About the iPad and Productivity

February 14th, 2017

I am usually on the same page as commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, who hangs his hat at AppleInsider these days. In an otherwise excellent article about why Apple ignores “pundit innovation advice,” Daniel extols the virtues of the iPad compared to other tablets. He correctly points out that tablets went nowhere until the iPad arrived, and how it continues to dominate the market.

In response to several years of falling sales, he partly blames the fact that people don’t upgrade tablets as often as smartphones. He also mentions the fact that the larger-screened iPhones are doubtless taking sales away from the iPad. I would agree with that, too, since there are parts of the world where an iPhone Plus phablet is someone’s only computing device. I expect it mainly ripped sales from the iPad mini and other tablets with smaller displays.

So far so good.

Daniel also remarks how the use of a traditional windowing OS that originated decades ago is not the best way to manage the user interface on a device with smaller display. He extols the introduction of the full screen apps feature in macOS, based largely on a concept derived from iOS, as a better way to focus on the task at hand.

This overlooks a fundamental limitation of the iPad’s design, which makes it difficult to use as a productivity device in many circumstances. Daniel is not considering whether there are ways Apple can change the user interface, and iOS in general, to make it possible for iPads to do more things and thus become a more reliable notebook replacement for many users.

It doesn’t have to do things the same as a Mac, but the existing iPad interface doesn’t differ enough from the iPhone to exploit the advantages of a larger display. When one considers a 12.9-inch iPad Pro, don’t forget that its display is larger than the original all-in-one Macs and many generations of PowerBooks, not to mention the 11-inch MacBook Air. Although the original iMac had a 15-inch display, the larger iPad has more pixels and a much sharper image. All those Macs credibly handled various versions of macOS, and its multitasking capabilities, in a way that helped advance the platform.

Indeed, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro also has a larger display than many vintage Macs.

This doesn’t mean the larger iPads must run macOS or macOS apps or multitask in the same way. Apple has a chance to reinvent the wheel here, and it makes perfect sense to devise multitasking schemes in more flexible ways. If Apple’s tablets are meant to run productivity apps, there ought to be ways to better manage multiple apps and document windows. The split-screen feature supported on high-end iPads is part of a solution, but not a complete answer.

In addition, Apple ought to consider the limitations of iOS sandboxing, and whether more categories of apps ought to be allowed into the program. I am not suggesting that you should be able to sideload apps that are not allowed in the App Store, or come from developers who don’t want to participate. I understand Apple’s measures to ensure much higher levels of security than are allowed on Macs, and it makes sense to be careful about the sort of apps that are offered to iPad and iPhone users.

So apps can talk to one another, but maybe that can happen in a more flexible fashion, so long as the needs of a secure platform are observed. I’m not alone, but I’d love to be able to travel with an iPad, and continue to record my radio shows on the road. I can’t now, since my workflow requires that I grab and combine audio from both Skype and an outboard mic mixer. I use Audio Hijack on my iMac to make it happen. How can I do that on an iPad, since apps of that sort aren’t allowed in the iOS App Store?

Being able to manage and merge audio files more flexibly would help, not to mention being able to upload the completed shows to GCN and my web server via FTP. With the right capabilities in iOS, I should be able to record, edit and submit my shows without losing productivity.

I am not going to suggest what multitasking features Apple ought to consider — or invent. I’m confident their OS teams have the expertise to find methods that are more flexible than a split-screen or traditional windowing. Moreover, I do not expect an iPad to mirror the Mac, even though both iOS and macOS are kissing cousins.

If Apple wants us to consider a wider range of tasks for an iPad, things have to change.

I haven’t considered the curious way Apple has implemented the ability to add a keyboard in the “Pro” models, because the existing versions of the Smart Keyboard — aside from poor keyboard feel — weren’t designed with traditional input devices in mind. So you type on a document and you’re forced raise your hand to manipulate the touchscreen for functions that, in part, might be the province of a trackpad or a mouse.

Apple’s argument against 2-in-1 notebooks, which combine a traditional notebook with a touchscreen, is that it’s akin to merging a refrigerator and toaster oven. Doesn’t that also apply to using a keyboard with an iPad, since you also have to interact with the keyboard and touch interface in essentially the same ways? That’s a curious contradiction.

I have little doubt that Apple is very committed to the iPad and to advancing the platform. I’m sure Tim Cook and crew are not happy with falling sales, and want to find ways for the iPad spread its wings. Perhaps a normal upgrade cycle, with more users of older iPads buying new gear, will help, but making the iPad function in ways that make it more productive shouldn’t be overlooked.

