$110 Makes New iPad Best Writing System I’ve EVER Used…

New iPad, in Origami stand, with Apple wireless keyboard: best writing system in the world!

IT’S GREAT WHEN A REAL LANDMARK EVENT HAPPENS. This past weekend, I finally got the writing system for which I’ve been waiting since I began my writing career at the age of 7, almost 56 years ago.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I love the iPad – and especially the new iPad, with the high-resolution screen every human visual system deserves. At the weekend – thanks to my friend Wes Miller – I turned it into the best writing system I have ever used in my life. For only $110.

I began my long writing career on an ancient Remington typewriter I rescued from a junk shop in Glasgow. I’ve never actually learned how to type: I use both index fingers only. But I’m very, very fast with them.

When I was 14 years old, I launched and edited an unofficial magazine at my school, Allan Glen’s High School of Science in Glasgow. Its name was a word-play on Writer’s Cramp. I wanted to call it Writer’s Crap – but my English teacher baulked at that, and it ended up being called Writers Cramped…
The joy of jammed keys…

It was produced by typing on waxed xerography paper using another ancient typewriter, and copies were run off on a Xerox machine and stapled together.

My English teacher, “Paddy” Inglis, let me work in a tiny room behind his classroom. Since he was a heavy pipe smoker, the room stank of his tobacco. And since it had a window that opened, it meant I could smoke, too. It was the start of an association between writing and cigarettes that was to last for decades. When I finally gave up smoking in the 1980s, it was a real struggle for a while, trying to write without a cigarette burning in the ashtray beside me.

Glasgow Deputy News Editor, The Scotsman, 1970s.
No, I didn’t dress like that every day – I was going out to a dinner. Note the cigarette…

In 1968, I became a professional newspaperman. I normally used a portable typewriter, and on a typical day might write a couple of thousand words of news stories. My two-fingered ninja style was so forceful that I had to use two carbons; the top sheet of copy paper (newsprint, cut to typewriter size) was always completely shredded, and there was a layer of confetti constantly swirling around me.

In the early 1980s, I realized that computer technology was about to change publishing forever and began teaching myself how to use one. The first computer I actually owned, though, was a Macintosh, which I got within six weeks of the US ship date in 1984.

Technology has improved over the years, and I’ve had a long series of Windows and Macintosh laptops. (The MacBook was the best – even for running Windows, which was compulsory when I worked for Microsoft).

But still, nothing was ever ideal. Screens had resolutions too low for ideal reading (apart from my 204ppi desktop display). Even laptops were too heavy. I had many of the original Windows TabletPCs. But they were mostly heavy, convertible tablets, low resolution and with short battery life.

When I got my first iPad, that was the biggest improvement yet. Good screen (if still not good enough). Light. 10-hour battery life.

Trouble with the iPad is that while the onscreen keyboard is great for short typing sessions, or when you have no alternative, you wouldn’t want to live there. If you’re a writer who spends hours at the keyboard, as I am, you really need an industry-strength solution. I tried one of the iPad cases with integrated Bluetooth keyboard. But – those chiclet keys! Just awful!

I decided to pair the new iPad with an Apple wireless keyboard. Then my friend Wes Miller told me he used the Origami stand/case with his, and really liked it. So I ordered the keyboard and the case from the Apple Store, and drove into the Apple Store at Bellevue Square Mall to pick them up. WARNING: the iPad is still new enough that any Apple Store, on a Saturday afternoon, will be like a zoo…

Got the gear back home, set it all up in seconds. Keyboard paired flawlessly with my iPad, and the case took about five seconds to fold up into a stand. It looks like it will be a really good way of protecting the keyboard while traveling, too.

I’m writing a book just now. So I’ve spent the last two days at the keyboard, cranking out more than 5000 words. And this system is a joy to use. If I want to wander around, hands-free, I can use Dictation, which works really well even if it’s not perfect.

If I’m going out, the iPad goes with me. If I have a thought I need to get down, or I have half an hour in Starbucks, I can use the soft keyboard.

And when I really need to get down to business, I have the Origami setup. Another thing I really love about writing on the iPad is that when I want to review what I’ve written, I just lift the iPad off the stand, find a comfortable chair, lean back and read at leisure. And, of course, the 264ppi resolution makes reading a joy.

Now I have a flexible, portable, yet 100% industrial-strength writing system. It’s the best I’ve ever used in my entire writing life. If you do any amount of serious writing, this is the system you want.

I’ve also made huge progress this morning on using the iPad for blogging. I’m typing this on it now. I’ve been struggling for a while because of the really crappy behavior of Blogger on the iPad, and I’ve been seriously tempted to change to WordPress or some other blog host, at the same time hoping Blogger would catch up to the iPad.

