works well (so does OneDrive) the iPad Pro is not ideal for making local file copies. Physical back-up may be an anachronistic security blanket in your eyes, I’ve come to depend on it. I learned the hard way about backing up and don’t plan to stop.

Last month I had to install new firmware on my home wireless router. That meant downloading a zip file, decompressing it then installing it on the router. There’s no way I know of to do this using the iPad Pro[2].

I’ve invested a small fortune in OS X and Windows apps. In truth, there are few desktop business apps that I find essential. I use Acorn to manipulate graphics files but there are good iPad apps for this task.

The iPad Pro handles most web design work. Downloading and editing HTML, CSS or PHP files is tricky compared with the Mac. I can’t see how I can run local development versions of websites on the iPad. Maybe there are tools, I haven’t found them yet.

Missing in action

Where the iPad Pro misses most is with leisure software. That’s strange given its consumer origins. Here I’m talking about specialist apps. I use sophisticated music composition software on my Mac, it doesn’t run on iOS. Having said that, I have found some great alternative iOS music software.

Games are another matter. I’m not much of a gamer, but on wet weekends and home alone evenings I might want to unwind. Although there are iOS versions of some of the games I play, they are not a patch on the OS X versions.

The iPad Pro is the best thing for watching streaming video content. Premier League Pass is wonderful on the Retina screen. Movies are wonderful and the display is big enough for two to snuggle up and watch together.

Can’t drop the Mac yet

Despite this, I’m still going to need a Mac of some description for some time. The question is which model?

Until I used the iPad Pro, Apple’s 2015 MacBook was at the top of my shopping list. It’s small and light and has a great screen. That sounds just like the iPad Pro, except I now know I work better with a Pro.

My MacBook Air is two years old. The battery doesn’t last quite as long as it did when it was new, the power cable wore away and needed kludging. I was planning to look for a replacement about now.

Thanks to the iPad Pro I can relegate the MacBook to a secondary role and extend its life. Maybe when it gets more tired I can replace it with a Retina iMac. Or maybe another MacBook Air.


  1. I’ve noticed with the iPad Pro and all the touch screen PCs or Hybrids I’ve used that excessive touch screen use gives me a little upper arm pain. I’ll let you know if this becomes a problem.  ↩
  2. If you do, please tell me.  ↩

Why I had to stop wearing the Apple Watch

A few days after I first tried the Apple Watch I found myself scratching my irritated wrist. I took a break from wearing it and my wrist got better.

For a while I fell into a pattern of only wearing the watch when I worked away from home. At home, I’d leave it off. This runs counter to the idea of wearable devices, but it worked for me.

At least I thought it did. I was getting a mild rash and would find myself scratching my wrist and the area around it. But things seemed under control.

It turns out they weren’t.

Discomfort

There was still some discomfort. I took to loosening the band in case the problem was to do with it being too tight. My skin didn’t improve. In fact the problem got worse. I found the area where my thumb meets my hand was red and itchy.

At home, Johanna says she noticed swelling around my wrist, across the lower part of my hand and thumb. We compared my right and left hands. I wear the watch on the left hand, but am right-handed for most things. The left hand is clearly swollen in comparison with the right.

My instinct was to wear the Watch even less and keep an eye open for more symptoms.

Warning Will Robinson

Ten days ago I visited a medical specialist needing treatment for another medical problem. Like a lot of people he noticed my Apple Watch. I thought he was interested in the technology. He wasn’t. Instead he took a closer look at my rash and told me to take the watch off.

He told me I had an allergic reaction to the material. It could be the strap — my Watch has a black Sports Band. Or it could be the watch itself.

The medical specialist asked if my reaction had worsened over the weeks I’ve been wearing the watch. I couldn’t be certain, there’s a boiling frog aspect, you don’t notice a slowly worsening skin reaction creeping up on you.

After some thought, I realised it was getting worse.

Potentially serious

He said this could be serious. It turns out some allergic skin reactions have a cumulative effect. They can go on getting worse and reach a point where it is hard to recover. In extreme cases it can lead to anaphylactic shock.

