Digital things I’m not happy with

This is not a rant. But kind of. It’s a personal reflection on where my iOS-only workflow is headed. And it has an optimistic outlook.

For the better part of this year, I have conducted all my work from my iPhone and my iPad. I use an iPhone 6s Plus and a 12.9 inch iPad Pro. For months now, I have let my MacBook Pro sit idly on my desk. I haven’t missed it much.

A note of reference, first. My work consists of academic research and writing, teaching students at a large university hospital, managing my paperless office, processing a lot of personal photographs, writing a small website and all the usual stuff everybody else does on the internet these days.

For all this, the iPhone and the iPad work more than fine. They are the only computers I need.

My workflow is constantly evolving. It may still be a little rough around the edges still but that’s part of the game. It’s not only possible to do everything I do from iOS, it’s also a joy to do so.

However, not every company on the internet puts the iOS-only user first. For some of these folks, mobile (read as “people that get their stuff done from iPhones and iPads”) is not much more than an afterthought. It’s for such aged thinking and legacy services that I often find myself running into roadblocks which can be frustrating at times.

Maybe it’s time for a few changes.

Squarespace

Those of you who have been following my writing over the past year may be wondering why I posted this article on Medium and not on my website. It has to do with the fact than I am growing uncomfortable with managing my site via Squarespace.

No matter what they tell you on the podcasts and in their pervasive marketing, Squarespace is not constructed with the iOS-only user in mind. (I wonder how many more of these things that I bought for reasons of marketing and internet buzz clog up my system.)

Squarespace doesn’t integrate with my favorite writing apps on iOS. Their own blogging app is cumbersome to use and still not optimized for the iPad Pro. Despite minor updates once every while, it feels like they abandoned the app a long time ago. Also, you can’t actually build your website from the iPad.

I give the hoops and bounds I have to jump through while blogging from my iPad with Squarespace part of the blame of why I am writing less for the internet than I want (and should).

Squarespace as a website platform is aimed at people who use traditional computers like Macs and a desktop browser.

Well, I don’t. So where do I go?

I looked into alternatives to Squarespace — WordPress and Weebly, in particular — but I feel like these suffer from the same problem: They don’t have the iOS-only user in mind.

I am not building a web business or an online store. I am a writer wanting to connect with an audience. In the end, I just want to share my thoughts with those who might relate to them. Perhaps Medium is my way forward?

Dropbox

While Dropbox still has the support of the Internet, I have been quite dissatisfied with it for a while now. Again, the main reason being my transition to a mobile-only workflow.

iOS and the iPad in particular don’t seem to be as high on Dropbox’s list of priorities as it is on mine.

The Dropbox app lacks many of the modern standards that make a great iOS app like splitview multitasking and proper background app refresh.

So far, I kept on using Dropbox as a photo backup strategy and a makeshift files-and-folders system reminiscent of my traditional computing past. I held on to the folder structure as a means to transition away from Evernote. Even though I am not going back to Evernote (hell, no) — for a paperless office, my Dropbox-based approach just doesn’t cut it. In fact, I highly prefer working in iCloud-native tools like Documents 5 and Scanner Pro by Readdle when handling (paper) documents.

The days of the one-and-only paperless office solution of Mac, ScanSnap and Evernote are clearly over, so why not embrace leaner mobile tools?

The often repeated argument of cross platform compatibility when using Dropbox over iCloud is in fact something that I could care less about. I have made my choices and I want to simplify workflows, not overcomplicate them by doing splits between devices and OSes. For the fewer and fewer times that I really have to jump between platforms there are the Share Sheet, Drafts and Workflow.

I am looking to replace Dropbox (and fade it out, eventually) with an all-in bet on iCloud. And really, what do I for one have to lose?

Google Apps

I am a Gmail user, but I don’t like Google Apps on iOS. Material Design is just not for me.

While Google’s apps like Inbox and others offer smarts, none has ever stuck with me. In fact, I have abandoned all of them with the sole exception of the YouTube app. It is the last real Google-built app on my phone and it’s still there for YouTube is a monopoly. It’s a reminder of what I am not missing out by not using Google apps.

Besides, the notion of privacy is starting to grow on me. I have been quite liberal with my data towards Google in the past because “openness serves convenience”, right? However, these days, I want to be less of a tracked (ad) target. Maybe Gmail has to fade from my workflow sooner rather than later.

