iPad mini: It’s a Productivity Tool, Too

| Analysis

With the launch of the iPad mini, the discussion of consumption versus creation has come back to the forefront of topics on blogs and podcasts. On episode #1215 of The MacJury, our very own John Martellaro discusses this very topic. The expert panel were all leaning towards the iPad mini being perfect for consumption, but less so for creation.

Whilst there is no doubt regarding the consumption capabilities, I did find myself disagreeing with the iPad mini not being suitable for creation. After all, this is now my portable device of choice to handle all my writing and podcasting commitments. Of course, there are some minor obstacles that need to be overcome but with a little planning, these obstacles will cease to be relevant.

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iPad mini with virtual keyboard in landscape mode

iPad mini with virtual keyboard in landscape mode.

For the past year, I have been utilizing my iPad 2 as a creation device. This week I moved completely to the iPad mini and said goodbye to a device that I loved, but was simply too imposing for true portability. I was constantly concerned about damage, loss and theft in public places and therefore I would leave the full sized iPad at home. With the iPad mini, those concerns are gone.

You may wonder why I don’t simply purchase a MacBook Air. Surely that would allow me to be more productive, wouldn’t it? Of course, but all work and no play makes work, well, work. We all need our downtime and the iPad mini is the perfect compromise between productivity and entertainment.

Many online content creators spend their day coffee shop hopping and know just how small those tables can be. Put a full sized iPad, or MacBook Air, on one and there is little room left for the refreshment and slice of cake.

I should add I did consider purchasing a MacBook Air 11-inch, but was dissuade due to the fact that it allows for significantly less consumption than the iPad and has a significantly shorter battery life with real world usage.

In fact, despite the known limitations in iOS when compared to OS X, I have found myself to be more productive when using iOS. I believe this is due to being forced to use a single app at a time. When using the Mac, I find my mind wanders. Instead of writing that latest review or feature article, I end up watching YouTube. We all know where that leads, don't we?

After establishing that I was more productive with iOS, I set out to find apps that could help me create, edit and publish the content I was generating each and every week. Whilst, my workflow isn't completely covered via iOS, I find that a good 90% of my weekly requirements can be undertaken by the small and affordable iPad mini.

Writing With The iPad mini Virtual Keyboard

Anyone who writes a significant amount of content will have a very subjective opinion on how they like to type. Some people refuse to use the virtual keyboard, others purchase expensive Bluetooth keyboards and associated cases in order to better utilize their device. There is really no right or wrong approach.

Personally, I find that I can comfortably write using the onscreen keyboard of the iPad mini. Trust me, I also had my doubts. Although, I shouldn’t be so surprised, as I have written long form articles on my iPhone 4, when no other device was available.

As long as I have Pages for iOS, synced with iCloud, I can write anywhere at anytime. If I waited for the right time and situation, I would personally cease to be productive.

iPad mini with virtual keyboard in landscape mode.

In theory, I believe the iPad mini allows me to type up to 80 percent of the pace that I would normally type on the larger sized iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard. In my opinion, that is worthy of being a creation device for writing. In fact, thanks to the iTextSpeed app for iOS, I can put that claim to the test.

In order to evaluate the results I will be using an iPad 2 and an iPad mini. Both will be setup in landscape mode using the virtual keyboard. I will also close all applications from the multitask bar besides iTextSpeed. I will then create a baseline of my typing speed by using the iPad 2 with Apple's Bluetooth keyboard.

I will undertake 30 seconds per session and attempt the process 12 times. Upon each attempt the words presented by iTextSpeed change, thereby giving a more accurate overview of real world usage.

Results

iPad 2 (Apple Bluetooth keyboard): Best = 64wpm / Average = 56wpm

iPad 2 (Apple Bluetooth keyboard): Best = 64wpm / Average = 56wpm

 

iPad 2 (virtual keyboard): Best = 57wpm / Average = 45wpm

iPad 2 (virtual keyboard): Best = 57wpm / Average = 45wpm

 

iPad mini (virtual keyboard): Best = 51wpm / Average = 47wpm

iPad mini (virtual keyboard): Best = 51wpm / Average = 47wpm

Conclusion

Without passing judgement my typing speed, or lack there of, I consider the iPad 2 with Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard to be my personal typing pinnacle. It clearly fared much better than the iPad 2 with the virtual keyboard, but I was amazed at how closely behind the iPad mini with the virtual keyboard was to both previous results.

If my calculations are correct then the rate I can type on the iPad mini is 83.9% of the speed when compared with the iPad 2 and a physical keyboard. Not bad considering my initial impression without evidence was 80%. This number is calculated based on the average words per minute.

I can only reaffirm how usable the iPad mini is as a portable writing platform, even without a physical keyboard. I don’t think many people would be disappointed in a less than 20 percent performance drop when you consider the portability of the device, functionality and low purchase cost when compared to the larger iPad.

