Adding an iPad to the workflow: initial observations

After dithering back and forth and weighing the options for literally two years, I finally bought an iPad. Not the fancy new one with the crisp screen and the camera that I would never use, because who wants to take a picture with something the size of an iPad?, but the old iPad 2, smallest capacity, no 3G, and refurbished to boot.

This thing is the perfect device for browsing the web while sitting on the couch, scrolling through RSS feeds, and keeping up with Twitter. I’m particularly fond of the Twitter app. The virtual keyboard is big enough and user-friendly enough that I’m actually able to reply to emails, something I do rarely with my iPod. The iPad, then, eliminates the need for me to cart my laptop around with me. That might sound minor, but the laptop weighs several pounds and I almost always have it with me when I’m going to class, meetings, the writing center, etc. It’s unwieldy and a bit disruptive at times, and I suspect it’s the root cause of the chronic shoulder soreness I experience when I’m on campus regularly.

So far, so good, and pretty much what I’d expected the iPad to deliver. What I didn’t expect, though, was the monumental effort it would require to integrate the iPad into my writing workflow. I’m still trying to figure out how best to make that work.

I’d initially expected that I’d buy Pages and be done with it. But before I got around to it, I learned that Scrivener is finally, blessedly developing an iPad app. If it were available right now, I’d buy it and be done, because what I want from an iPad writing app is for it to play nice with the way I draft on my desktop and laptop. I don’t need it to produce spiffy pamphlets, or even print anything, I just want it to let me pick up whatever work I’ve been doing in other settings and advance it a bit. And since I do almost all of my writing in Scrivener, Scrivener on my iPad would pretty much solve all my problems.

Once I determined that I’m really just biding my time until Literature and Latte releases Scrivener for the iPad (which could be almost a year, but they are projecting some time in 2012), I thought I’d just figure a stopgap solution to tide me over. The most obvious was the process for syncing Scrivener with Simplenote, so that each individual Scrivener file is exported as plain text, edited in Simplenote, and then synced back to the original machine. There’s a video that walks you through the process at the bottom of this page.

But I don’t like working in plain text. I lose the italics in book titles, and, more problematically, all my footnotes. It looks ugly. My formatting, which indicates things like block quotes, disappears. Fine—Scrivener can also export files as .rtf. I figure I’ll sync them to a folder in my SugarSync or Dropbox space and find an iPad app that can handle .rtf.

There are a few iPad apps that purport to handle rich text. Evernote has limited .rtf support, as does the standard Mail app (both of these are recent changes). Notability and Nocs make some claims about .rtf support. None of these things is an acceptable solution.

At that point, I circled back around to Pages. My initial reservation was that, thanks to Apple’s proprietary walled garden approach, Pages won’t sync with Dropbox, SugarSync, or any third-party cloud service. It syncs with Apple’s iCloud, but that would only provide true syncing if I did all my writing on my Mac in Pages, too. Pages is also WebDAV enabled, but none of the garden variety cloud services support WebDAV, and I wasn’t interested in paying $5 a month for DropDAV.

On top of that, it appears that Pages doesn’t support .rtf, either. That means that, near as I can tell, there is no way to take advantage of Scrivener’s export to .rtf function for the iPad. It’s plain text or nothing.

So I’m back to square one, wiser, but no better equipped to do serious writing on the iPad than before. Realistically, I’m not sure how much writing I’m likely to do on the thing, but I’ll be doing some archival work this summer, and the prospect of not having to haul my laptop with me as I trek to the library every day is tempting. The Bluetooth keyboard that came with my iMac can just as easily be paired with the iPad, opening up the potential for some real writing. I may break down and buy Pages or one of the competing word processing apps, but until then, I’ll keep playing around with some of the different note-taking apps and hoping that, against all odds, Scrivener for the iPad gets released in the next few months and solves all my problems.

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11 responses to “Adding an iPad to the workflow: initial observations

  1. Oooh, Scrivener for iPad? That might be enough to convince me to buy one.

  2. I’ve been thinking about doing the same thing, eventually, hoping to use Scrivener on an older iPad. But I’m surprised that the Pages app doesn’t support .rtf. I notice it says it saves automatically, so maybe there’s a setting you haven’t found yet? An iPad of any generation would be a big expense for me, so I’ll just wait until I can use Scrivener to make it worthwhile.

    • Apparently, Apple didn’t include any framework for .rtf formatting at all beford iOS 5, and even then, it’s not terribly robust. There’s a more thorough run-down here. It’s hard to find reliable information about what Pages and the other more robust word processing apps actually do, but it appears that none of them really support .rtf. An unfortunate side effect of Apple’s walled garden approach, I’d imagine.

      • Thanks for the article link. It makes me wonder if a Scrivener app is going to be able to do any better with .rtf if the OS doesn’t support it.

  3. Pages on iPad does support Word docs though. I know Scrivener gets iffy when you export straight to Word, but it’s better than nothing, right? I can’t wait for Scrivener for iPad either, have you ever tried to balance a 13 inch MacBook Pro on your lap while at a hair salon? It’s not practical.

    • I think that’s likely to be what I end up doing while I wait for Scrivener. But because Scrivener’s automatic syncing feature only supports txt and rtf, I won’t be able to have all the individual files in each Scrivener project automatically synced to my iPad, which is my dream scenario. I’m so used to being able to access everything I work on from all my different devices that it feels like a considerable inconvenience to have to decide what I’m going to want to work on and convert it to a doc file in advance. Which is probably a sign of my own laziness. 🙂

  4. I too am waiting for the iPad app to solve all my problems, but for now what I use is a program called Elements. It is mostly plain text, but I like to write on it with the grey background and it allows you to change font at least. It doesn’t sync very easily with Scrivener, but what I’ve taken to doing is uploading a html version to Dropbox (which Elements works really well with) and then copying and pasting into my Scrivener document when I’m at my desktop. When writing in Elements you can use multimarkdown (so *for italics and **for bold) and when you export the file as a html that formatting follows and works with how I copy and paste. It’s ugly when you’re looking at it on the iPad, but if you do all your final editing in front of Scrivener anyway, it works pretty well.

    • That sounds similar to the sort of workaround that I think Pages would require, but with a doc file rather than html. I’m a sucker for having things look pretty when I write, so Pages may ultimately win out.

  5. Take a look at QuickOffice Pro HD. It works with Dropbox and handles .RTF files quite nicely. But I sure will be glad when Scrivener gets its iOS product out the door!

  6. Take a look at QuickOffice ProHD for the iPad. It uses Dropbox and handles .RTF files quite handily.

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