Think Small

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

I absolutely love working this way! I am sitting in my living room comfy chair and happily writing my first AppleVis blog. All the computer I need is right here. My iPhone 5S is in my shirt pocket, my Apple ear pods are where they belong, and my Logitech Bluetooth Keys-To-Go keyboard is cool and light on my lap. Except for taking my guide dog outside for another break, I cannot think of a single good reason to get up.

For many decades, I aspired to being connected, to being productive, while being some place other than at my desk. I was so tired of being pinned down. I wanted to get real work done on my front porch, at the park, or in a moving car, at any time I pleased. I wanted access to everything, access to the entire world, even if I happen to be sitting in a Parisian cafe. And, I wanted my accessibility solution to fit in my pocket. Dream big. Think small.

Like many other micro geeks at the beginning of the information revolution, I spent way too much time and money on the evolving technology. I had my Apple II, a Radio Shack TRS-80, and an IBM PC. Other less notable short-timers passed beneath my fingertips. Unfortunately, once planted on your desk, you usually let them be. Getting small would take time.

I was an early Apple enthusiast. I was excited when the original 128K Macintosh came out in 1984. It was clever, useful, and purportedly portable. Well, not so portable. I once tried to force my Mac into an airplane overhead compartment. That didn't work. Next, the 1989 Macintosh Portable made the promise in its name. At nearly 16 pounds, it was more like carrying a bowling ball. The PowerBook 170, which was introduced in 1991, was the first great laptop, and it qualified as truly portable. At least in those days. At 6.8 pounds, it was roughly the same weight as a newborn baby. And unlike some small children on planes, the PowerBook 170 never screamed, kicked the back of your seat, or smelled funny.

With my deteriorating vision, I had tools that made my Macs accessible for a time. I used inLarge and CloseView. When my eyesight further faded, and VoiceOver on the Mac was not yet available, I switched to Jaws on the PC.

When no one was looking, cell phones were suddenly everywhere. They were good for making calls, typing text with thumbs, and being dropped in toilets. I adopted one that could actually talk. It didn't say much, but it had tactile buttons. Even so, it was just a phone and not much of a computing device. Small, but not bright.

The iPhone was introduced in 2007 and was inaccessible right out of the box. I started hearing about how smart phones were going to change the world. I was concerned that the visual touch interfaces, like that on the iPhone, would cut the blind right out of the mainstream. And, for a short time, we listened to other people talk about an amazing technology that was impossible for us to use. However, in the summer of 2009, the iPhone suddenly found its own voice. I was skeptical. I wasn't convinced that rubbing my fingers across a smooth piece of glass, even if it could talk, would ever be much of a solution. I held back. A year later, several friends told me to give VoiceOver a try. I took a chance. I walked into the local AT&T store and asked if they could transfer everything from my perfectly useful Nokia flip phone to a new iPhone 4. If I was going to jump into the pool, then I would do so without a floatation device.

Over the first week, I had a terrible time just trying to make phone calls. If my iPhone somehow magically called the person that I was attempting to reach, I would have to talk to them all day. I could not dependably hang up the phone.

By the second week, I was no longer cursing in my sleep. I had begun to get a feel for this really interesting new device. I could make calls, and hang them up. I could find icons on my home screen and successfully launch applications. I started to see the utility of the iPhone and began to wonder what else I could do with this small computer.

With my old PC becoming less stable, along with my renewed interest in all things Apple, I decided to move my daily business tasks to a MacBook Air. After a comparable learning curve, and gaining some expertise with the Mac implementation of VoiceOver, I found the new laptop computer very comfortable. Still, it was not always easy to quickly work from a laptop. I had to carry it around in a backpack or briefcase. It just wasn't convenient enough. It was time for small.