In fact, this article is being written on the iPad mini with only the virtual keyboard. I’m also not experiencing any cramping in the hands or fingers due to the smaller size of the virtual keyboard. Although, I do limit my writing sessions to 50 minutes at a time.

Editing with the iPad mini in portrait mode.

Editing with the iPad mini in portrait mode.

Whilst these results were based on using the iPad mini in landscape mode. I have also been writing in portrait mode on the device. If you have fast thumbs, then it is the perfect solution for writing in bed, or when landscape mode simply doesn’t suit. Due to the smaller size, and light weight, it is comfortable to hold within the hands and allows you to see significantly more of the article you are writing or editing.

Clearly, I am impressed and happy to use the virtual keyboard in both orientations. Understandably, this will not be to everyone’s liking, but never let it be said that productivity when using the onscreen keyboard can not be achieved.

Adding Video And Photographs To Your Publication With The iPad mini

The iPad has an overabundance of video and photographic editing apps. Whilst many are nothing more than shovelware, there are quite a few standouts that make creating content on the iPad mini, an enjoyable experience.

For video editing, I keep going back to Apple’s own iMovie for iOS. I find it offers the best blend of power, functionality and export opportunities. Anyone who has tinkered with movies will know just how demanding the content can be, especially when trying to perform editing functions on a small screen. In fact, Apple avoided this conflict in iOS by altering the iPhone version significantly. So how does iMovie perform on the smaller display of the iPad mini?

Editing video in iMovie on the iPad mini

Editing video in iMovie on the iPad mini

Exactly the same as the full size iPad. Even the precision editor works surprisingly well without the timeline feeling cramped or non responsive. You could quite easily edit your latest video with the iPad mini, export to YouTube or Vimeo, and embed the video directly into your publication.

Images and photographs compliment every article I write. With that in mind they also have to be of the highest quality, Retina graphics aside. To do this I rely on FX Photo Studio HD. It allows for basic image corrections, but more importantly it has the best cropping and resizing options I have seen in an iOS app to date. In both cases it allows you to manipulate the image down to the pixel. That kind of fine detail control ensures pinpoint accuracy throughout the graphics in the entire published article.

Editing graphics using FX Studio HD

Editing graphics using FX Photo Studio HD

One of the most useful features of FX Photo Studio HD is the user friendly approach to importing and exporting. This is achieved by using the clipboard, and simply undertaking a copy and paste procedure in and out of the app.

Whilst this is the best solution I have come across for working with graphics for publication on iOS, I do find myself needing some additional functionality that can only be delivered by my Mac. Predominantly, this involves screen captures from the Mac or sharpening of graphics that can’t be done within FX Photo Studio HD.

Although, if I spend a few minutes preparing graphics for an article before leaving the house, then I can have access to the images I need via DropBox.

Publishing Via The iPad Mini

All popular blogging platforms have specific apps that can be utilized on iOS. Although some, like the SquareSpace app, are so significantly limited that they approach an unusable status.

As someone who writes for a few different sites, all running on different platforms, I am happy to report that the Blogsy for iPad offers the most flexibility and power to writers who need to publish content remotely.

Having used it on both the full size iPad, and the iPad mini, I don’t find usability suffers at all with the smaller physical screen size. All buttons are conveniently placed and are more than large enough to be easily tapped when required.

The only limitation is in the inability to upload media files, such as video or audio files, to your server from within the app. Unfortunately, podcasters still need access to their Mac at this point in time to perform this function. Although, there are many FTP client applications available for iOS that may assist some content creators with this task.

Podcasting With The iPad mini

Any podcaster will tell you that the most time consuming part in the production process is the editing. As I produce two podcasts per week, this can mean an additional 2-3 hours in post production. This is time that is taken away from my family, so I like to do things a little differently.

Using a fantastic application called TwistedWave, I can literally edit my entire podcast using nothing more than the iPad mini.

Editing a podcast with TwistedWave on the iPad mini

Editing a podcast with TwistedWave on the iPad mini

If you are creating a solo recording then TwistedWave will be your complete portable studio. Utilizing iOS compatible microphones, some of which can be run through the USB adapter, you will be able to record, edit and export completely within the app.

I should add despite successfully using my Samson Meteor Mic with the iPad 2, I have yet to use it with the iPad mini.

You will notice earlier on in this section I referenced the fact that it is a perfect editing platform. That is because all my recording is done via Skype and Call Recorder on the Mac as I have other people podcasting with me.

Unfortunately, at this point in time, there is no option within iOS to record directly from Skype. After speaking with a few developers it became clear that this imposition is Apple's alone. There is no news of when, or if, this limitation will be lifted. Hence, if you were hoping to capture collaborations over services such as Skype, you will need to continue using the Mac to at least capture the initial recording.

