What I Do With My iPad Part 2: Write With a Keyboard

The iPad is a wonderful focused writing tool. Both Harry McCracken and James Kendrick have perfectly described how its simplicity and one-app-at-a-time model encourage attentive productivity. McCracken writes:

With the iPad… You can devote nearly every second of your time to the task at hand, rather than babysitting a balky computer. I don’t feel like I’m “using an iPad to write.” I’m just writing. It’s a far more tranquil, focused experience than using a PC or Mac.

McCracken and Kendrick agree that using an iPad to write tranquilly and focussedly requires a physical keyboard (both like the Logitech Keyboard Case). I love using my iPad with my Apple Bluetooth keyboard. I really wish someone at Apple did too, because unfortunately, the device’s keyboard support feels like a bit of an afterthought. I can’t help but feel that if anyone on the iPad team was passionate about the physical keyboard experience, a few glaringly obvious shortcomings would be corrected.

  • Command + Tab, optionally in concert with the left and right arrow keys, is the keyboard shortcut for switching apps on Mac. I want this functionality so bad on my iPad that I actually mocked up what it might look like. I hope this video makes it as clear to you as it is to me how incredibly useful this would be.

I know, first I extol the virtues of the iPad’s focus and single-app view, and then I beg for an easy way to bounce among my apps. What can I say—the only thing a writer likes more than a distraction-free environment is distractions. Now on with the gripes.

  • When a search or other text entry, such as an email field, presents a list of suggestions based on what I’ve begun to type, I should be able to use the arrow keys on the keyboard to navigate that list, and Return to select—just like we do on OS X. iOS 5 added this functionality in a few places (address fields in Mail, for example), but there are still many text fields where it is frustratingly absent (most notably Search in Safari).
  • If you purchased your Apple keyboard after July 2011, your F4 key is devoted to Launchpad, the iPad-esque app browsing screen in OS X Lion. This key, with its grid-of-apps icon, is just dying to function as an iPad home button.

It’s not just Apple that thinks of iPad keyboarders last, if at all. Most of my writing apps exhibit an understandable, but nevertheless frustrating behavior when used with an external keyboard. Writing often means adding text to the end of a document, so frequently the part of the screen that I’m focussed on is the very bottom, as far from my eyeballs as possible (especially when I’m using my Incase Origami case/stand). You can work around this by padding the end of the document with a bunch of empty lines (or, better still, raising the iPad closer to eye-level if possible—not easy, but if you can pull it off you’ve created something much better for your posture than any laptop), iA Writer in full-focustard modebut I do wish that some of these apps would recognize that without the on-screen keyboard naturally pushing my words up to the center of the screen, there’s utility in padding out the bottom of the screen and keeping your typing area near the vertical center—the way, say, Scrivener does on the Mac in its excellent full-screen mode. Of all my iPad writing apps, the only one that nails this is iA Writer—but only in its full-focustard mode.

iA Writer in full-focustard mode.


McCracken wrote about using his iPad as a laptop replacement. That’s not how I see it. There are many occasions when the power to do anything that my MacBook Pro offers is exactly what I want. But there times where that potential creates such a distraction that I long for something simpler. The amazing thing about using the iPad for creative work is that the device goes away, and the task at hand becomes the entire experience. With a just little more of Apple’s characteristic attention to detail, the physical keyboard experience could be just as transparent, and the iPad would truly be the best writing tool I’ve ever known.

If you agree with all or any of this, consider letting Apple know via their iPad Feedback form.

See also: What I Do With My iPad Part 1: Storyboarding