Now, this was the doctor’s reaction after seeing the rash. I wasn’t there for this condition and we didn’t take things further. It wasn’t a formal diagnosis, just some friendly, informed advice.

Nickle, Methacrylates

Apple acknowledges some people may have a reaction to the Watch materials. It says it went to great lengths to test and check materials first. The Apple Watch support website offers some advice on possible allergic reactions.

Material care

It says: “A great deal of care and research go into choosing materials for all our devices. A small number of people will experience reactions to certain materials.

“This can be due to allergies, environmental factors, extended exposure to irritants like soap or sweat, and other causes.

“If you know you have allergies or other sensitivities, be aware that Apple Watch and some of its bands contain nickel and methacrylate.’

Apple suggests people who have problems should talk to a doctor before wearing or returning to wearing the Watch. I’ve done that and for me, the long-term review is over.

In the next few days I’ll report my thoughts about my time with the Watch. Top of that list is that the best thing about the Apple Watch is that has made me more aware of my health. Some irony there.

The time I should have had faith in the iPad Pro

While Apple’s iPad Pro is enough computer for day-to-day journalism, there are times when things might get tricky.

In the end I didn’t use the iPad Pro as my only device last week[1].

It wasn’t because of anything wrong with the iPad Pro. The iPad Pro stayed at home because I needed to play safe and use OS X.

My caution was unnecessary. In hindsight the iPad Pro may have been a better tool for the job in question.

Last Wednesday I was asked to help with production on  a  New Zealand Herald report.

For editors and writers, production is mainly about reading last minute page proofs. We’re looking for errors, writing headlines or captions and so on. It can mean dealing with files, usually PDFs, from the NZ Herald’s editorial design system.

There’s also fact-checking; researching people’s correct name spellings and job titles.

Files can fly thick and fast during last minute production. Speed is essential.

Too many unknowns

Although iOS does a decent job managing personal files generated with iOS apps, there were too many possible unknowns to deal with.

I didn’t want to get all the way to the office then find the iPad Pro couldn’t open one of the file types. Nor did I want to find out too late that my iOS apps weren’t the right tools to make late page edits.

Also it could have been embarrassing if I needed to find out how to perform some unexpected or unfamiliar operation while others were waiting for me.

MacBook instead

For all these reasons I packed the MacBook certain that it could handle all the work and that I know how to make it fly.

On the day we did the job with full-size paper proofs and pens. Someone else made the changes to the pages.

This may sound archaic to geeks, but proofreading is more effective on printouts than on screen. Eyes and brains read print and screens in different ways. Errors that stand out in print are overlooked on screen.

There was plenty of fact-checking, but no file-juggling. There was some emailing of photos to designers — I’ve worked places where you need to log-in to a server to get the pics to the right place. That could have been a challenge on the iPad Pro.

On the occasions where I needed to read proofs on screen, the large high resolution iPad Pro screen would have been a better option than the MacBook. Granted there’s not much in it, but the iPad is a better reading device than a conventional computer.

I should have had more faith in the iPad Pro.


  1. Look out for my post about my experience after using the iPad Pro for seven days not quite in a row. It contains useful insight into where the device fits in the bigger picture.  ↩

Today’s handset is much more than a phone

Apple’s iPhone has always been more than just a phone handset. From the outset it has also been a pocket computer. The same is true for many Android and Windows phones [1].

While iPhones can’t do everything PCs do, they do the most important things. Modern handsets do them well enough for many people’s needs.

In the third world, phones are often people’s only experience of computers. It is how they use the internet. For them it is the computer.

Many of us living in richer countries have the luxury of owning more than one computer. That often means a desktop or laptop and a tablet and a phone.

Handset evolving role

Although the three have distinct functions, their relationship has evolved over the years. For Apple users the biggest step was last year when the IPhone 6 Plus arrived[2]

Its bigger, 5.5 inch display brought more screen real estate. That meant more flexibility in displaying information. More text can fit on a single screen. A split screen is practical.

The larger screen also makes for easy data input. Big displays mean better on screen keyboards.

It’s not the best tool for writing a thousand word story, but it can be done without discomfort. As I found out in practice. That wasn’t the case with earlier, smaller iPhone displays.

