Settling My Setup

The past year has been a computer smorgasbord. Last summer, my main computer was a nice Chromebook, but it gave way to an iPad. It’s more computer-like than ever, and I enjoyed making it my primary device. That said, I hesitated to publish a post — in draft for months — about switching up my setup. Why? Because I wanted to be sure I was going to stick with the iPad and that it would work long-term for me. Things were going well until a Windows PC gaming laptop entered the mix and I slowly gravitated to it. Now I believe I’ve settled my setup with one of Apple’s best devices yet: the M1 MacBook Air.

Wait, what? Yeah, not the iPad. And not the PC.

The iPad was designed to be an excellent tablet, which it certainly is. Not long ago, Apple added features to make it more like a full computer, greatly improving its functionality. Those additions were native mouse/trackpad cursor support and desktop-class browsing. Combined, this meant that — at long last — one could hover a pointer over a web link or button to access a site’s features. It also allowed for better text manipulation; no longer would you be challenged to precisely select words with the fat tip of a fumbling finger. Despite these handy non-touch advances, using the iPad as my main computer was still lacking.

The iPad multitasking menu.

Though my productivity needs mostly center on simply typing words, I find iPad’s multitasking misses the mark; it’d be better labeled as bi-tasking or maybe tri-tasking. The Apple tablet’s Split View feature is nicer than ever, thanks to iPadOS 15’s new controls, and Slide Over — with multiple apps in a stack — is both slick and useful. At most, though, you can have a total of only two apps visible at a time, with a third iPhone-sized app somewhat in the mix. These innovative features are implemented fastidiously, but using iPad with a bluetooth-tethered mouse and keyboard, acting like a full-computer, begs the question: why not just use an actual laptop?

The clamshell form-factor of a notebook computer, like the MacBook, along with a traditional operating system is best for productivity. I say this as one who truly relied on an iPad (and a Chromebook…) as my main computer for a long time; I really wanted the iPad to work for me. I love the iPad with its simple software and superb hardware; it’s fantastic…as a tablet. However, given its shortcomings, I finally bought — dare I say it — a “real” computer (or let’s say a full computer).

iPad with attached keyboard looks like a laptop.

Switching away from the iPad as my daily device was an interesting process that required compromise. Had circumstances been different, I would likely still be relying on the iPad — it was good enough, or close enough to a full computer for most of my needs.

Therein lies the rub, as some of my needs (and wants) could only be met with the recent PC gaming laptop my family bought. With it, I gained true multitasking and multi-windowing for superior productivity. I also gained access to PC games and a particular app for creativity: RPG Maker MZ. While the Windows laptop’s robust multitasking reminded me of what the iPad lacks, it didn’t play nice with my Apple paradise, which led to trying a handful of cross-platform apps and services. As a result, I cautiously embraced a multi-device setup: iPad plus Windows laptop as needed. The combo seemed to work, but it was less than ideal.

Preferring to use my own personal laptop, I shopped for a mid-range Windows machine. This was partly led also by my family’s need for yet another traditional computer since my wife and I have five (5) kids that we homeschool. As I shopped for “the perfect” Windows PC, I felt most were compromised in some way. Finally, after my budget increased, I snapped up the MacBook from Apple’s refurbished store — it’s like-new. I’ll share it with one of my sons for some of his school work, but otherwise I get to claim the MacBook as my personal device. It makes the most sense for me since I can compute comfortably from within Apple’s walled-garden.

MacBook Air with floating app windows.

I’ll probably have more to say about the MacBook itself in a future post, but in case I don’t, let me share my first impression here and now: I love it! So far, so good. It’s only been three days since I started using the M1 MacBook Air — it’s still kind of surprising. The last time I owned a Mac of any kind was about ten years ago. It was a late ’09 MacBook running OS X Mountain Lion on an Intel Core 2 Duo.

Overall, I think my setup is settled now, which is a relief. In just the past few days of acclimating to macOS, I already feel unrestricted, like anything I need to do is no problem. I’ve installed x86 or intel-based apps (Discord, RPG Maker MZ, and GIMP for example) and they’re all running normally through Rosetta without issues so far. Using a mouse or trackpad with the MacBook feels more natural than with the iPad. And macOS is a great experience. It’s simple, elegant, and refined like all of Apple’s products.

The iPad and the MacBook are both computers, no doubt. Each one provides a unique experience, a “think different” approach to computing. Whichever one’s “different” computing is the same as your needs or wants, that’s the one to use.

New Year, New Computer

Howdy, y’all, and happy new year! What’s new in ’22? For starters, I did a thing. It’s part of my recent computer workflow upheaval. I’m doing some switching even though I tried to avoid it, but it makes sense. I still love to use my iPad, though certain things work better on a full computer like our Windows 11 gaming laptop. One thing led to another and…I ordered a MacBook!

Hopefully, my new Mac will arrive tomorrow as scheduled for delivery; I’m eager to start using it. Like my family’s shared Windows laptop, the MacBook is a “full computer” with multi-windowing and multi-tasking beyond what the iPad can do. It’s keyboard is always attached and has a palm rest, unlike my tablet. On top of that, it’s an Apple device like my iPhone and iPad, so I can stay all-in with the Apple ecosystem (almost totally). For me, that’s a big win.

MacBook Air M1

Over the past month or so, I leaned towards using our Windows laptop more because it’s better at productivity and other things that my iPad simply can’t do. That said, the Win11 PC setup was not ideal to me because it’s shared among several family members and it caused me to try using cross-platform apps or services, breaking me out of my comfy Apple walled garden, you know, where it’s all magical unicorns and rainbows and such.

We needed another computer in my family for one of my sons to use in his digital photo class this upcoming Spring semester, and I wanted my own ”full PC.” I searched for the best Windows laptop deals and always found them compromised in at least one way: not enough memory, missing the right ports, battery life too short, etc. Nothing clicked; I was reluctant to pull the trigger on any Windows laptop since I wanted to ensure my large financial investment would pay off for years. Then my budget increased, allowing me to buy the newest M1 MacBook Air from Apple’s refurbished store.

As an ultrabook, I think the M1 MBA is the best deal for me, especially since it lets me firmly cement my feet in Apple’s platform foundation. My AirPods and Apple Watch and iPad and iPhone should work well with the MacBook. Most important, though, will be the multi-tasking and windowing, which most folks have relied on for decades, along with what’s acclaimed to be stellar battery life and performance in a small and lightweight package.

Apple M1 Chip

The MacBook will be my own while one of my teens gets to use it in a class. This also means all my kids can learn to use a Mac, a PC, or a Chromebook. Speaking of the latter, my current Chromebook is going to my wife, and her Chromebook will become another for the kids to share. It looks like our household of seven people will at least have one main computer for all to use and eventually a personal device for each (beyond a smartphone). Now if only we could get internet faster than DSL… (we hotspot to our 4G/LTE phones a lot; 5G is still practically non-existent).

Yeah, I’m excited. The last, and only, Mac I ever owned was a late ’09 MacBook, the polycarbonate white one with a Core 2 Duo CPU and 4GB RAM. I was running OS X Mountain Lion, and things have advanced a lot since then. The M1 MBA ships with macOS Monterey, and it allows iOS apps to work, among other tricks. I hope to stick with this computer for many years.

That’s one way to start a new year, switching to a new computer. At least it’s more fun than beginning a new fitness regimen. I’ll try to not get Cheetos dust on my magic keyboard.