Twitter

I have never been much of a Twitter user. None of my real life peer group is, either. I thought, “It’s where everyone on the Internet is at, right?”. For the type of stuff I do and the audience I want to reach, I ask myself whether this notion still holds true today.

Is Twitter still the best way to connect with your “tribe”? Aren’t there better alternatives if you adhere to a niche in your corner of the internet?

Finding those that inspire you and those you can give back to is something that Twitter is doing less for me these days. The question is where do I turn to?

I have started to give Unsplash a try, at least for some of my photography. (I do use Instagram and you can follow me if you like.) Perhaps Medium is a better place for my writing. But will there be another place for peer-to-peer interaction like a non-broadcasting/no-news-outlet Twitter?

Some stuff I am happy with

I am not complaining because there is so much to be excited about on iOS. From my point of view, the future of iOS still holds very bright for those who take a bet on it.

  1. Photo editing and photo management: iOS is really good at photos. I do enjoy Apple’s Photos app and I am excited to see how it will develop with the prospect of RAW support in iOS 10. (Anyone else having fever dreams about Affinity Photo for iPad?) 
    If you are an iPhone shooter, handling your photos on iOS leaves hardly anything to desire today.
    If you have a dedicated camera that inspires to take many and large images like I do, storage space is a concern. The solutions that I found for data storage and backup like a WD MyPassport Wireless drive are yet far from optimal. 
    I daydream that Apple took the plunge and just offered free unlimited iCloud storage with any iOS device. It would set them apart from their competitors at most likely not the steepest investment costs. 
    A few tweaks to the “Optimize Storage” feature on iOS and gone would be the days where Adobe Lightroom, a “real computer” and external drives are considered essentials for photographers.
  2. Text editing: As a writer, I have so many great writing tools at hand on iOS. It is a difficult task to find the app that suits me the most because so many of them are just too delightful. 
    I have followed Tim Nahumck’s “Drafts As A Main Text Editor” for a while now and I am really pleased with the approach. (The Lazy Markdown workflow and Named Identifiers are unbeatable.) 
    However, like so many, I find myself coming back to Ulysses
    Somedays I can’t decide whether I prefer to write on the iPad or on the iPhone. The iPhone is just as fast and pleasing at writing even larger pieces (like the one you are reading right now). Who would have thought? But with iOS, it doesn’t really matter. I can jump between the iPhone and the iPad however quickly I like. 
    I do love the Smart Keyboard on the iPad Pro, though. It is my probably my favorite keyboard of all time, despite its glitches when you try to use it alongside third party software keyboards. I love its short key travel on which typing feels like a fly-by. 
    (I am shaking my head at the latest “clicky keyboard” fad. Common guys, really? Also, I won’t use a clamshell-style keyboard like the Logitech Create that turns your iPad into an unsightly, heavy, plastic brick.)
  3. Working with PDFs: I have to read of lot of scientific and medical literature that comes in PDF. 
    While I hated everything about my personal PDF archive back in my “Papers-for-Mac-on-the-MacBook” days, I truly enjoy working with PDFs on my iPad. 
    My tools of choice are PDF Expert by Readdle (which is unmatched in functionality on any platform) and LiquidText. 
    The Apple Pencil is an invaluable tool while working with PDFs. (I bet many of the “real computer” advocates still print their PDFs for annotations.) 
    At the moment, I am giving Documents by Readdle a first real try and it is growing beyond PDF management into somewhat of a file system on iOS.
  4. The Share Sheet: Say what you will, I love the Share Sheet. It is redefining what an app is on iOS and I hope it will continue to do so. I tend to prefer native app extensions over standalone apps. If implemented well, a great extension quickly has me leave apps behind that don’t support the share sheet philosophy. (Looking at you, VSCO.)

My list of reasons in favor of iOS over macOS is still growing after more than 6 months of an iOS-only workflow. Honestly, I haven’t yet sold my MacBook for the fear my setup might one day when the bullets are flying crumble like a house of cards. This hasn’t happened so far. I am optimistic that the chances of all breaking apart shrink by the day. On the other hand, I am quite sure that the remaining strongholds of traditional computing for the majority of people will continue to erode.

I may just have bet on the right side.


If you like, you can check out my other recent articles on my transition to iOS as my primary operating system over at my website http://www.theminimal.org. There is more stuff on productivity, photography and health as well. However, I suppose you will find more of my writing here on Medium in the near future.
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