Working Tools 30. iPad First

In April of 2019, I had settled that I was not ready to leave behind a traditional computer and work on iPad first.

Concerns

  1. Backup. Corporate disasters in a past life make me paranoid of data loss. My mac has backups of backups.
  2. Filing systems. I found IOS cumbersome in managing nested folders.
  3. Certain tasks – podcasting for example, just worked better on the Mac.

Remedies

  1. The world has moved on. Everything is online. Either in proprietary databases (my company accounts for example) or remote sevices like Dropbox or iCloud. We have, in effect, outsourced data backup to third parties. These guys have backups of backups don’t they? Don’t they? As you may gather, I’m not 100% sold on this, but I have also come to realise that not all my data is a precious as I would like to think. I’m thinking on that. In the meantime, my Mac sits in a corner, quietly running backups.
  2. The files app on IOS is fine. Could it be better? Yes – but increasingly, I access data, not through a central repository of data, but through an app. This post, for example, originates in Ulysses. I wouldn’t know how to find it in the Files system.
  3. Apple updated their operating system (Catalina) and it broke my podcasting workflow. Once forced, I explored multiple alternatives for both Mac and IOS, and found IOS easiest.

I know what I always suspected. Everything is possible on every platform. It’s a case of having the right workflow for the chosen platform. So – I’m committed to learning how best to do things on IOS.

Project 1

A Newsletter. I want to send a monthly email to customers over at Nero’s Notes, and in the future, one to subscribers here. I have lists at Mailchimp.

Task – Produce a simple newsletter that can serve as a template going forward.

Reset

I was remembering why I had stopped sending newsletters. Surely it shouldn’t be this hard?

My intention was to reach out to some smart people. People who know what they’re doing. However, just like asking for directions, reaching out is only to be done once I have driven round and round in circles for an hour or two. Me? Stubborn?

I went back to basics. A pencil and a bit of paper. I drew out what I wanted a newsletter to look like.

The scales fell from my eyes. The newsletter was the final product that would be sent via Mailchimp, but it was made up of a series of distinct elements. Each element needed to be viewed separately.

Solutions

Photos – there are multiple apps that make this an absolute breeze. I download the photos to my library, edit them to to the right size and resolution (I use Pixelmator) and save them to an album.

Text. I live in Ulysses. I like the interface, and I can make the final version come out in all sorts of formats. I’ll write the copy in this app.

Links. In essence, I want to be on a website, mine or someone else’s, and quickly file the link somewhere. A clipboard, if you will. There are loads of these. Some of which I had discovered in a past life, downloaded and forgotten. Copied is one great option. However, if I tap the share icon, I can save the link into a Ulysses Group set up for the purpose.

Once all the elements are complete – I simply assemble. I upload the photos, paste in the copy and links, and boom, I have a newsletter. I can even use multitasking on the iPad.

It tickles me that this process mirrors exactly the way I cook. All the ingredients prepared and ready to go in advance.

The epiphany was not discovering a specific app, it was rediscovering that doing one thing at a time is nearly always more efficient than multi-tasking.

Shortcuts

But wait…there’s more.

The process above is a huge improvement, but it’s only halfway there.

There are shortcuts.

Literally, the app is called shortcuts. Built-in on IOS devices, this is the successor to an indie app called Workflow. It’s a simple automator. Actually, it can be a really powerful automator too.

Time for me to explore…

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Working Tools 29. On the road again

This post first appeared on Nero’s Notes.

Regular readers, or listeners to 1857, will know that I do like a bag. Briefcases, messengers, backpacks and holdalls, I’ve an ample sufficiency of bags for days on the road.

Why so many?

I need so many, as one never knows what peculiar circumstance may arise when I head out on the road. (That’s what I tell myself anyway.)

Rome

By the time this publishes, I will, all being well, be in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. Mrs L and I are mixing business and pleasure for a long weekend in the Eternal City.

Four nights, five days, a mix of business and pleasure.

This trip is almost custom built for one of my travel setups. Hand luggage only, changing flights in Athens, I’m not trusting my t-shirts to the hold.

  1. Away Carry On Spinner.
  2. Briefcase / Messenger depending on nature of business

However (Look! A peculiar circumstance!) – Mrs L has a bad back. She is not going to enjoy the two flights that will deliver us to Rome, nor the interval between them. I’m keen to spare her the need to manoeuvre luggage.

