In Search of a Better Blogging Tool for the iPad

I’ve been trying to use the iPad as my primary blogging hardware. The primary driving force behind this is to make use of the “dead” time while commuting on the train or queueing on a bus. As blogging is not the only thing that I do, I really need to optimize my time and make good use of every waking minute that I have.

Steve jobs 'The Economist' coverAn iPad is better suited for use while standing in cramped positions (such as in a public transport) while still providing a larger screen and keyboard buttons that makes typing easier. A laptop would need a desk or at least a lap to work – yes I know you can use Connect-A-Desk laptop harness but it would be awfully awkward to use such a harness in commuter busses. I’ve tried thumb-typing on my iPhone to write articles, but it’s too small and interferes with my “flow” since I often need to correct mistypes and reading the post is a pain too when you only have half a screen (due to the other half is covered by virtual keyboard) to work with.

However I’m still unable to write complete articles 100% on the iPad alone. Put simply, I haven’t found a good set of tools for completing entire articles in the iPad. Applications on the iPad doesn’t cooperate as well as on the Mac and thus an iPad application needs to support an entire workflow for something that’s achievable via orchestrating multiple applications on the Mac. Like for example a blogging tool needs to be able to import PNG images and crop them because funneling line-drawing images through the photo library often degrades the image due to JPEG compression.

What’s keeping me from blogging from the iPad alone? Take a look at my blogging workflow:

  1. Write a draft in the iPad’s Notes app or TextTastic.
  2. Draw an accompanying illustration using OmniGraffle (for Mac or iPad) or simple screen annotations with LittleSnapper.
  3. Retouch and crop the image using Acorn or Skitch.
  4. Move the text to MarsEdit for editing and enriching the text with appropriate hyperlinks.
As you can see for yourself, more than half of the workflow still needs a Mac and can’t be done from an iPad. I tend to use Skitch for throwaway screenshots whereas LittleSnapper is more for screenshots that are reused and archived (like the screenshots of our apps). Likewise for photos sometimes I do light color correction in Acorn and crop the picture there.
 
Why? I believe this is because there is a definite lack of good blogging tools for the iPad. An iPad application needs to be more self-contained than its desktop equivalents because the iPad doesn’t have a user-accessible file system and interoperability between applications is rather limited (think dragging-and-dropping an annotated screenshot from Skitch into MarsEdit). In other words, an iPad application may need to have more features than their cousins on the Mac because they need to have more features that are not “core” to their functionality. For example, a MarsEdit version of iPad needs to have some functionalities of Skitch built into the app.
 
I’ve bought Blogsy, the most feature-rich (and expensive) iPad blogging software. Blogsy is pretty decent for light editing and submitting drafts to my WordPress sites. However Blogsy can’t make the iPad a one-stop blogging computer:
  • No image cropping, resizing & annotation functions. Often I need article illustrations to be within a certain width (to fit the site’s template) or cropped to show only the important stuff. On the desktop I have Skitch and Acorn to do this. But an iPad application need to handle these tasks themselves because it’s just a big hassle to get data from other applications.
  • Unable to import PNG images directly from other applications. As far as on-device data, Blogsy can only take in images from the Camera Roll. It’s acceptable when the image is a photographic picture. However illustrations and other vector-based images get degraded with compression artifacts since the camera roll re-compresses images with the JPEG algorithm. Also it would be great if I can export PNG images directly from OmniGraffle or iDraw into Blogsy for use with my blog posts.
  • Buggy editing. I had to use Blogsy’s HTML view for correcting minor edits. At times Blogsy could not edit hyperlinks right, requiring me to fiddle with the HTML code. At other times, Blogsy brought in undesirable formatting when I pasted text from other applications, and I had to clean it up myself from the HTML view. These frequent need to edit HTML really hurts Blogsy‘s value-add – if I’m crazy with HTML then I would probably be better off using the free WordPress iOS app.
These made me wonder: is there a need for a well-rounded blogging solution for the iPad? Something like a blend between MarsEdit, Skitch, and DropBox in one self-contained package. Something that encompasses your entire blogging workflow.

Enough about me. What about you? Do you find the iPad a good tool for writing short articles? What about the software do you use? What software? Do you use your iPad as your primary blogging tool? Tell your experience in the comments!

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