I have been thinking a lot about the iPad Mini lately. I can’t pinpoint exactly why, but I have a few links peppered in this that got my gears going. Furthermore, I have many questions about the iPad mini now and the future of the iPad mini.
The iPad mini might not be for everyone, but people who have used it will tell you that it just works for them.
Shortly after he wrote this, Lee shared that due to new circumstances, the iPad mini doesn’t quite fit like it once did for what he’s doing. Now, he is rocking the M1 MacBook Air as his main device.
What I’ve found this year is that since getting the larger screened iPhone 11 I’m using my iPad Mini less. It’s just always with me and easily accessible. I use the iPad Mini now for about 20% of the time in my week. Maybe to read a magazine or look at my RSS but I’ve found its use has dropped off.
The iPad mini has some things going for it, mainly because of its size. The first thing is it’s a great reading device. Whether you are scrolling a book, reading a digital magazine, or skimming a New York Times article, the mini provides a Retina screen that can be held in your palm with ease. That being said, there is the argument that the iPhone can do all of these things too. For me, though, I have found that reading on my phone for longer than a few hundred leaves me wanting a larger device to read things on. I also get fatigued holding my 11-inch iPad Pro, or even the regular iPad when I had one.
All this to say that the mini can be argued that it deserves a spot in the Apple iPad lineup, but I am still not sold on the iPad mini 5. To me, it seems time that the iPad mini fit between the 10.2-inch iPad and the 6.7-inch iPhone 12 Pro Max.
How Can the iPad Mini Improve?
There are several ways that the next iPad mini can be improved upon to make it more enticing for users, and for people who already have an iPad and iPhone to want the iPad mini.
The current 10.2-inch iPad is selling at the starting price $329, whereas the 7.9-inch iPad mini 5 is being sold at the starting price of $399. Selling the iPad mini $70 more than the iPad is like selling an iPhone 12 for more than a 12 Pro. It just doesn’t make much sense. It also isn’t like they differ in any meaningful way.
They both are using the same A12 Bionic chip, and both support the Apple Pencil. One of two things needs to happen if Apple wants the mini to thrive going forward. They either need to lower the price to lower or at the very least match the iPad. On the other hand, they could offer an updated version of the iPad mini with a better ship and better features to justify the added cost.
The iPad mini is only 1.2-inches bigger than the iPhone 12 Pro Max, which isn’t enough to make it appealing to users with larger phones like the 12 Pro Max, or any iPhone Max device in the last few years.
It is rumored that the iPad mini will be getting a larger screen size, one place estimated 8.9-inches for the screen size, all without changing the footprint of the iPad Mini. This means that the bezels are getting thinner and the Home Button is going away in the next version of the iPad mini.
This seems like a no-brainer to me. It is time that Apple cut the cord from the Apple Pencil 1 and make the move to generation 2. Not only is it magnetic and can be stuck to the side of some supported devices, the Apple Pencil 2 is much more accessible to purchase compared to the first generation.
This is a more edge-cased thing, but in my opinion, Apple should lean in with MagSafe and start implementing it in the iPad lineup. The iPad mini is a perfect place to start. It isn’t much larger, the battery size is comparable, and it wouldn’t look so silly with the current MagSafe puck.
When I was in high school, I distinctly remember a moment where my social studies teacher was going through a lesson irregularly fast. It got to be so much of an issue that several students, myself included, begged him to slow down on his PowerPoint presentation so that we could write down what was on each slide.
“You know,” my teacher began to say, “your generation is great at writing out notes and dictations of what us teachers say, but you rarely take in the information we are giving you.” For years this sentiment lived under my skin rent free. I was personally offended by his tone and was adamant that this was just a microaggression towards millennials. I have come to learn that I begrudgingly have to agree with his original statement, at least partially.
Note taking for me was indeed transcribing what my teachers were saying. I would stress over whether or not I wrote everything down. There were multiple occasions in my high school tenure where I had to lean over to a nearby classmate to ask for their notes because I had missed what was shown in a previous slide. I wasn’t focused on what the actual teachings were. This eventually extended into college, and even into my career. For years I had a notebook with me frantically writing down everything that was said to me because I was terrified I would forget.
