Going All in With the iPad

Can It Ever Replace My Laptop?

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So the answer to the question above is a definitive “no.” However, with recent improvements to iOS in combination with a number of key apps, I’m getting closer to that ever-elusive goal set forth by my main man, Tim (he can do 80% of his work on an iPad, don’t you know). In previous blog posts, I have documented my frustrations with using an iPad as a laptop replacement. There is little doubt that the iPad provides a superior experience as far as content consumption goes (read: it’s great for listening to, reading, and watching stuff). Where the iPad struggles for me is in content creation.

Now, iOS has come a long way over the past few years. The included dictation feature continues to improve, and is serviceable as a keyboard replacement in a pinch (in a quiet place). However, there is a time limit wherein the speaker is cut off (about 30 seconds). This becomes a problem if one is trying to use the dictation feature to compose a blog or longer email. So far, the only viable option I have found comes from Nuance and their Dragon Anywhere software/service. Dragon Anywhere is far from perfect and it’s $150 annual fee is definitely pricey. However, it has allowed me to do the things that I could not do with the built-in dictation feature.

The frustration with Dragon Anywhere is that it does not function outside of its own application. So basically, you need to dictate into Dragon’s app, and then copy and paste to wherever the text ultimately belongs. This is less of an irritation given iOS’s slide over feature, which allows you to, for example, dictate an email response within Dragon Anywhere well at the same time looking at the email you are responding to.

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This is hardly optimal, but the dictation accuracy makes it worth the extra effort. Moreover, if you are a Dragon Dictation user on your desktop, I don’t really think that this iOS limitation is anymore disruptive than the desktop experience.

While Dragon Anywhere may make blogging and emailing significantly easier for me, it doesn’t really help me with coding or terminal work that is part of my daily responsibility. For website design, I love Panic’s Coda, but it is worthless to me without a physical keyboard. I know there are plenty of great keyboard cases out there for the iPad, but I think if you have to add a keyboard case to the iPad to make it work, then you might as well have a laptop. Additionally, external keyboards are unable to take advantage of auto-capitalization and auto-correction features within iOS. The best solution for me has been to purchase a Bluetooth keyboard that I keep in my backpack and can use with the iPad in emergencies. As for command line work I use a multi-platform solution called vSSH. vSSH allows you to store credentials and connections along with code snippets in the app which then synchronize via iCloud to other devices. So I’m able to create the connections and snippets on my MacBook such that they are then available for me to use on my iPad.

This point, there is no ditching the computer, so for the iPad to be useful to me, I need to make it as easy as possible to get information off the iPad and into the computer (and vice versa). At the most basic level, I accomplish this with an app called Copied. Copied has applications for both iOS and the Mac that basically allow you to synchronize text you copy from one device to another. I also rely heavily on Evernote for organizing work notes and Todoist for my to do list. Both products have well-developed apps on both iOS and desktop. By using identical apps on both platforms, I am able to quickly find things that I need regardless of which device I created or organized them on.

Email has always been a problem for me on iOS. I have never really liked the default mail app on either iOS or OS X, and I’m frequently trying out different applications that fit my needs. I have finally settled on CloudMagic, which has a fantastic iOS client and a limited, but developing Mac client. The most important function of an email client for me at this time is being able to get an email out of the client and into either Evernote or Todoist so that I can properly act upon it. CloudMagic handles this very well with the iOS client; hopefully it will also do so with its Mac client in the future.

Ultimately, making it iPad useful with in my professional life essentially means I need to be able to access my work on both an iPad and a computer. By and large, I have found the applications that allow me to do this. Though I haven’t mentioned them yet, I certainly rely upon Dropbox, Microsoft Office, iA Writer, and Google Drive to share and create content between devices. I am also heavily reliant on accessing my computers remotely by RDP or VNC. I use both Jump Desktop as well as Remotix for networks that I manage; I have also used LogMeIn, Splashtop, and TeamViewer for clients that don’t have static IP addresses.