And, no, I’m not giving Apple “innovation advice.” I’ll leave it to them to figure out how best to allow iOS apps to do more things, and how best to enhance multitasking and user productivity.

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4 Responses to “About the iPad and Productivity”

  1. DaveD says:

    It was a good Monday to get to read two opinion articles about iPads. Read one from Rene Ritchie at iMore and still in middle of the other one from Daniel Eran Dilger from Appleinsider. Daniel’s editorials always get scores of comments that I will take the time to read. I just like reading reasonable arguments.

    I see that there should be a “keep it simple” philosophy pertaining to all iOS devices and perhaps an advance mode to those who want to go beyond the basics. I recalled in classic Mac OS there was a Simple Finder where some of the features of the Finder were not present. Then, there was QuickTime, a basic media player where $30 would get you a license from Apple to unlock the “pro” features. Maybe there should be a “pro unlock” in iOS for those who want to do more on their iPad Pros.

    On the aspect of iPad sales Apple should consider some suggestions like promotion as the one with videos shot with an iPhone or the AppleMasters for Macs. All iPads should have solid features like four speakers, True Tone display, etc. A way to get more new casual iPad users onboard is better pricing.

  2. Mark says:

    Yes. Hear hear!

    The iPad is frustratingly stupid in it’s interface and flexibility for any sort of productive work. Obvious things like importing exporting files from my macs that are not “bona fide” requires experimenting with the many many apps that purport to do so… and then suck!

    Why? This is not hard for those who use computers FFS. Drag and drop is still the easiest user interface. Instead we’re required to deal with the machinations of iTunes (which is just crap, pure utter crap) or sync which is still confusing after all the years I’ve had an iPad since they first came out.

    Encountering the frustration of moving files around to and from an iPad leads me to wonder if I’m the dummy… which I freely admit might be the truth of it. Alternatively, is it that the user interface ideal of making it “toaster easy” has completely failed?

    You hit the nail on the head Gene. As you so often do. Apple please make the damn OS a productive device beyond an entertainment center. Please.

  3. Kaleberg says:

    There are two different interaction modes. The Mac assumes that you have your hands on the keyboard, but you’ll move them a bit, but not too far, to get to the track pad or track bar. The iPad assumes that you have one hand holding the device and the other on its screen. Yes, you can hook up a keyboard to your iPad for text heavy stuff, but if you find yourself needing a keyboard and a trackpad, then you really should consider a MacBook. They aren’t much heavier, and are designed for keyboard/trackpad oriented work. If there is a gap, it is the lack of a cellular feature for the Macbook. I’m not sure how much demand there would be for this though. If you have a cellular phone, you can use tethering, and how many people carry MacBooks for work on the go but don’t have cellular phones?

    I agree that switching applications on an iPad is a bit awkward. Even the four finger slide is not always predictable or reliable. Perhaps Apple could use the split screen feature to let one pull down, and keep down, a switcher for people moving from application to application. Not supporting things like sound capture means not supporting things like keyboard or camera capture. I don’t see Apple changing this. Maybe it is time for Skype to include a recording feature. It could even ask and log consent for recording, and provide a stop recording button at each end.

    Apple does need to improve its current data management on the iPad though. You can, for example, send a sound file to any app that accepts sound files, but this is clunky. Perhaps there should be a way to drag an output from one app up into the switching bar and then down into another app. This would make shuffling things around better, and the new file system eliminates the costs of actually copying the file. It doesn’t solve the project management problem. A professional often has a whole bunch of files used in a whole bunch of apps that “go together” with a project or a customer. I’m not sure of how to attack this. Perhaps the new file system’s low cost copying could enable a generic takes and dispenses anything app that keeps track of things.

  4. James Bailey says:

    There is an article (and video) on Macworld today also on this subject. Opinion: 5 things the iPad Pro needs

    I want an iPadOS that specifically enables more functionality than an iPhone so I agree with that part of this commentary but I don’t agree with much else. If Apple were to do what the author Michael Simon asks for, it would just be an iOS version of a MacBook. That seems foolish. If you need trackpads, multiple windows and customizable home screens, why not just get a MacBook? I think the UI on the iPad is mostly fine–it just needs a few tweaks to make the split screen more usable. Something more than a long list of possible apps in what appears to be mostly random order would be nice.

    What would make the iPad Pro more pro to me is to allow access to more external hardware. I like the idea of swapping out the lightning port for USB-C. And I think that allowing access to external drives would be a very handy thing. Right now, if you want to get a file onto your iPad from a USB stick you need a USB camera adapter and then the file better be a picture in the DCIM directory because the iPad Pro doesn’t read anything else. That’s truly ridiculous for a computer labeled for “Pros”.

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