It is really a double edged sword, because I also like to run my shows through an application on the Mac called The Levellator. It simply helps to bring all recorded audio levels to a more average level. Therefore, you don’t have the constant high and lows throughout the conversation. TwistedWave has leveling built into the export process, but I have never been impressed enough to rely solely on it.

Once the levels have been appropriately adjusted by The Levellator, I then take the uncompressed file and import it via iTunes File Sharing to the iPad mini.

I can open TwistedWave and edit at anytime, from anywhere, on my iPad mini. I find the perfect time to edit is in the middle of a commute, whilst watching the kids at a sporting event, or even whilst relaxing in bed. I find being productive during these relatively uneventful times is a real time saver.

I also write up my show notes at the same time. TwistedWave will easily allow you to continue listening to the content as you write associated information into a Pages document for instance. If you need to return to TwistedWave to perform additional editing, clicking on the red iOS recording bar at the top of the display will instantly take you back to the app.

Once the editing is complete, I will move the exported file back to the Mac simply to add album artwork and of course backup. If I was happy to simply release a show with no album artwork, I could just upload directly to the FTP server from within TwistedWave.

This editing process is slower than I would like, but when you consider that 2-3 hours of editing can be undertaken on the move, rather than at your desk or on a MacBook, you will likely agree it is the perfect solution for content creators looking to consume every minute, of everyday.

Summary

As you can tell I am completely enamored by the iPad mini. It is the perfect size, with the perfect amount of power, and the perfect price point.

Is the lack of a Retina display, in the iPad mini, a problem with intense usage such as content creation? Not at all. I full endorse my receding hairline and grey hairs. Therefore, I am not willing to exclude the iPad mini because it doesn't have a Retina display, and to some people may look a little rough around the edges. Looks after all, are only screen deep.

In my mind, usability and flexibility are key to successfully using the iPad mini as a creation device. Whilst iOS is still limited for many tasks when directly compared with OS X, if you dare to think differently you will find work can be done at anytime, anywhere.

Comments

geoduck

Thanks for the insight. I’ve been thinking of using the Mini in just this way, as a mobile writing tool. so far I’m still a bit underwhelmed by the specs but it’s very tempting. Articles like this push me closer to giving it a shot. Maybe after the first round of updates and with a bluetooth keyboard case.

Serious food for thought.

robyn

Great review!

Glad to see someone present actual wpm on typing tests.  However, when I took typing, the timed tests were always several minutes long—and you lost a wpm (or two) for each error.

It would be interesting to know what your error rate was.  I find it incredibly hard to believe that you were typing 60 wpm without making errors!  I find it very hard to type in even a short couple of sentences on the iPad’s keyboard without making errors, whereas typing on a regular laptop keyboard is better (although the old iBook keyboard was much better for typing than the MacBook Pros) (and the Apple IIe/ or IIc better than the iBook) (best was a Zenith PC ages ago).

In any event, it would be fun to do a couple of more timed tests, longer ones, and have some other people you know try it, too!!

Mark Greentree

Thanks for your feedback and comment Robyn.

The time tests didn’t go for several minutes in a single session. They were broken down into 30 second sessions. The 30 seconds was then averaged into the full minute and subsequent words per minute.

The reason I kept it to 30 seconds was to prevent word errors. I knew running the test for 60 seconds per session would incur errors in typed words. My accuracy simply couldn’t last that long.

Keeping the results error free was the only way to accurately compare the results. If an error would have occurred on one device, but not the other, my delay in fixing the word of noticing the error would have resulted in a different overall result.

I would certainly welcome any additional tests from other people. Everyone’s typing style is different and depending on how much you type each and every week, the results are likely to be significantly different.

iJack

I was a little disappointed, as I was reading and waiting for you to test all typing speeds against dictating via Siri,  Surely, that’s something we’d all like to know.

Eolake

Thank you for an excellent article. The subject of production on tablets is very important and I think the more we learn about it the better.

Jignesh

While it’s great to hear that you typed the whole thing on the iPad Mini, I wouldn’t venture so far out to call it a total productivity tool. It’s stunning for consumption but when it comes to long-term content creation et al, it surely needs a better screen and spec. I mean, even if there is usability, users will find the spec somewhat falling behind.

Reagy

Fantastic article, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I have to say that I have often typed out long form entries too with my iPhone 5 so I can definitely relate to your experiences.

It appears as though your experiments of typing on the virtual keyboards of both the iPad Mini and its big brother have shown minimal differences which is very surprising. I would have thought that the bigger iPad with the bigger touch targets would have been easier and more accurate - I guessed wrong!

Can I ask how you set them up? i.e. Did you use the touch cover to prop up both devices to type in landscape? Or did you put them flat on a table? Or on your knees?

