Archive for August 28, 2023

Monday, August 28, 2023

Giving Up the iPad-Only Travel Dream

Jason Snell (Hacker News):

For many years, I tried very hard to travel with only an iPad. (Why bring two devices? And I’m not leaving my iPad at home.) Since the arrival of Apple silicon, however, I’ve gone back to traveling with both an iPad and a MacBook Air.


I’ve noticed that a lot of my colleagues who were previously working hard to integrate the iPad into their professional work have backed off, retreating to the more flexible and powerful Mac side of the house.


My productivity needs are clearly unlike those of most people, but the truth is that everyone’s got different productivity needs. The problem with the iPad continues to be that as it builds functionality, it has failed to build in flexibility—or at least the flexibility offered by a platform like macOS. If the iPad doesn’t support it, you’ve hit a brick wall. Your choices are to find a workaround or give up.


This is where the iPad is today. It’s good enough for what it does. If it doesn’t do it, it doesn’t do it. This is the fundamental difference between the Mac (a platform that basically lets developers and users do anything they want) and the iPad (where if Apple doesn’t specifically allow it, it can’t be done).

After years of finding that I rarely used my iPad while traveling, I now pack only my MacBook Pro and Kindle, unless I’ll be on a plane, in which case I sometimes want the iPad for watching videos. I usually don’t do much, if any, development while traveling, so it’s not that I couldn’t use the iPad, but I find the Mac so much more efficient for e-mail and general Web stuff.

John Gruber (Mastodon):

I’ve written at length, multiple times, about my decidedly mixed feelings regarding the iPad — most stridently in January 2020, in a piece titled “The iPad Awkwardly Turns 10”. Stage Manager is the biggest change to the iPad interface since I wrote that, and its existence certainly helps on that “power user” front. (And Stage Manager sees some nice improvements in this year’s iPadOS 17.) But for me personally, I continue to find that I’m most productive when I spend my working time in front of my Mac. Gobs of people thrive using their iPads for writing and other creative endeavors. But I know I’m best off, productivity-wise, using my iPad basically as a single-tasking consumption device for long-form reading and video watching.


The question is whether I even pack my iPad Pro at all, or just go it alone with iPhone and Mac. When I’m packing, I generally wind up tossing the iPad in my bag, thinking I’ll miss it if I don’t. But when I do just leave the iPad at home, I don’t miss it.

Matt Birchler:

“Well, your use case is specialized and 80% of people will never run into that.”

This is of course impossible to argue, of course the 100 things I do on a computer are a unique combination of things that no one else in the world has exactly. My counter to this argument is that everyone has things they do on a device that falls in the 20% (or lower) minority of users.

So yes, if you happen to fall into the exact set of use cases that work best on iPadOS, then absolutely you should be happy and enjoy it, but it’s worth understanding that as soon as you venture outside of what the iPad is built to do, you run into pain very quickly.

Steven Aquino:

During the pandemic’s apex, I did so much on my well-loved 2019 Retina 4K iMac, I just never bothered with iPadOS again. Then my partner got me an iPad mini and an M2 MacBook Air as gifts, and I love both. I could do all my work from iPadOS, but I don’t because inertia. (The iPad mini size is just delightful, honestly.)

Steve Troughton-Smith:

iPad’s been stuck in a rut for a decade. We’re still having the same conversations about it and what it can/can’t do, who it’s good for. Either it suffered from a tremendous lack of vision, or it was intentionally hobbled so as not to tread on Mac’s toes. I fear we’re about to go through the same cycle on visionOS. Can it replace the desktop in ten years? Is it the kind of project that will survive Apple’s next CEO transition?

Somehow, both Mac and iPad fans think that their favorite platform is being hobbled to prop up the other. I do wonder about this in some cases, for example the lack of Macs with cellular. But mostly, I think, Apple (surprisingly) doesn’t have the resources to develop each to its fullest self.


