Laptop Killer or Space Filler: Can an Author Write a Book on the iPad?

How does the iPad pass muster for a writer? Can one write a novel on this thing? The keyboard is large enough that in writing this article, I only hit the wrong key two or three times.
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Note: this blog post was written on an iPad.

I spent the past week debating whether to buy an iPad, though as with most new gizmos once I start weighing pros and cons it pretty much means I'm sold and am just psyching myself up. One of the reasons I wanted an iPad is to use as a possible replacement for my laptop. I have a 15 inch MacBook Pro, about three and a half years old, it's started limping a bit, slowing down just a tad. The blazing speed it came with in the Fall of 2006 now feels nearly prehistoric.

With five books out and two more scheduled to be released in 2011 (including my first book for young readers) my travel schedule has increased every year. A few weeks ago I went to a book conference in Los Angeles. I would have loved to tinker with my latest manuscript, my laptop has simply become too bulky to use in coach. It barely fits on the pull-out tray, not to mention the difficulty just pulling it out of my briefcase which is sandwiched below my 6 foot 3 inch frame. The iPad seemed like a possible alternative to my laptop, especially on business trips, cutting down on my briefcase's bulkiness while also remaining useable despite the 6 year old in front of me who simply MUST put her seat all the way back.

Yes, there will be an iPad keyboard dock available within the month, but I wanted to see how this gizmo worked without one. How does the iPad pass muster for a writer? Can one write a novel on this thing? After a weekend tinkering with the iPad Pages program, there is good, some bad, but the bad might easily be fixed soon. In short, on my next business trip, my laptop might sit all by it's lonesome on my desk, jealous of my newer, younger date.

Pages works quite well. Especially in landscape mode, the keyboard is blarge [sic]enough that in writing this article, I only hit the wrong key two or three times. And when I did, the misspelling was autocorrected in each instance. I still have a tendency to hit the 'm' or 'n' key when aiming for the space bar, but hopefully I'll get used to it.

Since 2005, between novels, proposals, outlines, blog posts, Twitter and status updates, I've written in the neighborhood of 750,000 words. Would it be possible to log that output on the iPad? There are enough hitches to certainly make it a little more difficult (the apostrophe key is on entirely different page, requiring pressing a key to call it up, which can be maddening) but the portability and eventual muscle (finger?) memory might eliminate the switching time. Now to be fair, I type with two fingers. Yes, I have written in the vicinity of three quarters of a million words using nothing more than my two index fingers. Make fun of me all you want, but I've done ok so far. That said, my two-fingered typing might make work on the iPad a little easier than if, say, I tried to have all ten digits dancing around the keyboard.

Perhaps the feature I like the most is Pages ability to email documents in either Pages, Word or PDF. Simply press the 'My Documents' tab at the top of the screen, hit 'Email' to bring up your email account, enter the contact and hit 'Send'. The whole process takes about 8 seconds. Perfect for writers who want to email documents to their editors, agents or readers, or people like myself who like to keep copies of their WIPs on email for ready access.

Now here's where things get problematic...most writers need to research on the fly from time to time. I'll be writing a scene and need to look up an area's geography, something about weaponry or forensics or one of any number of things that I won't realize until I'm mid-scene. The iPad does not multitask, which means that if I need to look something up I have to press the 'Home' key, open Safari, then navigate to the page. On my laptop, I'll usually keep several applications running in addition to my word processor, simply pulling my browser up when I need to check on something. Now, the nice thing about iPad Pages is that the program saves after every key hit. So I can stop mid-thought, close Pages, open Safari, find what I need, and reopen Pages without taking time to save. Because the thing runs so fast, the time lost is minimal--but it is time lost, not to mention the inconvenience of not being able to keep a browser handy in another window simultaneously.

The dictionary feature is very cool (simply double tap a word to look it up), but hopefully not too many writers use words that necessitate them looking it up while typing. Now one problem is that (duh) you need two hands to type. This can be tricky considering the iPad does not stand on its own--I wrote most of this article with the iPad resting on pillow. Presumably there will be a slew of cases and stands hitting the market within the next few weeks, but if you're looking to write at home or on a plane you'll need something to rest the device on.

All in all I'm mighty impressed with the iPad's potential for writers, especially when down the road--whether in a firmware upgrade or in future generations--it gains the ability to multitask. However it is far easier to write on the iPad's keyboard than I expected, and on my next business trip I'll likely be leaving my laptop at home. Whether that means my MacBook will get the Ol' Yeller treatment has yet to be seen, but when it comes to short term portability and writing a few pages here and there, I'm sold.

JASON PINTER is the bestselling author of five thriller novels (the most recent of which are The Fury and The Darkness), which have been nominated for numerous awards and optioned to be a major motion picture. His first novel for young readers, Zeke Bartholomew: Superspy!, will be released in the summer of 2011. Visit him at http//

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