Leaving the Laptop

Trying an experiment for next week’s WWDC: I’m leaving the laptop at home and taking just my iPad.

In part, this is motivated by my preference to max out and not compromise my computing environments. I’ve come to see laptops as inherently compromised: not as powerful as a desktop, not as portable as a tablet, but more expensive than either. So when I’m at my desk, I have an 8-core Mac Pro with gobs of RAM and four drive bays, and when I’m moving around, I have the one-pound iPad. Of course, there are trade-offs, but they don’t always matter: the MacPro, monitor and associated gear probably weighs 70 pounds… but it’s not going anywhere. The iPad isn’t exceptionally powerful, but it’s not like I’m authoring Blu-Ray discs with it.

The iPad has long since become my preferred means of checking web and e-mail around the house, and I’m trying to push what I can do with it in terms of productivity. As I’ve mentioned before, I wrote chapter 9 of Core Audio almost entirely on the iPad with Textastic and a dock keyboard. I even wrote a few functions for the code examples with Textastic, fixing them up once I got back to Xcode on the Mac.

So for the kinds of things I will need to do at WWDC, mostly note-taking and keeping up with mail, Twitter, Facebook, etc., the iPad is perfectly capable, and a fraction of the weight of a laptop. Plus, the iPad and dock keyboard will fit nicely in the small attaché case we got at WWDC 2008, meaning I don’t need my enormous JavaOne backpack for laptop, cables, and gear (I hated JavaOne as a conference, but I’ve gotten a lot of use out of their laptop-friendly backpacks).

I also need to work on my books, but as I’ve said above, I have a system for this. On my Mac, I’ve checked out the sources to Core Audio and the other one we’re not talking about yet into my Dropbox, so it’s easy enough to pull those files into Textastic, or any of the other Dropbox-based editors (iA Writer, the official Dropbox app, etc.). So as long as I remember to push my edits from the iPad back to Dropbox, and then svn commit from the Dropbox folder on the Mac, I’m good. Yes, direct Subversion and Git support in the iPad text editors would be preferable, but this will do.

Overall, the weird thing about trying to push productivity on iPad is the decision they made to hide the file system. It makes sense that 95% of files are opened only by a single application (if the user even “opens” them at all… consider browser bookmarks and mail messages), so it’s sensible to make that app own those files outright, and eliminate the need for a Finder. But that really does complicate the other 5% of cases, like when you want to post a picture to web page, or share files between applications. Whether you accept this depends, I think, on your ability to see the unseen: can you appreciate how much hassle the other apps save by not expecting you to serve as the wise, all-knowing administrator of a file system? Don’t you have parents or grandparents who don’t even know the difference between the home, Documents, and Desktop folders? We may not really know if this is the right paradigm until and unless we have kids who grow up primarily in a filesystem-free app-and-cloud world. But it does make a lot of sense when you think about it.

So what won’t I be able to do? It occurred to me that I can’t build code on the iPad, so that means I won’t get much use out of the WWDC labs. Or can I? The labs always have iMacs with Xcode, so it seems like I could put my projects into AirSharing on the iPad, then open them up from the lab iMacs. So that should be covered.

And I bet I’m not the only person who’s holding out some hope that Apple will actually bring Xcode to the iPad. They’ve brought over a number of their other marquee applications, and Xcode 4’s redesign into a single window makes it far more suitable for being adapted to iOS. It’s not at all hard to imagine some of the appearing/disappearing views like the inspector pane being implemented as popovers on an iPad. It would be a hell of a surprise this year, but in the long run… why not?

Comments (2)

  1. […] mentioned before, I used WWDC as an experiment in going laptop-free, taking only my iPad and iPhone. Overall, it […]

  2. […] I like my iPad. As I’ve said before, I like the iPad more than a laptop, and have gone iPad-only for my last few conferences. Thinking […]

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