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Issue #7: How do I… (part 1)

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I hope this letter finds you well. I’ve had a few letters of my own, from you guys, and I figure I’d devote this issue to some of your questions. So this is the first of – potentially! – several How do I themed letters.

My name is Thord D. Hedengren, and I’ve banged my head against the wall quite a few times over the years as an iPad user. It used to be a pretty stumped platform, but not necessarily so anymore.

Let’s see what I’ve got in my inbox, and take it from there, shall we? Oh, and if you have a question, just hit reply or tweet to @tdh and I’ll do my best to answer – directly or in a future issue.

Question: Can I work with Word and track changes?

Short answer: yes, you can – if you have a subscription to Office 365. Microsoft is one of several companies who’re taking the iPad as a platform seriously, and while the Office suite is slightly, well, lite, it’s quite usable. It might cover your needs needs entirely.

Track changes is a feature often used when working with a Word document across a team, or when you’re working with an editor. I’ve done the latter quite a few times, not to mention when I wrote the Smashing WordPress books. What you do is that you enable the track changes feature, so that your team mates can see the changes you’ve made.

Luckily, Apple has a solution to this with their own app Pages, which is free with new iPads. You can enable track changes in Pages, and export to Word before you send to your team mates. As long as you remember to export to Word (i.e. docx) you’re good. Don’t send your Pages file as is (say, from the Files app) because Word can’t open it. Your tracked changes will be maintained within your export, and you’ll just open the file you get back in Pages, with them – and potential edits – intact

ℹ️ iCloud sharing
An even better solution would be to use iCloud sharing, if it’s just a matter of letting someone make comments or minor edits. Trigger it using the user sharing icon in the top right when viewing a document.

Question: How do I upload a file to a FTP server?

This one’s easy: With a FTP capable app. There are plenty, it’s even a feature in several file managing apps, such as FileBrowser for example, and in the excellent code editor Textastic (which I use most of the time).

An app like FileBrowser isn’t limited to FTP either, it features a bunch of other storage solutions – from cloud sync services like Dropbox and OneDrive, to WebDAV connections. It’s actually quite handy if you have a NAS or similar as storage, because you can usually connect to them easily. FileBrowser is one of those everything and the kitchen sink kind of apps, which I generally advice against, but it’s a solid alternative if you want to, say, stream a movie from a NAS to an Apple TV using AirPlay. This app might actually solve a lot of your problems, and it’s worth checking out if you need excessive connectivity, or just can’t stand the Files app.

Question: My iPad charges slowly, can I use a big Mac USB-C charger?

Short answer for somewhat modern iPads: Yes, you can, but you won’t get more than 30W out of a more powerful charger. Apple sells a 30W charger, originally shipped with the tiny MacBook (the one called just “MacBook”, and originally it was 29W if you’re nitpicking), that has USB-C, which means it’s ideal for iPad Pros. You can use it with other iPads too, and iPhones, assuming you get an USB-C to Lightning cable, a sensible investment no matter what. And yes, there are cheaper alternatives, both for cables and power bricks, but do your homework and make sure they’re properly certified. Random crap will potentially harm your device. Personally, I rarely use any power equipment that isn’t Apple branded.

The obvious follow-up question is what this will do to the longevity of your iPad battery. That’s a bit trickier, because a decade ago we’d say don’t do it, you’ll ruin your battery, but things are different today. Apple doesn’t warn against it, and theoretically your iPad shouldn’t get more than 30W even if you use the chunky 96W charger that ships with the larger MacBook Pros. Still, more power could theoretically be more strain, right? I’m no engineer, but I’ve never experienced any obvious battery degradation other than what is expected, and I never primarily rely on the charger that ships with an iPad, just more powerful ones.

You should be fine, but some people will warn you against fast charging. Use it when needed, if you’re worried.

ℹ️ Compatible devices
You can use fast charging with all iPad Pro models, iPad Air (3rd generation and newer), and iPad mini (5th generation and newer). If your iPhone is iPhone 8 (both models) or newer, you’re good too.

Question: What app should I use for email/reminders/calendar and so forth?

A friend of mine recently made the switch to iPad, as a complement device, but still. His first question was what todo list app I recommended. Then he asked about what email app to get, and on it went.

Look, here’s the thing: Apple is pretty good at making apps. The default ones – Mail, Reminders, Notes, Safari, and so on – are deeply integrated into iPadOS, and quite competent. My advice is always to try default first, for three reasons.

  1. You get a good benchmark, and if it works for you, then why waste time and money hunting replacement apps?
  2. Apple is a reliable and trustworthy party here. They won’t spy on you, as others might try to, and their business model is clear.
  3. The deep integration with iCloud and the operating system makes it easy to get started with Apple apps.

Give the stock apps a chance, they’re good-to-great. That said, I’ll devote the next letter to a Mail alternative called Spark. Apple’s default Mail app might’ve gotten a lot better over the years, especially on iPad, but it’s still the weakest of the bunch if you ask me. But that’s for the next letter.

Got questions? Thoughts? Things that you haven’t figured out yet but would need help with? Just hit reply and ask, or tweet to @tdh!

That’s it for this issue. Next time, we’ll check out a powerful email app called Spark. Maybe it’s the Mail replacement you need? My guess is, yes, yes it is. It’ll ping in your inbox on Monday.

– Thord D. Hedengren

In the wild…