The problem with this was that it wasn’t helping me remember things, but rather allowing me to immediately forget what was said to me. So long as I wrote it down, my mind felt that it wasn’t worth my brain capacity to remember.
Now, this isn’t inherently a problem. So long as I had a trusted system that can take these notes it would have worked, but I didn’t have that. So, multiple times a day I would write down something that was said to me, a task I needed to do, or an idea. Those notes in my notebook were captured, but they fell through the cracks because I would often overlook them as I captured more and more in my notebooks throughout the day.
I knew this wasn’t a system that was going to help me in the long run because I used my notes as a crutch that and they weren’t holding me up properly. So I had to find a different way to take notes.
Writing plays such a central role in learning, studying and research that it is surprising how little we think about it. If writing is discussed, the focus lies almost always on the few exceptional moments where we write a lengthy piece, a book, an article or, as students, the essays and theses we have to hand in. At first glance, that makes sense: these are the tasks that cause the most anxiety and with which we struggle the longest. Consequently, these ‘written pieces’ are also what most self-help books for academics or study guides focus on, but very few give guidance for the everyday note-taking that takes up the biggest chunk of our writing.
[…] What they all have in common, though, is that they start with a blank screen or sheet of paper. But by doing this, they ignore the main part, namely note-taking, failing to understand that improving the organisation of all writing makes a difference. They seem to forget that the process of writing starts much, much earlier than that blank screen and that the actual writing down of the argument is the smallest part of its development.
What particularly resonated with me in her talk was how using mind maps illustrated how we actually think about things.
[N]otice … you put down single words or short phrases. This isn’t whole sentences or paragraphs. Do you think you store in your brain paragraphs? How about sentences? What about those outlines you spent of time in school, Roman 1A, B, C, remember that stuff? Do you think that is what you store in your brain? I don’t think so. You store images, you store key ideas, you store the connections between the things you’re learning and things you already knew.
In an interview with NPR Pam A. Meullar, author of The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking, expanded on their research article. She spoke about note taking on a computer compared to long-handed notes saying that typing up transcriptions is not only ineffective but being more selective is much more rewarding in the learning process.
When people type their notes, they have this tendency to try to take verbatim notes and write down as much of the lecture as they can … The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective — because you can’t write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them.
Now, I am not here to say writing notes by hand is better. If you are one that enjoys writing out notes and systems with pen and paper, then this might be what you need to make the move to doing something like a Bullet Journal.
For me, this information has led me to the conclusion that we can’t simply copy and paste the things we see in front of us. Whether it’s a lecture, video, article, or something else you consume, you need to put them in your own words if you want to remember the lessons learned from it.
In my experience, if you don’t have a system like this in place my notes are merely being stored and collecting metaphorical dust.
How Casey Newton Helped me with Taking Notes
In an interview with Casey Newton, which will be on the next episode of A Slab of Glass, I was interested to hear about his note taking process.
For those of you who don’t know, Casey is a prolific writer for his Substack, Platformer, where he writes 5000-10,000 words an issue, four times a week. Needless to say, he has a ton of information, links, research, and sources that all need a place to be saved and further clarified. One intriguing thing I learned from him was that he has a database in Notion where he saves links to throughout the day. Every link is its own page, and all of those pages live in a database called “Platformer Links”.
Let me first explain that you can do something like this with practically any note taking app. From Apple Notes, Evernote, Craft, Notion, Bear, or something else, it is almost a given that you can share a link or document and put it in a notes app.
So, as Casey saves these links he uses them in his link roundup for Platformer, as well as a way to see trends or possible future story ideas. Once saved, he then adds tags to them. For example, he speaks a lot about Facebook and misinformation, and he uses both of those words as tags regarding any links he saves. Once he has his tags set up, he then has different “views”. One view will only show links added in the last 24 hours, another has a month’s worth of links being shown. These views allows Casey to see connections in his links he might have seen otherwise.
How I am Using These Lessons Learned
For me, I have taken Casey’s process a step further. Along with tags, I add comments to these links explaining my thoughts on the content, takeaways I got from them, and any criticism I might have on the premise of the article or video.
Adding my own words to the content I have saved allows me to make connections in my mind that I otherwise wouldn’t. This is where I change my notes from simple storage of links to actual notes I have written.