So, I would say that I’m at a point now where I can use my iPad for about 60% of my work. However, I doubt that there is any cost savings over purchasing a laptop given the software expenses that are necessary for me to make the iPad work. I’m guessing that many of these features for which I am paying extra will be included within iOS in the near future. It appears that the shared pasteboard features of Copied will already be included in iOS 10. So, as far as I’m concerned, I think there is a good deal of work to be done before I can ditch my laptop, but I think I can finally see the horizon.

iOS and Mac Synergy Makes all the Difference

A Story of Two Apps

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In the past, I have written about my attempts to throw away my laptop for an iPad. In my case, it never works because I’m simply too dependent on a keyboard and multitasking. However, this is not to say that the iPad or iPhone cannot have a valuable place in my workflow. Indeed, the beauty of well-designed iOS apps is that they overcome the problems I have described, creatively functioning without the need for keyboard or other applications to be simultaneously accessed. Panic’s Prompt app for iOS makes this point perfectly, offering a traditional SSH/Telnet shell client with support for code snippets and bookmarks. But this is just the start of a good iOS app. In the end, I still need deep integration (dare I say, synergy?) with my computers upon which I depend daily.

So, after using Prompt on my iPad, I was somewhat devastated to learn there was no companion application for my Mac. On the Mac side of things, I have long used the Terminal and SnippetsLab to do remotely maintain servers. Terminal provided access to the remote command line interfaces and SnippetsLab stored and organized all of my frequently-used code. Using Prompt made me realize that I should be using an application that marries the functions of Terminal and SnippetsLab. If I could do it on my iPad, certainly I could do it on my Mac.

Unfortunately, Panic does not make a Mac companion application for Prompt. I was hoping the Mac version could sync all of my credentials, snippets, and hosts to its iOS buddies, but alas. This then led me down the path to find an app that might live up to my hopes. I ultimately found vSSH - a multi-platform application that does it all on all of the devices I use.

vSSH is not as pretty as Prompt, but it’s ability to cross platforms makes it (and my iPad) truly useful to me. The lesson is that for consumers like me (Mac-loving geeks, nerds, and dorks working in IT), an iPad is only truly useful if it leverages the power of a full fledged computer. Again, it would take me a long time to manually type in all of the code and credentials into Prompt. It is much easier to get this info in vSSH via my MacBook and then sync with my iPad. In this way, the iPad is an extension of my computer.

When I think about it, all of the apps I use on my iPad really are extensions of my other computers. Apps like Dropbox, Evernote, Gmail, iA Writer, and CloudMagic all have companion apps on the Mac. The iPad’s portability is truly useful, especially if I need to review something I have already prepared on my computer. When used in this fashion, the iPad really becomes a luxury item because it does not really do anything I cannot do using a laptop. However, good iPad applications add something to the mix that cannot be done in the Mac counterpart. For example, I can swipe through emails much quicker on the iPad than I can with a keyboard on the Mac.

So, take from this what you will, but for the iPad, or any tablet, to make it in my workflow, I need synergy between the tablet and my computers. That last sentence makes me want to throw up, but I spew the truth.

Will the REAL CloudMagic Step Up?

Bring Cards to the Desktop with Chrome’s ARC Welder

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Over the past year, CloudMagic has become my preferred email application on both my Mac and iPhone. It sports a clean interface and a speedy experience with my four email accounts. I especially like being able to use the same email app across platforms; it is the kind of consistency that calms my borderline-obsessive compulsive tendencies. While the CloudMagic development team is constantly improving and stabilizing the application, there remains a glaring divide between the iOS and Mac versions of the application: the desktop still does not have the “cards” feature that won my heart in the first place.

Cards are efficient means to get an email into a different service. In my case, I use the Todoist card to quickly convert an email into a task.

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The cards also connect to Asana, Evernote, Pocket, OneNote, Trello, Salesforce, and Zendesk. This service has become a key component of my workflow, helping me clear out my inbox while keeping my todo list useful. While the CloudMagic team promises the cards feature will be making its way to the desktop soon, I have managed to enable the feature so I can take advantage today.