The biggest hindrance to my accomplishing more with my iPhone, and using it for a greater variety of creative tasks, was that minuscule keyboard that appeared at the bottom of the screen whenever I wanted to input text. I could use it successfully, but writing anything longer than a short text message was painfully slow. So, I bought Apple's Bluetooth keyboard. I discovered that I could move around at traditional keyboard speeds on the iPhone and actually make things happen. Now, I had to find apps that were both really useful and really accessible. I had a very powerful computer in my hand and I was determined to make it act like one.

I began to put serious efforts into finding iPhone solutions that really could replace my need for a desktop operating system. I focused on discovering a subset of useful apps that would meet, or nearly meet, my expectations. Sometimes, I discovered a better app. Other times, a really nice app suddenly became inaccessible. I am always looking for a better spreadsheet interface and I am always hunting for a more powerful audio editor. I still lust for the day when everything I want to do inside my cloud-based file system can easily be accomplished on my iPhone.

I have also looked at the hardware options that make my new computer even easier to use. I have acquired numerous Bluetooth keyboards and keep finding new reasons to love them. I've experimented with wired and Bluetooth headphones with mixed results. My ultimate goal is to find the perfect combination of both hardware and software so that I really can work from anywhere and at any time.

What I hope to share with you over the coming months is what I am learning in my endeavor to create a total business system, information station, and entertainment center right on my iPhone. I also hope to learn much from you and others in the AppleVis community. I believe there is a significant advantage to always having a fully functional computer in your purse or shirt pocket. I love my Apple iPhone pocket computer. Let's work at making it even more powerful. Let's think small.

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Submitted by Imani on Sunday, August 30, 2015

Hello Morgan, thanks for sharing your views of thinking small. The I devices are truly computers in their own rights. I never had a desire to connect a keyboard to my phone. My purse said, no! Oh well. Looking forward to your future contributions. Take care

Submitted by Ekaj on Sunday, August 30, 2015

I really like this post and am seriously thinking about tweeting it out as part of the volunteer work I do. I don't currently own an i-device. Perhaps that'll change though in the future, I'm not sure. For one thing, I have a bit of trouble with hand coordination and therefore I need to have a tactile keyboard. The other issue is that I don't travel independently much if at all anymore, so I don't really see the need for an i-device at this point in time. But perhaps down the road a bit, I don't know. Travel is a whole can of worms which I won't open though, at least not here. However, I am thrilled with my MacBook Air. I honestly never thought I'd be saying that, having previously been a longtime Windows user. I've gotten used to VoiceOver for the most part, and I'm comfortable enough with it where I think I could easily use it for a full-time job. I am still learning, but it's been great. I seriously don't feel that Apple gets enough praise as they should for their work on accessibility. Perhaps that's just me, but somehow I doubt it. Anyway, VO is great and I love the portability of my Mac. All righty then, I think I'll stop there.

Submitted by Maria Reyes on Monday, August 31, 2015

Hello, Morgan this is a great post you posted. I have an iPad mini 2 and I use it to take notes and anything else you can do on an iDevice.
However, the iPhones are becoming more and more accessible as they are updated.
And the iPhones are very portable.

Submitted by roxtar on Monday, August 31, 2015

Great post. I look forward to reading your contributions in the future.
Thanks for writing thoughtful and interesting content from a unique, interesting perspective.

Submitted by Toonhead on Monday, August 31, 2015

This is awesome, and I totally agree, the iPhone can only get better for portability. We can do pretty much anything we can on the pc, although it's not quite as easy. iOS 9 will get better though, and I can't wait to start using it. I fully understand going into it that Apple isn't going to be able to catch all the bugs at first but things will get better over time.

Submitted by Roxann Pollard on Monday, August 31, 2015

Hello Morgan. Welcome to the new blog. I just wanted to take a moment and tell you thanks for the giggles and smiles as you shared your experiences and your electronic woes. I relate to so many of them. I am right there with you wanting to make my iPhone my one-stop shop for all things electronic, whether it's a satisfactory spreadsheet program, GPS navigation, my powerful and flexible YouVersion Bible app,movies, music, books, or a simple watch. I am in love with my iPhone and my world has never been the same since I got my first one.

Looking forward to reading more on this post.