I am also using tags in the links and resources I am saving into Notion. Tags like iPad, iPhone, Apple are used regularly, but I also have tags like video, rumor, and touch bar that is more specific but can be used in more notes down the line. The reason for tags is because I want to use them as means of connecting notes together in new ways. I could use something like a backlink to do the same thing, but with tags you are able to sort them in more ways than the simple two-way connections backlinks offer.
Aside from links, I am also using my notes as a means to capture, organize, and elaborate on ideas I have for Tablet Habit. From article ideas, workflows, etc. I have a database set up that’s similar to my links to allow me to see what I can use for future issues of Tablet Habit.
My note taking journey is still going on, and I doubt it will ever truly”end”. That said, I am happy with where I am right now and I hope this feeling continues as I push to improve and innovate my notes.
This week I wanted to utilize the Apple Notes app, and how you can use the synergy with the Mac and your iPad or iPhone to up your note-taking game.
I made a quick video showing how you can use your Mac and iPhone or iPad to capture photos, documents, or sketches like magic. Let me know if you like these videos, if a lot of you do I might make some more down the line.
Have you ever been in a meeting or something and see a document, visual aid, or something else you want to capture in your notes? Well, thanks to the Notes app you can grab a quick photo, scan, or sketch out what you wanted to save. It all starts with a simple icon in the Mac Apple Notes app.
Once you click on this icon in the upper right-hand area of the Notes app, a world of options comes up. Depending on what devices you own, you may see multiple things show up. For me, it shows my iPhone and my iPad. Both of these devices have the same options available, here’s what each does.
This is pretty self-explanatory, under the device you wish to use, for me it is my iPhone, click on “Take Photo” and then your device opens up the camera for you to snap a photo. Take a photo, decide if it works for you and once done it will show up in your note on the Mac.
Like the photo option, once selected your device’s camera opens up but instead of it being a standard camera, it is now looking for documents to scan and once it finds one it will cover it with a blue UI and automatically scan it for you. You can scan multiple pages and edit the pages you want to keep by tapping the bottom left ahnd corner. When everything is the way you want it select Done and press Save. Once saved, the documents show up in the note on your Mac.
Sketch is the most interesting one for me, as it is using PencilKit to allow you to draw, color, and sketch something on your iPad or iPhone. Just select “Sketch” in the options, draw out what you want on your iPhone or iPad. Once you’re all set tap “Done” and it will pop up in the note.
This is one feature I never knew about, but now that I do know about it Apple Notes seems like a killer app for when you want to take notes quick and want to capture reference material as well.
I am not someone that makes things like Adam, but I do run his videos in the background as I write, edit podcasts (the volume from the video is off), or just when I am in need of a break. What Adam taught me though, wasn’t how to build something, it was that you can have variants of the same tool for different purposes.
I was watching a video where he made a “tiny thwacker” while literally using a similar tool to make this hammer. I don’t use hammers though; my “hammers” are note-taking and writing tools.
Throughout the time I have been writing for Tablet Habit, I have been searching for the “perfect notes app.” I wanted an all-in-one solution that captures, organizes, and edits perfectly to what my brain wants. I have been using everything you can possibly imagine. I have tried Apple Notes, Craft, Notion, Obsidian, and even Evernote to name a few.
All of these apps and services have their benefits and flaws, and I am yet to find the notes app that works “perfectly” for me. Now, I have come to the realization that this search is not only never-ending but it is also inherently flawed. There is no “perfect notes app”, much like there is no perfect anything in this world. You need multiple tools to get the job done, and you might also need multiple apps to store and save your thoughts, ideas, and journal entries.
In the latest episode of A Slab of Glass I interviewed James Eaton, someone I have spoken to online quite a bit over the years. He had some fantastic insight, which I will share on the next Premium issue of Tablet Habit. However, I will share one of the things I learned. It’s that you shouldn’t make a tool something it’s not. James said it best when he talked about how he started using the note-taking app Craft.
I basically let go of any other structure that I had. Because I am always bringing a structure from an old thing in. ‘I used to it this this way. Well how do I Evernote in Craft? How do I do Notion in Craft?’ I kind of just said ‘How do I do use Craft? What would it look like if I didn’t have all of this?
