Is Apple Killing iPad Productivity Choices?

June 16th, 2015

In yesterday’s column, I celebrated the addition of Split View and other enhanced iPad multitasking options for iOS 9. True, Split View will require an iPad Air 2, minimum,, but it represents a significant improvement, one that will provide more opportunities for being productive on these tablets. The feature might also pave the way for an even larger iPad, which some call iPad Pro, which may arrive with the fall model refresh.

All good things to be sure. But there are limitations on what developers can do under Apple’s sandboxing restrictions, and that might become the deal killer for people with the sort of workflow I have.

As most of you know, I host two nationally syndicated radio shows, and use Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack to grab the audio from Skype and mix it with my mic. My current layout consists of a Behringer mixer with a USB interface and a set of mics that change depending on my needs. I normally use a Blue Yeti Pro, which has both traditional XLR and USB ports.

Of course, you can mix and match almost any conceivable combination of audio inputs with Audio Hijack. Unfortunately this app does its magic by using methods that do not appear to fit within Apple’s sandboxing guidelines, and thus this app and other products from Rogue Amoeba will, unless things change, be barred from the Mac App Store.

According to Rogue Amoeba CEO Paul Kafasis, in response to the forthcoming enhanced multitasking capabilities of the iPad:

Unfortunately, this doesn’t really change much for us. More powerful iPads will certainly be capable of performing more powerful tasks, and running more powerful applications.

However, for us, the major limitation on the iPad and iOS has always been artificial. That is, Apple’s restrictions on that platform, on what can be shipped through their app store, precludes apps like Audio Hijack, Airfoil, and Nicecast. Just as these apps don’t appear in the Mac App Store, due to Apple’s restrictions, they can’t appear on iOS at all (short of jailbreaking).

More power on both the hardware and software sides will certainly increase iPad productivity. Unfortunately, the artificial handicapping Apple puts in place will continue to preclude many types of applications from ever appearing on the device.

Now Apple doesn’t prevent you from installing Audio Hijack on a Mac. Rogue Amoeba sells their apps from their own site, and they have Apple developer certificates. So unless you block every app other than those offered in the Mac App Store, there’s no problem downloading and running it; an Option key on launch lets you run any app regardless of OS X’s Gatekeeper settings.

While I understand Apple’s penchant for security, Audio Hijack doesn’t make your Mac less secure. The same is true for the security and drive maintenance apps that are also blocked from being offered in the App Store.

Obviously the situation is less favorable on iOS. You can side-load apps if you jailbreak your device, which is something that makes it vulnerable to malware even if it allows you to install apps that Apple won’t approve. Yes, I realize you can install unofficial apps on an Android device without going through as many hoops, but I wouldn’t recommend it there either. Android has known potential security issues even when you stay with Google Play.

The practical impact of this situation is that there are lots of things that can be done on an iPad, but Apple’s restrictions, however well intentioned, are making it impossible to perform tasks routinely done on a Mac or PC. The inability to properly capture and record audio from Skype is a key example. Yes, I saw a product in the App Store, Sky Recorder, which is supposed to do just that apparently by using the app to initiate the conversation, and grab the audio from both ends. I suppose that is a workable if clumsy solution, but nowhere near as elegant as Audio Hijack.

For now then, that’s the deal-breaker when it comes to doing some of the tasks I require for my workflow. It doesn’t prevent me from making live recordings, or even editing a recording, but still. I shouldn’t be forced to go to a second device to handle some of my work.

The solution is in Apple’s hands. If there was a way to do this as Audio Hijack does, I would presume a developer would have figured it out. From Kafasis’ comments, I do believe he’d be willing to try if Apple provided the proper features in their developer tools. So far they won’t.

Now it may well be that the needs of radio hosts, including podcasters, aren’t terribly high on Apple’s list of iOS priorities. But the company that invented Proactive Siri to anticipate your needs and wants ought to be quite capable of opening the iOS platform to allow an app to seamlessly transfer audio and video to a recording app.

If that were possible, I can assure you I’d be using an iPad far more frequently.

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2 Responses to “Is Apple Killing iPad Productivity Choices?”

  1. Kaleberg says:

    I can see Apple’s problem. If they provide an API that allows one to write a sound capture application on IOS, then it is almost certain that someone could write sound capture spyware and enough people would be unlucky enough to download and enable it. They have a similar problem with allowing applications to pass files back and forth. What is to keep one program from modifying a file to compromise another application. It’s just too easy to imagine the exploits and not easy enough to imagine ways to reliably stop them.

    This was a big area of computer science research back in the 1970s. The usual approach was what they called a “capability system” where each application would have an explicit list of what it could and could not do. Apple implements this already. The open area was how applications could cooperate. Many capability schemes were proposed, but almost every one of them had some flaw or another. Back then, this problem was theoretical, but everyone knew that the golden era of untrustworthy software was upon us. Unfortunately, the problem is as yet unsolved.

    • @Kaleberg, I think Apple is smart enough to provide the proper controls to allow this to happen without the potential for mischief, same as text. The question is as much about priorities as anything else.


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