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An update on my Brydge Keyboard for iPad

A little while ago, I tried out a Brydge Keyboard for my 10.5-inch iPad Pro. TL;DR: It’s a nice, solid keyboard that works well for its intended purpose. I returned mine because I often use my iPad for different things, but I still recommend the Brydge Keyboard if your main goal is to laptop-ify your iPad.

The good

It really is a solid keyboard. Weighing just over one pound, it’s a sturdy chunk of aluminum with a good overall feel. The two hinge arms are lined with rubber gaskets to help grip your iPad, but not so much as to make it difficult to remove. Coming from a rigid Smart Keyboard, it certainly is nice to be able to adjust the angle of my iPad like a real laptop.

Now, I’m a fan of low-travel keyboards like in the current MacBook (reliability problems notwithstanding) and even the Smart Keyboard. The Brydge Keyboard keys travel more than I’d like, but I still got used to it pretty easily.

Unlike Apple’s keyboard, the Brydge has a welcome row of shortcut keys for things like Spotlight, display brightness, volume, and more. It’s also backlit, which was handy.

Why I returned it

I want to be clear about this: I really like the Brydge Keyboard, and I recommend it. If you mostly or only want to use your iPad as an actual laptop replacement, the Brydge Keyboard is a great option.

But. I returned mine because I often use my iPad in that ‘slightly propped up by a Smart Cover’ configuration for stuff like reading, gaming, drawing, and music tinkering. There isn’t really a way to do that with the Brydge Keyboard, outside of perhaps keeping a Smart Cover on hand and switching to it, or awkwardly using my wallet or other items as a makeshift prop. I tried it, didn’t like it.

Apple’s Smart Keyboard has a few drawbacks. But it’s noticeably lighter, a bit thinner, and has that ‘Propped Up Mode’ that I want readily available. I also like that it uses the Smart Connector for power, which the Brydge Keyboard lacks. It’s a good ol’ fashioned Bluetooth keyboard, complete with the little annoyances of Bluetooth.

As I write this, it occurs to me that most laptop-style iPad keyboards probably have to be on the heavy side in order to act as a counterweight to balance the iPad. The Smart Keyboard probably gets away with its relatively light design because of the way it props up the iPad from the back.

Anyway, there’s my story. The Brydge Keyboard is really nice, but it just isn’t what I need.

Thoughts on switching from a 12.9-inch iPad Pro to the new 10.5-inch

TL;DR—It’s taking some adjustment, but I’m going to stick with the 10.5-inch iPad. Here’s how it’s gone so far.

I’ve been working towards an iPad-only lifestyle since around the original iPad Air. I thoroughly enjoy the iPad as a device and its advantages over classic computers. I also generally appreciate iOS, and I’ve been thankful to watch it evolve and gain many of the tools and workflows it needs to serve more customers.

When the 12.9-inch iPad Pro debuted in fall 2015, I eagerly switched from an iPad Air 2. I was curious about the potential of a larger iOS device and a nearly full-sized touchscreen keyboard. It’s mostly been my main machine, as I usually only need my Mac these days for apps or services that are dragging their feet in transitioning to mobile.

I really liked my 12-inch iPad Pro. The extra screen real estate was a joy to use for every task, especially typing. But over time, I ran into too many little situations where its size got in the way. I generally couldn’t fit it on train and airplane trays, and when paired with most iPad keyboards (assuming you could find one for the 12-inch), its weight could hit or exceed three pounds. That’s 13-inch MacBook Pro territory, which negated some of the mobile advantages that attract me to the iPad in the first place.

When Apple announced the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, my interest piqued. I thought maybe it could be a good compromise between power and size, with potentially better accessory options considering what I expect will be popularity.

My 10.5-inch iPad Pro (512GB, Space Gray, Verizon) arrived on June 13. As tempted as I am to try the iOS 11 beta, I rely on my iPad for my content and consulting business and some of my hobbies, like reading and photography. I’ll stick with iOS 10 at least until the initial public beta ships, but possibly even until it officially ships in the fall and I’m comfortable that most of my apps have updated.

Holding, carrying it around

When it comes to carrying the iPad like a book, or sharing something interesting with a friend by handing it over, the 12.9-inch iPad never stopped feeling just a little too unwieldy and awkward. It’s a little thing, but the iPad’s portability and ‘naturalness’ makes a difference to me.

