The 2 week IPad challenge


2 week iPad challenge

On the 22nd August the unthinkable happened my MacBook Air’s (MBA) battery failed, turning my £1500 laptop into an expensive paperweight

My laptop is my world, I use it constantly for work and leisure and as a vocal evangelist for remote working I certainly understand the need to have the right tools, to enable me to work where ever and when ever I need to; To say I was a little put out is an understatement.

Thankfully the laptop was still under warranty, so the cost of repair wasn’t a worry, but the lack of a working machine was. I had visions of having to spend another £1500 just to keep me working for the 10 days it would take to repair. As my friends who received text messages from me will tell you I wasn’t relishing that prospect.

Then I hit upon an idea, why not run an experiment. I have an iPad Air and for the sake of £80(ish) I could buy a keyboard and use it as my primary work machine. So that is exactly what I did.

interlude

I wrote some time ago in ‘How are tablets used?’ that until the iPad grows up and goes to work, it’s nothing but a glorified leisure device. However, with the avaliablily of good enterprise apps like: MS Office, Google Docs the possibility for using the iPad as a laptop replacement is fast becoming a reality.

Before you email me, I know I’ve been able to use the online apps for a longtime but working exclusivly in the browser is a hack, and relies on a permanent internet connection due to the way safari marshals its connections. In my mind working in the browser was the iPad getting a paper round, it’s work but not really.

The experiment.

So my mind was made up, from the 26th August 2014 until my MBA was repaired I’d work exclusively on my iPad.

I expected the following to be a problem:

  • Battery life
  • Internet connection
  • lack of mouse support

Battery Life

I was concerned that the iPad Air couldn’t manage the demands of being used 8 hours a day.

Internet connection

I have a WiFi only iPad, I chose this because I use a 4g dongle to access the internet. Now that I was using an iPad I would have to make sure that I charge my dongle at night, rather than keeping it plugged in to my MBA.

I was concerned that the dongle wouldn’t last the day making it at the very least difficult for me to access the internet for work, and at worse making it impossible for me to work at all.

lack of mouse support

There are somethings, such as wireframe production, which is made much easier (for me) with the use of a mouse. It’s all about how easy it is to finely manipulating objects, adjusting alignment etc. in the past when i’ve used to my iPad to create wireframes i gave up in frustration.

I’m convinced MSFT have the right strategy for tablets by allowing mouse and pen input; Despite what Steve Jobs said about value of fingers as ‘pointers’.

For people of my generation who have grown up using a keyboard and mouse, it’s just too clunky to use your fingers to adjust boxes in wireframes. If nothing else your fingers obscure the object you’re trying to maniplate. Tbh. this could have been made easier if Apple allowed decent (i.e. Non capacitive) styluses to be paired with the device, but alas no, So now all we have are thick ended capacitive stylised which are just as frustrating as using your fingers.

Conclusions after week 1

Problems

Power

Battery life (or power) is a problem, but not in the way I expected. The iPad Air performed admirably. I had two days of use out of it without recharging, so no complaints there. However, the biggest problem for me was the lack of charging options for my other devices.

I hadn’t really give it much thought but I charging my iPhone and Dongle via the USB on my laptop, the iPad obviously doesn’t have any USB ports so can’t perform that job for me. This meant that for the first week I had to carry several USB plugs with me, which I used to charge my phone and dongle. This revealed a second problem, standard USB cables are no good for charging devices from a socket if you’re actually going to need to use the thing charging. Obviosuly, there are never enough plugs near to where you’re working, meaning my phone was quite a distance from where I was working requiring me to leap out of my seat if the phone rung.

To resolve this problem I’d need to buy an external power pack (in Mobile working toolkit – Hardware I had idenifited this problem, but hadn’t got round to buying one yet).

Connectivity

Due to the lack of charging options for my dongle and a shit battery life, consistent internet connectivity was a problem. I think that if I were to continue to work on the iPad exclusively it would make sense to have bought the 3G+WiFi model.

