On December 30th 2021, a wildfire incinerated nearly a thousand homes and retail establishments in Boulder County Colorado. I live a safe 8 miles from the destruction, but others were not as fortunate. I know many families who lost everything.
My spouse and I decided to move into my father-in-law's guest suite and rent our house to one of the displaced families. Our new tenants tell a terrifying story. A police cruiser announced "get out, now!" over a loudspeaker as it drove through their neighborhood. The air was thick with smoke as they fled with other panicked families. They escaped with their smartphones, laptops, three cats, and little else. Their loss and grief is beyond words.
For many reasons, we left our wi-fi network in place. Our tenants had nothing and needed the wi-fi an printer. I also host a web server. It made sense for me to leave my Mac Mini desktop and drop by as-needed to help them with any tech issues and perform routine server maintenance. This meant I'd need to assemble a new computing environment from what I brought to my temporary home: my iPhone SE, a Bluetooth keyboard, a pair of wired earbuds, an Aftershockz headset, my Braille display - and my fourth-generation iPad from 2012.
Why do I still have this truly ancient iPad? A fair question. It's old, outdated, and heavy as a doorstop. It only has 16GB and won't upgrade beyond iOS 10.3.3. I kept it for the large screen, useful for trying to see photos or videos with my remaining crappy vision. At the same time, my eyesight has become so poor that I could not justify upgrading to a more recent model. It fell into disuse and I simply never got around to recycling it. So, here it is, and now I would find out if I could use this old iPad as a desktop replacement.
I'm retired and write for a hobby. I need Zoom on my iPhone to participate in my writing groups, and Scrivener and Google Docs on my iPad to write, review, edit, and make comments. I knew how to do all this on my Mac Mini with ease. Now I would need to re-learn everything. IOS wasn't foreign to me, but using Zoom, Scrivener, and Google Docs as iOS apps would challenge me with a user experience that was very different from my Mac.
The first hurdle was to see if the iPad was usable. It charges slow, but plugging it in overnight restores it to 100%. It burns through that charge in the course of a day with the screen on. Screen curtain to the rescue, which cuts that in half. I was worried that the pathetic 16GB of memory would be a problem, but after I deleted apps I no longer use and images I can no longer see, I now have about 6GB free, far more than I need for my writing tasks. I began to cautiously hope this crazy setup might actually work.
I do a lot with Scrivener on my Mac Mini, but on iOS I've used it for little more than note-taking. After a couple hours of exploring the iOS app, I was delighted to find that it was nearly as powerful as the macOS version. In fact, I even discovered some cool features unavailable on the Mac, such as compiling documents directly to Google Docs. Sharing with my writing group couldn't be easier. That's a feature I'll miss if I ever return to Scrivener on my Mac Mini.
As you might expect, Google Docs was no walk in the park. Nothing I already knew about Docs on Mac applied to Docs on iOS, as if the iOS app developers weren't just a different group but were aliens in a distant galaxy. AppleVis turned out to be a great resource. I was able to read about problems others had encountered and pick up a few handy Bluetooth keyboard shortcuts along the way. But when it comes to learning any new user interface, there's no substitute for butt-in-the-chair, hands-on-the-keyboard exploration. Click everything. Swipe through all controls. Try each setting. After a few hours of poking and prodding and venting my frustration on the AppleVis forums, I discovered that I was able to use the Google Docs app to review and edit as effectively as on my Mac Mini. Thank you, AppleVis forum, for the help and tips.
I was afraid I would discover that an old iPad with outdated software was unusable. After all, each year brings new products and new versions, rich with must-have features. "That amazing device we sold you last year? It's crap! Get rid of it! Your life won't be complete without this new amazing device." That's the message we continually hear, explicitly in Apple sales and marketing events or implicitly with that little update badge on the App Store icon.
But, like a Phoenix rising from the flames, this iPad still lives. I'm composing this blog on it now. It served my needs ten years ago when I bought it and it still does exactly what I need it to. Is it slow and heavy? Yes. Did I encounter some bugs and quirks? Of course. But users on more updated platforms report their own headaches. I could've spent several hundred dollars on a new iPad running the latest iPad OS, and I can only imagine that I would've changed one set of problems for another.
I'm not saying we should all stop upgrading. I'm well aware that a new iPad can run circles around the boat anchor I'm typing into. I just wanted to share my surprise and joy at how wonderful this platform still works. There's a reason these old gadgets amazed us when they came out years ago. They are freaking awesome gadgets. They might appear a bit tarnished alongside the latest shiny iPads. But that doesn't make them any less incredible.