Matt Gemmell

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iPad-only: Month One

tech & ipad-only 2 min read

This article is part of a series on going iPad-only.

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It’s been a month since I bought an iPad and made it my main computer. I also wrote about why the iPad has such an attraction for me, and a series of articles on my workflows for various tasks. I’ve gone into plenty of detail already, so this will be brief — no more or less so than it needs to be.

I’m certain that I made the right choice. I feel like I’ve stripped away so many distractions and part-time jobs that the MacBook forced onto me. I look at the iPad like an appliance instead of a computer. I also have an emotional response to it; it’s a lovely thing to use and to pick up and hold.

I went back to the MacBook for five or ten minutes a few days ago to get some files I hadn’t put in Dropbox yet, and I was momentarily unsure how to use it; that’s how quickly the cognitive adaption sets in. There was a feeling of mild anxiety, like when I find myself in front of a Windows machine (just in the sense of something that’s unfamiliar and clearly more complicated than I’m used to). I honestly reached up and tapped the screen to activate something, then I was paralysed for a couple of seconds, frowning, as I tried to think how I could instead trigger it via the keyboard. It was brief, but it was memorable; I really was lost. Then, of course, I remembered the trackpad. There was also a moment when I saw the arrow cursor in my peripheral vision and my hand twitched, ready to wipe it off the screen.

The iPad feels lighter, which it is, and more focused, which it also is. There’s a lot more pleasure in using it, and it has its own interaction logic that’s becoming more and more natural to me.

Most of all, the iPad feels like a tool. The MacBook is much more like a machine, that needs maintenance and expertise. I feel like, on the MacBook, I need to learn how to do something; looking for this configuration, or for that app — monolithic units of capability.

With the iPad, I feel like I can always find a way to use it for something. Putting pieces together, and chaining often-simpler blocks into fully-understood workflows. I use more apps during the day on my iPad, but I have less of a sense of redundancy.

The MacBook is this collection of massive, complex things. It’s a printing press, and a sports car, and a set of hi-fi separates with dozens of knobs and dials. It can do any damned thing, but you have to nurse it, and it’s going to be a month before you feel like you have a firm grasp of any one part. It’s not like that — not entirely — but it feels that way. It feels like it has rules, and you need to agree to them.

The iPad is just this bag of tools that I lug around. They’re brand new, and I chose them myself, and you can pick up any of them and just get going. Paper and pens and rulers and screwdrivers and all that stuff. They don’t come in a box, with a manual and a license agreement; they’re just there on the shelf, stacked up on a tray, or hanging from a hook. You grab the actual tool itself, and you’re away. It doesn’t care that it’s actually a computer. I’m not sure it even really knows.

That’s what I’ve wanted all along. And that’s what I seem to have.