Sent from my iPhone 5!

Mark Greentree

iJack: Thanks for your feedback. To be quite honest, I didn’t even consider comparing the typing speed with dictation. As a writer I have never used dictation so I wouldn’t be proficient with it. You never know, this may be the basis of a follow up article at a later date.

Jignesh: The iPad mini is certainly not for everyone. I personally find it very useful as a dedicated creation tool, but many people have not had the same experience. With regards to the performance and screen, I honestly feel that the iPad mini is quite adequate. If we hadn’t been spoilt with the iPad 3 having a Retina display, I dare say this wouldn’t be an issue at all. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

Reagy: When using the onscreen keyboard, both the iPad mini and iPad 2 were rested on the smart covers for the tests. Thanks for the feedback.

Marc

Thank you for an excellent article. The subject of production on tablets is very important and before I was using the iPad at work and recently I tried the iPad mini car lighter.
I think that in terms of productivity tool that is quite correct, I use it every day during my meetings to take my notes with an app called Beesy (great app by the way) and I am also fast.
Same for the treatment of my emails, evernote etc ... I finally found the nice size.

ray

I have a Newton 2100’s and I really find the Handwriting RecognitionHWR stellar on it at times I think the Mini could duplicate the Newton if only we could have a solid HWR on it. Apple has still not eclipsed it’s functonality as an organizational tool.

L. Sanders

Mark, thanks for the productivity app suggestions.  Can you recommend a good non-blogging writing/word processing program for the former PC/new iPad mini owner?  Is Apple’s Pages the way to go?

Mark Greentree

L. Sanders: Thank you for your comment. I do believe Apple’s Pages is the best solution for writing/word processing on iOS. Especially, considering you are a new user to the platform.

The only other app I would suggest you take a look at is iA Writer.

Bob DeGrande

Excellent article. As one of my main interests is podcast recording, I have a couple of comments on that. First, Twisted Wave has a dynamic compressor with variable settings built into Twisted Wave (accessible from the gear icon in the lower left) so you can do Levellator type things from within the app itself.

Also, there is a slim glimmer of hope as far as recording podcasts.  There is a new iOS app called Audiobus, which is looking to establish itself as a new standard allowing audio apps to pass data from one app to another and so on in a chain.  Most of the apps that support it so far are music apps, but there is at least one multitrack recorder, MultiTrack DAW, which I have used but find a little clunky compared to something like Twisted Wave.  However, if it gets to where Skype and a recorder both support Audiobus, it might well be possible to record a multiuser podcast using only an iPad.

Mark Greentree

Bob DeGrande: Thanks for your feedback Bob. I certainly look forward to seeing what could possibly come of Audiobus.

I honestly never noticed the Dynamic Processor in TwistedWave. I will have to look into tweaking that area. Thanks for letting me know.

Al

Hey Mark! thanks for the brilliant article. its helped me alot with understanding how to use my ipad mini. However, may i have specific feedback on this scenario? i am a university student who received the device for Christmas. i was slightly underwhelmed by it but came to love it. As you said,  it is pretty nice for consumption (I’ve loaded my textbooks on it) and i love the fall in my backpack weight. However, will word processing on the device be strong enough for my needs at school? i stay at school regularly to study but occasionally for typing up assigments. I do not wish to travel constantly with the laptop (risk of crashing and being stolen) and i live across town from the university. I am pretty much considering purchasing a bluetooth keyboard for the mini. Based on your article, would u recommend me purchasing a small keyboard acessory, or should i simply travel with the Laptop?

Al

Btw,  i am a windows user so i have docs to go and polaris office for ios

Eolake Stobblehouse

Al,
Editing Office docs is still weak on the iPad, although there are rumors of MS putting out a version this year.

But if you just need to write, or can use Apple Pages to format, the Mini should be plenty, expecially with an external keyboard. Many people use it. (Heck, I’ve even used an iPhone and a foldable keyboard which fit in a jeans pocket.)

Larry Livingston

Pretty fast typing. How about a video with your technique?!

Mig

Thank you for a really insightful view on the iPad mini. I’ve been trawling the web for what seems like months now trying to find some info on actually using the mini for productivity. I’m currently teacher training in the UK and love my laptop for working on but it’s too damn heavy to cart into uni when I do need to. I’ve been tossing up between the iPad 2, (cheap), iPad mini, (really cheap) and the Surface RT, (full keyboard and office).
I’ve been leaning towards the much more expensive surface RT as it’s got office and so far no-one has commented on how easy it is produce documents, (e.g lecture notes) on the iPad mini. On the screen debate, how many of us worry that our laptops or mac/PC monitors have a pixel density of X? so why has it become such a big deal with phones and tablets? I agree it’s nice, but really there are more important features to the device.

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