Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Writing on the iPad

This Blog entry is an experiment, as was my writing a full scale article (3500 words) on the iPad.

The article was on measuring reliability in long term digital archiving. I based it on talks given in Tallinn, Estonia, and at a workshop here in Berlin, and I copied the text from the slides onto the iPad using Dropbox, though I could easily have mailed them to myself as well. Then I purchased the Apple Pages app and imported the text into Pages so that I had a ready-made outline. Actually I almost never write from an outline, so in some ways this was a bad idea, but not one for which the iPad bears any guilt.

The Pages app is very easy to use once one recognizes where one has to tap to change styles, get fonts, or send backups in the form of email copies. The backups may not have been necessary, since iCloud is sharing copies among my various Apple devices, but it seemed like useful extra protection, since I could not be sure that the iCloud would not instantly and automatically change every copy if I accidentally deleted a key portion of text. That is not a theoretical but real issue. It is easy to tap the UNDO button a bit too often. Only later did I learn that I could REDO an UNDO by holding down the UNDO longer. I found it was also surprisingly easy to highlight far too marge a segment of text and then brush a key that deleted it accidentally. UNDO and REDO are really valuable options.

The touchpad keyboard as such gave me no particular problems. I am a decent multiple-finger typist, but not especially fast. Nonetheless I do find that I often hit one of the keys in the bottom row rather than the space bar. The spelling checker and word-suggestion system is unexpectedly good, but the price for corrections in multiple languages is that I must constantly switch keyboards, since the spelling and keyboard choices are linked. With the English and German keyboards this is family simple, since only the Y and Z keys shift, but I am very accustomed to the German keyboard (all of my other devices have German keyboard) and sometimes my finger strays. The correction facility is fairly good at catching and fixing this.

One advantage that I had hoped for with the iPad was that I could carry the machine with me easily and write in even quite short blocks of time, such as in the S-BahnCard train (six minutes from my home station to the office). I found that that worked fairly well as long as I worked on the article so regularly that I had it mostly in mind and did not have to search back to find the threat of what I wrote. Generally I write in landscape mode because the keyboard is bigger and mistakes are therefore fewer, but portrait mode give a far better sense of the virtual page. By the end of the article I tended to use portrait more often, especially when I was revising what I wrote.

Only very recently have I returned to using Microsoft Word on my other computers, and I confess that it is really good. Mostly I don't want its features though. My articles require little fancy formatting or inserts. The Pages app is definitely no substitute for Word, but as a basic word processing tool on the iPad, I found it met my needs well.


  1. Congratulations Michael Seadle! Thank you so much for taking the time to share this exciting information.

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