The iPad is known for consuming content, not creating it. But there are hidden features and short-cuts for the keyboard, within email and in Safari that make creating content on an iPad faster and easier than you think.
By now, you’ve probably heard that Mitt Romney wrote his acceptance speech on an iPad. (Oddly, he didn’t write a concession speech.) If Romney had won, the content created on the iPad would have been heard around the world.
Who says the iPad is a lousy content creation device?
Well, most CIOs who support “Bring Your Own Device” iPads tell me that the tablet still has a long way to go before it replaces the venerable laptop. Crafting documents, spreadsheets and presentation slides, even writing long email missives on the iPad, can be tricky.
Knowledge workers have to be able to create content quickly and easily on the iPad. That’s not happening yet, although apps are getting better. Microsoft Office-capable apps on the iPad have been evolving steadily, and early reports show Office on Microsoft’s new Surface tablet is a solid productivity performer.
In the meantime, there are some tips and tricks to make you faster on the iPad today. The 9.7-inch touchscreen means there’s little real estate to work with, so you’ll need to be very efficient—that is, you won’t be able to have multiple windows open. The touch keyboard reduces the real estate even more.
The Killer Keyboard
Content creation starts with the keyboard.
On the iPad, there are three options: the built-in on-screen touch keyboard and two types of physical keyboards that wirelessly connect to the iPad via Bluetooth. There’s the small keyboard that doubles as a cover from vendors such as Logitech, and the full-length (albeit extremely thin) Apple Wireless Keyboard.
The decision on which keyboard to use is, of course, personal preference. Nevertheless, the keyboard will be critical, in terms of speed and efficiency.
I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I adapted to the touch keyboard. The keys do not feel crammed like they do with the small physical keyboards. I’ve tried to use small physical keyboards and have rejected them for this reason.
If you go the touch keyboard route, here are some important tips.
Putting in an apostrophe or quotation mark is usually a three-touch process starting with the ?123 button on the lower left, the apostrophe or question mark button, then the ABC button to get back to the QWERTY keyboard. This can get annoying really fast.
Instead, use this shortcut: In the QWERTY keyboard mode, hold down the exclamation point button for the apostrophe pop-up, and the question mark button for the quotation pop-up. Along these lines, when typing in a website URL, hold down the .com button for a pop-up menu of .edu, .us, .org and .net.
Another soft keyboard shortcut: Instead of typing a period and a space to start the next sentence, just double hit the spacebar. This will automatically add a period and a space.
The soft keyboard in landscape mode with the iPad propped up slightly using the Apple iPad cover is adequate for most of my content-creation needs. However, if I’m writing anything of significant length, I’ll fire up the Apple Wireless Keyboard.
Not only can I type faster on a full-sized physical keyboard, I can use the command key shortcuts for quick copy, cut, paste and other functions. The arrow keys help me navigate around a document and select text without having to take my fingers off the keyboard and touch the screen.
Downsides, though, are many. I had to buy a cover for the keyboard and batteries—the keyboard is a battery hog. I also have to lug it around. Then there’s the annoying process of turning Bluetooth on and off on the iPad to connect to the keyboard; I don’t have Bluetooth on all the time in order to save battery life.
Email Interruption, App Swiping and More
Nothing staunches the flow of content creation like email interruptions. On the other hand, you can’t really turn off email out of fear you’ll miss something. It’s best to manage it.
Your iPad is probably set up to push email to you right away, resulting in interruption after interruption. Instead, set your Mail accounts to check for new messages at intervals of every 15 minutes or every 30 minutes or hourly (Settings -> Mail, Contacts, Calendars -> Fetch New Data).
When you absolutely have to check email, do it quickly.
But the iPad inbox shows only two lines of each email, which means you’ll probably have to tap on the email message to read it—an extra step! By making a slight adjustment, you can preview up to five lines of an email straight from the inbox (Settings -> Mail, Contacts, Calendars -> Preview). Now when you check email, you can get the gist of all of them in one fell swoop, and then get back to work.
If your work includes writing a bunch of emails, and you’re in the email app on the iPad, don’t engage in multiple finger acrobatics to get to email drafts. Just press and hold down the new message icon in the upper right hand corner, which will call up a pop-up list of all your email drafts.
Another distraction: Facebook, game apps, e-books, music. Let’s face it, the iPad is a smorgasbord of entertainment and procrastination possibilities. So before getting down to work on the iPad, turn off all unnecessary apps.
With necessary apps, though, you’ll need a way to get to them quickly. As stated earlier, there isn’t enough real estate on the iPad to keep multiple windows open. Rather than double clicking the home button to pull up the multi-tasking bar and tap between apps, here’s a shortcut: Use the five-finger swipe to move back and forth between apps. (Four fingers work, too.)
Other five-finger gestures: An upward five-finger swipe will call up the multi-tasking bar, and a five-finger pinch will take you to the home page.
Now, you’re jumping between Pages, Safari, Email, home screen, and other apps like a pro.
Making Your Way Through Safari
Content creation often includes Web research. Safari on the iPad has evolved over the years to include tabs—a huge productivity time saver—and a reading list for important Web pages. You can touch and hold a word on a Web page to copy and define, the latter being very useful for those big ten-dollar words.
I also use the iPad app WordBook XL, which includes a thesaurus.
Other gesture shortcuts to help you navigate Web pages quickly in Safari: Scroll to the top of a website or list by tapping the top of the iPad screen above the URL. Double tap on an image or text to auto zoom, instead of pinching in and out.
If you tap a link inside a Web page, you’ll jump to the new Web page. That’s all well and good, but if you wanted tabs on both the new page and the original page, you’ll need to do some serious copying and pasting and opening a new page using the + button.
Instead, tap and hold the link until a pop-up menu appears, giving options to open, open in a new tab, add to reading list or copy.
By learning these shortcuts, tips and tricks, you can become much faster creating content on your iPad. Whether or not an iPad can replace a laptop depends largely on how much content you create at your job. For most people, though, the iPad does suffice, especially when they make the most of the iPad’s limited real estate.
Tom Kaneshige has been covering business and technology in Silicon Valley for two decades. As senior online writer at CIO.com, Tom covers Silicon Valley culture, BYOD and consumer tech in the enterprise.