To solve the problem I connected to the ‘open’ work wifi and everything worked a treat. In fact I didn’t notice any of the internet restrictions or slow downs that I usually get on my laptop (which is why I always prefer to use my own internet at work) I imagine that’s because I was accessing internet services through apps which i assume manage their connection to the internet better than using the browers on my laptop. This was especially true when using the Google ‘docs’ and Basecamp apps, on a laptop you’re still working in the browser, on the iPad there are dedicated apps which make for a much more resilient user experience.

(Notice how I used working in the browser as sign that the iPad wasn’t ready for work, but i use Google Docs and Basecamp on my Laptop in the browser.. I wish Google and 37 Signals would release OSX apps for these too… It’s still a hack on the laptop and tablet)

Lack of decent stylus input

As you’ll read in the successes section I carried my iPad and ultrathin keyboard everywhere with me, which made me wish I could use my iPad as a complete note taking system.

I like to scribble notes by hand when I’m thinking, so the addition of a fine, non-capacative stylus, would be ideal but alas unachievable which meant I needed to carry my iPad and notepad and pen.

(You may wonder why I make the distinction between capacative and non-capacitive styluses?

Once I tested ‘pen’ input with Microsoft OneNote on a Samsung Series 7 slate, which is non-capacitive, and the iPad, which is capacative. The slate only had ‘ink’ where I worte but the iPad had smudges everywhere the heel of my hand touched the screen as well as where I wrote. Requiring me to do work to remove the ‘smudges’ – I would be just as annoyed if I had a leaky pen on my notepad too.

note If anyone can recommend a stylus or app which is equitable to what MSFT have achieved with the surface and Samsung tablets please let me know.)

Using a monitor

There were multiple times I wanted to shown my screen on a monitor, this isn’t possible out of the box and requires one of the following solutions:

  • An app with a helper app installed on a computer attached to the monitor.
  • Apple TV attached to the monitor so I could use AirPlay to share my screen.
  • Firewire to VGA/DVI adaptor

Okay so this isn’t a problem with using the iPad per say, but I highlight it here as a consideration for anyone else who want to work exclusively on an iPad.

To solve this I’m torn between getting an Adaptor, or a ‘work’ AppleTv. The AppleTv is excessive of course but I push video and screen share all the time at home, and love the AirPlay feature (to give you an idea I NEVER use the Netflix app on my AppleTv, I always push from my phone or iPad, the same is true for BBC iPlayer, Amazon Instant Video and so on) plus it will free me up from having cables connected to my iPad.

On the other hand the adaptor cost less and will achieve the same outcome, so I’ll probably opt for that and be done with it.

Successes

lack of mouse support

The first day was hell, switching between using the keyboard and pawing at the screen was frustrating, but as soon as I become accustomed to the change in input mechanism it wasn’t a bad experience at all.

That said, during the first week I hadn’t had cause to create any wireframes or do anything that requires fine motor skills, so I’m still reserving judgment on this.

Bluetooth keyboard

I’m impressed. I used a Logitech ultrathin keyboard on my old iPad so knew what to expect but the Logitech ultrathin keyboard for the iPad Air is a delight to use.

It folds down nicely, and is extremely light even in when carrying the iPad + Keyboard.

Also, the function keys are well selected. With the press of a button I can access my open apps to make app switching easy, or to load up spotlight. This makes a lot of difference in day to day use and am thankful to Logitech and/or apple for the nice bluetooth keyboard integration.

App switching

I was expecting this to be annoying, and at first it was but when my fingers got used to hitting the correct function key it was easy and intuitive. Not as easy as hitting cmd+tab (or alt+tab) but after a day or so, i didn’t even notice the difference.

Screen size

All I can say is, i didn’t notice the display size at all, no head aches or anything after work. So i’d say that was pretty successful.

