Category Archives: Mac Apps

MacBook Air 11 + iPad 2 – Best of Both Worlds

My new MacBook Air 11 and iPad 2

I am writing an in-depth series of blog posts about iPad apps for knowledge professionals right now and I am nearing the half-way point. Along the way, I’ve decided to buy a MacBook Air 11 to compliment my iPad 2. I specifically got the MacBook Air 11 as my primary Mac and as a mobile device I could carry with my iPad 2 which I won’t leave home without. Why both? That’s my topic today.

Torn between Two Lovers

The iPad 2 has become indispensable to me. It is truly enjoyable to use, is the least onerous computer I’ve ever encountered. There are apps on there that are better than any Mac app, take Thinkbook, for one of many examples. I also tote an iPhone 4, but that’s a given. One might think the iPhone 4 + MacBook Air would be enough, but the iPad screen real estate makes for lots of apps that don’t exist on iPhone 4.

I have been a MacBook Air owner since December 2008 with the 128gb SSD 2nd gen model. As soon as I experienced the ease and freedom of using the 3 pound Air and the instant gratification of the solid state drive, I was hooked. Within a week or two, I swore not to ever buy a full-sized laptop again. My previous main Mac was a 15″ MacBook Pro but I was willing at that point to sacrifice CPU speed and screen real estate for human-friendliness even then. I already had a 24″ iMac when I bought the Air and kept my 15″ MBP as a backup. Except for using the iMac as a place to hook up extra external drives, these machines have gotten less than 5% of my time ever since.

I work out of my home as a self-employed computer/technology consultant and FileMaker software developer with my own software product. I don’t need to visit clients very often. I can work wherever I have a computer. In my case, FileMaker Pro development must occur on a Mac or PC (Mac!). The iPad and iPhone versions of FileMaker, allow access to FileMaker data but not development work. My colleagues and clients work with me remotely most times so I like to get out to my local cafe every day. I combine that with an exercise walk downtown and back through Tiburon’s St. Hilary’s Preserve Open Space.

New MacBook Air 11. Even though I already had upgraded to the MacBook Air 13 2010, everything clicked into place when the new Air 11 came out in July when Lion was released. The 2010 Air 11 was a little underpowered I thought but the new Air is extremely fast, so no complaints there. Carrying both the Air 13 and iPad 2 was a bit heavy for my daily walk downtown so I usually took the iPad 2 and left my Air 13  and a lot of my professional work options at home. Until now. The new Air 11 is a potent Mac whose only limitation is its 11″ screen. Lion seems built for that small screen with its new fullscreen mode. In Lion, fullscreen apps have extra features and work great swiping left or right to change to different spaces — each full screen instance gets its own virtual space.

iPad is in Transition and Still Benefits from a Mac. Yes, the iPad 2 is a Post PC device, but writing my series on using it as a knowledge professional put its current weaknesses front and center. I decided lack of a Finder and the necessity to use Open In… to move documents and images around is a pain right now. Yes, I do it with the aid of Dropbox, but I don’t like doing it. It is laborious and any other creative task tends to run into the limitations of the siloing of iPad apps when compared to the seamless experience on a Mac when doing the same thing. This must change, and meanwhile I want to enjoy the iPad to the full in its current state with its incredible new apps more compelling and varied by the day.

Tiny Incase bag can hold Air 11 + iPad 2 + Kindle 3

Carrying Both iPad 2 and Air 11. The day I bought the Air 11 (August 20), I also bought the $59 Incase Nylon Sleeve bag (I see the 13″ version on sale for $29 at It’s really well-made, small, very light, and has some nice extra pockets for cables, wallets etc.. This bag will also accommodate my iPad with a little help from a minimalist sleeve around it so it can slip in right beside the naked Air 11. I got a $19 suede jacket leather sleeve from Waterfield bags ( The Incase bag is super-padded so the plan worked! I can actually carry my MacBook Air 11, iPad 2 and Kindle 3 in this bag – putting the Kindle 3 naked in the full-length outside pocket. Pretty amazing when you want everything with you on the road in a compact, good-looking bag. The removable shoulder strap is to die for. The fold-away handles are great when you don’t need the shoulder strap.

How’s that 11″ Screen Working for Me? Sometimes it feels a bit small, of course, but mostly you just use it and it seems just fine. The mobility and comfort compensate and make up for the small decrease in screen space. If you already have an iPad and regard it as an essential part of your kit bag, you too may find the Air 11 it’s best companion.

