I do all my work these days on an iPad. From organizing reviews through gathering story ideas to actually writing posts and features, and even photographing and editing gadgets for those reviews, it’s all — every last bit — done on Apple’s tablet. I just spent two weeks away from home using the iPad’s 3G connection to work, only opening up my MacBook to sync my FitBit.
And they still say the iPad is just for consumption.
One of the biggest problems with the iPad has been writing blog posts. You really did need a Mac to take care of the multiple browser windows and — most of all — the image uploading. Now, though, while there isn’t quite a wealth of options, there are certainly several credible methods to do this all from the iPad. So make a coffee, sit back and enjoy this how-to:
I’m going to take you step-by-step through the process of writing a blog post on the iPad, starting with finding a story and finishing with the final, scheduled post. The process requires several apps, and it would be nicer if a couple of them worked together a little closer, but it’s all smooth enough once you get going.
One note: The comment I get most often is that swapping between apps to get things done is too frustrating. First, this is usually said by people who haven’t tried it for an extended period of time. Second, these people conveniently forget that they spend their days on a Mac or PC flipping between windows. With the iPad 3, there’s enough RAM to make swapping apps as seamless as swapping windows on a Mac. And it has its advantages, too: I never command-tab into the wrong app on my iPad, or open an app and then have to search for the right window.
iPad, Third-Gen, 64GB with 3G/4G
64GB because 16GB is too small and 32 is only $100 cheaper. 3G because why the hell would you buy an iPad just to use at home? And white, just because I like it.
Apple Bluetooth Keyboard
This is the best keyboard to use with the iPad. The little cases with their little keyboards are fine, but this full-sized keyboard is still small enough to carry around, and runs on AA batteries so you never need to charge it or worry about powering it.
And it plays nice with the…
Probably one of the best accessories I ever bought, and just $30. It’s a case for the Apple keyboard which folds out into a stand for the iPad. It’s sturdy enough to use on your lap, but shines on cafe tables where you can work with the iPad in portrait format. Pro tip: remove the iPad’s case for maximum cellular reception.
Mail is my first stop of the day, usually after making a pot of coffee and taking it back to bed. I quickly work through all messages. Start and the bottom of the list because when you delete or otherwise process a message, you’re automatically moved to the one above it.
If a mail contains something I want to write about, I send it to OmniFocus. This can be done in two ways. If you’re running a Mac, too, then you can just forward the e-mail to yourself and have it processed using Mail.app’s rules on the Mac. The advantage here is that you can have your Mac automatically add the message to a project, along with some other neat things like adding due dates and contexts.
Or you can send the mail to “firstname.lastname@example.org.” This will immediately bounce the mail back, only with a link that you can click to add the task to Omnifocus on your iPad.
Once there, you just tap to add it to a project, or leave it in your inbox. It doesn’t matter.
Mr. Reader is my RSS reader of choice for a few reasons. It’s fast. It lets you manage and subscribe to feeds (unlike Reeder, my previous favorite). And it works with an embarrassment of other apps including — you guessed it — OmniFocus. Along with all the usual export and save-as options (email, Instapaper, Evernote and so on), you can send an article straight to OmniFocus.
The process isn’t perfect. Pictures aren’t saved, and neither is the text of the post. But the title and the link are carried across and this is plenty. One tip: If there’s a picture you want to use from the RSS article, save it to your camera roll now, as our writing app of choice — Writing Kit — is very flaky in this regard.
Here’s the hub of gathered stories. I use OmniFocus for a hell of a lot more than this, but it’s great for blogging as there are so many ways to get things into it (we already saw two of them here).
I open OmniFocus and pick a story to write. I find I prefer to line up a bunch of stories over coffee and then head out to a bar or the library to actually write them up. When I’m ready, I pick one and just copy the URL from the notes field. Then we head over to the powerhouse of this setup, the awesome (and flawed) Writing Kit.
Writing Kit is designed for researching and writing at the same time. The editor is powered by Markdown, and offers one of the best extra keyboard rows for adding pictures, links and for formatting (this remains visible even if you use a hardware keyboard).
It also syncs with Dropbox, and can export Markdown and HTML to other apps, to a Tumblr weblog, to the clipboard, email, Pastebot or any of a gazillion customizable destinations.
Tap a button on the screen and you’re whisked to the browser view. It doesn’t have tabs, but it can pull from your Instapaper feed (which is a neat way to add articles if you don’t use Omnifocus), and can send images back to the editor side, as well as links.
It should also let you save images to the camera roll, but this often fails, and has done through the last few versions. It’s frustrating, and requires a round-trip to Safari to get save images.
