Homemade iPad Pro Magnetic VESA Mount

For a while now, I've had my iPad Pro next to a 27 monitor for my home setup. This is on a dual-monitor VESA Mount using a magnetic mount for the iPad Pro. It's been working out very well for a long while, given that I had the M1 12.9" iPad Pro.

So when the new iPad Pros were announced and I knew that I was going back down to the 11-inch size, I figured it might be a while until I had a magnetic mount again. But I remembered that there were multiple people out there that created their own in the past from a folio case and some wood. I know I'm a bit handy/creative, so I thought I could manage this pretty easily.

Preparing the way.

First, I needed to see if there were any magnetic smart folio cases. As was with my previous Pro, I quickly found the ESR iPad Pro Folio: not only is it just like Apple's – except for the new magnetic rails, which I expect them to create at some point – but it's also around a quarter of the price, with the added benefit of a protective magnetic flap for the Pencil. So I ended up ordering 2 of them, using one normally and one for this mount. I also knew that I needed to fasten the VESA mount plate. I added some M4 threaded inserts and socket head cap screws to my order to make sure I had everything on hand for easy assembly.

No room for error here.

Next, and very delicately with a fresh utility knife blade, I used a ruler to align the cut of the folio case, splitting it in two. ProTip™: if you have a metal ruler, it sticks extremely well to the folio case and doesn't move while cutting. This gives the perfect outline and maximum attachment. I did think about cutting down the folio case back, but ultimately decided it would be more work to do everything cleanly and scrapped that idea.

Then, I found a scrap piece of 1" x 8" pine. You don't have to use pine: you could use plywood or other hardwoods that you might have. I cut it to the length and width of the folio, cutting the width just under the camera opening of the folio case. Once this was cut, I located the VESA mount holes and drilled a pilot hole for the threaded inserts. I sanded the corners and the piece, then routed the back side to give it a more friendly edge, though routing is not a necessity. A quick sanding and black spar paint finished off the wood part of the project.

Leave plenty of dry time for both paint & glue.

With the board painted black, the threaded inserts installed, the back of the folio case super glued, and everything fully dried, all I needed to do was attach the mount plate and put it on the arm. I ended up adding some cable management for the USB-C cable to make it super clean.

I think this is just about the most simplistic build that could be done for this, and what most people would be best served by. I could have done a few things differently to allow for a super-slick hidden cable management system, but in practice it's perfectly fine. I'm sure that there are other material options here instead of using wood based on your own aesthetic - like 3D printing – so use what you think might be best. Fun little project, and it saved me a bunch of time and money waiting on someone to make it for me.

Fool Me Once…

Back in April 2021, the new M1 iPad Pros were announced. At that time, I wanted the largest screen iPad Pro I could get, so I ended up getting the 12.9" model. There was so discussion surrounding the hardware story: the latest processor – just like the Mac – and a Magic Keyboard to make it just like a laptop. Most of the stories at the time focused on one key thing: the potential.

Depending on who you ask, what you read, what you listen to, you'll hear a bunch of opinions across the spectrum on how that device did: it was a disappointment or it was a phenomenal modular computer and everything in between. Some of the initial thoughts on where this device was going got great updates: proper external monitor support, additional multitasking in Stage Manager, and the start of desktop-class apps. It started to feel like things were improving for the better.

But then it stagnated and felt incomplete.

And here we are again three years later. The iPads Pro with M4 chips are the latest in chipset. We have an all-new Magic Keyboard that gains a function row and some additional premium feel thanks to the aluminum on the inside. We have an amazing screen, now for the first time with OLED and nano texture – like I have on my 11" model that I'm now in love with. With external monitor support, I ended up going back down to the 11" size because it suits my needs best: I can always plug into a larger display if I need it, but most of the time I need the more compact form factor. The Pencil Pro improvements are awesome, and I'm not even a pro-user of the pencil in any sort of capacity. It's a solid upgrade year for sure.

But with all of the improvements it feels like the story is once again incomplete. The hardware of the iPad Pros have been great ever since the introduction of the 2018 iPad Pros. But the software is the part that really needs to coalesce around the idea of what the iPad Pro really wants to be. It's ok if the idea is to be an in-between device between the base iPad and a Mac. It doesn't have to do both. But like most that have used the iPad Pro as their main computer for years, I do want the iPad to do more. There are improvements to the current implementations that can be done. There are new features that should make their way to this platform. But it really is up to Apple on what they want to do.

I didn't buy this new device based on a promise of a new future with it. I bought it to suit my needs. I'm working on not getting my hopes up, and I can't stop thinking that there's still more to this iPad Pro story, but I feel like I did back in 2021 all over again. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…

Let's wait to finish that and see what's coming next week at WWDC.