At its core the iPad is bad at being a productivity tool outside a limited number of use cases. When the m1's came out, I went from “iPad is my mobile” to just living on a MacBook Air. Turns out what I wanted was relatively instant response time and for a device to let me work how -I- want to work. I went from “oh shit I need to send a zip file, what shortcut/app do I have to find” to “I’ll just right-click and I’m done.”

Where I worry about VisionOS is that it seems like there are a lot of things that Apple is similarly up its own ass about a la the recent discussion on @atpfm re:unauthorized trash cans. There are still things that I love and basically only do on my iPad, but it’s a fewer and further between. Just a real clipboard manager, for example, would change the game, but if you believed Apple you’d think no one ever copies/pastes.

Michael McGuire:

I think this is the strategy tax of wanting to collecting a portion of the revenue of software sold on the platform.

Rowan Johnson:

It’s long been clear that a real computer can’t exist within the walled garden of the App Store.

If VisionOS is as locked down as the iPad, it’s never going to be the future of computing.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

The real tragedy of iPad is the vast gulf between how much potential it had as a platform, and Apple’s disinterest in letting it live up to that. It is easy to imagine an alternate universe where iPad grew up to outright replace desktop computing, in all shapes and sizes, running powerful, complex software good enough to supplant everything we used a Mac for. A modern do-over of the entire personal computing industry. Nobody looks at iPhone and thinks ‘oh this could be so much more’, but iPad?

It’s also hard to talk about iPadOS today and not reference visionOS, because the two platforms are inextricably linked. They run effectively the same software, on top of the same OS — much more so than ‘iPhone OS’ was ever ‘Mac OS X’. These platforms are going to grow together, are going to share the best and the worst aspects of each other. They’re the same. With Apple talking about visionOS as the future of computing, it’s difficult not to be reminded about similar empty promises for iPad.

Rui Carmo:

I’ve been reading this bemusedly on my iPad mini (which I travel and work with since… forever), and although Jason’s use case (podcast creation) is indeed a hassle (as anyone who’s tried to use an iPad for music will attest to), writing and publishing has never been a real problem provided you were willing to jump through some minimal hoops (this post is being published semi-automatically via Shortcuts and Working Copy).


Right now I travel with a Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W, which I can talk to via Bluetooth PAN and use as a “sidecar” when I need something specific.

John Gordon:

I read people claiming that the iPad was a better work tool that an Air and it made no sense to me.

Colin Cornaby:

I think Apple Silicon killed the iPad dream. At this point there is no reason to force an iPad workflow if it’s inefficient. A MacBook Air is a pretty similar form factor with the same or better hardware. iPad’s domain is really just down to touch and pencil support.

Jonathan Hendry:

If you could flip a Macbook display around and close it to cover the keyboard while using it as a tablet, there goes any need for the iPad.

Hartley Charlton:

Along with the significant overhaul of the tablet itself, the updated version of the Magic Keyboard for iPad will offer a larger trackpad, addressing criticisms of the current model, and “makes the iPad Pro look even more like a laptop than the current setup.”


Update (2023-08-30): Jan:

It’s always been my impression that when the iPad was released, Apple shouted very loudly to the technical/web community that the iPad was a device for consumption, not creation, and that they would resist every change that made it easier to create anything on it that might challenge the way they decided to do things. Well over a decade later, none of my iPads can even keep an ssh connection alive while I’m reading docs in the browser -- even the most up-to-date.

I remember Apple emphasizing that iPad was not just for consumption and not just a big iPhone.


Not wanting two devices but valuing touchscreen and stylus, I eventually gave up and bought a Windows convertible.

These devices exist in a spectrum of use cases. It makes no sense to me to draw a line through the middle and say “tablet here”, “laptop there.”

Milen Dzhumerov:

[By] design, neither iPadOS nor visionOS would be the “future of computing” since they can’t even replace a basic general purpose computer, by definition. So it would be interesting to see how this will play out in long term.