If you pay attention to the workshop he is working in you will see dozens of saws, pliers, and drill bits. They are all slightly different, but they all have a purpose.
If we think of this for software, you can use Apple Notes for a particular set of work, Notion for another, and Obsidian for something else. However, this isn’t permission to just throw your notes anywhere you feel like, it still needs a system in place otherwise it won’t work.
This tool metaphor goes both ways, because I have seen workshops that have no semblance of order or organization. This doesn’t mean that your workshop (notes app) is helpless, but it definitely needs some TLC. Assess what you have to work with and go from there.
Taking this insight from James Eaton and Adam Savage has helped me put my search for a “perfect notes app” to rest. I don’t know why it took me nearly 30 years on this planet to come to this conclusion, but I’m glad I reached this point at all.
As for what system I am using now, that is still a work-in-progress.
For those of you who don’t know what Obsidian is, you can think of it as a note-taking system that used plain text Markdown files. Unlike Craft or Evernote, you don’t need to rely on their services to sync and save your data, it is directly saved on your hard drive, and you can do with it as you see fit anytime. In other words, if Obsidian were to go away tomorrow and offer no chance for you to recover your files you would still have access to your notes because they are saved right on your computer. Also, don’t worry about Obsidian going away, this app isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
I enjoy Obsidian because it is a plain text editor, meaning it is just words on a screen instead of something like Craft or Notion where they are cards, blocks, or pages. It is a straightforward editor that works great on desktop, and is equally satisfying on the iPad and iPhone.
It is completely free to try, and if you do decide to give it a shot, I have a ton of articles and videos on how to get started below.
My Favorite Obsidian Plugins
If you aren’t familiar with the plugin system Obsidian has, it’s a neat concept. Obsidian is a text editor, but if you enable plugins either made by Obsidian or by other users you can make this text editor into something much more like a Swiss Army Knife instead of a One-Trick Pony.
Here are some plugins that have helped me make Obsidian into something I can use for all of my notes, writing, task management, and research.
Templater is a fantastic plugin that makes using templates in Obsidian significantly powerful.
Templater is becoming my one-stop shop for various templates I want to implement into my notes. So far I have made one for my Daily Notes, YAML markup, and Newsletter setup.
If you want to learn more Curtis McHale has a great starter video for Templater to show how he uses it and what you can do with it as well.
I have been using the Kanban plugin for project management, and it has been very interesting. If you don’t know what Kanban is, think of it as cards being moved into different stages while you work on them.
This Kanban plugin allows you to make different cards in a Kanban board, add notes to those cards, and then move them around the board. It is a fantastic place for me to add writing ideas to and keep them all in one trusted system. Once I want to expand on that idea or link a different note to it I just open it up and put in what I want.
Vantage is a tool that makes search more powerful and allows you to embed them into notes and templates. I have spoken about Vantage before and how I use it for my Daily Notes, and things haven’t changed for me on that front. I still use it to find notes and articles I have tagged #readlater and I also use it to find tasks due today.
That said, I did find Greg Morris’ setup and love how he uses the plugin Tasks, which is in a similar vain as Vantage.
Paste URL into Selection
Paste URL into Selection is a plugin that is pretty self explanatory. If you have a link in your clipboard, you can select text in Obsidian and paste it into selected text. It behaves similar to how Ghost, Notion, and Craft behave with links.
It seems small, but it makes things very conveinient when you are dealing with a lot of links at a time. Say for instance you are rounding up links for a newsletter, instead of having to format everything into a Markdown link you can just paste the link into the selected text that is the title of the article you want to save. It makes things easier to deal with than having to make you you format everything into the correct Markdown syntax.
There are some significant changes coming to how we browse the web on iOS 15 and macOS Monterey. If you follow Apple news or other tech writers, I am sure you have seen just how polarizing the new Safari is.
Over a decade of muscle memory has trained my brain to reach up for the menu bar on smartphones. I get Apple’s motivation in moving it to the bottom, making it easier to reach on the increasingly large phones it makes and putting the actual content of devices front and center at the top of the screen, it’s still a change that’ll require an adjustment period.
Modifying habits that have been built for ten years is not going to be easy. We have always clicked on the top address bar to move through Safari and reload a page. And the bottom one to share, go back and forth, open tabs and history.
