Prompted by a conversation on Twitter yesterday, I revisited my old ‘how I use my iPad in academia’ post and since it’s been about 2.5 years, it seemed time for an update. So, some quick notes on how I’m using it now:
- Reading. I don’t use iAnnotate any more, since Goodreader added annotations and nice Dropbox syncing. I keep a Dropbox folder with my current ‘to read’ pile of articles and books, which is slurped up to my iPad by Goodreader. I read articles on the iPad, annotating and highlighting as I go, and then I sync it back to Dropbox. Back on my Mac, I file the papers away in BibDesk (I haven’t seen a use case for ‘social’ reference managers like Mendeley yet – at least for me – and I’m not sure if I’m going to any time soon). Other ebooks, including an increasing number of textbooks, are read via the Kindle app and iBooks. I prefer the iBooks software, to be honest, but right now I read it where I can find it. Truth be told, I’ve gotten so used to ebooks now that when I can’t find something in digital format it noticeably irritates me.
- Calendaring: I sync my Google calendar to my iPad and iPhone, and read my calendar on the iPad with Agenda. I prefer Agenda for the clean interface, though it’s a minor preference for me.
- Organisation: I wrote back in 2010 that Things was moving too slowly for my taste and that I was going to search for alternatives, but I never found one I was comfortable with. I tried a lot of them: Today, Remember the Milk, Appigo’s Todo, Wunderlist, and more. All of them had some sort of problem that turned me off, be it bad syncing or subscription plans for useful services (hell, no) or something else that bugged me enough to make me switch back to Things. I honestly don’t think that Cultured Code really deserves as much of my money as they’ve gotten, but I keep coming back to them for some reason. This is a highly individual thing, though, and your mileage is going to vary. A lot.
- Social media, of course: I still prefer the stock Twitter app on the iPad over alternatives so far, though if I do switch it will probably be to Twitterific. I’ve written blog posts using Blogsy and I use the WordPress app to administer the blog. I’ve made a few Skype calls with the iPad, which turned out all right (though I prefer wired connections for video calling), and the iPad is really the only way that I check Facebook any more.
- News: now that Google Reader is going the way of the dodo, I’ve switched to Feedly and I couldn’t be happier. For saving stories to read later, I rely on Pocket.
- Navigation: I’ve found that Apple Maps has gotten much better recently, so I’m no longer unhappy that Google Maps isn’t on the iPad (still not sure why that is, though). I use maps more on my phone anyways.
- Note-taking: This is a category with a lot of change since 2010. Nowadays I’ve switched largely to Notability for note-taking. I find its handwriting set up easy to use when I’m jotting down notes in a meeting or a seminar, and it’s intuitive for scribbling on manuscripts and sending them back to colleagues. I use a stylus for these tasks; I’ve enjoyed the Pogo Connect, but my wife enjoyed it so much for drawing that she actually stole it from me. So while I wait for the Adonit Jot Touch to shop (grrr, delayed), I’m using a $10 Dausen stylus that actually works quite well. I’ve also used Noteshelf as a notetaker for its nice writing tools and early integration with the bluetooth styli like the Pogo Connect; when the Touch comes, I’m not sure exactly what I’ll end up using full time. And when I’m looking to do more free-form scribbling, or I’m noodling with equations or just sketching something, I like Paper; it’s simple but pretty and powerful enough to get the job done. I’ve also become more and more reliant on Corkulous to make notes in. Unfortunately, despite protestations to the contrary, Appigo shows no sign of giving a crap about further development of Corkulous, and I’m reaching the limits of what the app will handle in terms of notes. Also unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a good replacement out there, so I’m considering making one myself.
- Information collecting: some people would put apps like Evernote into the notetaking category above, and the Evernote + Penultimate setup works quite well for some people; I haven’t looked at it in a while, but I may revisit it. Until I do, though, I’m using Springpad as a dumping ground for random bits of info that I need (travel plans, receipts from conferences, paper work I may need to reference, books I want to buy, etc).
- Mathematics and programming: when I feel like playing around with a bit of math or I need to plot a quick graph, I use apps like SpaceTime1, PocketCAS, and Quick Graph. Programming on the iPad is still a bit of a non-starter, though that’s starting to change a bit. I’ve had fun playing with Codea, which embeds a Lua interpreter, and if you feel like learning Haskell, there’s iHaskell (must have an internet connection, though). I recently used Codea to whip up a quick simulation of genetic drift (Fisher-Wright model), and it worked great. I’ve seen a few Python apps and the like, but I haven’t had any experience with them; if you had, please leave a comment!
- Drawing / diagramming / presentation : Another category with big changes to it. When I last wrote about academic iPad usage, there wasn’t much to speak of here. In the intervening time, though, this space has exploded. Now, I use apps like Procreate (others like Sketchbook Pro) to sketch and draw with the Pogo Connect, iDraw to create vector diagrams for talks and posters, and Omnigraphsketcher to work up quick hypothetical graphs. Most of this gets fed into desktop apps like Keynote or Pages (or other design programs); the iPad versions of these apps are good as well, and I use Keynote regularly to present with, but I’m still hamstrung by the lack of font support in Keynote for iPad. Another long-awaited and massively useful tool to arrive is LaTeX snippet tools; on the desktop, I use LaTeXiT pretty regularly, and now apps like Mathbot are serving the same purpose for me on the iPad: I can write a quick line of LaTeX and copy the typeset equation into another app like Corkulous.
- Writing: big changes here, too, driven by changes in my desktop workflow. With my recent shift to using Markdown as a major format for writing, I’m now free to use some of the great cloud-syncing editors for the iPad to start things off. So, a lot of my papers, blog posts, etc. now start their lives in Byword, which is incidentally the first app to really turn me on to iCloud syncing. When I have to interact with Microsoft formats – yuck – I use still use Quickoffice. LaTeX on the iPad has come a ways, with apps like Texpad, but I still find them too clunky for common use. I’ve also gotten into collaborative writing of LaTeX through web apps like Spandex (and a new one that I’ve been meaning to try, Authorea), so I’m not really fussed about dedicated apps for LaTeX any more.
- Misc: A few other apps I can’t live without include Dropbox, OPlayer HD for entertainment on the go, Calcbot for quick arithmetic, Convertbot to … well, convert stuff, Photogene / PS Express for quick photo edits (especially to screenshots I take to paste into other apps), and probably a dozen others that I use regularly but can’t remember right at this moment.
Going back to my old post, it’s clear that my usage of the iPad has changed significantly since I last wrote about it. Some of the frontline, day-to-day apps that I use have changed or clarified (e.g. I use only Goodreader now instead of GR+iAnnotate), and entire new uses for the device have popped up, like drawing and writing in Markdown. Increasingly, the iPad has become an indispensable part of my daily workflow, and though I could live without it, I certainly don’t want to!
What are your favourite apps and workflows for mobile devices (iOS or otherwise)? If you have any thoughts, please leave a comment or let me know on Twitter.