One of the iPad’s greatest strengths is its touch interface, which has proven itself more intuitive than traditional computing mechanisms like the keyboard and mouse. Yet sometimes, physical input mechanisms remain useful, as in long-form writing. In a rather confusing piece praising the iPad’s abstraction-free controls, TUAW’s Erica Sadun digresses to bash keyboard use with the iPad.
Yesterday, I spent some time debating about why keyboards and iPads didn’t mix well. Many users find that iOS is not ideal for office tasks like writing and editing books, creating complex spreadsheets — in fact, many typing-intense tasks are slower on the iPad or iPhone than on a conventional computer (aside from the fact that the best computer is the one you have with you).
The piece is rather confusing because Sadun doesn’t explain whether she’s talking about software keyboards or physical ones, as the latter addresses most user’s complaints about the iPad not being great for writing. We can only assume that she goes back and forth in the article about which kind of keyboard she means, as it’s the only way to glean any sense from her post
Adding a keyboard, in my opinion, simply transforms the iPad from a superior touch-based system to a less-capable typing-based one.
If Sadun is talking about software keyboards here, she’s not offering a solution. One could argue that a more intuitive approach to typing would be to write the letters on-screen and allowing a text-recognition engine to do the dirty work of putting your strokes into words, but as we know, writing out letters is much slower than typing, which is why removing the keyboard entirely makes no sense. If Sadun is talking about adding a physical keyboard into the mix, she doesn’t explain why she believes it makes the iPad into a less-capable machine. If anything, for long-form writing, we’ve found that adding a physical keyboard only makes the device better, because we can view our text in full-screen, and still use touch controls to manipulate things on the screen, be they in the writing app we’re using, or in another app we need access to. Either way, the fact that we have a keyboard handy doesn’t take away from the iPad’s flexibility. If anything, it makes the iPad more flexible.
The types and scale of content creation continue to grow, with new apps debuting daily that continue to push the limits on the kinds and quality of data that can be built, manipulated, and finessed on the iPad. None of them, however, seems to do the grinding job of writing out large quantities of text and meticulously editing them after.
We’re not sure how Sadun doesn’t see that there are several apps that make writing on an iPad work. From Byword and iaWriter to Writing Kit and Pages, there are plenty of apps focusing on a specific writing niche that users can choose from. Why are these applications not sufficient for “writing out large quantities of text and meticulously editing them after”?1 With the exception of apps like Scrivener that combine very specific workflow and organizational tasks into a streamlined writing environment, the writing apps available for the iPad aren’t much different from those available on OS X.
I often take advantage of it’s mindmapping and sketching tools to lay out ideas, but my “real work” will happen back at the office. I don’t think the South Park guys will be switching to iPads any time soon either.
Comparing Sadun’s writing requirements to what the South Park staff have to deal with is simply ludicrous. For one, there’s no reason South park story-boarding and scripts can’t be written on an iPad, but obviously their workflow is reliant on more powerful computers. From recollection, each episode of South Park is generated using many servers to process the data and graphics required, and that’s obviously not a task a single iPad can accomplish. Sadun may just as well have pointed out how the iPad makes for a poor web server, or CAD machine. But Sadun’s needs to write are easily accomplished using iPad apps, and it’s silly to lump writing into niche content creation cycles like developing iOS and OS X apps. We’ve pointed out how the iPad remains incapable of serving as an app development system, but that’s a far cry from the type of content creation most people need to deal with.
If this is the type of article Sadun is writing nowadays, maybe she should switch to the iPad, because whatever she’s using “back at the office” doesn’t seem to be helping.
Is it even worth pointing out to Sadun how many individuals have claimed to have written whole novels on the iPad? ↩