The iPad and Productivity

June 16th, 2015

For many of you, the iPad is mostly a consumption device, or screen. You use it to watch movies, read books. Productivity is limited to browsing and checking your email, Face-book and Twitter connections. While there are serious level productivity apps available for the platform, including Apple’s Pages and Microsoft Word, the iPad falls down seriously when you actually try to work on a document.

Under these circumstances, you’ve essentially returned to the 1984 Mac, before MultiFinder multitasking was introduced. You worked with a single app at a time. Quit one app, launch another. I suppose it was all right for importing a word processing document into a page layout app. By 1986, the Switcher app, predecessor to a workable multitasking system, let you preload some apps, and click from one to the next.

The arrival of multitasking of any form on the Mac happened after the system had enough available memory to contain two or more apps, and that’s probably why only one iPad supports Split View. The iPad Air 2 reportedly has 2GB of RAM (confirmed by parts tear-downs), though it’s not officially documented on Apple’s site. Other recent iPads had 1GB. So it’s understandable Apple didn’t want performance to suffer any in exchange for being able to manage two apps side-by-side, although some suggest Apple is doing it mainly to entice you to replace your iPad.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a combination of both, as Apple wouldn’t want you to suffer from a subpar experience in exchange for making the iPad more of a productive tool. There are also changes in the keyboard and managing text that assist in the process of actually using your iPad for work. A separate keyboard almost turns it into a small MacBook — almost.

While some Android gear has offered a Split View scheme, it doesn’t mean they ran efficiently. Regardless, the iPad needed a competitive edge, since other tablets are fine for consumption. Apple’s partnership with IBM also means more business apps, and thus there may have been a confluence of events that will give the iPad a new lease on life.

Early reviews of the new multitasking capabilities on an iPad Air 2, using the first iOS 9 beta, are quite encouraging. Things that were awkward on an iPad now become more flexible, so managing more complicated workflows becomes an easier process, or at least that’s the intent.

Now I’m sure most of you know that I’m not an avid iPad user. Basic email works fine on my iPhone, and when I need something more robust for writing longer messages or handling apps critical to my workflow, my iMac is at my back and call. I also have a souped up 17-inch MacBook Pro (upgraded to a 480GB SSD with 8GB RAM) from 2010 for travel. It may be a heavy load on the long path to an airplane, but I haven’t done much of that sort of travel in recent years. Higher prices and horrible customer service have soured me on flying, and I can tolerate a reasonably long drive. So the MacBook Pro’s weight isn’t so serious a factor if all I have to do is take it from the car to the hotel.

My traditional audio workflow for my two radio shows involves using Skype plus a sound capture app, Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack. There is nothing quite comparable on an iPad; audio recording apps are primitive, which may be due in large part to Apple’s sandboxing restrictions. I’ll let you know if I have any new insights from Rogue Amoeba or any other developer on how this might work.

Editing audio files is easier, so long as there’s a central place from which to grab files created by another app. I suppose iCloud would be the best alternative. I don’t use GarageBand, however. On my Mac, I switch between Sound Studio and Amadeus Pro, depending on the task, and I haven’t explored third-party audio editing tools on the iPad, because it’s not yet suited for my purposes. Maybe it will be; we’ll see.

Even if the apps and the multitasking concept provided workable alternatives, I’d still want to use a physical keyboard. While I realize some of you can manage typing extensive passages with a virtual keyboard, I’m not that person. I’m still exploring the external keyboards, but even the ones to which an iPad connects seem awkward, as if the hookup was forced rather than a natural design scheme where the two mate relatively seamlessly. Maybe that’s something Apple ought to consider as an open when the 2015 iPad comes out, which I presume will be this fall. Microsoft has already gone there with the Surface tablets.

That Apple has clearly invested a lot in improving the iPad’s user experience demonstrates a long-term commitment to the platform. Flagging sales may have inspired these moves, or maybe they would have occurred anyway regardless of the financials. Some suggest that the iPad Air 2 was specifically engineered to accommodate the requirements of split-screen multitasking.

Once iOS 9 is out, I will make a solid effort to attempt to perform my audio workflow on an iPad and report the results. That assumes, however, that the apps and capabilities will be suitable. I remain skeptical that I could successfully substitute an iPad for a MacBook, but I never say never. I am not, however, considering the potential benefits of a larger iPad, since no such thing exists, at least not yet!

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2 Responses to “The iPad and Productivity”

  1. DFS says:

    I think I disagree with you, Gene. In other contexts I’ve said before that you can divide computer users into two camps, content consumers and content providers. So far, both camps have more or less used the same equipment, but for some time I’ve suspected that we’re rapidly coming to a fork in the road where each group will have its own gear. Modern desktops and laptops are insanely more powerful than any content consumers need, so why force them to spend money for a level of performance that doesn’t concern them even remotely? For many of them, a tablet might be a perfectly satisfactory alternative costing hundreds rather than thousands of dollars. But a content provider often needs all the computing power and memory he can get, and many of us need multiple screens too, in order to produce stuff that can be viewed, used and enjoyed on much simpler devices. Sure, I have a tablet, which I mostly use only when I’m on the road, and sure, under certain circumstances it’s handy to have Pages or Word on it so I can enter some text (using a Bluetooth keyboard, creating a kind of poor man’s laptop), but a major part of the convenience is that when I get home I find what I’ve written already waiting for me on my Mac and can incorporate my keystrokes into a product I’d never dream of taking any farther on that tablet. Handy, but limited by its very essence. And that’s about it, that’s as far as any tablet is ever going to take me.

    • @DFS, So you vote for occasionally productive for the iPad. That’s how I react to it now, so we don’t disagree. There is greater potential with the new multitasking capabilities, but it still wouldn’t be enough for me for reasons I’ve already explained.


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