FWIW, I do think these platforms (iOS, iPadOS, visionOS) can be successful as consumer-focused OSes with a focus which caters to popular use cases.

But iPhones, iPads, Vision Pros are not general purpose computers, as long as they run locked down platforms.

mg Text Editor

Wikipedia (via Accidental Tech Podcast):

mg, originally called MicroGnuEmacs (and later changed at the request of Richard Stallman), is a public-domain text editor that runs on Unix-like operating systems. It is based on MicroEMACS, but intended to more closely resemble GNU Emacs while still maintaining a small memory footprint and fast speed.

I’ve been occasionally annoyed, since Catalina, that Emacs is no longer built into macOS. Yes, it can be installed, but it was nice to be able to depend on it always being there. Fortunately, mg is pre-installed and seems to be a good substitute for my purposes of quickly doing small searches or edits from Terminal or via SSH.


Download the Things You Love

Matt Birchler:

Anyway, I linked to the show’s Wikipedia page because the original episodes are no longer available to download from the official source (here’s an archived version). Happily, a kind soul has recently uploaded many episodes to YouTube, but that’s just lucky, and those aren’t guaranteed to be eternal either.


This applies to other things as well. There are little internet videos from the pre-YouTube days that I think about and would love to see again, but can’t. There are versions of songs that you can’t get on streaming services. There are just some things I remember from years ago that I can’t see again, and that’s a shame.

Things on the internet can be forever, but you can’t assume someone else will keep them going[…]

I wrote an app for that, though the focus is more on saving Web pages, documents, and mail archives than media files. Now there’s lots of likely ephemeral audio and video available, and storage has advanced such that it actually is practical to store what you want to keep.

Glenn Fleishman:

Buying two 12TB drives (and configuring them as RAID1 mirrors) reminds me that I own nearly half a million times as much storage as I did in 1990.

I’ve been using Downcast to download local copies of podcasts. It still has problems, probably due to sandboxing, if I let it accumulate more than a few months of episodes. But I don’t want to store a lot on my Mac’s internal SSD, anyway, so I periodically rsync them to an EagleFiler library on an external drive and delete them from the app.

For videos and one-off audio downloads, I like Downie and the unofficial WWDC app.


Update (2023-08-30): See also: Hacker News.

Update (2023-09-01): Marc:

Many podcasts I recall from ~15 years are no longer available. So I wrote a tool to archive shows in a neat folder structure (using Visual Studio for Mac, ironically) and run it regularly for shows I think I might want to keep.


Self-Wiping SanDisk Extreme SSDs

Sean Hollister:

If you’re thinking of buying a SanDisk Extreme Pro, Extreme Portable, Extreme Pro Portable, or WD MyPassport SSD, maybe just don’t.

My colleague Vjeran just lost 3TB of video we’d shot for The Verge because the drive is no longer readable.

This isn’t a drive he purchased many months or years ago — it’s the supposedly safe replacement that Western Digital recently sent after his original wiped his data all by itself. Remember when we warned you about that?

Sean Hollister (via John Gordon):

Eleven days ago, we sent these questions to Western Digital’s head of PR and published them publicly on The Verge[…]

What’s the fuss? For months, the company has been laughably silent about how its pricey portable SanDisk Extreme SSDs might lose all your data. It happened to my colleague Vjeran Pavic twice. It happened to Ars Technica. It happened to PetaPixel.

Months after our inquiries, Western Digital continues to sell these drives due to deep discounts, fake Amazon reviews, and issues with Google Search that rank favorable results far higher than warnings about potential failures.

Matt Panaro:

I just got some WD-drives (cheaper HDDs) because Seagates were apparently just failing w/in a couple months of purchase. Trust no-one, I guess (is there even any other game in town?)

I have generally had the best luck with WD hard drives. Seagates have been the worst both for noise and reliability.