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Making the iPad Productive

The question of whether the iPad is meant to be a productive tool may be a significant factor in its future. There are rumors that at least some versions of the tablet will receive an update, perhaps within a few weeks, and that there may be a brand new model.

But the issue here is not whether Apple will announce a 10.5-inch iPad, with an edge-to-edge screen, or even if there’s the need for a different form factor. It’s about what these tablets are used for, and whether Apple has fully considered what needs to be done. The iPad is, to me, still too much of an overgrown iPhone that doesn’t fully take advantage of its larger displays except in limited ways.

Now in a recent article on the future of the iPad, I felt that former Macworld editor Jason Snell had missed the boat in not suggesting interface improvements to make it more productive.

I’ve known Jason for a number of years. He is knowledgeable and a straight shooter, so I fully expected him to consider the possibilities, as he’s done in an expanded article on the subject.

In his new article, Jason points out again that, “iOS is the Apple operating system for the next 30 years.” He goes on to explain what is obvious to us all, that it was designed for the small displays of a smartphone, and is thus limiting, he says “barren,” on a larger display, such as the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

He mentions the limited ways in which Apple has expanded productivity on the larger devices, such as Split View multitasking, which puts apps side-by-side. But Jason says he’d like to see a more efficient method of app switching, plus drag and drop capability.

But purists might disagree with Jason’s emphasis on carrying over macOS features to iOS, such as variations of Mission Control and app windows. You see, such moves appear to make iOS more Mac-like in its execution. Does that make sense for the operating system of the future?

On the other hand, how about a version of the Smart Keyboard with a decent typing feel, for once, and a trackball or trackpad to give the process more of a traditional notebook feel? Or does such a move threaten to bring reality to Apple’s horror show vision of merging the toaster oven with the refrigerator?

If Apple is serious about using an iPad for productivity, it seems essential that they devise new ways to manage multiple apps and documents. Jason’s suggestions for an efficient drag and drop method for a touchscreen-based gadget would seem to be a little difficult to accomplish. Your fingers do not have near the precision of the mouse and trackpad.

Such changes wouldn’t just be restricted to iOS, and accessory keyboards. App developers would have to take advantage of the new features, if they aren’t just inherited automatically, which is what I expect Apple is going to try to do.

Say we have the mythical iPad with iOS 11, offering more robust multitasking features, support for more useful input devices and a more flexible file management scheme. That will provide the fundamentals for app developers to create software that will allow you to be more productive.

The next step is to consider changes to the types of apps supported on iOS. Certainly the sandboxing limits make sense from a security standpoint, since hundreds of millions of users of iPhones and iPads continue to work in highly secure environments. When there are security threats, Apple is usually pretty good about delivering updates. Imagine if that happened on the Android platform.

But I’ll repeat myself: There are categories of apps that would work extremely well on an iPad, if Apple allowed them. I can imagine taking my USB mic and my wife’s iPad Air 2 on the road, and leaving my MacBook Pro at home. She can stick it in her purse, and I can toss the mic in my overnight bag. With the proper tools, I could record and edit my radio shows and write my daily blogs for this site.

Well, there’s always a proper accessory keyboard.

More to the point, Apple would have to permit apps similar to Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack in the App Store. The Mac version of this app is one of the most valuable audio production tools on the planet. It allows you to capture audio from multiple sources, such as an external mic or mixer and Skype, and save them in a single file. That sort of inter-app communication is a no-brainer on a Mac. It’s not allowed on iOS, but if it were, it would create the climate for loads of new and creative ways for you to be productive.

It would also be nice to see how Apple will manage assets — audio and video files — and provide the ability to upload them to their intended destinations beyond iCloud via FTP or another method.

There are loads of possibilities for Apple to expand the iPad’s usefulness. It’s not just running an ad campaign via social networks. It’s about how the next iPads will be designed, and the changes Apple might provide to iOS 11 to support the needs of people who want to do more than just watch Netflix, play games and write messages.