I didn't go all-in on iOS

How I manage my creative process on an 11-inch MacBook Air

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Last week, I waxed poetic about the largest iPhone Apple makes, the iPhone 6 Plus. If I told you a week later that I bought a new MacBook, you’d be forgiven for thinking I would write an article about how much I missed the Texas-sized 17-inch MacBook Pro. Instead I bought the smallest MacBook Apple makes, the 11-inch Air. I’ve found that managing my creative process has never been easier.

How I ended up with an Air

I had mentally pencilled “new iPad or MacBook” into the budget for later this year. However, on Friday my live-in mate texted me, “The computer isn’t working. Can you look at it when you get home?” The computer in question was a 2009 MacBook Pro that had developed a nasty habit of going through hard drives. I got home, took a look at it and when it refused to accept a hard drive I knew was in perfect working order, I decided the time had come to get one of us a new computer.

She wanted a larger MacBook and I wanted a small one, so I decided to get an Air for myself and hand down my 15-inch MacBook Pro. Wins all around. Off to the Apple Store we went.

I had pretty much ruled out getting the 11-inch model. I thought going from a 15-inch to a 13-inch screen would be hard enough. Going down to an 11-inch made me feel as if I was going to live in one of those tiny houses that’s all the rage. But it turned out that compared to the 11-inch model, the 13-inch MacBook Air felt almost obese. I wanted a laptop I could toss in any bag and feel productive. So, I walked out the door with an 11-inch Air.

What I think of the Air

I’m very happy with it. Because I’m an analyst and critical by nature, I’ll say that I’m not happy with the spring in the keyboard. My 15-inch had some lively bounce to the keys and the Air’s keyboard feels a little denser.

I adjusted to the screen very quickly. I also find the device is a lot speedier than I expected. It actually runs “World of Warcraft” better than my old 2011 15-inch that had a dedicated GPU.

The Air is easily as portable as I dreamed. My shoulder bag is a now-discontinued Osprey Veer. The 11-inch just barely fits in it, so I ordered a Tom Bihn Ristretto bag that’s still on its way. I love having a light and portable device that I can get work done on without many compromises.

How I manage my creative process

I’m involved in a number of creative endeavors. There is my band, model-making, writing and whatever else strikes my fancy. A few years ago I watched Adam Savage’s TED talk about his obsession with objects and the stories they tell. He mentioned that he uses a “Creative Projects” folder as a dumping ground for ideas and material. Since then, I’ve adopted a similar process using a Finder folder and Evernote.

Here’s an example. I’m working on making a replica of the trap in Ghostbusters. I’m storing all the photos and plans I come across in my Creative Projects folder, as well as PDFs of forum discussions on how people have built them. I use Evernote for storing links and information I come across on my iOS devices. The amount of data that gets sorted over the course of a month will likely exceed my Evernote quotas, so I prefer to store it on my iCloud Drive instead.

While I’ve seen a lot of pictures and some rough plans of the Ghostbusters trap, I don’t have anything detailed enough to start building from. I could either wing it — which I could get probably away with given the small size of the prop — or generate a build document. I went to architecture school a long time ago and miss creating those types of documents. When I create the build documents I’ll use Omnigraffle. It’s perfect for those types of diagrams. I also love that I can set the scale of the drawing so I don’t have to draw it at full scale.

What does this mean for my iOS use

My iPhone usage will continue as normal. After the 2009 MacBook died, I took a long look at whether it was possible to go 100 percent iPad for my mobile needs. If that had been case, I’d have bought an iPad Air 2 and a keyboard case and call it a day. Unfortunately, while I can do more on iOS than I could this time last year, I wasn’t comfortable going all-in on iOS.

The deciding factor was that I didn’t have some sort of file-level access. I didn’t need the depth of an Android device. What I do need is something like an iCloud Drive app where I can choose what app I want to open a file with, and have the app save the file back to iCloud. Right now, not all apps support all third-party cloud storage solutions, and I’ve run into some problems with apps and the iCloud document picker.

Given those problems, it made sense for me to still stick with a MacBook for many of my writing and note-taking needs. I’ll be interested to see is if this is the last MacBook I buy.

9 Responses to “How I manage my creative process on an 11-inch MacBook Air”

  1. Michael W. Perry

    You might need a MBA if its your only computer and your needs are modest, meaning basic writing, email and the like. That’s what I still use my ancient MacBook for on the go. But the MBA is so stripped down to be thin and light, it hardly qualifies as a real computer. Heck, except for running the latest version of OS X, it’s a big step down from that old MacBook.

    For years, I thought I needed both a desktop and a laptop, with the desktop for the big stuff like book layout and the laptop for on the go and for backup if the desktop dies. But recently I’ve concluded that an iPad with keyboard is as good or better for writing on the go, and a MBA simply isn’t up to replacing my complex desktop setup. Instead, if my Mac mini or one of its displays dies, I’ll simply overnight a replacement and continue working.

    Keep in mind that each digital gadget from an iPhone up has a range of capabilities, some of which overlap with the next more-powerful device and thus may render it irrelevant. My iPhone 5’s small screen means I need my iPad. That might not be true if I had an iPhone 6 Plus. My iPad means I don’t need a MBA, particularly when Scrivener for iOS comes out in a month or so. And there’s no way I could get by without a powerful, multi-monitor, 16 Gif of RAM desktop.

    In my current workflow, it’s the MBA that loses out. It’s simply too wimpy to be that much of a step up for an iPad and so limited there is no way it can substitute for a desktop—or indeed any decent laptop.

  2. Jeffrey Peyton

    Agreed! Love my 11-inch Air, dropped my iPad 2 and haven’t looked back. Until Apple gets their tablet act away from media consumption and starts thinking seriously about serious users, there’s just no reason to think iPad.

  3. Godo Stoyke

    I Bought a 17″ MBP which I immediately discarded for a 13″ Air as soon as it came out in 2008, and have been using some version of a 13″ Air ever since. Now, with a little bit of trepidation, I am finally ready to switch to the 11″. I think the portability will trounce the smaller screen: perhaps I’ll use the 2nd screen more often.

  4. Doug P

    When you have saved enough money, get yourself a 27″ Thunderbolt display for your desk, to work with your new 11″ Air, and you’ll be in heaven.

    • I have been using an air 11 for the last 4 years, it is small but its is a full pc, if I need a larger screen then I will just connect it to my monitor, if you think its too small then its best to get a 13 retina.

      Being 1kg its light and small and more practical than a tablet,