The magic starts with Chrome and the ARC Welder app, which enables Android applications to be run within Google Chrome. Next we need a copy of a current CloudMagic program file (also known as an APK file), which is easily located through a Google search. After installing and running the ARC Welder, we load up the APK we downloaded, leaving all of the default options intact. We have one addition to make in the metadata section of the setup screen, where we will be adding the text: {“usePlayServices”: [“gcm”]}. To wrap it all up, click on the “Test” button and you’ll be looking at your very own CloudMagic app, complete with cards.

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Depending on your Chrome settings, the new app will appear in your Chrome applications folder. It can also be pinned to the dock for easy access. Absent other modifications, the ARC Welder is limited to one app at a time, so if you want to repeat this procedure to bring other Android apps to your Mac, you’ll need to employ other trickery to avoid blitzing your CloudMagic app.

The only obvious downside I have found so far is the lack of notifications. This is a problem I can live with as long as I have access to my precious cards. Hopefully it won’t be too long before the feature makes its way to the official desktop version, but until then, it is great to have options.

How to Protect your iOS Files

Hint: It Isn’t as Easy as it Should Be

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As a criminal defense attorney, I often am receiving sensitive, privileged files that really are for my eyes only. The problem arises when others’ eyes fall upon my iPhone. My spouse, friends, cats, etc. have family unfettered access to my devices. Even if they don’t have my unlock code, I often pass around the phone to share content. The trick is keeping the sensitive stuff away from the stuff I want to share, and it is isn’t as easy as it should be.

File security and your iPhone and iPad are fundamentally at odds with each other. The problem essentially results from the fact that iOS is all about the apps, and file security is more of a trickle-down concern flowing from app security. Unlike most PCs, iOS drives users to open up an app first-there is no file explorer where you can open up a document with a default app. All of this is to say that if you want to secure your documents (or a particular document), you need to secure the app first, and the default iOS apps are not really designed for this.

So if you have sensitive crime scene photos on your phone, there is no simple way to partition them away from the vacation photos. Sure, you can create different albums, but there is no password protection or higher level security system available.

Here is my best solution so far:

I searched long and hard for an option that seemed trustworthy and had a substantial development history. I ultimately chose FileBrowser, which currently retails for $5.99. There are undoubtedly other choices that will work, though. Again, I am just looking for a simple app that has a passcode lock and the ability to create folders and organize files. I also needed an app that integrated with iOS sharing such that if I had an email attachment, I could use the “Open in…” feature to get the attachment into the file browser. I can even use Safari to download documents or images into FileBrowser.

Again, there are plenty of alternatives out there, but I think any solution should have the following attributes: (1) passcode lock; (2) folder organization; (3) ability to move files between folders (4) ability to easily get the files off of the iOS device. Number four is especially important because Apple has a habit of blacklisting file management apps and app developer often vanish into thin air. The last thing you want is to lose your files when you upgrade iOS or your phone or tablet.

It is also important to note that I have no reason to believe these apps are securely encrypting my data beyond the protection offered by iOS - all I really care about is putting a clear stopgap between the sensitive content and the shareable content. Also, attorneys should always be aware of applicable ethics rules; such apps may very well fall short of security requirements absent other safeguards.

Move iOS Backup Folders on Mac

Here is an oldie but a goodie for those of you trying to backup your iOS devices when your main hard drive doesn’t have enough space. 

1. Close iTunes

2. Navigate to ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync

3. Copy your “Backup” folder to your external hard disk. For this example, let’s say your disk is named “xtra” and you are moving your Backup folder to a directory called “iOS Backups”.

4. Rename your original Backup folder located on your main hard drive “Backup_Old”.

5. Open Terminal and create a symbolic link. In this example using the folders and drive above, the code would look like this:

ln -s /Volumes/xtra/iOS\ Backups/Backup ~/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync

6. Launch iTunes and backup your iOS device

That’s it - let me know if you have any questions!

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