Capture on Repeat

This morning when I couldn't sleep in the middle of the night for whatever stupid reason, I thought about how I've been using some of my shortcuts and trying to figure out how to improve them. As one does at 3:30am. And in my sleepless productivity, I created a couple of simple shortcuts that are going to improve capture for me. Both of these have the same basic blocks, so I'll show them side by side below.

Sometimes I want to enter tasks as part of a brain dump. I'll grab my phone, use my one of my versatile shortcuts – like LockCut or CaptureCut – and enter the single task. But what about multiple tasks? What if I want to continue to add items until I can't anymore?

Clearly the right answer.

The solution is fairly simple: start with the action(s) I want to run, then use a repeat block in conjunction with a yes/no menu to either run the action(s) again or stop the shortcut. I also created one of these for entering grocery items to a specific list, something that I work to manage on a weekly basis for meal planning.

Here's a concept action that you can use to start both of these, or create your very own shortcut to do what you want. There are comments on where to put items as well as what to modify if you need more repeats. These aren't complicated by any means, but I'm really looking forward to the utility they bring to capturing my tasks.

Function by a Thousand 'Cuts

I recently shared my home screen setup in the Club MacStories newsletter. As is tradition with me, I changed it about 3 days after publication. And then again. And again. But rather than just mixing it up, I sat down and totally re-thought the functionality of my home screen, from what I'm using to the placement of the icons & widgets. Whereas I started and ended with a single home screen, the functionality I've gained in this new setup is far greater than I had hoped.

The use of shortcuts has greatly improved the use of my phone, simply because I have more at my fingertips. It's even better on any iPhone – and maybe even a future iPad – with the Dynamic Island, simply because it takes no real estate to show it running. It just fades away into the background. This whole idea for me really was borne from my Action Health shortcut I made because the Ultra has the Action Button. This gave way to ActionCut, which has now morphed into something better. These launcher-style shortcuts have been around for a long time, so this isn't a completely unique idea. But with the improvements to the hardware and software, the time to take advantage of this is now.

Where I started vs where I am now.

Let's first talk about the layout: what I had originally submitted to Club MacStories was a layout of a large widget at the top, a small widget at the bottom left, a group of four icons at the bottom right, and 3 apps in the dock – like a gentleman. This gave me a lot of information and usability, but I found myself wanting a bit more. I've had hidden home screens for a while to retain different iterations of widgets and widget stacks, so I turned them all on to take a look at what I had. What I started to realize is that some of the information I was looking for – like weather – really would be better for me in a small widget stack rather than taking the large widget, while others like Reminders still needed to have more usable space while remaining somewhat small.

Now my layout is bifurcated by a medium-size widget stack in the middle with a small widget stack on the left and four icons on the right at either the top and the bottom. I'm right-handed, so having the icons on the right rather than the left makes more sense. Having the more productivity-focused bottom left widget stack puts it in the right place for one-handed use. After all, this is meant to be functional for my daily use.

Let's talk widgets for just a brief moment. Since they've been introduced, stacked widgets are what I have been using. Most of the time, I don't allow for suggestions nor do I set it to auto rotate. I think of stacks as multiple layers: I want that top layer to be what I really want to see all the time, but if I need something more, I'll just move to the next layer to see just a bit more. I always start with what I want to do with the stack, then move to which widgets belong there.

My center medium-size widget stack is Reminders, followed by Calendar, Carrot Weather, and then Lumy. I wanted to have Reminders not take up the entirety of the large widget size, but also have it be readable across. The small widget is just too small for most of the lists. And I even found that with the large widget, you had to tap all the way at the top of the widget to enter into Reminders; I would often tap the middle of the widget instinctively like I had done before widgets became interactive in iOS 17, and would accidentally mark tasks as complete. That's the main purpose of that center widget, but it's nice to flick to my Calendar, the weather, or the golden hour times in Lumy.

My upper small-size widget stack is all Carrot Weather. Why do I have it in 2 places? That has to do with reachability, honestly. First off, the small widget stack auto rotates. So while the default is the current conditions with other information, sometimes it will show me the next several hours during the day; generally at night, it might show me the next few days as it thinks I want to peer into the future. But I also have Carrot Weather in the center stack because I sometimes want to get there quickly and my thumb can easily reach there.

The bottom small-size widget stack is more about my productivity with Drafts and Shortcuts. Any of the actions and shortcuts in these widgets are more about launching to the right spot for me to get things done. Do I need to start something new? I can do that quickly. Do I need to look at my meal plan or grocery list? I can do that too. What about my comprehensive Dashboard note and personal wiki? I can jump into that as well. Access to everything at my fingertips.