Mrs L would probably have a similar setup to mine for a trip of this duration.

Plan

The new plan (to cover both of us) is:

  1. Away Carry On Spinner
  2. Away Holdall
  3. Kensington Backpack
  4. Small ladies hand bag / purse.

The thinking is that the holdall fits atop the spinner, I can heft the backpack on my shoulders, leaving Mrs L with just the handbag.

In packing terms – this makes for constraints. And I love a constraint. (Stop thinking that!)

Rather than bemoan how few things I can take, I’m leaning into a more minimalist approach. I’ll spare you the undies count and wash bag.

My Backpack

On the road

Kensington Ultrabook Backpack K62591

Tickets, bits of paper, travel ephemera, a kindle for Mrs L.

Tech.

10.5 iPad Pro and Smart Keyboard.
iPhone X
Apple Watch Series 3
Anker IQ something or other wall charger (4 ports)
Lightning cables and Apple Watch cable
Kodak 10400mAh Power Bank (not pictured)

I could live without the iPad, but I prefer it for reading, and in case I need to do any emergency work. The phone is capable, but it’s just a lot smaller. The perfect minimal tech carry when on the road?

Stationery

Moleskine City Journal – Rome
Moleskine Roller Pen
Penco Hold Fast Stapler

On the road tech

This is as minimal as I can go. I packed a pencil case, then put it aside. Out and about, I’ll have the city journal and the pen clipped to it and that’s it. I intend to record details. Sean is going to come through Rome, and I’d like to be accurate. We have a few scheduled events, a tour, a couple of lunches, and of course a Rugby match, but we also have plenty of time set aside for strolling around, searching for the perfect coffee.

Should disaster strike (my standard excuse for carrying seven pens and twelve pencils), I’ll buy another pen. It’s Rome, not the Arctic tundra. The stapler is for scrapbooking. Travelling, receipts, tickets, cards all make great keepsakes. So each morning, I’ll staple in mementoes of the previous day.

The Match

On Saturday, I, a Scot, will take my wife, an Italian, to see the Six Nations match between Scotland and Italy. I did that before, in Edinburgh, and Italy thrashed us. I hope Scotland does better on the road.

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Analogue v Digital 3. – Task Management

Who can resist a bit of productivity? It’s the Holy Grail of the 21st century.

Whether it be David Allen’s Get Things Done methodology or a variation thereof, everybody has a task management system. I have several. There’s nothing more productive than working on productivity, right?

OK – my tongue is in my cheek, I’m almost certainly the most guilty. It used to bother me, until I re-framed things. The quest for productivity is one of my hobbies. Like golf. Now, I don’t feel guilty about playing with apps designed to make me more efficient. A large part of productivity is task management.

The Digital

I shudder to think how many task manager apps I have purchased. Some examples:

Omnifocus. If managing my own 8 hours a day is the walnut, this is the sledgehammer. “Fresh and familiar design for the trusted, gold standard to-do app.” Get them. Yours for $100 a year. (Cross-Apple fee) Most reviews will casually mention “a learning curve.” That’s affinity-marketing speak for “block two weeks on your calendar, this thing is impenetrable.”

ToDoist. “Free up your mental space. Regain clarity and calmness by getting all those tasks out of your head and onto your to-do list.” Quickly. Off you go. There’s a free version, but should this be your silver bullet, you are going to want to upgrade to Premium for $3 a month. Somebody looked at Omnifocus, cut out the 75% that nobody understands, and painted everything white. I think Jonny Ive would prefer ToDoist.

Things. “Things is the award-winning personal task manager that helps you achieve your goals.” Go you! $50 for Mac. $10 for your iPhone and Watch and then $20 for your iPad. It can be as complex as Omnifocus or as simple as a To Do list.

Currently, I am playing with Moleskine Journey. “Designed for creatives minds (sic), independent workers, audacious backpackers, and free spirits, Moleskine Journey is the first app that blends productivity with wellness tracking features to help you get stuff done and find inner balance every day.” I feel windswept and interesting already.

Honestly, I could continue for pages and pages. I have tried many, many task manager apps.

Occasionally however, I have to be productive.

The Analogue

Write down the tasks. Do the tasks. Tick them off.

