On Making the iPad More Useful

May 31st, 2016

What’s an iPad anyway? Well, if you paid attention to what the critics said, when it was first released in 2010, it was little more than an overgrown iPod touch. Both ran iOS, but you can also buy a version of the iPad that can access cellular data for an online connection. Over the past six years, hundreds of thousands of apps optimized for the iPad’s display have been released. This puts the device way ahead of Google, where apps rarely take advantage of the larger screen real estate beyond scaling the contents. This is true despite the fact that Android tablets arrived a year ahead of the iPad.

To many, a tablet is a media consumption device, another screen with which to watch YouTube or Netflix content. Compare that to the very first TVs to hit the market. In 1946, the RCA 630-TS, considered, according to posted histories on the subject, the “Model-T” of TV sets, arrived with a 10-inch black and white display. In contrast, the medium-sized iPad sports a 9.7-inch high-resolution or Retina color screen. Prices aren’t altogether different, at least if you use 1946 dollars for the RCA, which sold for $435 at first. But if you count for inflation, that’s $10,288.84 in 2016. That number can get you a well-equipped Mac Pro, but it would leave less than $600 for the display.

To be sure, you can have an enjoyable TV viewing experience on the iPad, particularly if you use a good set of headphones with it.

Supposedly the iPad is also a productivity device. People use it on the road, managing email, word processing, some audio and video editing and other chores. You can even use a Bluetooth keyboard. The two iPad Pro models use a Smart Connector with a special Smart Keyboard that some regard as reminiscent of the setup of the Microsoft Surface Pro.

Regardless, being productive with an iPad is awkward, even though there’s a decent number of apps that include Microsoft Office. The mix of a physical keyboard, if you use one, and a touchscreen is especially uncomfortable, which makes you wonder why Microsoft and Intel are so enamored of convertible PCs.

Now I’ve made a number of efforts to take to an iPad, but it’s one of those tweener devices that doesn’t quite succeed in the tasks a smartphone manages, nor a personal computer. Indeed, I do spend quite a bit of time on my iPhone, particularly after my normal workday is over.

But that’s just part of it. As most of you know, I use a 27-inch iMac for most of my writing and for recording and editing my two network radio shows. While the iPad is a passable solution for the former, the latter is just not possible due to Apple’s restrictions on the sort of apps that are accepted for mobile gear. While sandboxing — walling off apps from each other with for certain exceptions (entitlements) — is an important security deterrent, Apple is just too restrictive.

So I use an audio capture app, Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack, to capture the sound from both a Skype connection and an outboard mixer. I have loads of options with which to grab audio from different sources, which gives me plenty of flexibility to put my shows together.

Once the audio files are generated, I can use one of many audio editing apps to get the files in shape for the network, GCN. It’s really simple on a Mac, but Audio Hijack won’t appear in the App Store because of Apple’s sandboxing restrictions on OS X. But since I can install apps from a variety of sources, it doesn’t matter.

But on iOS, such things are not possible, at least without jailbreaking an iPhone or an iPad, which would make them extremely vulnerable to malware. Apple doesn’t offer “official” access to another app’s audio streams. That, and other restrictions, limits my use of the iPad.

As it stands, iPad sales are down. One reason may well be the iPhone “Plus” phablets. A 5.5-inch display, essentially a small tablet, no doubt cannibalizes sales of the iPad to some degree. So does the Mac. Add to that the fact that people hang onto them for several years before upgrading.

I can see where an iPad, with the right apps, might be suited for the sort of work that I do. But I wouldn’t guess how many more of them would be sold if more categories of apps were available. That’s something I assume Apple knows, and I can always hope that future versions of the iOS will expand the possibilities.

So far, the rumor mills aren’t revealing much insight about what iOS 10 might offer to allow the iPad to perform additional tasks. The expanded multitasking in iOS 9, with Split View, is a start. I feel confident Apple can continue to expand the iPad’s capabilities and still offer high security. Maybe the WWDC will provide news of additional tools to help it realize its potential. Or maybe I’m just talking to myself. That would be nothing new.

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