Friday, November 27, 2020

Your Move, iPad

Becky Hansmeyer (Hacker News):

Power and performance aren’t the bottleneck for iPad, and haven’t been for some time. So if raw power isn’t enough, and new display tech isn’t enough, where does the iPad go from here? Will it be abandoned once more, lagging behind the Mac in terms of innovation, or will Apple continue to debut its latest tech in this form factor? Is it headed toward functional parity with the Mac or will it always be hamstrung by Apple’s strict App Store policies and seemingly inconsistent investment in iPadOS?


It’s clear that Apple wants the iPad Pro to be a device that a wide variety of professionals can use to get work done. And since so many people use web apps for their work, the introduction of “desktop” Safari for iPad was an important step toward that goal. The Magic Keyboard and trackpad was another step.

Here are ten more steps I believe Apple could and should take to help nudge the iPad into this exciting next era of computing.


The new M1 Macs should give iPad fans reason to be excited; now that we’ve seen hints of what future Macs can be, it’s time for the iPad to reassert itself—to remind us once again who it’s for, and what makes it special.

Matt Birchler:

As an iPad user, the new M1 Macs don’t make me want to trade in my iPad Pro since basically all the new features are variants of things I already had with the iPad Pro.


The question is how the iPad distinguishes itself as the Mac adopts some of its key features. One option is to loosen restrictions for apps and enable more powerful workflows so that more work can get done on the iPad. The other option is to bow out of the “Pro” line of iPads and lean into it being a more casual device. As an iPad fan, I very much want to see Apple make the iPad much more powerful, but that’s not absolutely the way they are going to go.

Nick Heer:

So, while I generally agree with Hansmeyer’s suggestions for changes, I have to wonder if these limitations are somehow deliberate, rather than something Apple has yet to change. The touchscreen-oriented interaction model of the iPad necessarily limits its software in some ways, but that does not excuse users’ more egregious workarounds. I find myself reading about the way Federico Viticci makes his iPad work for him, or the way that Jack Wellborn assembled a shortcut for rating songs in Music, and I wonder why these methods must be so convoluted. They are undoubtedly clever, but they also often feel like they are working around outdated limitations to multitasking. So, I have to wonder: is this a way of clearly separating the iPad and the Mac, so users do not attempt to treat one as the other? If so, what is Apple’s long-term strategy?


11 Comments RSS · Twitter

I feel like we’ve been rehashing this same argument for five straight years now. I’m personally done trying to use my iPad for anything beyond reading the web, viewing emails, and watching videos. That’s what it’s best at, and if I need more I’ll reach for a MacBook.


1. Still cannot create Contact Groups on iPad… even Pro. In fact, Contacts app is largely unchanged from iPhone 1. (And there is a ton of low-hanging fruit Apple could pick there… for example, why don't I have the ability to "archive" a contact's phone or email address, when it changes? Because, now, if I DELETE an old email or phone number that they'd used for iMessages, Messages "loses" the thread author (name). Likewise, if I -keep- the outdated info, I risk sending messages to strangers who have the new number. GAAACK!)

2. No workable drag and drop; and Copy/Paste doesn't work about 10% of the time, making moving data around while multitasking cumbersome. (Don't worry, Apple is fixing this… by breaking both on macOS now. Yay. ?)

3. iPad Pros are now slower than iPad Airs. Some "Pro" love there, eh? This should NEVER happen. Apple should be developing "commodity" mother boards that work in all their higher-end units when they intro/rev lower end units. (I'll know they have figured this out when the iPad mini revs with the iPhone mobo… until then, IMHO, they're borked at a very high management level.)

4. Mail… 'nuff said.

5. Should I even bother going on? Safari tabs refreshing nearly CONSTANTLY after app switching. No Widgets in iPad OS? A home screen spacing that hasn't changed since iPad 1. No GPS in Wi-Fi units, so a "Pro" iPad doesn't know its location for EXIF. Two Pencils? Cellular capability with no calling capability. Calculator? Calculator? Calculator? This list just gets more ridiculous every six months that Apple does NOTHING to improve iPad but add gewgaw features.

I recently updated my first-gen iPad Pro to iOS 14.2, as I wanted to try out the Scribble feature. The story so far:

- Scribble is far less accurate than I'd hoped, and it messes with expectations about when the onscreen keyboard pops up when selecting text fields

- The new widget editing interface is painful... I still haven't wrapped my head around all the limitations and incantations

- The Notes app crashed on me as I was writing with the Pencil, taking out the last sentence I wrote.

- Object deletion in Notes is hidden behind a long press on the eraser. For days, I thought they had just gotten rid of it in favor of a pixel-based eraser.

- Still haven't figured out how the new selection tool works in Notes, nor have I found out the new way to move a selection of pencil drawings

This is the part where I was going to talk about how much better my new Surface Pro 7 is by comparison, but after a few days with it, it's going back. There are just too many disruptive issues with the Type Cover trackpad and UX issues when using it as a tablet.