I appreciate the 10.5’s slightly greater screen size in use. But that natural feeling when carrying or sharing the device is back for me, unmistakable from the 9.7.

The on-screen keyboard

This one’s going to take some adjustment, as I really got use to the 12.9’s comfortable, MacBook-sized on-screen keyboard. I had my off days, but I could type upwards of 80-95 WPM on that thing—a little slower than a hardware keyboard, but certainly acceptable by my standards.

Even with its larger screen compared to the 9.7, the 10.5 iPad Pro doesn’t get any sort of unique touchscreen keyboard. It’s the standard 9.7 keyboard, just a little larger.

It’s a drawback for me, but not a dealbreaker; I’ll get over it. Plus, since accessories are more popular for this size, I can augment with a hardware keyboard.

Little Split View changes

Split View on the 12.9 is a dream. That big screen had ample room to run, say, Ulysses on the left, Twitter or Messages in a right column, and a PiP window of The Venture Bros in one corner or another. But some days, I’d run two apps side-by-side, each getting half the screen. In that mode, both apps would behave like a full-sized iPad apps. I’d get the full view, all tabs, or whatever interface I’d typically see if the iPad was in portrait.

Not so on the 10.5. For example: on the 12.9, Safari would continue to display a tab bar at the top even in Split View at 50 percent space. At that size on the 10.5, it falls back to an iPhone interface, with a toolbar and tab button at the bottom.

While I find this a bummer, it isn’t a deal breaker either. Looking back, I didn’t run apps at 50/50 very often, so I see that perk as more of a luxury anyway. I’ll live.

More accessory options is nice

This deserves its own mention, because I find it bittersweet. The 12.9 is a great machine, but by itself, it’s already at 1.5 pounds. Add something like a Smart Cover, a detachable keyboard, or a full-on folio or case, and you can easily push past 2.5 and 3 pounds.

Exacerbating the problem, the 12-inch iPad is about as wide as a 13-inch MacBook Air (wider than my 12-inch MacBook!). That pushed it out of the realm of most compact day bags that I previously preferred for my iPad, and into standard backpacks and messenger bags. Again, it was a portability killer.

For a while, I just dealt with the bag thing. But it slowly great into a deal breaker of the 12-inch, since it greatly diminished the iPad’s portability for me. Being a commuter in Chicago, I like to bring a small day bag with me almost every time I leave the house. This meant that, in the past, I could bring my iPad almost everywhere with me. The 12-inch broke that.

On the flip side of that coin, though, it was just plain difficult to find accessories at all for the 12-inch. It was pitched as a pro iPad during a time when Apple has struggled to convince some portions of the pro market to try the iPad at all. I wager many companies simply didn’t want to take the risk.

I expect the 10.5 iPad to be pretty popular, and thus score a myriad of accessory sizes and styles. When it comes to bags, its actual footprint isn’t much larger than the 9.7, so most bags should be fine there.

Happy so far

I’m glad to be back at a more hand-able, share-able, portable size with the 10.5-inch iPad Pro (I’ll put my 12-inch on eBay tomorrow, but reach out if you’re interested in buying it). This thing is stupid powerful, too. I notice it most when photo editing in Enlight or Pixelmator, then opening another app in Split View, or playing Vainglory and putting Discord in Slide Over to check on things while I wait for a match.

I hope this piece helped if you’re on the decision about these two iPad sizes, but I’m always happy to answer more questions. Hit me up on Tumblr or Twitter, and I’ll do my best.

Best Buy has the iPad Pro 9.7-inch, 128GB, for $625 ($150 off)

I don’t usually post deals or sales, but this feels like a worthwhile exception. Wirecutter Deals tweeted that this current gen iPad Pro is $625 ($150 off!) right now for Best Buy members (signup is free). The iPad is my favorite computer of all time and has largely replaced my Mac for nearly everything these days (I have the 12-inch model, same 128GB size). If you’re looking for one, this is a killer deal, though I don’t know how long it lasts. Consider running, not walking.

