The iPad Apps that Power my Tools and Toys Workflow

One of the topics I’ve been most enthusiastic about lately is the idea of using only an iPad to do all my work. I’m not talking about my day job here, but rather my writing workflow, and more specifically the writing I do for Tools and Toys.

(I would love to have a nice workflow setup for Unretrofied, but unfortunately the Squarespace iOS app is pretty terrible and there are no alternatives due to their lack of an API. So while I may do some writing for Unretrofied on the iPad using Byword, I almost always publish from the back-end CMS on a desktop or laptop.)

Since Tools and Toys runs on WordPress, there are a wider array of apps I can use for publishing, which makes an iPad-only workflow more feasible. I’d like to discuss the apps I use to get the job done, but first it helps to know the ground rules for every T&T post:

  • Each post must contain an image, 600px wide being okay but 1200px being better for Retina displays. Either way, the site will display the image in a 600px wide box.
  • Image file sizes should be reasonable so as not to delay page-load times. The 150kb–200kb range is fine.
  • These images must be hosted on the site’s Amazon S3 account.
  • There are three custom fields used within the CMS: the image link, the product link, and the name of the store/website where an item can be bought.
  • Stephen Hackett and I each have a particular posting schedule, so we need to be able to schedule final drafts to be automatically published at a later date/time.
  • When we link to something on iTunes or Amazon, we must use affiliate links.

Obviously there’s no one app that can do all these things, but I’ve managed to accumulate a variety of apps that have allowed me to do my work on-the-go. So far I’ve managed to get the entire workflow down to a handful of apps.

The first app, Instapaper, comes into play long before I ever write anything. I’ve got a special folder set aside where I like to save ideas for potential products to write about. If I come across something cool out on the web, I save it to this folder and reference it later when it’s time to write a new post.

The next two apps I use are Safari and I use Safari for finding links and images, as well as researching items to make sure I know what I’m talking about when I’m writing about them. When I can’t find a nice, hi-res image of a product anywhere, I use to ask the makers of those products if they have any images I can use. Everyone I’ve ever talked to has been super nice and helpful.

Once I’ve got an image, or a set of images, I use an app called Reduce to batch-resize them. I even have a preset stored in the app: 1200px wide, 150kb file size. I run the photos through that preset, and the app saves a copy of each image to a “Reduce Export” album on the iPad for easy management.

The way I currently upload these images to Amazon S3 is with the iFiles app, which presents the most convoluted part of my current workflow. It’s an okay app for uploading, but it seems to have no way of renaming files or copying their public URLs, which is why I’m still on the lookout for something better.

Since I can’t rename from within iFiles, what I’ll typically do is remotely login to my office PC using LogMeIn Ignition1 and do it there. This step is technically unnecessary, but I prefer having a file name that uses the name of the product rather than something generic like “Photo02272013.jpg” or whatever.

Why is that, exactly? Well for one thing, it makes it easier to locate a particular image in our list of previous uploads if I need to. Secondly, even though I can’t copy the public link, I can simply take the url and substitute the file-name portion with the easy-to-remember file name I just made. A bit ghetto but it works.

Let’s just say that my life will be a lot easier if I can find a suitable replacement for iFiles.

Now that I’ve dealt with images, I’ve got to manage the text stuff. My absolute favorite app for writing and publishing to WordPress is Poster. It’s beautiful, easy to navigate around, and it features everything I need to publish a post, including those custom fields I mentioned earlier.

Next up comes the links. Regular links are easy to copy and paste, but when it comes to affiliate links I have a couple of tools at my disposal. The first one is Launch Center Pro, in which I’ve set up custom URL schemes for each link-type. They both operate based on whatever’s saved to my clipboard. Since this app was more intended for iPhone than iPad though, I tend to use TextExpander snippets to generate the links instead. Poster includes TextExpander support so these snippets are a breeze to use.

Lastly, we’ve got Dropbox. This is where I store any drafts or images I have yet to put together as final posts. I can access them from anywhere, and Poster can pull text files from Dropbox in order to create new posts. Doesn’t need much more explanation than that.

So there you have it. There are still some kinks to be worked out, and the overall process of putting things together could be a little smoother, but the sheer fact that I can do almost everything straight from my iPad is awesome to me.

Before I end this post (which is incidentally about 20x longer than most T&T things I’ve ever written), I’d like to thank Shawn for giving me the opportunity to write for the site. It’s been a blast so far and I look forward to where the site is headed.

  1. This app is incredibly expensive these days at $130, but I bought it years ago when it was on sale for $20 and I had an iTunes gift card.  ↩