Reading, Researching, and Writing on the iPad
Issue 82: A look into a digital workflow for thinking and writing
I’m writing about the iPad again as it's a topic people ask about a lot. “What the heck do you use it for? Mine is a glorified Netflix machine!” For me, the iPad is an essential digital tool for thought—focused on three areas: Reading, Researching, and Writing (RRW).
High thought, low computation
People often mention the lack of computation power of an iPad compared to a laptop. I view it as an advantage via constraints. It may be no surprise that when I need higher computation power I use…a computer. Computation power and thinking power are not the same things. Just because you have high computation does not mean you have a high level of thought into something. In fact, it can be the opposite. All too often, we go into high fidelity without deeply thinking of the problem first.
In a world that's becoming more digital, I remain to push a lot of my thinking analog, using ink, sketchbooks, and index cards to do deeper thinking. Inevitably, digitizing it helps me graduate it to higher fidelity.
A Distraction-free experience
I prefer an array of specialty tools with one general tool. The general tool is my smartphone and the rest of the devices I seek specialty—a tool that does one thing well provides a depth of focus. This is why I still listen to music on an iPod classic. It does one thing well, which is playing music. In RRW mode, I don't want any distractions. My iPad is configured where I hardly install any apps—no Slack, Twitter, Email, or anything that might tempt me away from the task at hand.
Though I do listen to music, watch movies, and draw on my iPad, I configure my software to focus on RRW. There are lots of different workflows out there and can share what works well for me.
The physical book will always be my preference, but there is a convenience factor about reading on the iPad. I can copy/paste and highlight notes immediately. To capture what I'm reading to action on it later, I use a Readwise, which is incredible to sync highlights from services like Sync your highlights from Kindle, Instapaper, Pocket, Books, and more. It presents the highlights in a way that helps you recall the information. Reading to recall is different than reading for the sake of reading. Since I have the larger iPad, it's very convenient to use the split-screen view to have a note-taking app as I read.
Apps for Reading: Books, Kindle, Pocket, NetNewsWire
Desk research is one of my favorite activities in the world. I could spend infinite time with a bottomless cup of coffee researching topics I'm interested in. I highly recommend the app Command, a browser that’s built for highlighting and notes. You can also sync those notes to Readwise.
Obsidian is my research note-taking tool of choice due to the convenience of backlinking and connecting to other ideas.
Another app I love to use is Muse, a visual way to capture notes and ideas. I use this similar to how I use index cards on a physical table. It’s nice to visualize, organize ideas, and do light sketching on it. When I’m using the iPad with no keyboard, Muse is my primary thinking tool.
Apps for Researching: Safari, Obsidian, Muse, Liquidtext, Notability
On the iPad, my focus is writing as many first drafts as possible. Curation and editing come later after sessions of high-volume writing. When the writing is more realized, I simply copy/paste it into a Google doc or what the final artifact needs to be.
Writing is such a joy on the iPad because of its full-screen experience that fosters a distraction-free environment. My preference is to use portrait mode (vertical) to write.
The next time I’m doing a writing retreat, this is the setup I’m bringing with me.
Apps for Writing: iA Writer
My iPad Configurations
I’m Goldilocks when it comes to iPads; never able to decide between the iPad Mini, 11" iPad Pro, or 12.9" iPad Pro. After deliberation, my go-to is the 12.9" iPad Pro, AKA the giant one. It's often deemed as "too big" as it's nearly the size of the MacBook Air and heavier if you add Apple's fancy Magic Keyboard to it. My personal preference is to go without the expensive keyboard. It's cool but makes the experience too rigid in how you use it.
The beauty of the iPad is it's a tablet that's a blend of something between the smartphone or laptop. It's an inferior experience when you attempt to use it as a laptop. The flexibility of a tablet is the accessories you can get to configure different work modes.
iPad with Magic Keyboard like a laptop
Plugged in to an external display a desktop
Using an external Bluetooth keyboard with the iPad on a stand
The iPad and Apple Pencil as a sketchbook
iPad without any accessories like a book
Compass Pro by TwelveSouth - An incredibly well-designed stand
Apple Magic Keyboard (the regular Bluetooth one)
Arlo Skye Lapdesk - Such a cozy surface to work on when outside or on the couch
An elegant digital tool for thought
Even though my primary tool for thought is pen and paper, the iPad is an incredible tool for RRW. It’s astonishing to think that a slab of glass with the right software unlocks so many creative possibilities. Do you have an iPad? I'd love to hear your workflows or tricks.