But it is easy to see how reloading the web and sharing are the ones that can bring us the most problems. Because it is not obvious where we are going to find them, despite the fact that when you click on the menu they have a preferred place. And when the user knows where they are, they will see that options that were previously accessible with one tap now require two steps.
Safari 15 brings big changes, and surely not everyone will be a fan. I, for one, think the expanded use of color is distracting, and the tabs-aren’t-just-tabs-anymore design confusing at times. I hope Apple might reconsider some of these more drastic design changes during the beta process this summer.
Clearly, there is much left to be desired from Apple when it comes to the changes to one of the most popular apps on the planet.
Let’s dive right into what the issue is for Safari. I want to cover the three biggest issues I encounter. There are other minor things that bother me about Safari, but that is for another time. Today, I want to bring up the more drastic changes that fundamentally change how we browse the web.
The tab bar doesn’t help
Apple has moved the tab bar (or address bar as many call it) from the top of the screen to the bottom. This is obviously meant to make it more usable for bigger phones. As an iPhone 12 Pro Max user, this is a welcome change, but the problem is how this new bar behaves.
The new tab bar is no longer connected to the bottom of the screen, it now floats.
As you can see, the bottom bar now floats and shows some content between the bottom of the bar and the bottom of the screen. Or, as Apple puts it, “Safari gets a new design that makes controls easier to reach with one hand and puts content front and center.”
The problem here is that the tab bar isn’t working well for some websites. A large amount of the websites that aren’t working properly are because of a floating menu or buttons. Nintendo’s website, for instance, is horrible to use in the new Safari.
It is almost impossible to use the bottom buttons on the website when the floating bar is active, making it incredibly frustrating as a user.
What makes this even more of a conundrum is that there are other sites that work perfectly fine with the new Safari. Twitter, for instance, works just fine.
My website, however, has a subscribe button that wasn’t working right with the new Safari.
On the left, you see my website with a Subscribe button floating fine when the tab bar is minimized. However, when it is active, you see that the Subscribe bar isn’t floating above it as it should.
I am sure there is a way to make this work, but I am not a web developer and the number of people that actually click on that button is most likely slim to none. Because of this, I decided to just eliminate it from my website entirely.
Where’s the Share button again?
The new design also entirely ruins all muscle memory we have with Safari. We no longer can go by memory on where the Share button, reload button, or back buttons are. We are back to square one with web browsing on our phones.
To add insult to injury, the functionality of Safari is now hidden away in a junk-drawer styled “…” button. If you want to do anything useful with Safari, you now have to activate the bottom bar, tap the “…” button and select what you want.
If you want to share this via the standard Share Sheet, you have to tap on another button to get access to that. Feel fatigued yet? I say that in jest, but it is obvious that Apple has a problem with quick access in Safari.
Sure, my website gets an added line or two of content, but the cost of bringing things “front and center” isn’t worth the added sentence I can read on an infinitely scrolling feed.
Tabs on the iPad and Mac are worthless
I’ve spoken enough about the woes on the iPhone, but the iPad and Mac aren’t any better. The biggest, most griped about thing with the new Safari is the tabs. No matter what you do, the tabs in Monterey and iPadOS 15 are no longer reliable.
By reliable, I mean that because of the nature of how tabs work, I have to play Where’s Waldo with the tabs on my screen. Gone are the days when tabs were normally in the same vicinity because now instead of the tabs being separate from the address bar, Apple has decided to bring it all into one amorphous blob.
While this may look fine in a screenshot, when you are using it in practice it is almost impossible to find the tab you want once you have more than 5 or 6 tabs open at a time.
What is the most difficult for me, is that I can no longer reliable guess what keyboard shortcut I need to press to get to a specific tab. If you don’t know if you wanted to open the third tab in Safari, you can just press Command-3 and you are there. Back when Safari had a uniform tab length and the address bar was separate from tabs, you could reliably guess what tab was what. Now, the address bar moves to the tab location, which makes things very difficult. Now, I can’t estimate what tab is where anymore. I have an abysmal average of successfully guess what keyboard shortcut I need to reach to Safari tab I was hoping to open.
With these large issues, there are some options Apple can make to improve Safari. I am not an engineer, nor have I spent years researching UX and UI. That said, I have found some interesting solutions and have thought of my own as well.
