The Journey to “Mobile First”

Yesterday I described how my recent acquisition of some clipboard managers was likely going to further shift me to an iPad-centric workflow in 2017. My friend, Jamision, whose blog you should really check out , commented on the post.

You really have quite the workflow going there for all of this. It’s really quite impressive how you’ve managed to transition over to a completely new computing interface paradigm.

This got me thinking about my journey up to this point, where a tablet is basically all I need for 90% of my work. I shared my progression briefly in the comments yesterday, but it’s always fun to round such things out.

So let me tell you a story.

Certainly my shift to “mobile first” began when a laptop became my primary computer. The last desktop machine I purchased for myself was in 1999, ever since that point my “traditional” computer has been a laptop. But I dwelt there happily in my laptop world for a number of years without changing much in the way of how I did computing 1.

The real story begins about a year after I first jumped to the Mac platform, in early 2009. At that time I made a decision which would cause a cascade effect on my whole of my computing practices.

I stopped using a desktop office suite for my writing.

I’d been using OpenOffice.org since back in it’s Star Office days, and happily allowed it to follow me from Windows, to Linux, to Mac. I loved the open file format and it’s ability to print to PDF for sharing 2. After I purchased my first iPod Touch, however, OpenOffice.org began to sour on me somewhat. I wanted to be able to edit my writing on the fly, wherever I was, but to do that on my iTouch 3 I actually needed to convert my writing to a supported file format. This got tedious rather quickly, so I looked for a solution. I began to use GoogleDocs as my word processor.

It worked well, and I’d suddenly go weeks without ever opening an office suite application on my MacBook. Documents to Go synced nicely with GoogleDocs, and I could type and edit anywhere I wanted so long as I had a wifi connection to keep things in sync. And life was good.

But then, in 2011, I purchased my first iPad. The year previous my son was granted a first gen iPad to use for school, and my wife and I quickly fell in love with it. So on the day the iPad 2 was released I declared I was getting one that day, my wife did not object 4.

I toyed around with the system for several months, until I finally took the plunge and decided to try my hand at writing a sermon using Documents To Go on the tablet. My initial feelings about the endeavor were “meh,” but even so the joy of carrying around such a small device far outweighed my few misgivings. In a few weeks the iPad had become my writing tool of choice 5.

So for the rest of 2011, and most of 2012, I enjoyed writing my sermons on my iPad, tweaking in the browser on my MacBook when I felt it was necessary. Life was good, but my journey soon entered another stage when I was introduced to Markdown. This markup language, designed to take human-readable text and convert it to HTML for web-publishing, was perfect for what I wanted. To use Markdown I didn’t need any special software besides access to cloud storage. Since Markdown files are really just text files, I could type it anywhere — be it a traditional word processor, text editor, or special Markdown editor 6. As I made the shift to a Markdown-first writing style GoogleDocs and Documents to Go became a thing of the past. I picked up various Markdown editors to make my typing easier, but shifted between them without skipping a beat. As long as the editor I wanted to use could sync with Dropbox, my files were just my files — text with a few markup symbols to tell a processor how to handle conversions 7.

By the time 2013 came to an end my Mac had really become my auxiliary device. It was, much as Steve Jobs described it when the first iPad was introduced, a “truck.” I used it for photo management, Keynote development, and video editing. Mostly, I used my iPad, especially after I purchased an iPad Air. My non-retina MacBook looked horrible next to it’s crisp screen.

My workload balanced out a bit after I purchased a retina MacBook Pro. The combination of flash storage and a retina display made it feel like less of a dinosaur. My iPad remained my favorite writing tool, but I began to use Scrivener more and more, thanks to it’s excellent syncing feature which allowed me to take my writings and edit them in my iPad’s Markdown editor without skipping a beat. I had a very good balance, and life was good.

But then my Father-in-Law had to bring his 12.9 inch iPad Pro to our house for a visit.

I was skeptical about how such a large iOS device would possibly fit into my workflow, but the moment I held it was stricken with the possibilities it represented. It was huge but weighted brilliantly. Its display was vibrant and crisp. The keyboard cover was surprisingly stable in my lap. Split-screen multi-tasking on its huge screen was an absolute joy to use 8. I knew it would probably be a while, but the 12.9 inch iPad Pro would be my next iOS device.

My journey 9 was all but completed this Summer with the release of iOS Scrivener. Literature & Latte, the publishers of this wonderful writing tool, had absolutely no business making a 1.0 release as stellar as they did. After years of delay I was even prepared to be slightly underwhelmed 10. Instead, I was blown away.

With the arrival of iOS Scrivener folder syncing and writing in a Markdown editor were things of the past. Suddenly all my current writing projects were there on my iPad, looking just as they did in the desktop application. I could add summaries, do split-screen editing, and outline items for future consideration. There was no longer any compromise, I was using Scrivener. In fact, after some tweaks, I set up the iOS app “Workflows” to create sharing extensions which sent posts to this blog. Since late July/early August of 2016 I have posted perhaps two blog posts to Painfully Hopeful from my MacBook. The process feels antiquated.

And then, in August, I went pro. The 12.9 iPad was mine at last. The keyboard cover quickly became my absolute favorite keyboard on which to type, and I found myself leaving my MacBook home more and more and more. The more I use my iPad Pro, the more I find myself using it.

When I’m up at ABCNJ and get called into a meeting, my MacBook stays on my desk. When I’m heading out for a day of writing, my MacBook never comes with me “just in case 11.” When I’m out on a photo shoot, I don’t need my MacBook with me to begin the process of organizing my images. Actually, I don’t need it with me at all. I can load the files from my camera to either my iPhone or iPad Pro 12, do my edits, and let the files sync to Adobe Creative Cloud when I’m back on wifi.

I will now go days without ever physically touching my MacBook, and not lose anything in terms of productivity. While I continue to use my MacBook as a “truck,” I’m actually not certain it’s still the best metaphor for it. Really, my MacBook has become a library. It runs software and handles storage which are not currently possible on iOS. I use it to organize and “check out” data I need 13. Other than that, I’m pretty much on my iPad Pro first, all the time.

Welcome to my mobile world.


  1. Though I did get an iPaq as my seminary graduation present in 2001, which pretty much ended my use of a print Bible. 
  2. That was a killer feature in the late 90’s. 
  3. Apple hates that designation, but that’s what I called it so they’ll have to get over it. 
  4. It’s one of two devices I’ve purchased on the day of release. The second is my iPhone 6s Plus. 
  5. Which, sadly, halted my use of Scrivener as my writing software of choice for several years. This left Penny Gnomes on hiatus until the iOS version of Scrivener was released in August of 2016. 
  6. In fact, I continue to write in Markdown in Scrivener even though it’s not a “dedicated” Markdown editor. Though I use use Scrivener’s excellent in-line footnotes for my footnotes. It saves time. 
  7. Wordpress handles Markdown wonderfully
  8. Though, Apple, please give me the ability to search for an app when I open the split screen. Please? 
  9. Up to this point, anyway. 
  10. This is no slight to the folks at L&L. Being a Philly sports fan it’s a natural defense mechanism. 
  11. And, with Screens, there’s no real need to ever have it with me. 
  12. The Pro works better. 
  13. Like moving photos around my Lightroom library or setting up a new collection to sync to my iPad. 

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  1. If I could persuade Apple to add ONE feature to the iPad, it would be to add search to the slide over/split view app selector! I feel your pain.

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