- The Tech Night Owl — Cutting-Edge Tech Commentary - https://www.technightowl.com -

About the iPad and Productivity

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.