I have written elsewhere how I use notebooks. There’s plenty of scope to bury myself in “productivitying” with paper, but I tend not to. Task management is simplicity itself. I spend ten minutes to write a list. Five minutes to prioritise and then I get working. When a task is complete, I pick up a pen, tick the item and go again. As the day proceeds, the ticked items act as a pat on the back.

I task manage in my desk books, and my pocket books. My current favourite on the desk is the Endless Recorder, where the Tomoe River paper allows me to use fountain pens. In my pocket, there currently lives a Moleskine softcover, dotted notebook, but I use all sorts of pocket notebooks.

The Winner

Doh! The analogue, obviously. The digital is great fun, a lovely distraction. Sort of Twitter with less hysteria.

But to get things done? Get your notebook out.

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Analogue v Digital 2. – Journals

This week, Journals. First, let me narrow down the definition. When I say Journals, I am talking about reflective journals, where I log events and feelings.

I wrote last week about Calendars, with the digital winning out for me, because of its ubiquity and shareability. The first version of this post appeared on Nero’s Notes last week, before I discovered Moleskine Journey.

The Digital

Day One is an absolutely superb app, that I have had on my devices for a long time. The first entry is the 3rd of August 2013. I have used it on and off since then. It lives on all my devices, syncing from one to the other. As with calendars, this is a baked-in advantage of the digital.

I just randomly opened an entry.

“They tried. They could not save him. At 2300 we got the call that we had dreaded. RIP Nero.”

Reading that again still brings tears.

Back to the app; the post has metadata, so I can see when I wrote it and where. Other posts have photos and maps attached. I can have limitless different journals, all accessible from the one thing that I am pretty much guaranteed to have with me all the time. I can type, or I can dictate.

Day One, teamed with an iPhone is fantastic.

Soon after the first version of this article was posted, I was directed to Journey, an App by Moleskine. There is a web app and an IOS app.

“Designed for creatives minds, independent workers, and free spirits, Moleskine Journey is the first app that blends productivity tools with tracking features that keep tabs on your overall well-being to help you get stuff done and find inner balance every day.” – So there.

I have been playing with it on my iOS devices. It’s a lovely app to look at. Using a + button, I can add planner items, journal entries, photos, challenges, mood trackers, goals – all sorts of things. In fact, if you set your mind to customisation, you can make this app your central hub.

I’m on the free trial version, and having loads of fun.

Moleskine is an Italian company, so your data is covered by GDPR, which is good. However, under the hood there’s an amount of Google – which is less good.

The Analogue

This year, I’m trying something new. Actually, I’m trying a few new things.

Hobonichi. I bought one of these famed Japanese notebooks specifically to start a daily reflective journal. It’s A6, Tomoe River paper and lives in a funky cover. Each afternoon, as part of my “close-down routine”, I take a fountain pen and summarise the working day. Usually in about half a page. The following morning, I finish the page, covering the evening and my reflections on the day.

Rhodia. Rhodiarama A5 Ruled. I’m doing a challenge. One Year No Beer, OYNB. I’m not drinking alcohol for a year. In order to help that, I get an email each day from OYNB, linking to a short video. Each morning I watch the video and then write an entry on the video and how I’m getting on with the challenge.

As I write, we’re 24 days into the year, and I’m still going on both, writing decent length entries. I would consider that as “working.”

The Battle

My last entries into Day One were on the 6th of January. While away in Turkey, I used the app extensively. In fact, the entries in my analogue journals for the beginning of the year came from Day One. On the road, Day One is unbeatable for me. I can have multiple journals (I have 5 – Stuart, Business, Food Diary, OYNB and Instagram) at my fingertips, without needing to carry lots of notebooks.

Back at home though, I write in my analogue notebooks. Why? Intention, ritual, tactility. I am at my desk, open the book, select a fountain pen and take a few moments to reflect. I revel in writing with a real pen on real paper. The act of writing is mindful and cathartic in a way that typing on a screen is not.

The Winner

Don’t be daft. They’re both winners.

Trip Journals

In a month or so, I’ll be on a plane with my wife, heading for a fun long weekend in Rome. On the little seat back table will be a Moleskine City Notebook that will be full of ideas for things to do and places to go. My mobile phone will be next to it. I will take photos, and compose journal entries into Day One.

