#iPadOnly book » Section 2 - The New Office Paradigm » Chapter 9 - The Keyboard is optional

Chapter 9 - The Keyboard is optional

You're not using your keyboard as much as you think you are

We’re used to having keyboards around. All typewriters and early computers had keyboards. The modern computers have keyboards. Our laptops have keyboards. Even early smartphones had them.

Yet when iPhone was unveiled in 2007 by Steve Jobs, he looked at the smartphones category and famously said: “They all have these keyboards, whether you need them or not to be there. And they all have these control buttons that are fixed in plastic and are the same for every application. Well, every application wants a slightly different user interface, a slightly optimized set of buttons just for it.”

People didn’t get Steve’s strong opinion and proclaimed the iPhone as a failure because it didn’t have the keyboard. Well, when you look at the phones now, all of them look like an iPhone and they do not have keyboards.

As with the iPhone, a keyboard on the iPad is optional.

People complain about the iPad’s lack of keyboard and lack of keyboard shortcuts… well, on the iPad the keyboard is optional. The fact you can interact with your data in a more natural and intimate way is a big advantage, especially if you’re like us and work many hours a day in front of your computer.

Again, if you want to work on the iPad in the same way you do on your desktop or laptop computer, you will be disappointed. It doesn’t work like that. There is a fun aspect that the touch and intimacy produces with your work that helps you enjoy interacting with this machine.

Do you really need the keyboard all that much?

Michael was working on his MacBook Air over the recent years and he loved it - the form, size, weight, the quality of the back-lit keyboard… except for the fact that this great keyboard was attached to his Air whether he needed it or not. He found he didn’t need the keyboard to browse the web, play music, read articles, ebooks or PDFs. He realized he hardly used the keyboard when he was sending feedback to his team. He preferred to visually design interfaces for his app, working with mind-maps and managing tasks and projects in Nozbe. He only needed the keyboard for the task it was always designed for - writing. Other than that, he found himself using the Air keyboard less and less. When Augusto moved from the TabletPC to the MacBook, one of the things that he missed was the fact that he could turn the machine, and place the keyboard on the back, out of the way, unless he really wanted to use it. Like Michael, he rarely uses the keyboard when he is not writing.

Another thing is the user interface of the apps - on the Mac you either have to use the keyboard shortcuts or move the mouse cursor around. On the iPad you just tap around; it’s faster and more intuitive.

The keyboard is still important, but with the rise of Siri and her dictation software (improving with each iOS release) and gesture-based navigation, the keyboard is only needed when you need to type something of length. Other than that, it’s not necessary. When using the iPad we need to forget the traditional keyboard shortcuts (Ctrl+Alt+Del anyone?) and all the PC-era things and focus on the new. It takes some time getting used to, but we love the new experience

The keyboard is only an addition and not the main part of the iPad

The first time you pick up the iPad and touch the virtual keyboard you find it unresponsive, awkward and cumbersome to type on. And it takes up half of the screen. At first, neither of us liked it.

However, as soon as you are willing to question the assumptions and learn a new way to type you will be surprised how much you can actually get done with the iPad’s on-screen keyboard and how fast you can type.

The on-screen keyboard is a lot different from the regular one - there is no feedback (unless you like the click sound that came as the default - we hate it). It is smaller and is configured differently than a PC keyboard. If you are expecting those things to be the same, the keyboard on the screen will never work for you.

On-screen keyboard tricks.

As soon as you let go of your old assumptions, you will discover how fast you can type. For example, do you know that if you are typing on the screen keyboard and need to write a quotation mark there is more than one way to accomplish that? You can hit the [.?123] button and then hit the [“] or you can place your finger on the [?.] key and swipe it upward. The same applies to [‘] - just swipe up on the [!,] key. When you finish a sentence, just hit Spacebar twice and you’ll see a dot and a space. And there are more tricks like that.

Keyboard shortcuts to the rescue!

Finally with iOS5, the keyboard shortcuts came to the iPad and iPhone… and with iOS6 and the iCloud they are synced across all the devices. This means when you define a new keyboard shortcut, it’s synced between your iPad and the iPhone - available for use on both! With Mac OSX Mavericks these shortcuts became synced via the iCloud to the Mac, too.

We learned to define some very cool keyboard shortcuts that allow us to type less every day. When Michael fills out a form, he just types ‘xm’ and his email address appears. Augusto has links for his books, so by typing ‘w4amen’ the address for the book on Amazon shows up.

Keyboard shortcuts come in handy when we are answering emails quickly. We’ve defined ‘Best Regards,’ by just typing ‘br’. To say ‘Thanks for your email and really sorry for my late reply!’ Michael types ‘tfs’. To say ‘You are welcome!’ Augusto types yaw!, to type his address he types ‘.address’ and Michael types ‘adh’. And we’ve got many, many more.

The fact is, we have been trained to type on our keyboards way too much.

When you think about it, keyboard shortcuts don’t come pre-installed on any desktop operating system. We tend to type a lot more on ‘normal’ computers. On any given day, count the number of times you type your email address. Now count the number of mistakes you made. See what we mean?