The iPad's value can be hard to quantify, but don't let that stop you

My Tablet Has Stickers — Learning By Shipping — Medium – Steven Sinofsky

Some things to note here:

  • This is written by Microsoft’s former president of the Windows Division, who has now gone tablet only
  • It’s an iPad Pro (and 9.7-inch, at that)
  • If you’re interested in mobile computing, the challenges of working from iPad, or simply how this industry approaches (and far too often, resists) change, you really should read that piece

I’ve been on board the iPad train with Federico Viticci and others for a while now. With his excellent piece, Sinkofsky articulates many of the points I’ve tried to make in posts and discussions over the years.

iOS fundamentally resets many aspects of computing, some of which might not be immediately apparent, or they might feel foreign because of our current muscle memory and habits. But as I’ve given myself time to try them, to understand them, to watch Apple improve on them, to build muscle memory for them in the same way I did for the mouse, keyboard, and then trackpad, I’ve come to understand and prefer a growing number of them over the old ways of doing their equivalent on a Mac.

Even tasks like file management have slowly become more flexible and enjoyable (believe it or not) in some cases. My iPad Air 2 was steadily growing into my main computer, but iOS 9 and my 12-inch iPad Pro accelerated that process. Between gaining a full-size keyboard on screen, iOS 9, Split View, and the Apple Pencil that is really growing on me for various types of work and play, I’ve grown to enjoy using my iPad far more than my Mac.

It’s significantly more portable than my Mac (yes, even over my 12-inch retina MacBook), which means I can toss it in my day bag and have it with me far more often, ready to write, read, draw, and everything else I do at a moment’s notice.

The value of making this change, and spending the time to learn and do it right, can be tough to quantify though. Setting aside some of the tasks that are not yet well adapted for the iPad (such as writing apps, managing massive spreadsheets, complex art), the things that do work well on it aren’t always valuable in and of themselves.

For example, I could easily have written this article on my Mac. But it’s the total iOS workflow that makes me reach for iOS most times these days. First, I read the article with my iPhone while on the train where using a Mac rarely makes much sense. I tossed a couple ideas into an inbox draft with Ulysses for iOS. Once I got to a coffee shop for the day, I switched to my iPad because it has more and better tools available than my Mac, like Blink for grabbing affiliate links and Clips for organizing multiple snippets for articles. I also often rely on my iPad’s 4G connection because most public wifi is, in my opinion, either untrustworthy or unreliable. This way I’m not limited to where I can do, well, anything; it’s a perk that has grown quite valuable to me personally and professionally.

I have Blogo, WordPress, and Weebly for managing my sites, the iOS keyboard makes many text actions faster or easier (especially in Markdown-aware apps like Ulysses), and Split View compounds the usefulness of all these apps when used side-by-side. I can quickly attach a keyboard for hardware familiarity or just as quickly detach and read, play games, and draw. The device instantly wakes up and never needs to be shut down.

It’s the sum of these and other factors that makes the iPad greater than its parts. Sinofsky’s right—change is rarely easy. But there’s an irony to how this industry fights against it far too often (and he makes this point by citing a great bunch of examples from tech’s history). If there are mature tools built for the tasks you care about (and there’s a good chance there are), combining those with the iPad’s inherent and sometimes overlooked advantages can open some empowering doors for you.

On touchscreen typing and advantages of the iPad Pro

In short, I’m getting pretty good at it.

While I’ve reviewed my fair share of iPad keyboards over the years, I have always been a big proponent of touchscreen typing. Leaving the house with nothing but a one-pound (ish), 4G-enabled tablet in a small shoulder bag feels empowering and freeing to me.

Of course, as a professional writer who can usually get in the 90-110 wpm range with a physical keyboard, it’s taken me some time to adjust to touchscreen typing. The smaller size of the 9.7-inch iPad also made things interesting, but typing on the equivalent of a full-size keyboard with this 12.9-inch Pro has been great. I’m even getting faster and more reliable in non-standard situations, like lounging and lap-typing on the sofa.

To test myself, I downloaded TapTyping – typing trainer (Free with IAP, or Paid). It has various courses for beginners to experts, but I dove straight into the typing test to see how I fared.

Across three tests I hit 84, 65, and 95 words, giving me an average for this first go-around of 80 wpm. That ain’t too bad, and I’ve been doing a lot of my writing and content work for app developers on iPad for some time now.

