Linux, Python, devops, etc

My shiny new toy - The iPad

4 June 2012

A while back I ran into the blog of a developer who'd gone and replaced his laptop with an iPad - completely. And was still happy with his decision months on. Which got me thinking - Would it actually work?

Well, I am at heart a bit of a technophile, and I love me all the newest shiny toys and gadgets I can lay my greedy little paws on, so after months of "well, it could work," and "it'd be lighter than a laptop," and "it'd be like my phone, only bigger and better at web browsing" (My current phone is a Samsung Galaxy S), I've finally gone and got an iPad, and thought I'd share my experience thus far. What do I spend most of my time doing? Three things: writing code; browsing the web (cough, "researching"); and writing up documents - reports for uni, outlines for planned projects, blog posts, technical documents for those projects which I'm obliged to provide documentation for... So, In order:

Writing Code

To be honest, it doesn't really change my workflow much at all. I write python, php, and clojure. Obviously, I can't develop on the iPad - I have a server set up with my Vim environment for that. Which is how I did my development before I got the iPad anyway. iSSH works quite effectively as an SSH client, and it even does X11 forwarding, VNC, and RDP - I couldn't ask for more from it, and was definitely worth the $10.

Of course, using SSH, Vim, or really writing code in any fashion implies typing. The on-screen keyboard isn't half bad, but it takes up a LOT of real estate, and doesn't provide any satisfying tactile feedback. I really wanted a bluetooth keyboard. I splashed out on the Kensington KeyFolio Pro 2. I'm sitting on a train typing on it write now, and have to say, I'm quite satisfied with it in general. It's a keyboard, a case, and a stand all rolled into one. It's not quite a full sized keyboard, but it's close enough. The only real niggle with it so far? Typing a #. Shift+3 types a £ symbol, despite the # appearing on the button. Luckily, it's still possible, using option+3 instead.

Another issue with the keyboard is the escape key. It's the home key first. You have to hold down the fn key for esc or any of the f* keys to work as such, so I've mapped jj to work as a replacement for escape:

inoremap jj <esc>

Internet Browsing

I'm actually finding the web browser on the iPad more convenient and easier to use than on my laptop - that surprised me, a little. Although, it's been a while since I had separate URL and Search bars, and I continue to be surprised when I'm typing in the URL bar by mistake and realise I don't have a space key on the onscreen keyboard.

Writing and Authoring

This is actually where the iPad lets me down the most. My blog posts are all written in markdown, longer documents are mostly done using [vim outliner][4]. And most of my documents are kept in Dropbox. So, when I have a good internet connection, I can continue to use SSH and all's fine and dandy. But, like right now, sitting on a train somewhere between Hornsby and Woy WOy, when I don't have a stable connection, SSH isn't really an option. So I tried out IA Writer. It has some glowing reviews. It syncs to dropbox. I can't change the font size. Which is huge by default. And it only recognises files with .txt extensions. NEXT!

Byword came up next as being mostly superior to IA Writer, in my next round of research. And it is. Mostly. The default font size is much better, it has markdown integration built in, I can see how many words I've typed, and it syncs to dropbox. The fontface even monospaced. Perfect! Though I can't seem to work out how to create a new dropbox folder (IA Writer is much better on the dropbox front) and I can't open my .otl files. I'll probably hack away at vim outliner to make it recognise .otl.txt as it's file extension. That way I can at least work on my outlines when I'm roaming, though I'll miss vimoutliner's folding features. Maybe there's an app waiting to be made.

Back to not being able to create folders within Byword - I've now grabbed Nocs, which is a very capable file manager, with preview of markdown files to boot, though I could probably get by with the official Dropbox folder too.

My Conclusion?

As a replacement for my laptop when I'm out and about, the iPad seems perfectly adequate. Hell, with the Keyfolio, it's virtually a netbook. But when I'm sitting in front of my desk at work, I think I'll be sticking to a real PC - A full sized keyboard more screen space, and the ability to have a dozen windows open and side by side are missing from the iPad setup, and probably always will be.