Writing my journal in my Hobonichi doesn’t mean that I can’t love Day One and Journey too

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Working Tools 28. Analogue v Digital 1. Calendars

I am afflicted with infatuations both for the analogue world of stationery and the digital applications for Apple hardware. Mix those in with a desire to be as productive as possible, and a large degree of experimentation is inevitable.

Over the next few #Working Tools posts (alternate Fridays), I’ll talk you through the bare-knuckle fights, one by one.

Calendars

In the red, (analogue) corner, The Economist Diary 2020 by Collins Debden, weighing in at super heavy.

In the blue, (digital) corner, ical, google calendar, the calendar app and Timepage by Moleskine, weighing in at well, nothing.

Red Corner

The Economist Diary is a tome. A big, heavy book. Mine is the signature red, week to two pages view, in a leatherette cover. It sits handsomely on my desk, telling me, and everyone else, that I’m a proper, serious business person. I write in it with a broad-nibbed fountain pen. Including only the most weighty and important of appointments.

Blue Corner

I have 18 calendars, split across iCal and Google. Some are mine, and some are shared. I have a core set always on, and others just a click away. My dog’s worming schedule is in here, alongside a meditation calendar. Eclectic.

The fight

My Personal Assistant copies all of my appointments from the Economist Diary into my electronic calendars. She is permanently at my side with her iPhone, lest I need to check Spice’s worming schedule. This allows me to flick through the diary attaining useful statistics, when not writing in flowery script. Did you know that in 2010, the Department of Work and Pensions employed 133,500 people?

The trouble is, I don’t have a Personal Assistant.

So, the diary exists as a very expensive sledgehammer to crack the nut of time blocking my week.

The electronic calendars are THE truth, particularly for Margaret and I, who keep abreast of each other through them.

Killer punch

The “shareability” of electronic calendars is unbeatable. I can access them at my desk, on my couch, in the car, heck, even on my wrist.

That said, the diary will remain on my desk, and does get used every week – even if only lightly.

By the way, did you know that the National Income per person in Chad, in $, in 2018, was 654? I bet that’s not in your calendar, is it?

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Working Tools 27. Apps-tastic

Apps

The trouble with stock applications not working is that I look for other applications. While looking at an app for one thing, I inevitably find numerous apps for all sorts of other things.

Oh, the first world problems that plague me.

I started with Notes, and then fell down the rabbit-hole.

Productivity

I always pursue productivity, a chase that invariably circles back to task management. I bullet journal, albeit in a simplified way. It’s a struggle to make the system work for project management and segmented lists. I decided to revisit some old friends, namely Things 3, Time Page and Actions by Moleskine. I also had an idea that I wanted to look at habit tracking.

Now, the thing about Things (if you’ll excuse the pun) is that the more you put in there, the more it does for you. Cue a stream of consciousness brain dump into the app. Everything goes into “Inbox”, until I sort it somewhere else. Happy hours ensued setting up areas of responsibility and projects. The greatest irony of productivity systems is the amount of time that you have to put into them.

Moleskine

The Moleskine apps are beautiful, particularly the calendar one. I enjoy that I can customise the views, and the simple aesthetic of the display. Actions integrates beautifully, but lacks features compared to Things, so for the time-being at least, Actions will not get used. I bought an annual subscription to both Timepage and Actions which expires in a few months, so I’ll keep experimenting with them until then, when a further decision will be required.

Habits

In my journal, I have a habit tracker. One that is becoming increasingly complex to manage. Would that work better electronically? Turns out, I had already thought that at some point in the past, and had purchased “Productive”, an app for habit tracking. So – I’m back in that too.

Food Journaling

I have been reading about food journaling. Mostly because I am in danger of being awarded my own postcode unless I start getting smaller rather than bigger. In the past, I calorie-tracked through “My Fitness Pal”. It’s great, but it does require a level of input that I’m not prepared to give any more. I am interested in the psychology of recording what I eat and drink, without necessarily comparing the calorie count between an apple and a pear.

Could I use Day One? I have had this App since 2013, dipping in and out. Now – I am photographing my food, and noting how eating it has made me feel.

Is this going to replace all my analogue tools? I don’t think so. It may change the way that I journal, but I think it unlikely to replace it entirely.