Between writing in Ulysses and collaborating in Quip or, if necessary, Google Drive, my needs are covered pretty well. The WordPress app is still pretty terrible, so I bounce between it and Safari for publishing my own stuff (example: I did this post in Safari since I needed a photo gallery. Even though it’s 2016, WordPress.app still can’t create galleries). My Chartier.land site is still in Squarespace but I’ll switch that to WordPress or Weebly soon, too (more on that in a later post).

Finally, many iOS writing and coding apps have mature, powerful keyboard shortcut bars that can be a nice boost for productivity. Ulysses has always had a great shortcut bar that puts most Markdown commands at your fingertips, including [img], lists, style, and linking. In fact, in the 2.5 beta I’m testing now for iPad Pro and iPhone, Ulysses now integrates it’s shortcuts into Apple’s smart bar with suggestions and pasting tools. And if you have a link in your clipboard and select some text, a simple paste command will turn it into a proper Markdown link. It’s just great.

I don’t have some ultimate insight or moral to the story here, other than “it can be done.” In fact, TapTyping has a Game-Center-powered leaderboard, and I’ve emailed its developer, Flairify, to find out whether the app only works with touchscreen typing. If it does, you can see in my final gallery photo here that some touchscreen typing experts are hitting 120-130+ wpm.

Update: Flairify got back to me. TapTyping does distinguish between touchscreen typing and hardware keyboards, and even maintains leaderboards for each. That means the board in my gallery here has 130+ wpm iPad touchscreen typists.

If you tried touchscreen typing and just didn’t get the hang of it, or if you’re simply curious, I definitely encourage you to give it a shot. Maybe give yourself some more time, or try TapTyping’s courses to train yourself in a more structured way. The mobility, weight, and freedom advantages of typing on an iPad this way have definitely been worth it for me. I’m not even considering a hardware keyboard for my iPad Pro anymore.

"Can the MacBook Pro replace your iPad?"

And then there was the time Fraser Speirs nailed it.

iPad: Tips for Split View and watching videos with Picture in Picture

Split View, Slide Over, and Picture in Picture are some of my favorite new features in iOS 9. They allow you to show multiple apps side by side in a few very useful ways, such as writing an article like this while chatting in a Destiny Slack room (yes I’m in a Slack room for Destiny wannafightaboutit), or browsing the web while checking Twitter or the weather or stocks or your bank account.

Here are the ways to trigger each feature and the best tips I’ve found so far for getting the most out of them.

Slide Over

  • Swipe to the left from the right side of your display to open your second-most recently used app in Slide Over
  • Pull down on the bar at the top of the Slide Over panel to change which app appears there
  • Tap the white bar on the left of the Slide Over panel to switch to Split View and give both apps their own space (no more overlapping)

Note: if you don’t see a white bar next to Slide Over, that app has not yet been updated to support Split View. Reach out to its developer and ask them, nicely, to update. Then give it a great App Store review.

Split View

  • Once an app is in Slide Over, tap the white bar just to the left of the panel to enter Split View and give both apps their own space
  • Pull down on the bar at the top of Split View and change its app
  • Drag the divider between apps to the left to give them equal space. It seems you cannot drag so far as to put the left app in a thin column; that’s reserved for the app on the right, but
  • [Update] Swipe the bar all the way to the left to make the right app go full screen
  • Change the app on the left using traditional options—swipe left and right with four fingers, or double-tap the Home button for the iOS app switcher

Picture in Picture (PiP)

  • In apps like ProTube or Apple’s Videos, tap the small icon at the far right of the bottom toolbar to make the video float above other apps (it looks like a box with an arrow pointing down and right towards a second black box). If you don’t see that icon, the app needs an update to support Picture in Picture
  • You can drag the video to any four corners of your display. If an app triggers the keyboard, the video will shift to make sure it still stays on screen
  • Pinch on the video to shrink and expand its size
  • PiP videos can span across Split View and Slide Over panels, but their width is capped at half the size of your display
  • Tap on the video for a few controls to exit PiP, pause/play, and close the video
  • Swipe the video towards the nearest left or ride side to hide it in a bin, of sorts (see screenshots). It’s a quick way to reach controls or content it might be obscuring. Tap the bin to get the video back

That’s about all I’ve found so far. Did I miss anything?