Better Web Developer support
I did some digging to try to find a solution to make my Subscribe button float above the tab bar on iOS, but I couldn’t find anything in Google or Apple’s developer sessions. I found an article by Samuel Kraft that explains it reasonably, but it is beyond my minimal knowledge in web development.
I would love to have a simple bit of code to add to my header to make things like my Subscribe button and other UI elements to comply with the new Safari design. Furthermore, I know enough about web development that websites are built in a variety of ways; and I know that this kind of ask is huge from Apple, but when it is literally how millions browse the web regularly it needs to allow for things like this.
I am sure there are people reading this that think implementing this is simple to understand. For me, though, it is too much of a hassle for me to bang my head against a wall until I figure it out.
Redesign the Safari app
As far as iOS Safari goes, Matt Birchler had an interesting take, which I shared recently, on how to fix this: use Maps as a starting point.
Apple’s own Maps app has a similar UI where they’ve moved the search field and bookmarks to the bottom of the UI, while letting the content (the map) occupy most of the screen. The search bar is always visible, a small swipe up reveals your favorites, and a full swipe up brings up the full functionality of that app’s “start page”.
Is this as adventurous as the new Safari UI? Nope, but it sure didn’t spark the frustration that Safari has caused either.
While I did harp on the bad things about Safari, I do find some things to be a breath of fresh air. I just hope that those bits of fresh air aren’t smothered with the difficult and frustrating UX that is the current Safari beta.
The new and improved multitasking features being available on iPadOS 15. With that, Shortcuts now allows users to create actions and shortcuts that opens apps in both Split View and in Slide Over. I made a demo shortcut you can download here.
As you can see, you can choose the two apps that will be in Split View and have a separate action opening a specific app in Slide Over. In just two actions I can have my entire setup change on the iPad.
You are also able to change the Split View ratio from 50/50 to 70/30 if you so choose.
This might not seem like something to write home about, but like most Shortcut posts it is all about how you use these tools and actions.
For me, I integrate this with my Focus areas and have Shortcut Automation perform these actions automatically.
Speaking of Focus Automation, here is what I have happen when I open my Writing Focus.
In two actions I have Safari and Craft in Split View and I have a new Toggl timer going in Timery. With just a single tap I have moved everything I need to the forefront and allowed everything else fall to the wayside.
This is what I was talking about with the building blocks and how you use the tools Shortcuts provides. Once you begin to understand the small things Shortcuts offers you can then build them into something bigger and more meaningful.
Stop and Output
This is a very specific feature in Shortcuts for people that build larger shortcuts and need to debug them.
Stop and Output is an easy way for you to put in an action to see what the output is at that particular point in the Shortcut. You can even copy it to the Clipboard for further investigation.
I don’t normally need this kind of tool when I am making Shortcuts, but when I do need it, I will absolutely be joyous that it is there.
Last, but certainly not least, is the improved Files support. Previously, you would only be allowed access to the Shortcuts folder in iCloud Drive to save, append, or edit files. If you had a file in any other iCloud or local folder on your iPhone or iPad it wasn’t accessible.
Thankfully, that has changed. You can most likely thank the Mac version of Shortcuts for this change, but it is here nonetheless. Now, you can choose a folder or file anywhere in your file system. From Dropbox, to iCloud Drive, to local storage (On My iPad/On My iPhone). Simply tap where the destination is on the Files action and “Replace” the folder/file with what ever you want.
As of right now, in the Developer Beta 2 (2nd Beta 2 update), I cannot seem to be able to make changes to the file/folder in Shortcuts. When I select “Replace” it is consistently crashing every time. If it does work for you, here’s an image of what it looks like in a Shortcut to “Replace” the File/Folder location.
As far as the crashing problem goes, I have filed a Feedback request to Apple sharing what I can in hopes it is fixed in the next version.
As a disclaimer for Beta season, there may be times where Shortcuts won’t work for you properly, like what I just explained above. I will try my best to debug things if something happens, but consider this your warning for testing things in the public Beta.
Shortcuts has a lot more changes and additions up its sleeve, and I can’t wait to share more with you this Summer about it as iOS 15 and macOS Monterey show us what Shortcuts has in store for us.