The Creative iPad

by Oliver -

Is the iPad a creative tool or is it the digital version of a couch potato?

Let's find out.

Recently, I travelled to visit my brother who lives with his family in Austria. It was going to be a work trip. As co-owners of Boinx Software, we need to get together every now and then to talk strategy and make plans for the future. When I arrived at his office, I noticed that I had left my MacBook Air at my desk, about a 4 hours car ride away.

When Apple introduced the iPad, they focused their marketing message on how great it was for consuming media: read a book, watch a movie, browse the web. I thought this didn't feel right at the time – the iPad, I thought, also had to be great for creating this content. You see, I am convinced that people like making things just as much as they like consuming them.

But I understood that the iPad wasn't as great for creating as it was for consuming because of two things: creating takes more horsepower and the apps were not ready. Eventually, with the introduction of the iPad 2, Apple changed this and introduced two great creative apps itself: iMovie for editing movies and Garageband for making music.

But ever since I got my first iPad I wondered when it would be ready to replace my laptop as my travel companion. Now, visiting my brother, with the other two options being an 8 hour car ride to get my MacBook Air or not to get any work done, I decided it was time to give the iPad 2 a chance to prove itself.

The first and most substantial challenge I faced was that most of what I create is text. And this is the iPad's biggest dilemma - the on screen keyboard sucks at typing long texts, but adding a "real" keyboard takes away the immersiveness of the touch interface and the unique magic of the device.

Eventually, maybe, other input methods such as voice (although I can't imagine dictating this text on a busy train like the one I am riding while writing this) or a direct neural connection might solve this problem, but for now a bluetooth enabled keyboard can not be avoided, so I bought a Logitech Keyboard Case by ZAGG. It works quite well, except for the risk of the iPad falling out of the notch that holds it.

Although there are apps for almost any purpose, the next big challenge is of course that most of the apps I am using on my Mac are not available on the iPad. I was able to find replacements for a lot of the apps I absolutely needed to use that week, but there still seem to be huge gaps in my workflows, especially when it comes to more advanced creative tasks such as creating or editing our web pages.

And this brings me to the last big challenge: data. On a traditional PC or Mac, a lot of workflows rely on multiple apps handling the same file. For example, the FTP program downloads the web page HTML file from the server. To add an image to the web page, you edit the web page in the Text Editor. Both the web page and the image file go back to the FTP program which loads them back up to the web server so that people can browse it.

Remember the ads where Apple said "There is an app for that"? They meant that literally. On iPad, the app owns its files and nobody else is allowed to touch them. If there is no app for that, "that" simply does not exist. You cannot have an FTP program that manages file transfers between your iPad and your website and a Text Editor to edit those files. The only way to do this is to have a Text Editor that has a built-in FTP program. For really complex workflows this means that you either have a gigantic do-everything-and-a-bit app or a bunch of apps who each have their own FTP program.

Somehow this seems to contradict the very idea of "apps." So, is the solution to make the iPad more like a traditional computer? Or will rethinking the workflows and the way we do things make the world a better place? Consider this: in order to create a web page, it is not strictly necessary to download and edit HTML files. Services like Squarespace will eventually be good enough for almost everybody's purpose.

And for some workflows, the iPad will simply become the control surface. (You can already fully remote control your PC with VNC apps like "Desktop Connect"…)

Overall, the experience of relying on the iPad for serious work has rekindled my enthusiasm for the magic of the device and sparked the idea to write a series of essays about "The Creative iPad," which I am going to share over the next couple of weeks on this blog, talking about some of the creative apps.