Okay, despite its quirks and close-but-not-perfect Mac compatibility, after just a week the Vortex Race 3 has become far and away my favorite keyboard with Cherry switches. (And, yes, MX Clears are definitely the right call for me.)

I admit I’m slightly tempted by the Apple Card in order to get the 3% cash back on Apple purchases, and I make enough purchases via Apple Pay for the 2% rate to potentially be meaningful. So, hmm.

Even though I don’t use it anymore, I’m sad that Bitbucket is dropping Mercurial support: originally, BB was to Mercurial what GitHub was to Git. But Git won, less because of technology than mindshare: first Linux cheerleading, then GitHub’s unlimited free public repos.

I’ve long been good enough with Vim to add plugins, but I think I’ve finally gotten good enough with Vim to start removing them.

The Prolific Oven, a small chain of great bakeries in Silicon Valley for nearly 40 years, is closing. I haven’t been to one in a couple years, but it makes me sad. sf.eater.com/2019/8/16…

As I’m experimenting with using my MacBook more again, I’m switching caps lock back to control—I’d made this change years ago, then changed back because the iPad doesn’t allow key remapping. It took me a year to unlearn “caps lock = ctrl”; how long will it take to relearn it?

Hey, CSS gurus: My blog at micro.coyotetracks.org is supposed to load fonts from coyotetracks.org and does on Safari, but not Firefox. I’m sure this is some kind of cross-domain security thing; is this something I can fix by messing with the headers?

The iPad needs more focus on the little things

I’ve been using an iPad Pro instead of a laptop for going on two years now, and have definitely spent more time on it than I have on my personal Mac during that time. Name a major writing app on the iPad and I’ve almost certainly not just tried it but given it a serious spin. We’re talking an 80,000-word novel in Scrivener; short stories, multi-part novellas and blog posts in Ulysses; a screenplay in Slugline; random bits and bobs in Drafts. I’ve made cover art on the iPad. I’ve created shortcuts for arcane conversion and batch processing. I am not an iOS guru, but I don’t think I’m overselling myself if I say I’m a power user. One could argue that the iPad has become my main computer, too. (Maybe “had”? I’ll come back to that.)

It’s always been hard to explain why the Mac works “better” in some subjective way than a Windows PC. It’s not one huge thing; it’s the sum of small, seemingly inconsequential things that add up to a nicer experience. The iPad often feels that way compared to the Mac (or PC), because so many big ticket items—document management, windowing, security–have been radically rethought for the better in iOS.

The problem is the little ticket items, if you will. To get into that, I need to talk about writing on the iPad.

It’s become received wisdom among a certain set that the iPad is great for long-form writing. Here’s tech pundit turned novelist Matt Gemmell back in 2016 talking about using iOS Scrivener for writing novels (he later switched to Ulysses). MacStories’ editor Federico Viticci, who calls his iPad his “main computer,” literally wrote a book called Writing on the iPad. Podcaster and writer/blogger Jason Snell has blogged about his setup, which he’s been using in some form or another since 2014.

The problem—for me, but I would argue I am not a unique, special snowflake among writers—isn’t the writing, it’s the editing.

Editing is what you do after the first draft. Rewrite paragraphs. Move text around. Run a spell check. Change words across the entire document, or even multiple documents. Look at the first part and the last part of the story (or article or whatever) together to make sure you’re staying consistent and not contradicting yourself.

And the iPad is just not good at that stuff.

Let me show you. On the Mac, the arrow keys behave the same way in every editing app, and the modifier keys (nearly) always behave the same way, too. On the iPad, though, it’s not just that behavior isn’t consistent app to app—most editors get at least one basic operation just bonkers wrong. Tap the up arrow repeatedly and at some point the cursor jumps to the start of the line. Option-up jumps to the start of a paragraph and stops rather than continuing to move up. Option-down moves with weird hitches. On the Mac, Shift with any movement operation performs the same operation but selects the text; on the iPad, that’s usually true, but not a given. (I’ve seen at least one app that doesn’t let you use up and down arrows when holding down Shift, and several that don’t get Shift with another modifier key, like Option or Command, right.)