Wrapping it up

Work wise I had no issues at all using the iPad exclusivly in the first week. I’m almost prepared to eat my words, but instead will make it look like i’m always right 😉

The recent creation of enterprise apps such as the Google Docs apps and Microsoft office has made it possible to use and iPad as a laptop replacement. Where your primary job function is to create and update documents you shouldn’t have any problems at all using an iPad.

I still don’t believe it’s possible to successfully create wireframes with the Omnigraffle app as smoothly as i can on my MBA, Or write HTML, CSS and JavaScript documents but that’s next weeks test, so i’ll let you know how it goes.

Remote working – Working Environment (Update)


We’re constantly tweaking our working environment partly due to finding better tools and partly due to the existing toolset improving.

What’s out

Skype – for IM

We found Skype to be particularly laggy when working cross platform, and we were hitting a issue when posting message. Several of the team were having a ‘pending’ status showing constantly for team messages.

We still use Skype for video chats and screen sharing.

Join.me

This looked perfect, light weight and reliable, but when InvisionApp introduced its LiveSharing feature, join.me feel out of use. We now use a mixture of Skype, and Invision to for screen based collaboration.

What’s in

Slack

Slack is a ‘It’s real-time messaging, archiving and search for modern teams’ and it work really well. You have different channels for different projects, as well as generic channels for team discussions etc. There’s an app for the Mac, iPhone, iPad and Android and a Chrome app for windows PCs (let’s hope a native app arrives soon).

The pricing seems pretty reasonable too; for a team of 5 people it’s around $40 / month.

Remote working – Working Environment


Our working environment

Our working environment is as flexible as you need it to be, I don’t care how we complete our work, only that we do, and we do it well.

From now on you don’t need to tell me if you’ve got to pop out for an hour, or if you want to take holiday. Simply put the dates in the team ‘where abouts’ calendar.

Before you book holiday ask yourself question: Given what i’ve committed to delivering, is now is the right time to have off?

If it is, go ahead and take your holiday. You deserve it!

To enable a flexible working arrangement, we need to do the following things to ensure there is visibility across the whole team.

Basecamp

Is the place where we discuss the journeys and tasks we’re working on, and as a group dump for project and design assets.

If you have a meeting about your tasks, this is where you summarise the outcome.

Invision

Upload your sketches/wireframes/designs here. Share your project with our stakeholders and collected feedback. This is where we validate our solutions and ensure that everyone has a say in the end solution.

Skype

Everyone should be logged into Skype between 11am – 3pm.

There’s the team discussion group (Experience Design) which is where we can chew the fat, keep the fun going or ask general questions about our projects/tasks.

Use your status to let people know if you’re free or don’t want to be disturbed, people may not reply straight away, and we should be considerate about everyone else’s time

Don’t forget to use the video conferencing facility if you need to.

Join.me

Sometime we’ll need to collaborate on the same things, for this we use join.me

Best practice

Be inclusive – there is nothing worse when working remotely then when decision being made and you don’t know how/why. Fire up Skype and/or join.me and video conference the relevant people in. Summarise on Basecamp.

Remote working – Team Principles


Team Principles

  • Trust, clarity and transparency
  • Communicate early, communicate often
  • Ask stupid questions, create smart solutions.
  • If in doubt go voice… even better go video.

Project principles

  • People don’t know what they want until you show them
  • People prefer movement
  • focus on outcomes, not assets
  • Clarify requirements as you give shape to the outcomes
  • Good design is people focused but UI lead.
  • Complexity always exists. It’s either in the User interface or in the underlying system. Decided where it belongs
  • We are not #wireframemonkeys. we solve business problems through user centred design.
  • You are an expert, do not be afraid to give and defend your expertise.

Experience Design Process

  • Define the outcome – Ignoring the UI, what is the client trying to achieve? What are the contexts and constraints that might apply to the person trying to use the product or services (a person’s time is expensive, technology isn’t). Questions to ask: What’s happening now? What do they want to happen? What’s the difference.
  • Understand the problem space – Model the experience as a user journey. Do this before anything else and you won’t regret it!
  • Design solutions not assets. Assets are a communication tool, not the end state of a project.