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using an iPad as your main computer

The iPad is the perfect computer for writing, note taking, drawing, and coding  —  for working wherever as a digital nomad.

As a cofounder of HQ, I wear many hats . Some days I am talking to customers, others working on product design, programming new features, or writing up a new article post (like this one!).

I used to be tethered to a laptop or desktop, but now I spend a good portion of my days using an iPad, especially when I'm working outside or traveling.

weight difference

The difference in weight between a 9.7 inch iPad Pro and a 13 inch MacBook Pro is a couple pounds, depending on if you have a case on your iPad. But, when I'm carrying my office on my back, I like cutting out whatever weight I can.

I like to work from the mountains, the beach, and while I'm traveling. When I'm cramped next to someone on a bus or train, having a smaller device is nice.

single focus

Beyond the weight and size difference, the iPad helps me stay focused on one task at a time.

Since I can only have two apps on the screen at a time, I don't get as easily distracted. I generally have all notifications turned off.

not always perfect

The only times the iPad doesn't work well is if I am working on front-end development or pixel-perfect visual design. In those cases, the laptop still wins.

favorite apps

san gabriel mountains

pretty nice view from the "office", San Gabriel Mountains

organization / writing

notes: I have tried a lot of different note taking apps, but always come back to the built-in Notes app. The search works well, and I use project-based folders to keep organized.

focus keeper: When I'm working for long stretches, I like to use pomodoro to stay focused. Using the built-in iPad timer works, but this app looks nice, and lets you track your streaks.

design / sketching / drawing

procreate: An amazing painting / drawing / sketching tool. Works well with the Apple Pencil.

keynote: We use Keynote for most of our wireframes and even some visual design, because it works across lots of device types. Also use this for planning / organizing my thoughts.

VSCO: I prefer the editing tools of VSCO to Photos, although I use Photos for organization.


working copy: This app integrates into Git and into the Files app. Easy to use, built in code editor.

blink: Good for SSH remote login. You can also install mosh on the end server to stay connected even with spotty wifi. With mosh, you maintain a persistent connection to your server.


riot: We've been running a Matrix instance for decentralized, encrypted communication for the many months. We used to be Slack fans, but prefer the encryption and data ownership of Matrix for video, audio, and text chat.

power tool

shortcuts: I use Apple's shortcuts app to set up routines to quickly record and organize notes / logs.

blowing off steam

figure: This is a really fun app for making music. It has preset sounds and an interesting way of making loops and songs. Worth checking out even if you haven't played around with making music before.

mandala maker: The most relaxing app of all. I like to use this to find some calm when I'm stressed.


santa monica

chair nor pictured

keyboard case: This case is amazing - stable enough to use the keyboard in "laptop" mode without tipping, but the 360° hinge lets you flip it around to draw on flat. The battery on the keyboard lasts about a week and the keys are backlit. The case is reasonably rugged, and I haven't had any issues throwing it into my bag. Using a physical keyboard means I get access to normal keyboard shortcuts like command-tab (to quick switch apps) and command-space bar (to open up search).

apple pencil: If I am drawing or sketching the pencil is crucial, and I find that a pencil grip makes it much more comfortable to use for an extended time. Bonus - the grip keeps the cap attached so I don't have to worry about it rolling away.

battery pack and cable: Although the iPad will usually last me the whole day on a charge, I can't leave home without power! I have a couple of different battery packs to choose from - a lightweight, one charge Mophie and a heavier Anker that lasts multiple charges.

internet access: For internet, I use my phone as a hotspot or jump onto public wifi, using the HQ VPN to protect my connection, save data, and block ads.

final tips

working from the beach

yep, that will do! working from Dana Point

I recommend spending some time learning the iPad gestures. They weren't super intuitive (to me), but I can move around much faster now. I generally keep the notes app open in slide over view.

The reflection off the screen in bright sunlight can be a pain. Make sure to bring a hat or shade and a soft cloth to clear off fingerprints.

Do you use an iPad to get work done? What apps do you use? Any tips you've found along the way?

published oct 10, 2018

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