Writing Kit also has a “quick-research” feature. This can be used to look up facts and figures (it’s powered by the sluggish DuckDuckGo), or as a secondary browser. This mitigates the lack of tabbed browsing in the main browser. I use it to do quick site-specific searches for grabbing links to other Cult of Mac articles (using the “site:cultofmac.com” modifier in the search).
Writing Kit is the app that makes blogging possible on the iPad, and is so good that even when I’m putting an article together on my Mac, I still write it on the iPad. If only the developer would fix the damn image saving.
Once the post is written, I preview it (in-app) and save the HTML to the clipboard. This almost always works, but — like image saving — sometimes fails. A quick force-quit of the app usually fixes things.
If you write, and you don’t have TextExpander on your iPad, then you are either a masochist via Dropbox or direct) and allows you to tap a couple of letters and have them expand into whole paragraphs of text. I have them set up for things as simple as “ccc” which expands to “camera connection kit,” and as complex as “ccap” which gives me code to wrap around an image to add a caption in WordPress:
It is indispensable.
If an image is more or less ready for posting, then it can be resized during upload. But for anything else, including combining images into one, Photogene is my go-to app. I use it most commonly to crop a photo, to convert from PNG (which our blog doesn’t support) or to resize a giant image before uploading over 3G.
You can set it to always export to a certain size (640 pixels wide in my case), and if your blog supports FTP uploads, you can send the pictures from here direct to your online media library. Cult of Mac doesn’t, so I have several workarounds.
The simplest, but slowest, way to post to WordPress is to use a browser. All features are supported, but you’re using a browser. What’s more, the WordPress back end is horrible, and is even worse on a ten-inch tablet. However, only one iPad browser will let you upload images to WordPress: iCab.
iCab has some special ju-jitsu in it to grab the non-standard image-upload code in WordPress and swap in a nice iOS image browser. You can even resize images as you upload, and it works with other media, not just pictures.
As a last resort, I use it. I also use iCab to edit other people’s reviews. But for most posting, I use a combination of Blogsy and a browser view.
Blogsy is hard to use, and insists on adding almost infinite “br” and “p” tags to your posts. It is also the only iPad app that can add captions to your photos, which is a requirement for all banner images here at Cult of Mac, and has a sweet interface for image uploads in general.
Once I have copied the HTML to my clipboard in Writing Kit, I head to Blogsy and make a new post. I then hit the “i” button and add in all the metadata needed: publishing date (I schedule all my posts to be published at U.S-friendly times), title, tags and categories. Then I hit “Done” and head to the image upload.
Here you can access various services (Flickr, Instagram), but I head for the iPad’s camera roll. Open in and just drag the pictures you want into the little envelope representing the blog you want them to go to. To preview an image and see its pixel dimensions, just tap it. Then tap the arrow to bulk upload your images. You’ll see a new sidebar from where you can drag the pictures into your post. Double tap the resulting image to adjust alignment and add a caption.
I can’t show a shot of this in action as recent changes on our back-end have broken this part of the chain. I’m stuck using iCab for the picture uploads right now.
You could also paste your HTML right into Blogsy and publish/schedule the post right now, but if you ever plan on coming back to look at the HTML in the future (or you are trying to stay on the good side of your copy editor — hi Brittany!) then you should add the clean HTML from Writing Kit right into the browser — Blogsy removes all whitespace and makes things impossible to edit.
Luckily, when you have published your draft or scheduled a post, Blogsy opens it in a web view. From here you can just click to edit the post in the built-in browser and add the text.
Problems And Fixes
And that’s about it. Once you get into the flow of things, it’s at least as fast as using a Mac. That’s not to say things are perfect, though. As well as the bugs and glitches noted above, there are other annoyances.
First, I’d like to see the blogging apps here accept files from other applications using the standard “Open In” dialog. This would make it a lot easier to send HTML from Writing Kit, instead of using the clipboard as a go between.
Also, image processing is still a pain. If you want to pad a portrait-format image with a little white-space on either side to make it landscape, for instance, it’s almost impossible. I have found no way to do it easily. As a last resort I use Photoshop Touch, but even here it’s slow and kludgy.
I also don’t like the fragility of the tools. The picture uploading problems detailed above are a good example. Some code has been adde to the site to speed up image loading, but has broken all image uploads other than those through a browser. If iCab hadn’t been tweaked to manage browser uploads, and this “feature” had been added a couple weeks ago, I wouldn’t have been able to work at all.
What this really shows is that even editors and sysadmins still don’t think of the iPad as a proper working tool.
Could I give up my Macs completely? Almost. This post was, somewhat ironically, finished on a Mac thanks to the volume of images I’m using. But I have found that even the most complexly formatted articles are easy on the iPad, and if I didn’t use a Mac for other, non-work tasks I could easily dump it for the iPad. And that’s not bad for a two-and-a-half year old computing platform.