Submitted by John C. Wood on Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I read your introduction on the Metro Train coming in Austin this morning from Lakeline Station. When I got to my work I figured I better register with AppleVis so I could comment and offer an appreciation for your insights. Your goals of portability and accessibility with your work are shared by many others and I am looking forward to hearing more from how you get it done right here in our back yard. Good luck Sir.

Submitted by Morgan Watkins on Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Thank you for the thoughtful feedback.

In my blog, I meant to ask for details of your own discoveries that have made your iPhone pocket computer even more valuable and productive. And, that includes great input and output devices . Thanks for any insights and suggestions you might offer.

In the spirit of sharing, I should note that I wrote "Think Small" entirely using my iPhone 5S with a Logitech Keys-To-Go Bluetooth keyboard. And, all of it was written from my living room comfy chair using Nebulous Notes. Nebulous Notes is a very nice text processor that works quite well with DropBox. I used Spotlight and Safari to verify facts. I also periodically used the proofreading functionality in Voice Dream Writer to check my spacing and to alert me if any additional spelling errors slipped through.

Thanks , again.

Submitted by Jim Homme on Wednesday, September 2, 2015


I ccan't see myself seriously thinking of throwing away my computer when the most powerful text editing apps I am aware of, such as Voice Dream Writer and Nox don't even have Search and Replace. And spell check on IOS is clunky. No coolaid for me just yet.

Hello Morgan:
Thanks for an excellent blog post. I look forward to reading your next post.
One question, how did you use Spotlight and Safari to verify text?

Keep up the good work,

Submitted by Jim Homme on Thursday, September 3, 2015


Ask Siri what's one divided by zero. Then replace one with the numbers two, three, four, five and ask the same question.

Submitted by Morgan Watkins on Thursday, September 3, 2015

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Dear Mani,

Actually, I used Spotlight and Safari to verify facts in my blog. For instance, I checked what years certain computer models were introduced. It just happens that the Logitech Keys-To-Go Bluetooth keyboard, my current favorite, has some handy function key shortcuts that made this particularly snappy. The F2 calls the App Switcher from anywhere and the F3 immediately opens Spotlight. There are other ways to accomplish the same thing on other Bluetooth keyboards using VoiceOver, but these "hardware" shortcuts saved me small slices of time that were much appreciated.

As noted in my earlier feedback, I did some of the text checks with Voice Dream Writer. I liked listening to the Writer proofreader in the background while I edited the text in Nebulous Notes.

I think of most iPhone apps, as well as keyboards and headsets, as simple tools hanging on the pegboard in the garage. Not one tool will do a complete job for me, but if I carefully pick the best tools, and I learn them well, then I can get most things built. Of course, I always like finding better tools. I am like one of those people who hang out in Home Depot early Saturday mornings.

Even so, like Jim, I sure would like to find a simple text editing tool with a good search and replace. That tool would be very handy.

Thanks for writing.

Submitted by Adrianne on Thursday, September 3, 2015

Thank you so much for this post! I was literally praying about this topic just yesterday - so that makes your blog an answer to prayer! I have an iPhone 5, and I really love it, but I would like to get a Bluetooth keyboard so I can do even more on it. I'm going to check out the one you recommended! One question - I don't own a Mac, so I've never worked with VO and a keyboard. I have JAWS on my PC. So is it hard to learn? And how do I learn? Is it in the keyboard manual or a VO manual? Obviously I know how to do regular things with a keyboard, but how can I find VO shortcuts, keystrokes, etc? Thanks again so much!

Submitted by Morgan Watkins on Friday, September 4, 2015

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team


Your letter made me smile. Thanks.

There is a learning curve with a Bluetooth keyboard. However, I found that when I first began to use my keyboard, it was much easier than initially learning the gestures on the iPhone because I could always fall back on the touch screen when I forgot a handy VoiceOver keystroke. At first, you might find that you primarily use your keyboard for text entry, but by taking the time to learn the full set of VoiceOver keystrokes, you can leave your phone in your pocket and control all of your iPhone interactions by keyboard. I personally find it a very nice and expedient way to get work done.