However, today I found a great solution. I’m typing this using Blogsy, which is a really neat interface to Blogger, WordPress or any other blog. And I’m using Web Albums HD for Picasa to upload pictures. Blogsy lets you drag-and-drop them into place.
Blogsy. Much more usable than Blogger’s own UI
Another problem solved. Now, back to the book…
 
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13 thoughts on “$110 Makes New iPad Best Writing System I’ve EVER Used…

  1. Anonymous

    Glad to know about other two (index) fingered typists ! I am not alone, yay !!Curious — why the font change in the last two paragraphs? — chandra

    Reply
  2. Bill Hill

    @ Chandra: My font mistake, those paras went back to default. Thanks for spotting it, now fixed.@Joe: Autobiographical, working title is Tales from the eBook Frontier…

    Reply
  3. Richard Fink

    Joe C. makes a funny. (I do hope you were pulling his leg with "Tales from the eBook Frontier". But either way, +1.)You say you are "writing a book". But I winced when I read the phrase coming from you. What on earth does that mean anymore, Bill? And even if there's a vestigial print industry still at work today to give it a meaning, what will it mean in twenty years? Beats me. I find the words hard to utter right now. (BTW – while you've been diving into the iPad, I've been doing the same with the Kindle Fire. Amazon has published all the specs and tools for creating HTML based docs and so literacy and humanity turns a corner. Your past few posts have been crackling with excitement and I'm sure that's why. I admire the iPad as a device, and I have one. But the Fire is actually what got me using a device of that nature on a regular basis. Yeah, I know it's Chili Dog next to Filet Mignon, but there you have it. Different strokes for different folks.The other day, I downloaded not a short ebook or an e-essay but a "single". (If anybody had a sense of humor, they'd make you switch to "45 RPM" in Settings to read the thing.) It was 'Free Will' by Sam Harris. An essay, really. Sold by Amazon as a "single". I heard it's climbing the charts with bullet!

    Reply
  4. Bill Hill

    @ Richard: A book is a book is a book. It's the words and ideas which are the book. Doesn't matter how they're delivered, molecules or bits. I use eBook when it's important to distinguish; otherwise, the generic term "book" will do just fine.I'm stress-testing the iPad for writers. 25,500 words in six days.

    Reply
  5. bowerbird

    richard fink, bill hill, and joe clark!i'd better take a dip in this whirlpool.richard, a "book" is a coherent chunk ofwords that number roughly 40,000-120,000.or, filesize-wise, from 150k up to 1.2meg.i give you the numbers, because they areobjective, but "coherence" is the real key.the whole story; can't add, can't subtract.there will always be topics that need to beexposed with this kind of level of detail…and yes, as to the point being made here,i can confirm that — for me — the ipadis already a very nice writing machine,and it will get even better once i ditchmy current keyboard, which only works inportrait mode, for one that does landscape.and i'm so glad we now have the ipad3, sowe no longer have to listen to bill whineabout how we need higher resolution. :+)-bowerbird

    Reply
  6. Bill Hill

    @ bowerbird: I won't whine, but I will gloat. And a book can be a lot bigger than 1.2Mb if it's illustrated. Tanya's is 13, and counting. Would that disqualify it?

    Reply
  7. bowerbird

    bill, you whined. a lot. for a long time._now_ you can gloat. if you really want…as for filesize, i meant simply the words.we know a picture is worth a thousand words,filesize-wise. but again, coherence is key.a picture-book is another thing entirely…oh, and bill, i hate to burst your high-resbubble, but have you heard that apple mightbe limiting the filesize of books it sells?-bowerbird

    Reply
  8. Richard Fink

    I was thinking of emailing you on this bb, glad you dipped in. how's tricks?I'll buy word length and "coherence" up to a point.But it's still vestigial.The codex did and does impose a limit on what one can say about any "topic".And Bill's "a rose is a rose is a rose" response evades the question, I think.When print dwindles down to next to nothing, I think either new terms will be invented (like Amazon's 'single' to mean a novella or essay) or words like "book" will take on new connotations or, perhaps, require modifiers to ramp them onto the information superhighway.I think there was a joke on Seinfeld once where Jerry comments about how amazing it is that all the relevant news of the day lines up exactly with the columns, type size, and paper size of the front page of the NYTimes. As if the world was fitting itself to the front page of the newspaper, instead of events being ignored and/or whittled down to make "all the news thats fit to print". To follow the same premise – isn't it amazing how nearly any topic can be handled comprehensively within the size imposed by a typical book?Well, to make a play on Seinfeld's famous "shrinkage", I guess that's where "linkage" comes in. Anything that exists separate and apart from the web's Domain Name System of URI's exists at a huge disadvantage.You can't link to an app.Be back to talk about resolution. Is the iPad3 a "screen too far" ahead of what current constraints on bandwidth can handle?Oops!You know, I never thought of that gotcha at all.Great for fonts, not so great for jpgs created with the telco modem speeds of yore in mind.

    Reply
  9. BertsEye

    This photo of Bill Hill is so classy!Presumably he's still wearing shorts and stinky sandals, fully-masked by the writing desk and cigarette…a newspaperman indeed

    Reply
  10. Dan Absalonson

    Nice post. Thanks for sharing your set up. I got my first iPad ever when the new ones came out. I love the dictation. Like you said it's not perfect, but it's very good – and you can get your words down much faster with dictation that typing. I use it to write with instead of my laptop now because I've grown accustomed to writing that way from recording my voice into my phone on commutes. We never use our laptop anymore, just the iPad. We love it. I do wish Apple wasn't so closed minded though, I can't view stuff that uses flash or download .mp3s off of websites – only through iTunes. I think that's ridiculous, but that's a rant for another place. Thanks!

    Reply

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