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.
The tablet is back. Tablet shipments climbed 26 percent in the second quarter. Desktop PC shipments dropped 26 percent, while notebook shipments were up 24 percent.
The overall effect was positive for PC makers who have suitable models, but otherwise it bordered on disastrous.
Across the world retail outlets selling computers and other electronic devices were closed down by the pandemic. Microsoft took the decision to permanently close its physical stores.
The only company to emerge unscathed was Apple, which had the right mix of products and offering to meet the public’s needs. The company made billions of extra dollars from its iPad and Mac product lines during the quarter.
Apple doesn’t provide unit sales numbers, but Canalys estimates the company sold 14.25 million iPads. That’s almost 20 percent more than the same time a year ago.
Apple now has a 38 percent share of the tablet market. Its nearest rival, Samsung has less than half that amount. Yet Samsung unit sales grew even faster than Apple’s numbers. The other tablet makers, Huawei, Amazon and Lenovo all posted a huge growth in sales.
As is usual with these reports, the focus is on unit sales. What Canalys doesn’t show is that Apple’s market share in terms of revenue is higher again. As a rough estimate Apple would account for more than half of tablet revenue and an even higher share of tablet profit.
Canalys notes the strong demand for tablets was because the devices are suitable for remote work and education. They do a solid job with communications and collaboration. Most of all, they are often cheaper to buy. The analyst company also points out retailers offered aggressive discounts on tablets. In the US mobile carriers offered 60 days of unlimited wireless for devices purchased in the education sector.
Sometimes the stars align. Apple set out its hardware stall in early 2020 with advanced, yet lower priced, iPhones, iPads and Macs. The the pandemic hit.
Affordable models arrived as the world tightened its belt to deal with the inevitable downturn.
Take the iPhone SE. It looks like a two-year-old iPhone on the outside. Yet inside the case it has a 2020 processor. The A13 Bionic chip also powers the iPhone 11.
April’s story calls it an iPhone that’s right for lockdown times. News reports suggest the SE sell faster than Apple expected. The company struggled to meet demand. Although that could also be down to pandemic supply chain problems.
Last month’s iPhone SE review says: “This may not be the most exciting iPhone from a technology point of view. Yet it is the iPhone a lot of people have been waiting for.”
You can’t argue a NZ$800 phone is cheap. Many readers will wince if we describe it as affordable.
Yet it puts advanced technology and, arguably, the best experience in reach of more buyers.
The iPhone SE stacks up well against similar price competitors. If Android is not your thing and you prefer to avoid second hand hardware, its $800 price tag is tempting.
This year’s base iPad model costs NZ$600. You get a lot of iPad, but not enough storage. Its 32GB is not enough for most uses. Pay $780 and you’ll get a 128GB model. It represents good value for money.
Move up to the iPad Pro and prices start at NZ$1500 for an 11-inch model. That’s in line with prices two years ago but you get more iPad. The base Pro now comes with 128GB at the price of the two year old 64GB model.
Although currency movements haven’t been kind to New Zealand, prices for new MacBook Airs are still $100 or so lower than the models they replace. They come with better keyboards. Apple kept MacBook Pro prices in line with earlier models, but bumped the storage. Likewise the Mac mini.
Apple remains at the more expensive end of the market when benchmarked against similar hardware from other laptop makers. Yet the gap has narrowed. If you like the performance, the operating system and the wider Apple experience that margin is less of a barrier than it was.
Apple still has nosebleed prices if you know where to look. You could fork out NZ$10,800 for the basic Tower version of the Mac Pro. A full configured model can cost more than NZ$94,000. That includes NZ$700 to put wheels on the beast.
That’s not likely to be on your shopping list. A nice iPad keyboard might be. Apple wants NZ$549 for the iPad Pro Magic Keyboard. That’s pushing it.
Some incorrect prices were shown in an earlier version of this post.
It could be any iPad. In my case it was the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, but most of what I’m about to say could equally apply to a basic NZ$600 iPad.
The iPad has the perfect combination of features for working at home. The screen is much bigger than on a phone.
Videoconferencing is a breeze on an iPad. If you are lucky enough to work with other Apple users the FaceTime app is excellent. We used it for three way catch-ups with our daughters who were locked down elsewhere.
Not everyone you deal with chooses Apple kit. Zoom and most other popular videoconference tools work fine on the iPad. In fact I find they work better on the iPad than anything else.
The iPad is also great for watching Netflix and other online entertainment. Sadly there was no sport in the lockdown, but it’s great to cuddle up warm in the wee small hours to watch matches beamed in from the other side of the world.
All iPads are good for video, the 12.9-inch screen is better for older, weaker eyes. It’s also possible to wirelessly connect the iPad to a big TV screen. In our case we use a Chromecast.
Add a keyboard to an iPad and it becomes a basic computer. You can surf the web, read and compose emails, write blog posts like this one or even wrangle Office apps like Microsoft Word and Excel.
Yet a real keyboard is better. I have an Apple Magic Keyboard, the iPad Pro Smart Keyboard and a couple of older Logitech Bluetooth keyboard. All work a treat.
There are creative apps. My iPad doubles as a music workstation, photo editing terminal and games machine. Apple’s Pencil helps when it comes to fine drawing or other on screen work.
I also download magazines, books, audio books, podcasts and music to the iPad. It’s a great reader.
Yes, you can do all the above with a phone. Yet the bigger screen improves everything, except portability, which isn’t a huge deal in a lockdown.
Best of all the iPad’s form means you can do all these things from a desk, from the dining room table, from the deck, sofa or the bed.
Apple iPads can be good value. As already mentioned the cheapest full size model costs NZ$600.
That’s much cheaper than an equivalent phone and, by the time you’re added a keyboard, the price is on a par with everyday laptops.
That basic iPad will done everything, although it may wheeze a little with more demanding create apps.
While the basic iPad is a bargain at $600, you may be reading this and thinking you could economise further with a cheaper tablet. There are pitfalls with that plan.
A cheaper tablet will have a lower quality screen. In general it will be slower than the iPad and may not be so flexible with software choices.
You’ll need to budget extra for a keyboard. There are excellent Logitech keyboards for around $170. These will also protect your iPad. The Apple Magic Keyboard doesn’t hook up direct to the iPad – I use a stand when I wrote on the iPad with this keyboard. It costs $150.
Apple’s Smart Keyboards are pricey. The 11-inch model costs NZ$330 while the 12.9-inch iPad Pro Smart Keyboard costs $359. I find they work the best, but they bump up the entry price a lot.
The other cost to consider is buying more storage with your iPad. The basic model comes with 32GB. That’s fine if you are at home and have an external hard drive or a cloud account with plenty of storage. I’d recommend finding the extra $180 to get the 128GB model.
Adding a keyboard and storage takes the iPad price up to around the $1000 mark. If you don’t have a specific need for a laptop and there is maybe already a more traditional computer at home, this would be good choice.
Is it good value? It depends on how you use technology.
It clearly is good value for me. Apple recently added an app to the iPad that tells you how much time you spend with the device. During a typical lockdown week I was spending about 45 hours on the iPad and less than an hour on the iPhone.