Going all the way back to the original ActionCut, I had started this idea that everything was a [name]Cut. It made it easier to compartmentalize things in my brain. When I realize that bringing ActionCut to the iPhone would help me do more, I had it on my home screen while keeping SocialCut in the dock for all of my social apps. But this started to really not make sense once I entered my sleep focus. I wouldn't have access to important things like entering a note or something to my task manager when I needed to do so quickly, so something needed to change. ActionCut needed to move to my dock. So I moved that there first. Then I morphed what was in ActionCut: this no longer had individual actions, but rather launched all of the other 'Cuts that I had made in addition to the quick capture note or reminder actions.

One of the more difficult parts of all this was having an aesthetic that worked well with the widgets and choosing the right icon for each 'Cut. I've used icons from the echoes icon pack before, but I really appreciate the design of these and feel that I can make them work better than having regular app icons or other icon sets. Some of these have been heavily modified by using Pixelmator to change colors and tweak backgrounds. This adds to the customization for me and makes this even more unique. And I did have unique colors for a bit, but I like the overall feel of the monochromatic theme here. Keeps me focused.

Submenus give me more at my fingertips, but for less-used shortcuts.

Most of my 'Cuts are a launcher of launchers, meaning the actions within are a menu of single-action shortcuts. I do it this way because I find the visual menu aspect of shortcuts to be better for my brain. You could just make a menu with actions inside, and use emoji to differentiate. There's not really a wrong way to do this. One thing to note is that structuring the shortcuts in the manner in which I have does mean you have to order the shortcuts within the Shortcuts app to have them show up in the order you want. There is a workaround for this that I have discovered, however: if you get shortcuts, apply a filter, and save it in the order you want it from top to bottom in a variable, then it will show up exactly how you want it to when presented with a list. As I have developed more of these, I realize having everything in one list was too big in some cases, and I created additional shortcuts like SecondCut, PlayMore, and updates as a submenus to hide some of the less-used 'Cuts. Using the workaround method I just described, I am able to add the main shortcut back into the submenu so that I can jump back and forth if needed.[1]

Using this method, I can custom sort the order of my menus.

So let's talk about the 'Cuts I have. There are a few of the main shortcuts that have extra bits in them for different functions, so I'll just list out everything below, from top to bottom on my home screen.

HealthCut takes different aspects of my ActionHealth shortcut, namely Start a Workout, Log Weight, Log Caffeine, and Log Water; I added actions for opening the Health app and FoodNoms for food tracking. HomeCut is all about things that happen at the home front: Home, Parcel, Ring, and MyQ (for the garage door) are here along with two scenes for nighttime settings for various switches around the house. ReadCut focuses around anything read or spoken, save podcasts; Mail, Books, Audible, Notes, Reeder, and News are all here. UtilityCut is really about settings, files, and updates for the devices; I can quickly open passwords either in iCloud Passwords or 1Password, open the App Store, open to Updates (OS-level, AppStore, TestFlight), open Files or Shortcuts, or open the Settings or Watch apps.

Lots of 'cuts, lots of options.

PlayCut is all about entertainment: YouTube, Apple TV, Broadcasts, Podcasts, Music, and Sonos are where I do most of my entertainment; I also have a quick action to connect my AirPods Pro to my devices, as that is faster and more reliable than swiping down from control center and tapping through to get them connected. A new addition is the PlayMore shortcut, which is effectively a second menu of choices for less-frequently used entertainment apps. SocialCut just gives me access to the apps that I use to communicate – which is changing as of late because certain aspects of social media are really infuriating and not worth my time or attention. PhotoCut is a mix of camera apps, photo/video editing apps, and some additional photo extensions from shortcuts that I use with frequency. And BabyCut is all about my daughter and tracking things like diaper changes, feedings, and sleep.

My current lock screen along with LockCut.

This brings me back to ActionCut: I've completely changed the original concept of what it was. It's actually the icon that I tap on the most because it's in the right spot for me. And having the ability to put whatever I need to by calling any action or any launcher is hyper convenient for me. It's my iPhone 14 Pro's version of an action button. I've even made one for my lock screen that calls different items I might need from there too. Again, most of these are a launcher of actions. But with the notification running at the top and out of my way, this feels more fluid on the iPhone. I can make my home screen more aesthetically pleasing and functional for my everyday use. If I add an app to my repertoire, I can simply add it to a Shortcut without having to change my home screen. I can have access to a thousand different actions if I want, and have this be the most functional, single home screen for me ever. Time to just enjoy this for a while…

I wanted to say a special thanks to Keir for his support in creating the Frameless Screenshot actions, especially for the iPad Pros. He does great work. You can find him over on Threads @keir, Mastodon.Design/@keir, or his website. Thanks again Keir!!!

  1. This is not unlike a personal wiki in many apps, like Drafts for example. ↩︎