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A guide for developers who bring Mac apps to the iPad

“What do you want our iPad version to do?”

is the general question.

Even though an increasing part of my business is helping developers to answer this question and choose a path forward, I’d like to toss out some potentially self-sherlocking advice:

If we can do it on Mac, we want to do it on iPad.

It’s really that simple.

Yes, where iOS makes it possible and practical. But you really could just think of an iPad as a second laptop when it’s time to get work done. Alternatively, we could do a thought experiment:

Let’s say your Mac inexplicably disappeared right before your eyes, and was magically replaced with an iPad (Pro) and possibly a keyboard (where relevant). Your app also magically appeared on the first homescreen, and that’s all you get to use for the rest of today, this week, and this month to solve whatever problem your app tackles.

What do you want it to do?

Exactly—everything your Mac version does. And more, when you consider whether a MacBook can replace an iPad.

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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.

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The daily App Store

A couple months into the major iOS 11 App Store redesign, it’s become a daily “thing to check” for me.

The stream of content on the Today tab is consistently interesting, even if I don’t want every app. I enjoy the variety of pieces and roundups, especially the developer deep dives where they put a face to an app, so to speak. After all, there are humans behind all these little round squares.

My only minor complaint is that I wish the Apps tab would update more frequently. Rotating the entire thing daily sounds a bit much, but perhaps some parts could swap out more often than they do now.

Anyway, hats off to the App Store team.

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Thoughts on the Brydge Keyboard for 10.5-inch iPad Pro

I’ve had the Brydge Keyboard for my 10.5-inch iPad Pro for about two weeks now, and I have thoughts. My iPad is space gray, but I went with rose gold for the keyboard just to get a little funky.TL;DR: I’m actually split on it, moreso than most other recent gadget purchases. I have two more weeks before I decide whether to return it. But for now, here are some quick pros and cons I’ve seen so far.

Pros

Overall construction is solid. It’s a pretty solid chunk of aluminum weighing 520g / 1.14lb.

Ability to pick a display angle brings a ‘best of both worlds’ feeling to working on an iPad. In fact, because of the hinge design, you can actually lean it back farther than most Mac and PC notebooks allow.

The keyboard feels mostly pretty good overall, though more on that below. It’s also one of the few backlit keyboards for iPad, and lighting is good.

The shortcut bar is useful. Granted, iOS 11 has a lot of Mac-like keyboard shortcuts now. It’s still nice to have conveniences like display brightness, media controls, and keys for Home and Spotlight.

It’s easy to place and remove the iPad from the hinge. I often like to use my iPad with no keyboard, so I prefer options that don’t require a body case or other stuff that gets in my way. It’s easy to just pull my iPad off Apple’s Smart Keyboard, and I’m happy to say it’s the same with the Brydge. Its two hinges have rubber covers to help grip the iPad and keep it in place, so I can carry the setup around like a classic notebook. But it’s also easy to use a little tug and remove my iPad entirely.

Cons

The Bridge Keyboard’s design blocks some new iOS 11 gestures. I wager the keyboard is a solid chunk of aluminum to provide a weight offset for balancing the iPad on a hinge. But that also means it’s so thick that I can’t really swipe up from the bottom of the display for the new iOS 11 Dock or App Switcher, which I vastly prefer over the Command+Tab switcher. One perk, or perhaps a workaround: you can still double-press the Home button to display the Dock and App Switcher, at least for now.

Key travel is more than I’d like. Context: I’m on the other end from many in the Apple community—the shorter the key travel, the better. Current hardware defects of the MacBook and Pros aside, they’re my favorite keyboards I’ve ever used.

That said, the Brydge Keyboard (and most iPad keyboards I’ve used) has more travel than I’d like, though it isn’t a deal breaker. In the early days, I was making far more typos than with any keyboard in recent memory. I can adapt though, and I got used to it over these last two weeks. The missed characters and typos are mostly gone.

No Smart Connector support. It’s an old school Bluetooth keyboard. The batteries in most of these keyboards last so darn long, I don’t mind it much. But power through the Smart Connector, like Apple’s keyboard, would be nice.

At some angles during lap use, the hinge allows iPad to lean back a little more than I’d like. It less of a big problem, more like a minor, occasional annoyance. I suspect Brydge designed this primarily for desk use, where the rubber feet on the hinges would help keep the iPad at a steady angle.