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Working Tools 26. Periodic Apple Whine

I need an Apple whine. I need some grape wine too, but then that’s a constant state.

My Setup

MacBook Pro 15 inch 2017. High spec
iPad Pro 10.5
Apple Pencil 1st Generation
iPhone X
Apple Watch Series 3
AirPods 2nd Generation
AirPods 1st Generation
HomePod

Software

All devices are off-beta on the latest versions of operating systems, so iOS 13 and macOS Catalina.

The Whine

Every device functions less well than it did on the previous OS.

My MBP is slow. Horribly slow. Months into the upgrade cycle, it is still trying to get all its ducks in a row with cloud services. I’m not smart enough to work out exactly what’s going on, but photos and notes are always “working” and never fully synchronised. Various 3rd party services that worked flawlessly in the past, now intermittently fail. Apple Mail is so dreary, I’ve gone off into 3rd party land again. Apple Watch unlocks the MBP, sometimes. One time yes, one time no.

The iPad Pro and iPhone have the same struggles with photos and notes. Almost every day, something stops working for no apparent reason. Usually, the something starts again at a later date. Again – I don’t know what’s causing what.

My second generation AirPods do weird charging stuff. This morning, the left pod was 100% charged, the right one 1%. Maybe I did something? Who knows, it all seems OK now.

The HomePod. This device relies on Siri. Like everything else that works on Siri, it works properly so seldom, that it’s best left alone. We essentially use it as a less-reliable, and vastly more expensive, radio.

The Reality Distortion Field

People used to talk about the ability of Steve Jobs to distort reality. It wasn’t him. We do it to ourselves.

Apple’s software isn’t working properly. For several years, its laptops have been fundamentally flawed, in that the keyboards are insufficiently robust. Its artificial intelligence/voice activation is garbage.

The most expensive IT stuff in the market and none of it works as intended.

And yet, the share price is firm, and the revenues enormous. Why?

Stockholm Syndrome

Apple release a new laptop, that APPEARS, so far, to have a keyboard that, you know, works. Like bullying victims ignored for one day by the bully, we all smile, and tell each other that things are on the up. Even though we’re not buying the new laptop, we bathe in the halo from its release.

The Cartel of Mediocrity

Apple should now be being demolished by the competition. Their overpriced hardware is not fit for purpose and is made unreliable and unusable by software that is either entirely untested before release, or has been tested by hamsters. Apple Users should be flocking to Google or Microsoft. They can’t be this bad.

Ah. Well. Actually…

Ripoff

Apple has sold me goods that are not fit for purpose – the MBP with inadequate keyboard. It has charged me large sums of money for hardware (everything else), which it has then rendered unreliable with recommended operating system upgrades.

What will they do about it?

Release a new top end computer that costs the same as a car — that won’t work as advertised because the operating system is crap.

Yay!

Sort yourselves out Apple.

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Working Tools 25. – The Mac Pro

The Mac Pro

The Mac Pro is on its way.

For years, hardcore Mac aficionados have been railing, whining and whingeing about the lack of a successor to the Mac Pro, less than affectionately known as the “Trash can.” Why had Apple abandoned the top end of the market? When had mediocrity become the target segment?

No! Not good enough. Not modular enough, not high-end enough.

The Kit

Somebody, deep in the Apple-core, rolled up their sleeves and swore fluently and silently, flint in their eyes.

The Mac Pro was previewed at the worldwide developers conference (WWDC) last week.

Boom.

I understand little of these things, but by all accounts, this thing is a monster. Massive processing power. The ability to ramp up the specifications to levels never hitherto considered.

There were gasps and rapturous applause.

Cost

The machine will start at $5,000. Should you want a matching screen, you can have one of those for $5,000 too.

So, everybody’s happy now.

Ah. No.

Not exactly.

It appears that the quoted prices are a mite misleading. The base machine has a 256 GB SSD, which is way too small for most purposes. Apple are renowned for high prices on SSD upgrades. The monitor price is a starter too. Should you wish to have the monitor on a stand, then you need to pay another $1,000. Or, you could plump for a bracket to attach to a monitor arm, yours for $200. I suppose you could lean it against the wall.

I was just listening to two avid apple watchers agree that they expect to be able to configure a single workstation up to $50,000.

