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By Stephen Hackett

The Hackett File: Revising my iPad Productivity

Outside of recording and editing podcasts, my next-biggest chunk of time at work is spent on administration. Generally, this involves a lot of email, PDFs and spreadsheets. These tasks can be done on an iPad, but I’ve always found myself more comfortable completing them on a Mac.

Perhaps I’ve never taken the time to adjust my workflows to better fit the limitations present on iOS, but I find myself feeling constrained in ways that I don’t on macOS.

Take the task of creating a PDF from an email and uploading it to Freshbooks, the web-based accounting tool we use at Relay FM. On the Mac, I can select Export as PDF… from the file menu, save the PDF to my Desktop, tab over to Safari and upload it.

(As macOS supports creating your own custom keyboard shortcuts, I don’t even have to manually pull down the File menu to start the task, which is an added bonus.)

On iOS, this task is more clumsy. While some clients like Airmail make it easier to create PDFs from emails, the built-in app takes several steps:

  1. Tap the Reply button, because Mail.app hates the Share Sheet.
  2. Select Print.
  3. On the Printer Options screen pinch and expand the Preview or press on it with 3D touch. A PDF preview window is then spawned.
  4. Tap the Share button at the bottom of that window. to save the PDF someplace like Dropbox or iCloud.

After all of that, I can switch to Safari and upload the file from the Document Picker to the web. Most document providers require Internet access, which is another thing to consider.

This example is simple, but it’s something I do numerous times a week. I’d love to be able to use Mail.app and have an easier way to create PDFs from messages, but so far, iOS 11 doesn’t make turning an email message into a PDF any easier.

However, once a PDF has been made, iOS 11 promises to make this sort of task faster and easier with Files.app. It allows for local file storage, so my files don’t have to make a round trip to a Dropbox server and back.

This particular workflow should be a little better in iOS 11, but not remarkably different. However, the new multitasking, drag and drop and the aforementioned Files app should make this sort of cross-app work faster and easier.

Currently, so much work is reliant on Document Providers, a corner of iOS 10 that demotes non-iCloud services in what is already a pretty painful bit of UI. With Files, dragging documents to an email draft or a Note will be complete in mere seconds. Uploading a bunch of photos to a CMS will be much faster, as will importing resources into something like iWork. The new iPad Pros will allow three apps at once, allowing me to have a spreadsheet, Safari and a checklist all just within reach.

The days of hunting through Split View for the app I need are coming to a close, but I’m not sure that will be enough.

I don’t know if iOS 11 will change enough about the iPad to let me move a lot of my non-audio work to it, but I’m excited about trying it again. I’m ready to be impressed.

[Stephen Hackett is the author of 512 Pixels and co-founder of Relay FM.]

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