Next up on the list is Duet Display and an old graphics tablet. If those don't work out, I'll probably have to just grab a refurb iPad whenever the 1st gen Pro is no longer supported.

Poorly done multitasking is the main barrier for wider adoption.
There are lots of other issues, including the ones that Becky is talking about, but all that would make it somewhat better, without proper, easy app switching, background running, etc, in other words true multitasking it's not a computer, it's a utility device. Nice one, but even pro users have to dance around simple things.

File management is a point of pain too, especially very old-microsoft-like iCloud organization, where files are stored not where users need them, but Apple chosen to, a long time ago, before any multitasking or files app was there at all.

As Tolstoy would say: All happy iPad users are alike; each unhappy iPad user is unhappy in their own way.

You either find all the apps and features you need, or you don't. Everybody's set is completely different, as the comments here confirm. For those of us who can't use the iPad to replace the Mac, there's no agreement at all about which feature is the dealbreaker.

Reading the 10 or 20 issues that people mentioned on this page, I see none of my main issues listed.

Well, I said it a while ago here and have been relentlessly attacked for it. Now look what’s happening… Funny…

Apple should release a Mac tablet. Even a device that can work as macOS (Mac) or iOS (iPad). With four Thunderbolt 4 ports, of course.

TeX: The day Apple tries to add touch-on-macOS or multiple-OSs-on-one-device is the day I hang up my hat as a Mac developer. There's just no way that's going to be feasible. The documentation and tools are simply not there, even for the features we have today. Third-party developers are still lagging on supporting dark-mode. Making a mouse-friendly UI into a touch-friendly UI is 20 times harder.

If you think macOS is a second-class citizen to iOS today, imagine what it'll be like when it's not even a first-class citizen on a particular Apple device.

Ted: I disagree. Almost all the specific problems people have with the iPad boil down to just a few core issues:

* Siloed apps. Every app has to be good at *everything*, which of course they’re not, & moving data between them is usually a pain.
* Apple being control-freaks. No sideloading, the endless saga of app store power abuse, can’t fucking autocorrect to swearwords.
* System feature quality complacency. iPad multitasking, drag&drop, copy&paste, Scribble, the address book, autocorrection. All “good enough”, all quirky with strange gotchas, none “insanely great”, none improving version-over-version.

Everything is just *hard* on iOS the moment you want to do anything even slightly unusual.

George: well, sure, if you make the categories so big you can drive a truck through them, there's going to be fewer. You could say that all of the issues with Apple products are one of only two categories: hardware and software!

Nobody accuses Apple of "system feature quality complacency". They complain that you can't do X, or Y is awkward, or Z is broken. Looking at the first few issues in the original article here (not enough USB ports; should be landscape-first), it's not clear which category of yours they would fit in.

Engineers can't fix all of "features + quality + complacency" in one stroke. That's not an axis of focus. Together, they encompass every last corner of the product. That's the opposite of focus. Fixing X won't help someone who's stuck on Y or Z one bit. It also won't help Apple engineers make progress on Y or Z. These are not, in any meaningful sense that I see, useful categories.

Besides, is there any tech company in the world whose faults could *not* be loosely defined by these 3 "core issues"? Once you get so high in abstraction that your description can apply to every tech company in the world, it ceases to be a useful criticism of the company, and is at best a criticism of the industry. I once met someone who was a fan of ternary computing. That's a little eccentric. But it would be silly to list "binary computing" as a core issue of Apple. Even if that's something they're doing wrong, it's not a distinguishing factor, as every single one of their competitors is doing it, too.

Engineers can’t fix all of “features + quality + complacency” in one stroke. That’s not an axis of focus. Together, they encompass every last corner of the product. That’s the opposite of focus. Fixing X won’t help someone who’s stuck on Y or Z one bit. It also won’t help Apple engineers make progress on Y or Z. These are not, in any meaningful sense that I see, useful categories.

I don’t think George is saying they need to add features, improve quality, and not be complacent, as three separate axes, but rather that they have become complacent about the quality of existing system features.

Which I don’t particularly agree with. If anything, I’d complain that they keep replacing one flawed implementation with another, hoping to eventually end up with a good one. Control Center and multitasking come to mind as features that have been overhauled a lot.

System feature quality complacency. iPad multitasking, drag&drop, copy&paste, Scribble, the address book, autocorrection. All “good enough”, all quirky with strange gotchas, none “insanely great”, none improving version-over-version.

Isn’t Scribble a feature that was just added in 14.0?

And I would say, if you draw a general line, that features have been improving version-over-version. Not at the pace I’d like (the iPad is now ten and a half years old, and it feels the Mac had evolved quite a bit more by mid-1994), but not standing still.

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