On our iPads, we both have a rule that whenever there is a phrase we catch ourselves typing twice on a given day, we go to system Settings and make a shortcut for it. This works like magic. Now the key is to make the shortcuts very easy to remember and as short as possible. Now if there were only a shortcut to get to ‘Settings > General > Keyboard > Shortcuts > Add new’ in just one or two taps that would be a different story. Why Apple buried this feature so deep in the system is beyond us.

There are even apps for longer shortcuts and templates.

Michael uses an app called TextExpander that allows him to define longer, multi-line shortcuts. The downside is, it only works in supported apps, and it is the reason Augusto doesn’t use it in email (it doesn’t work in Apple Mail). However it does work in the apps he uses for writing (Editorial, Byword, Nebulous, AI Writer) and it’s a great way of preparing longer ‘templates’ of texts. When Michael types ‘msblog’ an entire template of his blog post is pasted into his document. An amazing time-saver.

You can touch-type on the on-screen keyboard.

This came as a surprise to both of us. We’re both touch-typists, meaning we use all of our fingers to type and we never look at the keyboard as we type - our fingers ‘know’ where the keys are. Augusto can type 80-100 words per minute (WPM) and Michael, 60-80. If you’ve never learned to touch-type, stop reading this book and start today. Augusto, in his best-selling book: ‘25 Tips for Productivity’ challenges everyone to measure their typing speed and take some touch-typing classes. Just think about it, after a month of training you can be typing up to three times faster than you do now. Instead of writing a long email in ten minutes, you’ll have it done in a little over three. It’s the single most effective way to reclaim 2-3 hours off your work time per week.

Back to the iPad. Thanks to his friend’s recommendation, Augusto learned of an app called TapTyping for the iPad and the iPhone that teaches you to touch-type on the on-screen keyboard. He recommended the app to Michael. Suddenly, instead of writing 20-30 WPM on the iPad’s on-screen keyboard, Augusto reached speeds of more than 60 WPM and Michael, 50 WPM. This simply means we now type almost as fast on the on-screen keyboard as we do on a regular one. Now that’s an improvement!

We do use external keyboards for writing longer texts.

That’s right, here’s Michael’s take on it:

Michael’s external iPad keyboard:

“When I’m not writing a book, a blog post, an article or any other longer piece of text, I don’t use the external keyboard. When I process my email Inbox to zero, I tap on emails and write using the on-screen keyboard… and when I switched to the iPad I learned to reply to emails quicker. I practice 5-sentence replies (usually less) and move on to the next email message. I know I’m not being as polite as I used to be but over the years I’ve found out people preferred a quicker reply than a nicer one. With email, speed is what matters most.

When writing long passages of text (like this chapter) I move to an external keyboard. When I started my #iPadOnly journey I bought the ‘ZaggFlex Keys’ keyboard and I loved it. Later I switched to the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard as it also works as an iPad cover and enables me to write on my lap.

What I love about writing on my iPad’s external keyboard is the fact that I can put the iPad in a vertical position. Writing on a vertical screen feels more natural than on the horizontal screen of a laptop. It feels like writing on letter-sized paper. I have my writing app open and it occupies my entire iPad screen - I see my words and nothing else. With an external keyboard and in vertical mode, the iPad is the ultimate writer’s machine.”

Augusto and his full-size iPad keyboard

Here’s what Augusto thinks about his keyboard:

“I like full size keyboards, and I believe that you need to use the best tool for the job at hand. Sometimes, that means a full size keyboard and in my opinion the physical keyboard is better for longer typing.

First of all there is the angle, my wrist gets tired typing on the iPad screen, and as a writer I need to make sure that I take good care of those parts of my body that are key to my profession.

Second, I like to see more than a paragraph at the time, and when you use the onscreen keyboard you lose around half of the real estate for the keyboard alone.

Third, I love the fact that with the iPad you have the option to place it in Portrait or Landscape mode. Depending on what you are writing it is something very handy to be able to do. Try doing that with your laptop!

Fourth, when I type on the screen I can’t maintain good posture. I end up in pain if I type on the screen for more than two hours.

Fifth - when I write I love to use the black screen with white text. It is much softer on my eyes, and eye strain is something I do everything in my power to avoid.

Sixth - I can type much faster and I like the feeling of the full size keyboard. The amount of text I create on a regular basis makes and external keyboard the best tool for the job.

Seventh - having said all that, I find myself taking my external keyboard a lot less these days. I just got used to writing on the screen and this way I don’t need to carry anything with me apart from the iPad itself. Unless I’m working on the long block of text, I tend not to use the external keyboard. Yes, it surprised me, too.”

The keyboard is an accessory - it’s not the iPad’s main thing

Again, iPad is a post-PC device where the keyboard appears only when it’s needed, but most of the time, it’s out of the way. That’s how we treat it and that’s how we learned to work.

Switching to the iPad made us re-think the way we work and the amount of typing we did on the laptop simply because the keyboard was so readily available! Well, not anymore.

Michael tries to type less and enjoy computing more. Sometimes he is slower because of the on-screen keyboard, but most of the times he is also happier, because he is not typing as much as he used to. And that’s the whole point of working more efficiently, right?

Augusto feels exactly the same. Except for the books, he types less and less and is able to think, interact and spend his time doing what it is really important.

We know. It’s really hard to make the switch! It was hard for us, but it was definitely worth it.

Next Chapter: Chapter 10 - Productivity on the iPad

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