What in blue blazes is going on? Mac apps are built on the crufty and old AppKit framework, while iOS apps are built on the shiny and new UIKit. The problem is that UIKit’s shiny and new text components suck lemon-flavored poop balls. iPad developers are on their own to implement things Mac developers get for free, and, well, the results are sub-optimal.

Okay, the arrow keys are quirky. But come on, you can live with that. But what about running spell check?

I don’t mean “check as you type.” A lot of authors—including me—turn off the red squiggly lines when writing first drafts, and check the document for spelling errors after writing. For each possible misspelling, I can skip that one instance, ignore the word for the rest of that review, or add the word to the dictionary. I can turn on grammar checking, which isn’t great but catches duplicate words, and once in a blue moon catches an actual grammar mistake.

But on the iPad, it’s “check as you type” or nothing—and literally only check as you type. If you open a document full of Lorem ipsum, it will be blissfully, stupidly squiggle-free. There’s no way to ignore words or add words to the dictionary. (The Mac lets you do that even in check-as-you-type mode by right-clicking a word.) What if I’m writing an article of a few thousand words full of technical terms? How about my 110,000-word science fiction novel Kismet, with invented city names and in-world jargon like “totemic” and “cisform?”

Some of my complaints have fixes in iOS 13. Touch (but not keyboard) text selection is getting overhauled; apps can run in multiple windows once compiled against the iOS 13 SDK, which should address both “see two places in the same document at once” and “let me have a notes document and the main document open in the same app at once.” But the final editing that I’m going to go through with this blog post—a spell check and a pass through Marked with its keyword highlighting turned on—that needs a Mac. (You use Marked by having the same file open in both it and your editor simultaneously; I’m not sure that’s even possible in iOS.)

Look, I love that the iPad is rethinking so many big things about the computing experience. And I get the pushback about how the iPad is not a “laptop replacement” in the sense of letting you do what you did on your laptop the same way you’ve always done it. But what I’m talking about here are little ways in which the iPad is not different than the Mac, but objectively worse.

And here’s the thing: despite the common wisdom that iOS is wired and macOS is tired, I’m using iA Writer right now on the Mac and it’s just as good as it is on the iPad—and I can do all those Mac-only things like use Marked with it. What are the iPad-only things I can do with it that don’t have Mac equivalents? There’s no share sheet, but there’s an export command—and to open it simultaneously in Marked, I just dragged the document icon in the title bar to the Marked icon. The iOS counterpart would be “tap the share icon, tap ‘Share…’, tap ‘Marked’ if it existed.” There’s no Shortcuts app, but there’s the Services menu and Automator. And AppleScript. And Keyboard Maestro. If we’re going to insist we cut the iPad slack for doing things differently than the Mac, that needs to go both ways, and the Mac turns out to be pretty good—one might even argue better—at this whole “application interoperability” thing.

“Yeah, but the iPad is young, and you need to cut it some slack.” Fine, but for how long? The iPad is nearly a decade old, and iOS is even older. I’m not asking why we can’t still can’t sideload even signed and notarized apps, or install non-toy development environments, or even just make Chrome our default browser. All those things are good questions—questions that, if the iPad is truly the future of computing, Apple needs to deal with—but I’m just asking why I can’t add a word to the system dictionary. I’m asking why, when I connect a Bluetooth keyboard, I can’t expect consistent behavior from the fucking arrow keys.

It’s nice that Apple focuses on big moments of wonder and delight on iOS—but in truth, the Mac can still be pretty wonderful and delightful, too. I’m happy I let myself be surprised at how nice using an iPad as a main computing device can be. But I suspect some of the more partisan iPad users would be surprised at how nice using a Mac is if they let themselves. I love how those big-picture Computing Experiences are being rethought on the iPad, but it’s past time for iOS to go after the prosaic bits and bobs that the Mac had nailed before the turn of the century.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not giving up my iPad. Who knows what iPadOS 14 will bring? But in the meantime, I confess I’m watching what happens with the next MacBook Air revision pretty closely.

Yesterday was the first day “in the field” using my neglected MacBook Pro in probably a year and a half. I hate to say it, iPad friends, but it was kind of refreshing.

I was considering going back to my MacBook for the day’s outing, after more than a year of being exclusively iPad for portable computing, but there is a lot of stuff to update on this Mac if I try that. Yikes.