How I use the iPad as a serious writing system

I have been using the iPad for writing work for almost two years and I get asked regularly how I do it. This guide explains what I do and why it works well.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor
ZAGG Profolio+ -- Image credit: James Kendrick/ ZDNet

The iPad has revolutionized the way I approach my writing and I am regularly asked how I use it. I originally wrote about the iPad as a solid system for writing a year and a half ago and the tablet is still serving me well. I have used a number of tablets for writing work since then and while most of them work just fine I always come back to the iPad for a number of reasons.

Why it works so well

It's hard to believe but I hear regularly from folks who refuse to believe that the iPad can be use productively for my work.  The fact is the iPad with a physical keyboard is a no-compromise tool for my writing. It works well for a number of reasons:

  1. Long battery life- I never think about battery life on the iPad, unlike most other PCs/tablets.
  2. Retina display- the screen on the iPad makes it possible to work for hours without eyestrain.
  3. LTE- having integrated LTE frees me from the wi-fi hotspot, which is liberating.
  4. Small package- I can carry the iPad in the keyboard case in the smallest bag possible, making it easy to move around.
  5. Taller display- the iPad's screen is taller than other tablets with a wider screen.
  6. Focus- having multiple apps on the screen at once can be nice, but for writing the one app on the screen eliminates distraction. I hit the Do Not Disturb toggle on the iPad to turn off notifications when I'm writing.
  7. Speed to production- I can take the iPad out of the bag and be where I left off in the last session in just a few seconds.
  8. Security- all of my work is in the cloud so I lose nothing if the iPad is stolen. I can deactivate it remotely if that ever happened.

The gear

I currently use an iPad 4 with 64GB of memory (which frankly is overkill) and most importantly integrated LTE. The LTE capability is a godsend, freeing me from needing to find a wi-fi hotspot. I can literally work anywhere without compromise, a powerful feature.

I pair the iPad with a keyboard case to facilitate text entry. I could forego the physical keyboard if I wanted to, I know some who do that regularly. My writing projects can be 1,000-2,000 words so a real keyboard makes my work much easier.

See related: Definitive guide to keyboards for iPad and iPad mini

I've tried most popular keyboard cases for the iPad (see related link above) and I've settled on the ZAGG Profolio+. The case protects the iPad from the bumps of the road, and has a fantastic keyboard that supports fast touch typing. The backlit keys are a nice touch.

The software tools

The writing in my projects is just a small part of the entire process. A lot of research goes into the work and that takes place online. A web browser is where most of the research takes place and I largely use Chrome for that work. The Safari browser native to the iPad works just fine and while many use it I prefer Chrome. I use Chrome on every platform and device so it's nice to have my environment and bookmarks always at hand on the iPad.


I use RSS feeds to follow hundreds of web sites for my research, and until recently I did that with Google Reader. Now that Google has shut that down I use Newsblur for RSS feed work. It works very much like Google Reader and the iPad app is pretty solid. I use it to peruse several thousand items daily. It keeps me abreast of all the tech news I need to follow.


My main writing app on the iPad is Evernote, the note app supreme. There's a version of Evernote for every platform so my collection of notes is always at hand. The editor in Evernote is good for my needs as I don't do any formatting, I just write. When the article is finished I copy and paste it (as plain text) into the ZDNet CMS in the Chrome browser. I can add images and hyperlinks in the CMS for final formatting before publishing.

Office2 HD
Office2 HD

I often receive Microsoft Office documents (Word and Excel mostly) from PR firms with information about new products. Not having Office on the iPad is not an issue as I use Office2 HD to access them. It does a good job rendering these Office documents and since I am using them for reference I don't need to worry about revising and formatting them.

I use the Google Drive app on the iPad when I need to access my Google Docs in the cloud. This gives me instant access to anything in the cloud and is a useful repository to have my stuff available when I leave the iPad behind and bring some other device with me.

Not the only solution

While I am writing this I can anticipate the reaction to this article, pointing out there are other devices and platforms that can do this work. I agree fully with that observation, in fact I sometimes bring other tablets/laptops/hybrids with me for my remote work. My new MacBook Air is coming along for my work outings quite a bit due to its light weight and 9+ hour battery life.

It's a fact there are other solutions that are cheaper, faster, and more capable than my iPad with keyboard. There are other laptops and tablets that some will find a better fit than the iPad. I agree that others will find the iPad lacking in some areas and won't meet their needs. That's OK, we're all different and should use what works best for each of us.

The iPad is a constant road companion for me for all of the reasons stated in this article. It's a solid system for a writer that has no compromises yet is full-featured enough to write thousands of words a day. I like using it and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The key for each user is to use what works well for them.

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