Why Use an iPad to Write?

Alan Jacobs, one of my favorite writers, declares that writing on the iPad, as opposed to a laptop, sucks. Lamenting the device’s frustrating limitations as an editor and formatter of text, he concludes:

I’m typing this post on my MacBook Air, and it’s a real pleasure. It’s lightweight and fits in my lap nicely. It was trivially easy for me to insert all those links into this post, and it’ll also be trivially easy for me to upload what I’ve written to Blogger. When I made mistakes in typing it was simple to correct them. Unless I were compelled by economic or other necessity to use an iPad to write, why would I ever do so?

I have an answer.

I write on my iPad almost every day. I’m doing it right now–and I’m not even using an external keyboard! On-screen typing is one of the key reasons I’ve opted for the 10″ variant over the Mini, which my RSI-addled wrists would greatly prefer. (Dig my opus review of the iPad Air here.)

I also have a MacBook Air. A tiny 11″ one, at that. So why not use that to write whenever the occasion strikes? I think it’s the same reason that you probably use your iPhone camera most of the time, even if you own a nicer, single-purpose, higher-end camera. When you want to take a snapshot, the phone is there with you. The kid is doing something cute right now! That crazy-beautiful sunset is happening right now! The high-end camera, if I own one, is in the house, or in the other room. The iPhone camera is right here. Snap!

So it is with the iPad and writing. I get most of my ideas for posts while sitting and reading, you guessed it, on my iPad. My MacBook Air, small and portable as it is, is hooked up to a monitor, speakers, a microphone, and an external hard drive up in my office. The iPad is here in my hands. If I have an idea I want to write about now, I just turn the iPad to landscape (maybe pop it into my STM Cape case that holds it in a typing position very firmly) and start writing, right where I am.

Of course the MacBook Air is a better writing tool. By far. (And that “by far” is where my analogy to the iPhone as a camera weakens, as the iPhone camera is pretty damn good.) Everything that Jacobs says in his post about how maddening it is to do something as simple as selecting text on an iPad is totally true, and why Apple hasn’t improved this experience one iota is kind if baffling. And yes, inserting links and doing other kinds of formatting are vastly simpler on the MacBook. Which, by the way, is why on the iPad I now write my blog posts in Markdown.

But the MacBook is over there and hooked up to as many wires as a patient in an ICU. I want to write now, while I’m still awake and while the thoughts are still churning. Or when I’m at the coffee shop sans computer, or on the plane when dragging the Mac out of my bag is too much of a hassle. Etcetera.

This is almost cliché by now, but I think it’s worth noting that the mono-tasking that the iPad enforces really does reduce distractions, making it easier to focus on what I’m writing rather than Twitter replies or, um, well, nothing matters more than Twitter replies. (Yes, I have those notifications turned off on the iPad.) It is far easier to approach a state of flow when all I have in my field of vision are the words on the page, and the letters on the keyboard that will make up further words. Writing on the computer often feels like something I am trying to squeeze in, or even sneak in, among all the other calls for my attention.

So to Jacobs’ question, why would one ever do so, why ever write on an iPad; the answer is clear. Because it’s there.


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