The Shrinking Laptop. As a computer professional, I won’t be abandoning the Mac any time soon. But, devices like the iPhone taught me that I could get an amazing amount of work done on an iPhone (I bought it on day one: June 29, 2007). Then the iPad, with it’s larger canvas showed how helpful a little more room is. But these devices reduce one’s tolerance for bulky devices that are heavy. In an always connected world, you want your devices more mobile. In a digital world, you are using devices more and paper less. You need devices that are more like paper. The Air 11 is the most paper like PC available and it is a very powerful Mac!

Maybe the iPad will do it all Soon. The imminent release of iCloud may make the Air less important because it will allow better file access but a lot of the ease there will depend on apps being modified to support iCloud’s new features. This process will take some time to play out. I’ll still need the Mac to develop on FileMaker – at least for a bit longer (who knows what future versions FileMaker Go and FileMaker will bring). And my favorite all-purpose writing tool, Scrivener, doesn’t seem ready to release an iPad version just yet. I didn’t want to wait, and this new Air 11 will be long in the tooth before all the pieces of Apple’s strategy mature. Meanwhile, I’m having a fantastic time with my portable office.

Knowledge vs. Productivity Apps

I fall into the ardent minority who is pursuing using the iPad as a vehicle for productivity and knowledge. Rightly, the iPad has been described as a tool for consumption first and foremost. It’s fantastic for consumption activities like reading of all kinds, viewing video and playing games. It’s great for your leisure time, no doubt.

I’m a computer enthusiast and professional so I see the iPad as a new kind of computer. We’ve known for a very long time that a lot more is possible with a computer beyond typing on a keyboard and staring into a screen for hours sitting still. We’ve known that handwriting recognition, voice recognition and control are possible and being worked on. We’ve seen Minority Report with all the handwaving and now the Kinect. And Apple has had two blockbuster products that allow you to throw things around on a tiny or book-sized screen with your fingers. So, to me, what’s happening with the iPhone and iPad and their competitors is exciting and great to see.

The computer is the possibility machine. And something I do with it is work. I work for myself so work and play do kind of blend together. I work for clients but I also do things like this blog that are a bit more aspirational. Maybe there’s some work related to my most passionate interests out there that will find me blogging about this stuff.

I love computers so the first thing the iPad represents to me is a really tiny computer that packs a punch and is incredibly portable. It happens to run iOS and iOS is still discovering what it’s going to be when it grows up. So, I am not willing to think of it as a mere entertainment device even if it is extraordinary and surprising in that area already. I see it as a device that should be able to do anything any other computer has done one way or another. We’ve already seen keyboards that are created by shining a light on the table your are sitting at and typing on it. We’ve seen glasses that can display a huge screen relative to its distance from the eye. Why would I not be able to work with one of these things — with or without a keyboard?

Enough preamble, now let’s look at work from a knowledge professional’s perspective. I think of independent knowledge professionals as the new experts, consultants, advisers and publishers. The new part of it is that experts now kind of blend in with normal people who are passionate amateurs. I’m not an expert at the subject of independent knowledge professionals if a degree in IKP is required. But I am an IKP and have been for 25 years. And I’m the curious type. I do have a couple Masters degrees – one in Sociology and one in Business. Academia and other official institutions grant credibility but now we are realizing that amateurs and people who make this stuff up can be interesting and do valuable thinking too.

There’s this big knowledge component. It doesn’t hurt to be productive either. I like the knowledge piece more than the productivity piece so that’s mostly what I will talk about on this blog. I won’t talk much about traditional business disciplines like accounting, finance and marketing (maybe some marketing since it is intertwined with the web and internet which continues to change our world in dramatic ways). I’m interested in knowledge apps. They help you understand your world and figure out where you fit. They help you think, write, learn and articulate.

For a minute I’ll talk about productivity and productivity apps to make this distinction. Productivity has to do with efficiency. At its higher levels it has to do with effectiveness. Knowledge helps figure out these two kinds of virtues and how to get more of them, but it is more about the discovery and insight than the practice. Productivity is the getting things done. The work flow. Utility Apps may have productivity and knowledge aspects. The To Do apps exemplify productivity apps in the extreme. Pert charts and project management. List-makers. These can be awesome, but I like the less practical apps that lean towards knowledge, insight, analysis, creativity, expressiveness. Maybe a bit less about quantity and more about quality.

Apple aspires to blend Science with Art. The computer is the bicycle for the mind, Steve Jobs used to say. I think like that. I want to be delighted and enlightened.

Knowledge apps that excite me: Thinkbook, Index Card, Zite, Notesy, Bento, Day One, Scrivener and Circus Ponies Notebook. Those of you who are list-makers and masters of efficiency will probably be aficionados of productivity apps. This is where you shine. If that productivity app promises to help me be more efficient and get my work flow going with less time and effort, I’ll be there too. I just have my true loves and then my acquired tastes.