I originally found all of my VoiceOver keystrokes on the Web. iPhone and iPad VoiceOver keystrokes have many things in common with VoiceOver keystrokes on the Mac, but they are not the same. As you search for VoiceOver keystrokes, look for those specific to your IOS device.

As I was writing this response, I used Spotlight on my iPhone with the search terms VoiceOver, iPhone, Bluetooth and keyboard. The top suggested link took me right to an Apple help page. Other resources can be found, including some non-published keystrokes that work for anyone within certain iPhone apps. Spotlight can be launched on your iPhone from the Home screen with a three-finger swipe down.

The actual keyboard you select may have some predefined keys on the device. For example, the key at the top left of my Logitech Keys-To-Go keyboard works very effectively as a Home button. On another keyboard I have used, that top left key generates the Escape character. Manufacturer presets for function keys can either be found in the paper documents that come with the product or you may find them ahead of time on the Web.

I recommend getting the tactile feel of any new keyboard before you buy, if possible. For instance, the Logitech Keys-To-Go keyboard has a much shallower keystroke because it is so thin. The keys are also a wee bit smaller than on other keyboards and it takes a bit of getting used to. However, for me, it is very portable and very comfortable. Since you expressed some interest in the Logitech Keys-To-Go keyboard, please make sure that you get the one for iPads and iPhones. There is a different model for Android phones. The same advice applies to any brand of Bluetooth keyboard. The modifier keys on the bottom row are in a different order if not built for Apple products.

As you explore new keyboards for your iPhone, I suggest you search the Internet for as many reviews as you can find. Although every keyboard is liked and disliked by someone, you can sure learn about the overall usability by reading what others have experienced.

If you do decide to give the keyboard lifestyle a try, I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Submitted by David Goldfield on Sunday, September 6, 2015

I really enjoyed this post and am looking forward to hearing more about your journey to use iOS as what could be a primary operating system. I, too, would love to be able to do this but I feel that iOS is more of a consumption rather than a production based operating system. I might feel differently if I could create my own user folders, move files in and out of them and actually have the capability of downloading files into them from Safari, features I'm used to in both Windows as well as in the Mac. Also, I find Apple's keyboard support for iOS to be something that feels like it's half finished. This is a contrast to the Mac, which contains more keyboard commands than you can shake a joystick at. Using the built-in Mail app with a Bluetooth keyboard, while it's certainly functional, is not as pleasant or as intuitive as what we expect on a Mac or Windows computer and even reviewing the text of an email message I'm trying to compose just feels clunky to me. If Apple could improve iOS's keyboard support and give us the ability to manipulate files and folders I might be more open to using iOS more with a Bluetooth keyboard for more day to day activities. This does not mean I don't support you in your quest to maximize its usefulness to the fullest extent possible. I just don't think iOS is ready for what you're hoping for.

Submitted by Niall Gallagher on Sunday, September 6, 2015

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Hi Morgan,

This is a great post which I really enjoyed reading.
I have embraced my iPhone regarding phone, mail, social media and accessibility functionality, but I am yet to use it primarily as a productivity tool.
It is because of this fact that I am really looking forward to your future contributions.

Great Work!

Kind regards,


Submitted by Chris on Sunday, September 6, 2015

This is certainly an interesting article. I have to agree with the people that say iOS isn't a production operating system. The biggest issues I have with mobile operating systems in general is the lack of multitasking. Sure, you can have audio and GPS running in the background as well as some other app services, but switching applications is not as fluid as it is on a computer. I hear that it's possible to do a command tab to switch through apps on an iPad, but this isn't possible on the iPhone. I don't know why this is since I think the command could work just as well on an iPhone. Still, I look forward to reading your future articles about this. Keep them coming as I'm curious how you manage to use iOS as a primary OS.