Disagreeing on the iPad's prospects and challenges

I really like Jared Sinclair and the apps he’s built. I consider him a respected internet friend—we follow each other on Twitter, but I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him yet in real life. That said, I could not disagree more with some of the key points in his piece about saving the iPad.

To start, I absolutely do agree that Apple has designed the App Store to peddle little more than digital junk food. Apple has been instrumental in ruining the culture—perhaps irreparably, but I hope not—around building and paying for good, sustainable software. This is absolutely a problem that needs more attention and solutions, many of which need to start right from the top. But that’s a discussion for another post.

I also agree that Gatekeeper for iOS could be a good part of these essential solutions. Many customers never even bother to download apps, never mind pay for them. But the ones who are vested in building on their mobile experience have the drive and technical know-how to handle buying and installing software from the big bad internet. As Jared suggests, this could be an opt-in thing, managed by a setting so buried most users would never even want to venture in to flip the switch.

However, I disagree with Jared on just about everything else. But before I begin, I would like to add some food for thought: in the past decade, Apple has sold 125 million Macs, but nearly one billion iOS devices. As of January 2015, 225 million of those were iPads.

Multitasking

The original iPhone OS wasn’t designed for multitasking, but that’s why iOS 7 happened. It’s why Apple spent years pushing developers to adopt specific technologies and techniques that allow their apps to fit on multiple screen sizes and, in turn, alongside each other on the right devices. LIke most things, there are always improvements to be made, but I firmly disagree that current multitasking features feel bolted on or out of place. From share sheets to the new split view features, iOS multitasking is evolving wonderfully.

Mac killing

The original iPad’s hardware could probably replace a Mac and PC for many regular folks, though the software came with too many paper cuts to make it worth the effort. That’s why, among other reasons, it wasn’t marketed as a Mac killer, it was a “post-PC device.”

The original iPad bridged the gap between the pocket and the desk by doing things and going places the Mac never could and largely still can’t. Look at all the professionals that can enjoy new mobility during their day by carrying some or all of their work on an iPad. Look at the bands that have recorded some or entire albums with it on-the-go, or the film makers and writers who have created entire bodies of work with it (hell, I know a guy who has written two books on his iPhone, never mind a full-on pad).

As the iPad hardware and software have improved, Apple’s messaging has swung back around to pick up the ‘Mac replacement’ angle, just not always in such literal terms. Look at the capabilities Apple has advertised, the first- and third-party productivity suites it’s promoted, the partnerships with and promotion of Fortune 500 companies using it for serious business.

If you still want literal statements, let’s start in 2012 when Cook said 80-90 percent of his work and media time was spent on an iPad. Now look at Apple’s messaging for the iPad Pro. For the first time since that dreadful, clunky keyboard dock for the original iPad, Apple built its own keyboard and an entirely new charging connector for keyboard-like accessories.

Finally, just this month, Cook got down to it in a Telegraph interview by flat-out stating “Yes, the iPad Pro is a replacement for a notebook or a desktop for many, many people.”

padOS

I’ll end with one where I only partially disagree. All of Apple’s mobile devices are built on a modified version of iOS, right? In this case it’s mostly a matter of branding, but meant more for developers than end users.

These devices have wildly different interactions, user experiences, and limitations—one needs a physical remote, the other supposedly needs a Digital Crown (my iPad just capitalized Digital Crown, by the way). But the iPhone and iPad are largely the same, on this level, or at least close enough. They’re both devices we carry around and multitouch in very, very similar ways. A separate OS name seems… unnecessary.

But I do think Jared is right in that some stricter rules around how developers implement iPad apps could help a number of things, especially experience. For some low hanging fruit, rejecting iPad apps that are literally scaled up versions of iPhone counterparts would be a start. Encouraging , perhaps even enforcing, some of the best desktop-replacing features could help too, like Document Provider extensions that, I feel, make certain tasks on iPad much faster and more pleasant than on OS X.

This post is already long enough, though. Tossing yet more solutions onto the pyre that Apple will likely continue to ignore is probably best for another post.

Gotta wear shades

On the bright side, the PC market is decades old. In my opinion, the mobile revolution and dramatic simplification of computing that iOS brought about for the common user was long, long overdue.

And yet, we’re really only a few years into this whole endeavor. I’m optimistic about the iPad Pro helping with some, maybe even all, of the things we’re concerned about here.