Outrage

Twitter is alight. How dare Apple produce a machine so good, so modular, so high-end that it’s so unaffordable!

Apple of course is laughing all the way to the bank. I have no idea how many units will be sold to people that make full use of their capability. I would be willing to bet that the vast majority of sales will be to people who have generated elaborate justifications for why they need the machine. (Look out for key phrases “Spare capacity”, “future-proofing” and the like.) I write as one who has a strong line in elaborate justifications.

Additionally, the iMac Pro has gone from “top end” to “sensible option for pros.” Folk that were hanging on for the Mac Pro will either buy one, or pull the trigger on buying the iMac Pro.

Clever people at Apple. I believe that one day, they’ll be the biggest company in…Oh. Wait.

Other announcements

There were lots of positive announcements on the future of software in the Apple world – and plenty of encouraging words around my favoured device the iPad.

As previously posited, I see no reason currently to upgrade my hardware. Apple is relaxed with that, and has adjusted its pricing accordingly. People are upgrading less frequently, but when they do, oh boy, brace yourself.

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Working Tools 24. – I Like a Good Watch

I like a good watch. Actually, I like several good watches.

Genesis

Back in 1993, I left University and took a full time role in the foreign exchange industry. Not in a London trading room, but in Budapest. I boarded the plane with only an approximate idea of where Budapest was and what it would be like.
On Vaci Utca, I passed a Tag Heuer store every day. Within weeks, I had decided that as an “expat professional” I needed a good watch. When my first pay check arrived, I bought one.

My Tag, a good watch

Over the next twenty five years or so, I picked up several more watches, either on impulse, as a gift or through inheritance. I even have a pocket watch. Part utility item, part jewellery, I like a good watch.

Digital

Then along came Apple. Having established themselves as ever-present on my desk, in my briefcase and in my pocket, the fruit-folk were after my wrist. I resisted. Why on earth would I need a notification on my wrist when I’m forever switching them off on all my other devices, one of which is already on my person? However, I did find myself wearing a Fitbit. I was trying to lose weight and was on the 10,000 step wave. It was only a matter of time before I was seduced by Apple Watch, if only for its fitness tracking.

I like a watch and the Apple Watch is that, and much more. I’ll be honest, I don’t know how to use much of the functionality.

What do I use Apple Watch for:

  1. The time.
  2. My steps, my “standing hours” and my “active minutes” and “active calories”.
  3. Calorie burn during workouts.
  4. It keeps me available (if I want to be) when swimming.
  5. As a quick notification centre; a triage, if you like.
  6. The weather forecast.
  7. My calendar

Hang on. I use this thing a lot.

Surprise

Often, I ache for the analogue. I switch to a dumb phone, and wear a “Slo-Jo Watch”.

When I do, I miss the watch more than the phone, which surprises me every time.

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Working Tools 23. – Time to Upgrade?

Is it time to upgrade my hardware setup?

Hardware

The first post in the #Workingtools series was a description of my hardware setup, and the second was on software. That was in April. All of the hardware is 2016 / 2017, which is unusual for me.

The laptop is of the generation(s) with the fragile keyboard. I’m hoping that it is relatively safe, as I use it in clamshell mode with an external display and keyboard. The iPad Pro is a 10.5 inch and I use it more and more for work.

WWDC

As I write, the Apple WWDC shindig is a week away, and it is widely rumoured that many of the software limitations of the tablet will be removed. This spring event focuses on software, so I expect no new hardware.

Expectations

Realistically, I don’t expect to be closer to an iPad-only workflow. Recording a podcast, importing photos and then editing them, are tasks that I expect to remain easier on machine that allows for some physical connection. However, some of the expected changes will, I suspect, increase the advantage that the tablet has over the laptop for some tasks. I welcome that, but at the time of writing, I’m still happy with the hardware that I have, or rather I cannot justify the cost of any available upgrade.

Presumably, the new software will enable Apple to release exciting shiny things in the autumn, things that will be appreciably more powerful than the things that I’m using now. Perhaps that will be the time to upgrade?

Conclusion

I’m disappointed now. I started this post with a vague idea that WWDC would mark the time that I should upgrade my tablet and pencil. However, as I wrote it, I came to the conclusion that I have no need for any new electronics. I must be getting old.

Still – I may be wrong, Apple may have a surprise in store.

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