A few days ago I made mention of how my writing has migrated towards a mobile-first workflow. Three things have made this possible: the Ulysses app, a foldable keyboard, and a wireless flash drive.
(PS—I’m not listing the iPad, because everything listed here also works on a iPhone.)
This might seem odd to be listed first, but it’s one of those things that makes it possible to connect a wireless-by-nature device like an iPad to a wired world. It’s a flash drive with a built in wifi router. I think it was designed around the idea that people would put movies on it and then stream them to their devices. I’m sneakier then that.
The reason I have it is so I can export files from the iPad to the rest of the world. It’s app shows up in the share sheet and will handle the most common document types. Once exported from the iPad to this drive, they’re readable on any computer with a USB port. Most of the time there’s a wifi connection and sending files around isn’t a problem. But for larger files, or ones you don’t want to send over the Internet, this is an ideal option. Also, my iPad is wifi-only. So if I’m away from wifi, I’ll have to either hotspot to my phone (and use data) or hope I remembered to bring the Karma wifi hotspot.
I see myself using it in several ways:
- When using a scanner at the library, I can plug it in to save the scans then transfer them to the iPad without needed to go home and use the laptop and iCloud to move them to the iPad. (It beats using the copy machine!)
- At the print counter in the office store, so I can hand them the drive and not have to worry about trying to get an email to come through. (This happened with some baseball tickets. I forgot the printouts and had to stop at a FedEx store on the way to the game, and then forward the TicketMaster email to them from my phone. It took forever to come through.)
- Since it’s also a router, I can use AirDrop to move files between my iPad iPhone and MacBook.
- It does pass through Internet, so if there’s wifi I’ll always have a personal router with me.
This is my go-to writing app. But why it’s important is that it’s a true universal app that works the same on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac. But the secret sauce is that it uses a central library to keep all of my files in one place. They’re synced no matter what device I’m using. Writing on the MacBook is the same as writing on the iPad. To top it off, all of the export options (HTML, DOCX, text, ePub, and PDF) all work the same and use the same style sheets. A manuscript exported from the iPad looks exactly the same as one exported from the desktop.
I’ve been beta testing the newest version (2.6) and one thing that wins my award for most improved feature is its WordPress export. Now all of WordPress’ post settings can be adjusted before uploading. This includes setting categories and tags, along with the featured image and others. This will probably reduce my time spent on the wp-admin page by 80%.
Ulysses is my office.
An on-screen keyboard is only good for short term use. Maybe someone prefers typing on glass, and might send me hate mail about it, but I need a real keyboard. This is the only one I’ve found that actually works. Amazon is filled with no-name foldish keyboards of all varieties but either the hardware doens’t hold up, or the Bluetooth connection falls down more often than a sailor on a three-day drunk. (Based on the reviews.)
At first I was worried about the gap between the keyboard halves. I never liked the “ergonomic” split keyboards and was unable to use one proficiently. It took about a week and now I’m up to about 90% of my standard typing speed. The hardest part was teaching my left hand to press the B key. Pressing it with my right hand is a habit I’ve had since typing class in high school. On the old Selectric it was easier to press with my right hand. Overall, I’m happy with the feel. It’s no worse than a laptop and the Bluetooth connection is rock solid. Oddly, there’s no off switch. Closing it turns it off. It also connects fast—usually in less than 10 seconds. One bonus feature is that it can stay paired with two devices, and switch between them with a press of the selector keys.
The size was also important. Folded, it’s about the with of an iPad mini and not quite as long. But what’s really nice is that it’s about the same thickness as the Mini in a case. This makes it easy to carry both the iPad and the keyboard just about anywhere.
With the iPad mini and Ulysses I have a portable writing studio. But adding the keyboard makes it a productive endeavor.
While going with the brand name is a bit more expensive ($60) than the no-name versions, after almost a month with it I’m convinced of the quality.
Everything listed here, plus a notepad, multi-pen, highlighter, index cards, and the iPad (with case, charger, cable, and headphones) all fit into a small shoulder bag. I think the total weight of all this is less than what my MacBook weighs with its bag. Overall , I can’t beat the value. I got the iPad (mini 2) from Apple’s refurb store for $290 (after tax) and the rest was less than another $120. That’s one of the reasons why I hardly take the MacBook out of the house. If something happened I wouldn’t be able to replace it.
Now with a much more affordable and portable setup, I can carry my office with me wherever I go.