Working on an iPad

How I work on my iPad.

Is it possible to work on an iPad?

Short answer: Mostly. I can do about 70% of my work, I can’t create complex documents or do any design work.

Now follows the long answer.

As UX Freelance Consultant My work falls into three areas and with the iPad I can do 2 of them. The thing the iPad can’t do, design.

I use an iPad Mini 2, I prefer the smaller size as I have a 13″ MacBook Air so a big and bulky iPad Pro would be a little pointless.

Working on my iPad

Before I jump in it’s worth talking about the biggest issue with using an iPad is switching between apps, that’s both sharing data and saving files. It’s got a lot better recently with tools like Workflow but it’s still fidly and error prone.

My iPad home screen

1. General work


I use a separate Bluetooth keyboard, for the iPad Mini a keyboard case would mean a smaller keyboard which will slow down typing. I use a Logitech Keys ToGo which transports well and is thin. I don’t use it with any other device as Bluetooth isn’t good for sharing keyboards amongst devices.

I’m writing this in Drafts in Markdown. Drafts is a great place to start writing, anything really from a blog post to an email to meeting notes. Once you are done Drafts can share that note with the another app. I use Editorial to edit and then post it to WordPress or I can send it to Evernote (Getting to a new note in Evernote takes tons of clicks and an age as well as being crap at Markdown, I wish Evernote was better). This article was written, edited, images added and published on my iPad.

This is the current trend in iOS apps, small apps that are great at one thing that you daisy chain together.


I use Dispatch as it does time saving things like when you hit reply it auto-adds ‘Hi [name]’ adding the receipent’s name. It also works well with TextExpander which adds keyboard shortcuts to write common, boiler plate text. I type ;date and it adds the current date. I have about 50 set up for things like adding my bank details. Dispatch also has great swipe gestures for triaging email.

Todo Tracking

The app of wonder that is Omnifocus. I’m a big fan of GTD (Getting Things Done) as way of keeping sane and on top of life. Omnifocus is downstream from email, I can create a todo from an email, the same with calendar (I use the wonderful Fantastical) invite and so much more.

I also use the ace Todoist to manage all my personal todos as it works really well for working with other people, in this case my wife Michelle. If Omnifocus seems a little heavy Todoist is a great tool. Again it works well with Dispatch and Drafts.

Business Admin

I run my business with Freeagent which I use through the browser. I also use a couple of Google Spreadsheets which are easy to view, I wouldn’t want to have to create office documents, well not spreadsheets or presentations anyway. Google Docs is also pretty good and you can do all you need to read and edit documents.

I use MS Office for Word documents. It’s more than usable for review and editing.

2. Research and Meetings

I run see research and like everyone have plenty of meetings.

If I’m running a workshop I can’t present and take notes at the same time so I’ll use my Mac.

Recording audio with PearNote

I love Pearnote as it records audio and I can take text notes. When I’m reviewing my meeting notes I can click on a text note and hear the audio playing at the time in the meeting. It makes audio notes really useful.

3. Design

Here’s where the iPad falls short. I can’t create designs like I can in Sketch on the Mac. I can’t work out complex IAs as spreadsheets just aren’t responsive and usable. Prototypes? Forget about it.

I’ve got a feeling it may be that the way we create design work will change thanks to new design tool coming on the iPad. Apple’s new Pencil means we can move away from the easy-to-create-with-a-mouse squares and triangles meaning web designs will be more organic and less hard edged.

I’m interested in what the future holds and if Apple will roll out Pencil with the iPad Mini 5.

Further resources

It takes time to get your setup right, it’s taken me a month a least to get started. I’ve found the following really useful.

MacStories is a wonderful place to start if you want to start using your iPad more.

Mac Power User Podcast #297: iPad Productivity Apps How the pros do it.

Also published on Medium.

3 Responses to “Working on an iPad”

  1. Jay Spanton

    Thanks for the write up Joe. I want to use my iPad more for work, so this is a great starter…just need to wrestle it off the kids on a Monday morning

  2. iPad Guru

    I too use an iPad Mini in conjunction with my Macbook Pro. The mini with a suitable case / keyboard combination is great for working while traveling. Out of interest, I use for my accounting.

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