Last year the iPhone went from being a communications tool with some processing to being a productivity hub. Everything else now revolves around the phone.

Android fans will argue otherwise[3] but for me this is where Apple and Microsoft have an advantage. The phones integrate smoothly with laptops, desktops and other tools. They are much more than just phones.


  1. But let’s keep this simple, it gets tiresome writing or Android or Windows Phone ever other sentence.  ↩
  2. Apple wasn’t first to the big phone party by a long shot.  ↩
  3. Please do. I’ve not found Android’s integration with desktop computers to be as smooth or as productive as the alternatives. Yet it’s clear millions of people do work this way so it must work.  ↩

2015 MacBook, MacBook Air, iPad Pro productivity

Nothing bad happened switching from the 2015 MacBook to the iPad Pro. If there were any surprises they were all good ones.

Every Friday morning I pack a computer, coffee money and a banana in a briefcase. Next I catch a bus to town where I work in a client’s office. Although I interview people, make phone calls and attend meetings, I write for most of the day.

Until three months ago my Friday-working-away-from-home computer was an Apple MacBook Air. It served me well. The MacBook Air has more than enough battery life to get through an eight-hour day. It is light, portable, has a great keyboard and runs all the apps I need.

Then I switched to a 2015 MacBook. It was a review machine borrowed from Apple. My goal to understand where the new MacBook fits into the bigger productivity picture.

Comparing MacBook keyboards

In hindsight I found the 2015 MacBook keyboard isn’t as good as the MacBook Air’s. I didn’t notice this at the time. The difference became noticeable when I returned to the MacBook Air earlier this week.

Despite what you may read in other reviews, the 2015 MacBook keyboard is fine. It just doesn’t deal with touch typing as well as the Air.

There’s not much in it. On a scale of one to ten I’d give the 2015 MacBook keyboard an eight. The MacBook Air keyboard scores nine out of ten.

To put it another way, I’ve not used a better laptop keyboard than the MacBook Air’s in recent years.

If this seems fussy, remember touch typing is what I do all day. For me this is one of the most important aspects of a portable device. A better keyboard makes writing more efficient. That’s money in the bank.

2015 MacBook battery life

The 2015 MacBook’s biggest negative is battery life. My two year old Air can no longer last for the ten hours it did when it was new. In part because I now leave wi-fi and Bluetooth on all day. Yet it still gives me well over eight hours.

From the outset the 2015 MacBook battery struggled to last the full eight hours I work in town each Friday. That Retina screen sucks juice.

For weeks I had to devise power-saving strategies such as using my phone for mail and browsing.

That’s not the best way to work and didn’t solve the problem. In the end I gave in and took the power cable with me. It wasn’t optional.

USB-C works for me

Others may whinge, but the single USB-C connector doesn’t worry me. I use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for everything. I’ve heard people complain about the feeble processor. It doesn’t make a difference to word processing or browsing.

The Retina screen is a delight. Not that it makes any difference to my writing productivity. While the Force Touch trackpad is handy, there’s no obvious productivity gain.

I like the way there’s no fan in the 2015 MacBook. You never find yourself wondering what that strange humming noise is.

To be fair, the MacBook Air rarely uses its fan. Sorry to sound repetitive, this also has nothing to do with productivity.

Apple iPad Pro 2015
Apple iPad Pro

A bigger advantage was the 2015 MacBook’s reduced weight and size. Having less to carry in my brief case may not sound like a big deal, it always felt like a bonus during the commute. It’s a more of a benefit when travelling on an airplane.

Even so, on balance the lower-priced MacBook Air is a better option for my Friday work. That’s clear now after three months with the 2015 MacBook. There’s not much in it, productivity and battery life trump smaller and lighter. Your requirements may differ.

Enter the iPad Pro

When the review iPad Pro arrived I wasn’t sure where it would fit in the productivity picture. At first I doubted I would want to use an iOS device as my Friday computer for the next three months.

I worried about the lack of a trackpad, about the keyboard and what iOS might mean in practice. There was a fear I may not be able to use all the apps I need.

