Great Blue Heron with Fish, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, San Antonio NM

A Mobile Writer's Kit

We are rapidly moving toward a post-pc world where most of us will be using portable tablets and smart phones to do what we have been using desktop and laptop computers to do, especially for reading and writing. Tablets and smart phones are now capable of managing nearly everything we use a personal computer for, with the exception of work that requires a large screen or more complex software, and are capable of doing so in a friendly and easily portable manner.

Writing in a Mobile World

Today with an iPad and a few applications we can access the world's accumulated store of knowledge, can learn from it, and can make our own contribution to it.

With an iPad we have the world at our fingertips. We can read the worlds great thinkers. We can read millions of books. We can research any topic we can imagine. We can take thousands of online courses. We can listen to thousands of podcasts produced by contemporary thinkers and commentators on a miriad of subjects.

It's all out there waiting for us.

Then we can write a blog post or comment. Or write an article and publish it to the web (like this one for instance). Or write a book and publish it as an ebook. Or write to publish in the traditional way on paper.

All this we can do on an iPad using just a few simple applications and maybe a keyboard. Anywhere.

Anywhere at all.

A Mobile Writer's kit

I'm going to describe a simple kit, a mobile writer's kit if you will, based on the setup I am working with right now, as I sit here researching, writing and publishing this piece to my website. I'm working with a simple kit; an iPad, a wireless keyboard, and a few apps.

That's all.

Oh, and an internet connection to upload the page to this site when I finish.

A Tablet

First thing you need is an iPad. Yes, an iPad. Apple's iPad is head and shoulders above the competition in usability, in the huge selection of excellent apps developed for it, and in it's place in Apple's ecosystem of compatible, sync-able computers and devices. Don't settle for anything less.

Assuming this is going to be your main (and increasingly, only) device for accessing the web and for researching and writing I suggest the full size iPad rather than the iPad Mini, one with the biggest memory you can justify.

Mine is a 64GB model but a 32GB model should be more than adequate for reading, researching, and writing unless you expect to be downloading and saving a lot of video. In that case the 64GB model might be better.

For those living in an area with access to AT&T or Verizon data plans, I think the model with cellular data access is far superior to the WiFi only model. You do pay for the cellular data plan but I find the convenience of having internet access available wherever I have a cell signal far outweighs the cost.

A Wireless Keyboard

A separate keyboard is nice to have for typing longer pieces. The touch screen keyboard is surprisingly good for web surfing, email, and shorter note taking but for serious long form writing a wireless keyboard is the way to go. I'm using an Apple Wireless Keyboard because it's what I have. Many people are finding the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover a good choice which combines an iPad cover with a wireless keyboard. There are many choices available but these two work well.

A Bag

Some kind of bag to carry this gear in, something compact and easy to grab and go, will encourage taking the iPad along wherever you go. It's really nice to have the iPad at hand to jot down ideas or do a bit of research on the fly.

That's all the hardware you'll need.

A Text Editor

There are literally hundreds of thousands of iPad apps available to choose from but just a few that I consider essential to this mobile writing enterprise.

If you're going to write you need a text editor.

There are dozens of applications available to work with text on the iPad. This is a rapidly advancing area with developers constantly writing and updating their apps with new features.

One feature I consider important in a text editor on an iPad where we might want to write and edit our work while out and about with no internet connection is the ability to have our work stored locally on the iPad so we can work with no internet connection needed to access our files. Most apps store files either in Apple's iCloud or on Dropbox (or both) but not all keep a copy on the iPad. That eliminated some fine apps from consideration here.

For a basic simple app I suggest Byword then when you are comfortable with that perhaps move to something like Ulysses for larger more structured writing projects (all the old stuff can move over with you - that's what's so nice about writing in plain text).

I use the Drafts app for quick note taking. Drafts can send text to other apps, append it to files in Dropbox, send it as an email, etc. This can be a handy way to get down a quick thought then send it off to use elsewhere later.

I'll let them describe how their apps work - clicking the links takes you to their websites.

Note that these apps work with plain text (the file format - not to be confused with the PlainText app described above). Because plain text files are entirely human readable no fancy applications (think Microsoft) are needed to display and work with the text. Plain text is accessible to any text editor or word processor anywhere making it portable across all computer systems. I see this as a major advantage. One doesn't get committed to any particular operating environment or proprietary software format.

If need be, any word processing program can work with plain text and suitably format it at the time of publication. Until then it's just plain text and can go anywhere.

Online file storage and backup

You'll want a place to back up your hard work. I use Dropbox for this. I find a Dropbox online storage account and the accompanying Dropbox iPad app to access it essential to my mobile writer's kit. All my precious documents are securely stored online in my Dropbox account where they are safe if something happens to the iPad and where they are easily accessed and modified by apps on my iPad or, via the Dropbox website, accessed with any web browser anywhere. Dropbox can also automatically keep these documents in sync with a copy on a Mac or PC.

A web browser

Apple's built-in Safari web browser is excellent. There are others but I've found no need for them. I just use Safari.

An email client

Again, there are others but Apple's built-in Mail email app works just fine. That's what I use.

A web clipping service

This is a really handy idea. I use Marco Arment's Instapaper service; There are others, but his is one of the oldest and best. This service is a hugely useful way to quickly clip articles from the web to read later or to save for research. Click a button on the web browser and the text of the site you are viewing is saved to your Instapaper account where you can read it later either on any browser or on Instapaper's iPad app.

A password manager

I consider this essential and 1Password is the one!

Over time we end up with numerous online accounts, each with it's own unique user name and password (surely you never re-use a password - tsk tsk! :-).

You can safely store all kinds of private account info and passwords in 1Password and only need to remember one, good, password - the one that gets you into the 1Password app.

That way you won't be tempted to use (heaven forbid) short passwords or the same password on multiple accounts.

Setting up 1Password to automatically and securely back up its data to an online Dropbox account keeps that precious data safe and sound off the iPad should it get stolen or broken.

That's It

That's all you need to get started writing on an iPad. Get this gear, set up these few services and apps, spend some time getting familiar with them and have at it!

There's more one can add to tweak and refine this basic kit, of course, but this simple setup will go a long way.

A living document

This is an early draft of what I hope to make a living document which evolves with my experience with this rapidly evolving technology. In time I'd like to add links to more apps and online resources I find that I think will extend the usefulness of this basic mobile writer's kit.