The Dream Setup

There’s a common discussion in tech circles that usually finds its way into my Twitter timeline a few times each year — “what’s your dream setup?” It’s asked by The Sweet Setup in their interview series and by Daniel Bogan on The Setup. I’ve even heard it discussed on a podcast or two throughout the years.

I completely understand why the dream setup is brought up so often — it’s normal to think about what you would buy if you had access to unlimited funds. But this isn’t a topic I typically chime in on. I think I put my thoughts best when I wrote about my own setup in fall 2010:

My dream setup isn’t too different from what I have now. A second monitor, an iPhone 4, and a new MacBook Pro would be nice. But to be honest, I can’t imagine my dream setup making me any more productive. And if I’m not any more productive then what’s the point?

I never really found much benefit in contemplating these hypotheticals. Not only was I unable to afford my dream setup at the time, but I didn’t think it would make much of a difference if I could. The software I use wouldn’t change and, because I spend most of my time living in text, the impact of improved performance would be minimal.

I do think about my dream setup occasionally, though, it’s hard not to. And I’ve realized something about mine — it has changed a lot in the past year. Two years ago, if you were to ask me what my dream setup was, it wouldn’t be all that different from the one I wanted in 2010.

The latest iPhone, iPad, MacBook Pro, and iMac with a second monitor has been my dream setup for as long those products have been available. But if you ask me today, you’ll get a much different answer:

  • iPhone 6s
  • 9.7-inch iPad Pro
  • Mac mini
  • 27-inch Apple Cinema Display
  • Magic Keyboard
  • Magic Trackpad 2

The most obvious difference between my previous dream setups and this one is the omission of a portable Mac. That’s because I’ve experienced a major transition over the past year — from OS X as my primary operating system to iOS for nearly everything.

I just don’t need a notebook computer anymore. It’s been weeks since I last used my MacBook Air and I haven’t missed it. The tasks that used to have me reaching for it are now all performed on my iPad.

The most common, previously Mac-only, task was manually updating the site’s WordPress installation. I’m well aware that WordPress offers an automated update system, but it’s been broken for years (at least for me). Every few months, without fail, I’d have to download the necessary files and upload them to my server with Transmit.

I had always done this on my MacBook until last week’s release of version 4.5 when I decided to see if I could get the job done from my iPad. After clicking the download link on WordPress’ website, iOS asked what application I’d like to open the file in. I chose Transmit, naturally, and was able to decompress the Zip file and begin uploading its contents. Within minutes I was updating the site’s database to complete the process. Everything worked without a hitch.

I’ve also recently completed another, previously Mac-only task when I published Push to Ulysses Workflow last week. Typically when I would publish an article which included images, I would eventually move to my MacBook to optimize — with ImageOptim — and upload the files. This time I produced the entire piece on iOS.

I used LongScreen to combine the two iPhone screenshots into a single image and ran the lot through Kraken.io to optimize file sizes. Then I uploaded them to my server from WordPress’ web interface and copy and pasted their URL into Ulysses before publishing.

That’s two more tasks that were previously Mac-only and can now be performed, from start to finish, on iOS. I wish my process for dealing with images was a bit more streamlined, but I suppose that will come in time. Luckily, I rarely publish images on Initial Charge, and when I do, there’s usually not more than two or three.

I haven’t gone entirely iOS-only, though. As you can see from my dream setup above, there’s still room in my life for a Mac. I currently have a Mac mini in my office closet that acts as our home media server, iOS backup target, and the location of our photo library. I also occasionally perform Mac-only tasks on the Mac mini. The only common one is downloading audio files from a couple of pay-walled podcasts and uploading them to Overcast.fm. This way I can listen to them on my favorite podcast client using Smart Speed to save a bit of time.

I don’t interact with the Mac mini directly, though — it operates headless and I use Screens for iOS to control it. There are instances where I use Screen Sharing on my MacBook instead, but that’s only when I plan on working with a ton of images in Apple Photos.

It’s becoming an extremely rare occurrence for me to use my MacBook, but given that my dream setup doesn’t include a portable Mac, I thought it was best to include a Cinema Display, keyboard, and trackpad. I don’t expect I’ll use it anymore than I currently use my MacBook, but I’d rather be safe than sorry in case I find myself in an unexpected situation in which some oddball task requires the use of a traditional computer.

It’s still astounding to me how my perceptions about high-end computing hardware have changed. I used to dream about owning thousands of dollars worth of Macs to perform the same tasks that I now do almost exclusively on a 9.7-inch slab of glass. And this relatively minuscule tablet features more hores power than nearly every computing device I’ve ever owned.

My need for traditional computers has declined significantly over the past year and I expect that trend will continue. I wouldn’t be surprised if I only ever buy one or two more Macs in my lifetime — eventually, I won’t need to use them as a crutch anymore. I’ll be able to live a more simple and minimalistic computing lifestyle where my dream setup is just an iPhone, an iPad, and maybe a Bluetooth keyboard.