Despite these worries, I took the iPad Pro with me for my regular Friday gig. I decided if the first week was a disaster, I could always switch back to the Air.

Rivals the MacBook

In the event, the iPad Pro was anything but a disaster. It proved a great Friday computer. The iPad Pro could be better than the 2015 MacBook for working away from home.

My iPad Pro is the cellular version. I’ll write more about that in another post. It weighs 723 grams. The Smart Keyboard adds another 330 grams. My 13-inch MacBook Air weighs 1.35 kilograms. The 2015 MacBook is 920 grams.

The iPad Pro is larger than the 2015 MacBook. With a connected Smart Keyboard, it is about the same size as the MacBook Air.

In practice the iPad Pro is as portable as the 2015 MacBook. It puts any extra size and weight to good use. At 12.9 inches, the display is larger than the 12-inch display on the 2015 MacBook. It has more pixels, 2732-by–2048 compared with 2304-by–1440.

A beautiful view

This makes more difference than you might suspect. I get a better overview of my words and can read them better on the bigger screen. The text is clearer, crisper. It makes proofing easier, which means improved quality.

You would need to buy a lot more laptop to get a screen like this. Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 gets close with its 2736-by–1824 resolution across 12.3 inches. The result is better all-round writing productivity.

The iOS 9 slide-over feature makes multitasking practical. I’m no fan of doing more than one thing at a time. Being able to read, say, an email brief while working on a story is useful.

Keyboards

On Friday I used the Smart Keyboard. If I didn’t have that, the larger iPad screen can display a full-size qwerty keyboard. At NZ$319, the Smart Keyboard is expensive. Even so it is a better option than on-screen typing for all but the shortest jobs.

Thanks to the iPad Pro’s large size, the on-screen keyboard is full-size. There’s no tactile feedback, so it’s tricky, not impossible, for touch-typing. It’s the best screen keyboard I’ve ever seen, even so, you wouldn’t want to write War and Peace on it. It’s fine for quick notes.

There are some similarities between Apple’s Smart Keyboard and the Microsoft Surface Pro Keyboards. The keyboard uses the same switches found in the 2015 MacBook keyboard. Instead of the MacBook’s butterfly mechanism, the Smart Keyboard use a custom-designed fabric. When you type, the fabric’s springiness provides the action.

I didn’t have problems with the Smart Keyboard. While it’s not as comfortable as typing on the MacBook Air, it isn’t bad. I’d rate it eight out of ten. On Friday I wrote a little over 1000 words without a slip. Let’s see what I think in a few weeks.

Say it loud

Compared with the MacBook, the iPad Pro has loud loudspeakers. There are four channels of sound, so music plays better than you’d expect from such a thin device. It can be surprising the first time you hear it, even more surprising if you hold the tablet and feel the bass notes vibrating.

One of the biggest criticisms against the iPad Pro is the lack of quality business apps. Although there is no shortage of good iOS apps, few are optimised for the bigger format. My work is writing, so I need word processors. There is no shortage of choice in that department.

On Friday I wrote stories using Apple’s Pages word processor then converted them to Word format before sending. I could have written in Word, the iOS version is excellent. Where practical, I prefer writing in Markdown. My licences for Byword and iA Writer work on the iPad Pro. Both apps are great on the Pro — I’m writing this using iA Writer.

Still an iPad

Apple avoided creating a hybrid device. The iPad Pro is still an iPad. It doesn’t aim to be a PC on the desktop and a tablet on the couch, like, say, Microsoft’s Surface Pro. That’s not a good or a bad thing. It just is.

There are no business apps that I need, that don’t work on the iPad Pro. There are other things that I want to do that work better on OS X or Windows. Last week I needed to deal with data on the family NAS drive — that’s not something the iPad can manage well. I also had to install fresh firmware on a router, the job required an Ethernet-connected PC.

Still the iPad Pro is big. It is fast. And it can do a lot of things that might not be practical on smaller, slower tablets. So far I’ve found it can replace my laptop for my core business applications. It is a great writing tool. I can use it to earn my living. And that’s what matters most to me.