Submitted by Mani on Sunday, September 6, 2015

I think the word 'production quality' is very misunderstood. Yes, iOS hasn't reached the capabilities of the Mac OS X operating system as of yet due to hardware restrictions. I think what Morgan refers to production is personal productivity like mail, tcreation/editing of documents etc. that the average user does on a daily basis. As far as creation of files and folders, we have a way with cloud services like Dropbox, iCloud etc.
I would say, give iOS some more time and coupled with advanced processors not stopping in their tracks, it will probably be the only thing you will ever need. :) After all, who would have thought PCs would replace mainframes?

Submitted by Rolando Jr Ogayon on Monday, September 7, 2015


"Dream Big, Think small."
I love this line,

Looking forward to your posts...



Submitted by Kylee on Friday, September 11, 2015

Hi Morgan
I found this post intriguing, since whenever I try to type into any note-taking function on the iPhone the cursor jumps around so much that it quicly becomes an exercise in futility. It's even worse with the Braille display. How do you make the cursor track properly?

Submitted by Mani on Friday, September 11, 2015

In reply to by Kylee

Hello Kuylee:
Do you have quick nav turned on by any chance? You will need to turn that off when entering text.

I am not familiar with the Braille display.

I hope that helps,

Submitted by Morgan Watkins on Friday, September 11, 2015

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Dear Kylee,

I can understand that it would be a serious distraction to have an insertion point that jumps around. It has been a long time since I had to follow the bouncing cursor!

Although I read Braille, I do not have a Braille keyboard. Therefore, my comments are about the use of a Bluetooth keyboard.

For the most part, once you move the VoiceOver cursor above a text entry field, you would press the VO keys, which are your Control and Option keys, along with the spacebar at the same time to activate the text field and get the insertion point to appear. For me, this action will also turn off QuickNav, a useful VoiceOver Bluetooth keyboard feature. As noted in an earlier comment to this thread, QuickNav should not be turned on during actual text editing from your keyboard.

Once you have activated the text field by pressing the VO-spacebar, you can press the VO-spacebar multiple times to toggle the insertion point being placed at the beginning or end of the text field. VoiceOver will tell you where the insertion point has been located.

While editing, you do not use your standard VO key combinations to do the editing. You can find Bluetooth keyboard text editing sequences on the Web. There are keystrokes for many text edit functions, including moving the insertion point to the top or bottom of the text field, beginning or end of the line, and beginning or end of a paragraph. You can move by line, word or character. I think I know all of the keystrokes, but I use the following ones most often. Please know that keyboard sequences that work while editing text may do something very different when not inside of a text edit field. Given time and plenty of practice, these keystrokes will feel quite normal.

Control-UpArrow to go to top of text field.
Control-DownArrow to go to end of text field.
Option UpArrow or Option DownArrow to move to previous or next paragraph and then read it aloud.
UpArrow or DownArrow to move by line.
Option-LeftArrow or Option-RightArrow to move by word.
Right and Left arrow keys to move by character.

Other shortcuts can be found by a bit of hunting on the Web.

I hope you have better luck with keeping that insertion point under control!

Best wishes,


Submitted by Kelsey on Tuesday, September 22, 2015

I enjoyed this post hugely and thank you for taking the time to write it. Being of the younger generation (teenager), I find it truly amazing when reading about older technology, and can't help but marvel at just how far we have come. Sure, it's not perfect, but we are living in a digital age of accessibility that was likely unimaginable 20-30 years ago.

Submitted by SEG on Thursday, October 1, 2015

Great Post

I can relate with you sitting in the comfort of your couch with phone in your pocket and Bluetooth keyboard on your lap. I broke my foot in the middle of summer and felt stranded in the house. Since I am blind I don't need a screen of the MAC so I sat out on my back porch and propped my feet up and typed away on my Bluetooth keyboard

I am of the older generation, mid fifties and not tech savy but I can accomplish the majority of my tasks. There are a few work arounds. I figured IOS will catch up to MAC with great iPhone updates.

Your tips on work arounds are great and much appreciated.