The weight is something to consider. With an iPad already at 477g / 1.05lb, this package becomes a 2+ lb machine, which is in 12-inch MacBook territory. Apple’s Smart Keyboard is noticeably lighter (there’s no weight listed at Apple.com). I don’t think it’s a huge deal for most folks, but it’s probably something to be aware of.

Still on the fence

Even after writing all this out, I’m not sure whether to keep my Brydge Keyboard or return it and go back to Apple’s. I need to spend more time with mine, and I’ll let you know if I discover more as I spend the next two weeks to make my decision.

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Good Google Drive alternatives for collaborating on documents, notes, presentations, and more

Back in the day, Google Drive was early to market with a halfway decent, browser-based collaborative document editor. Relatively bare-bones and free, it caught on quickly with a portion of the market.

These days, Google Drive is far from the only game in town. Subjectively, it also isn’t very good anymore, and bugs often stick around for months or years. Remember the “randomly indent parts of paragraphs for nearly two years, even in Chrome” bug? The iOS apps have also steadily deteriorated.

Thankfully, there is a strong selection of alternatives for different audiences. Whether you need a full-featured professional suite or just a scratchpad to jot notes with others, give these a look.

Quip

Quip is perhaps the closest to Google Drive in terms of browser-based simplicity and mobile apps. It has a unique, minimal interface for basic editing. But for simple, collaborative documents, adding notes, and discussion about the document (instead of getting lost in email), Quip is a great choice.Bonus: Quip has partial support for Markdown. If you paste it in, Quip leaves it alone. But if you use Markdown syntax while you write, Quip will turn it into rich text. If you’d rather keep it as markdown, just press Delete once after the auto-conversion.

Office

You heard me. Microsoft Office has improved significantly over the past few years, especially on iOS and macOS. I can’t speak to the depth of its feature set, but it feels more organized, approachable, and usable than ever.

The native apps and web apps also have collaboration now. It doesn’t have a free version like Google, but Microsoft also isn’t mining your documents for advertisers. Paid Office 365 plans start at $5, which include the web apps and hosted domain Exchange email. Compared to Google Drive, the entry level Office plan gives you far better web apps, broader industry file compatibility, collaboration, and more standard, app-friendly domain email for the same price.

Jessi and I share a family Office subscription, which gives both of us access to the native apps on iPad and Mac. I’ve use the email for Chartier.land and my business Bit & Pen domains for about a year now, and I’m happy.

iWork

Considering this crowd, I probably don’t have to say much about iWork. It’s a solid suite for documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, and Apple recently added collaboration on both the web and native apps. I think it’s also free when you buy a new Apple device now, so financially it’s a win.

Apple Notes

If you just need a simple place to share things that are more note-like than full-on documents, and everyone you want to share with is on an iPad, iPhone, or Mac, Apple Notes is a good choice.

It does basic formatting like headings, lists, bold, and italics. It handles photos and you can add rich media links from Safari. I’ve heard from people who use Apple notes to share family todo lists, idea scratch pads, and even collaborate on blog posts. It’s pretty flexible.

Dropbox Paper

Dropbox recently launched its own basic document collaboration tool. I can’t speak to it much since most of my work is in Quip, Google Drive for some clients, or Ulysses, but I‘ em heard from people who are happy with it.

Zoho

Zoho has its own growing collection of web apps and services that I would put somewhere between Google Apps and Salesforce. At the core, though, are apps for documents, spreadsheets, presentations, databases, sites, wikis, and much more.

You can sign up and use some of the apps for free, and pricing varies based on the collection of apps you want.

Honorable Mention – Texpad

Texpad is another online collaborative document system with native apps. It’s built around LaTeX, a “document preparation” system popular in academia, hence the honorable mention. Its audience is niche, but enough people responded to my original question on Twitter that I wanted to include it.

Any others?

This list is mostly stuff I know about and have used at least a few times. Did I miss any good ones? I’m happy to expand this list, so let me know on Tumblr @chartier, Twitter @chartier, or here.

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You can scroll the Files app menu on iPad

Just tap Show More. This is a pretty handy way to quickly get to a recent file.

Doesn’t work on iPhone though.

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Things 3 has kick-butt Siri support, including on Watch

“In Things, remind me to finish my blog posts tomorrow at 2pm.”

“Show my Today list in Things.”

“Add support Finer Things in Tech on Patreon using Things.”

Seems like it all works from Apple Watch too. Per this Twitter thread, it sounds like developers must deliberately add that; they don’t get it for free just by adding Siri support on iPhone.