Living on iOS

by Mike Shea on 7 May 2016

Last night my MacBook Pro wouldn't boot. It just sat on a black screen after the power-up chime. I did a bunch of debugging on my own and then with tech support and then at the Apple Store. They took it away for repairs. It's about 2.5 years old and, luckily, still under AppleCare.

Of course, that means no laptop for me for the next few days so I'm trying out living off of iOS. I have my iPad Pro and a little Apple Bluetooth keyboard I've had for a while. Since the iPad Pro came out, iOS has gotten a lot more keyboard friendly, using standard hotkeys for things like command-N for a new email and shift-tabbing to move around and stuff like that. It even lets you swap applications and has a nifty split screen I've never used before. (I have Tweetbot up in a side pane right now because I have to see what Trump will do next!)

It's sort of fun to take moments like this to look at my whole "system" and my whole "workflow" to see how it could work with iOS and an iPad. This comes down to determining what I actually do these days with my computer. What are the main tasks I need to do and where do I need to do them? Let's take a look, shall we?

Writing Articles

I write Sly Flourish articles and other RPG-related stuff almost every day. On my mac I do it in Sublime and save the results in a text document with markdown on Google Drive. I should probably use Dropbox because every app in the world seems to connect to Dropbox but I've used Google Drive for years now and don't really feel like switching. When I'm actually publishing an article, I upload the text file and any images to my webserver using Transmit and use a CGI script to rebuild the page.

Doing this on iOS takes a bit of research. I need a text editor that can read and write directly to Google Drive. I need a program to take the results from Google Drive and save them to my webserver.

As far as editors go, I'm trying out GoCoEdit, a powerful coding editor that connects to Google Drive and doesn't look too horrible. It's not a great text editor because it has a lot of interface cruft and won't let me fix the margins so I have a nice 80 character wide window. It's a good app, however, for writing up markup and code. It connects to Google Drive, my web server, and my Amazon EC2 server which is very nice. It has a few bugs like not recognizing symbolic links and not letting you delete on the server input screen. I can, however, write a document on Google Drive and, when it's done, copy and paste it to a new document on my web server. Run the CGI script and Bob's your uncle.

Writing Code

Coding on iOS is a bit harder. On my Mac I run both R-Studio and iPython Notebook (now called Jupyter) They're both UI heavy interactive development environments and neither of them really have an iOS version. Instead, I can use a program like ServerAuditer to connect to either my main webserver or my Amazon EC2 prototype server and code directly at the command line like a barbarian. Getting my Amazon key over to ServerAuditor took some file transfer and copy and paste gymnastics but I finally got it to work. Writing code directly on the server is how I wrote code for like 15 years though so I'm used to not having a nice client-friendly IDE. Much of the code I write in R Studio or iPython Notebook ends up running on a server anyway.

Normal Stuff: Web, Music, Video, Twitter, Email

Much of the rest of what I do on my computer is the same as everyone else—surf the web, write email, watch Youtube videos, read and write tweets, listen to music, and the like. iOS was built to do this sort of thing and native apps handle a lot of it. Youtube, Netflix, and Tweetbot are all great apps for iOS, in many ways better than on my laptop.


Interestingly, I don't play games on my Macbook Pro but I play games a lot on my iPad. In this way, my iPad is better suited as a single-device than my Macbook pro is. Right now my two iOS games of choice are Hearthstone the Blizzard Warcraft-themed online card game, and Pathfinder Adventures another game based on a card game based on Pathfinder, the D&D fork.

An Experiment in Platform Shifting

No one wants their laptop to die. I was very sad to hand it over to Apple and I'll be happy to get it back in a few days. Still, its an interesting opportunity to look at what I really do with my computer and what really requires a laptop instead of an iPad. It's a fun experiment.