Keep up the great BLOG

Submitted by Pekingese on Monday, September 12, 2016

I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading your blog posts and I have learned a lot

Dear Pekingese,

What a kind and much appreciated comment! "Think Small" was my first AppleVis blog and it is fun to know it is still being read. I have had a great time writing for this community.

I am currently polishing my September blog and plan to submit it for posting in the next day or so. I hope you enjoy it!

Thanks for making my evening!

Warm wishes,


Submitted by Lysette Chaproniere on Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

I enjoyed this post. I now use my iPhone as my main computer, and I've recently been going through a process of looking for apps to make it even more useful, and also deleting apps I don't use, E.G. Because they duplicate something I can do even better in an app I use more often. In case you, or any other readers, are still interested in answers to your questions about people's setup, I thought I'd describe some of the apps I've found most useful.

I use Voice Dream Writer to edit documents, including forum posts/blog comments like this one. I particularly like the fact that it has an easy way to check spelling, something that has been lacking for voiceover users in iOS up to now. I also like the drag and drop outline and the word finder. I wish it would sync with dropbox, preferably with the ability to edit text files in any dropbox folder; if that feature was added, it would be about 10 times more useful for me. (I know there are other apps that do that, but not with Voice Dream Writer's feature set).

Another text processing app I particularly like, especially for taking notes, is Drafts. The app opens to a new, blank document/note, or draft, as it calls them, and you can start typing immediately, and worry about where to put your note later. I can't emphasise enough how useful that feature alone is. It's so good, in fact, that I have this app in my dock. When I need to get a note down quickly, I just unlock my phone, double-tap on Drafts and type. And if the note includes URLs, phone numbers or email addresses, you can turn on link mode and activate them. While editing, it also has an arrange mode, where you can drag and drop lines/paragraphs, a bit like Voice Dream Writer's outline. When you want to export your text, you can use its automation features; if you really wanted to, you could create an action that would post the first line of your draft to Twitter and Facebook, append the whole draft to a file in dropbox (including the date at the top) and email it to a group of people, all at the same time. You can set it up so that it archives or deletes drafts you've successfully performed an action on, which means your inbox (that's what it calls your main list of drafts) isn't cluttered with things you've already dealt with. Its automation system is powerful, but it also works well as a simple note taker.

Another great productivity app I've recently discovered is Notebooks. This one is really several apps in one: word processor, ebook creator, voice recorder, PDF reader (although I still prefer iBooks for that), place to save webpages for offline reading, place to store anything you might want to refer to (it'll open most types of files you're likely to have, not just text-based documents but also things like audio files). Even with its variety of features, it's easy to use. It allows you to organise documents into Notebooks, including the ability to add notebooks within notebooks. It also syncs with dropbox, and anything you put in the notebooks folder will appear in the notebooks app; I can type an idea in Drafts, send it to my notebooks folder and next time I open the Notebooks app, it'll be exactly where I put it.

All of the apps I've described support Markdown, which has made my word processing a lot easier. Having a dropbox account has provided me with a file system, and made my iPhone more useful in many other ways, including giving me the ability to continue my work on my Windows laptop on the rare occasions when I use that.

Those are the main productivity/writing apps I use; there are quite a few other great apps I could mention, but this post is already long enough.

Dear LC3249,

Great post! I really appreciate all of the detail.

I am also a big fan of Voice Dream Writer, for the same reasons you note. I use it for writing all of my AppleVis articles. By the way, I have another one finished and plan to post it soon.

I have the app Drafts, but have not tried using it lately. You have given me good reason to look at how I might put it to better use.

And, since you mentioned the app Notebooks, I went and bought it a few minutes ago. It was called "Notebooks 8," so I hope it is the one you recommended. If not, I am supporting a new developer, which is always a good thing. I will also give this product a work-out.

Thanks for writing,


Submitted by Lysette Chaproniere on Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Yes, that's the one I meant. I hadn't heard of it until very recently myself, so I'm still exploring it, but liking it so far.