Tablets are just toys on which to consume content, right? Wrong, says Andy Hawthorne. With a few carefully selected apps, your iPad can enable you to create on the move
With the release of the new iPad, Apple finally started to talk about the device in terms of productivity. Prior to that, the focus tended to be on content consumption. Most people I know who own an iPad will tell you that's what it's for. I think that is because the iPad is seen as a 'gadget' rather than a serious tool for work.
The right tools for the job
I don’t agree. I’ve always thought it is possible to be productive with an iPad: it's just a case of having the right apps. Perhaps a slightly experimental mindset helps, too. But apps like Diet Coda, Gusto and iMockups make it fairly easy to work on your latest web project using nothing more than your tablet. And if it's processing horsepower you're worried about, the iPad has had plenty of it since version 2 - more than you would need just to browse the web and type the odd email. Or to improve the level of Angry Birds you're on.
There are a couple of ways that you can incorporate an iPad into your workflow. First, you can use one alongside your desktop machine so that you have another view of the project available. It’s like having another computer on your desk. You can be editing CSS on your iPad, and editing markup or graphics on your desktop. Failing that, something as simple as having the design brief or other documentation open on your iPad while you work can be a big help. But I think you can also take things a step further.
A portable workstation
Why not use your iPad to do actual work on? It can act as a workstation replacement, for a start. All you need is a wireless keyboard, a dock and an external monitor. Then you can plug yourself in and carry working just as you would do normally - the bonus being that you can unplug the device, go home, and carry on developing while relaxing on the sofa.
Of course, an ordinary computer would allow you to do that too. But an iPad is far less cumbersome. It almost doesn’t feel like work at all - and if you're a freelancer, that's a particularly important aspect. Once you have your iPad and an internet connection, you have access to all your project code from anywhere.
A minor snag
There is one problem: at the minute, there isn’t a way to check out source code from a Git repository. I’m sure there will be soon, but in the meantime, as long as you can access a remote server, you can still be productive. The apps I have mentioned all support SFTP too.
One of the biggest criticisms from people who touch type is the iPad's on-screen keyboard. It's fine for short bursts of work, but tapping glass for hours on end will result in numb fingers. Well, a wireless keyboard solves that problem. The one available from Apple offers a particularly nice user experience, and used in conjunction with a dock, the numb finger problem is solved.
And if the idea of crafting code from your iPad seems like a misuse of the device, I ask you this: why? It's a computer, isn't it? Why not use it to code? If you think you are restricted by the device itself, an app like Textastic should put your mind at rest. It has an extended keyboard to make it easy to type curly braces, angle brackets and other coding syntax.
Creativity, 24 hours a day
There is another reason for workng from your iPad, too: creativity can happen anywhere. I'm writing this sitting in my car at lunchtime. Let's say I come up with a solution to some coding problem while I’m here. Using one of the aforementioned apps makes it easy for me to log in and try it out. I'm not suggesting that you would be working on a production server, of course, but remote access to a development environment is common practice these days.
The only question that remains is: would you want to use an iPad in this way? I've provided plenty of reasons why you could, but in the end, this is a personal decision. Just so long as you don't buy the argument that tablets are only for content consumption. As an excuse for not being productive with your iPad, it became obsolete a long time ago.