I was going to post this as my member post for the week, but then I had an entirely different take for that. Instead, as most of you know, the iPad hit its ten year mark last week. Good for it, best computer ever made by a laughable margin. It seems though that many people are still split, and not of that same mindset. The word “disappointment” seems to be the best summarization of these elite tech bloggers.
Let’s get to it.
The first thing to remember when reading all of these articles is that the complaints are essentially people complaining that:
- Other people are holding the iPad back by not making things for the iPad — things which would help be the iPad be something that it isn’t yet, but seemingly could be. In other words: the apps are shitty, not there yet, and this is really a shame.
- The other argument is that Apple is somehow ruining the majesty of the simplistic system the iPad had by adding features that these same people had long complained about not having been provided by Apple. “I really need help, NO NOT THAT KIND OF HELP YOU FOOL!”
This really looks like a classic case of bloggers and mass media causing a perception around the iPad which creates a self-fulfilling cycle. That is: they write that nothing serious can be done on the iPad, therefore you should never consider it for that. Because the media writes this they give pause to any person wanting to use the iPad for such ‘serious’ things, or looking to make such ‘serious’ things for the iPad, because people the general population seems to think are smart about these matters don’t think you can achieve such things.
In other words, when someone the likes of John Gruber at Daring Fireball starts saying that the iPad can’t be used seriously, then the massive Apple developer community which reads his site will in turn shy away from developing anything serious for the iPad. This is the larger media and bloggers stigmatizing the device in such a way that, well, it becomes exactly what they complain it is. Because these writers make it a no-win scenario. Developer cannot make money without bloggers and the media alike promoting their software as worth the money. It is that simple, trust me I used to accept money from these companies for this site.
So if you are a developer and the biggest captive buying audience out there is constantly being told that the iPad is not a serious tool — there goes your potential advertising pipeline. Why take the risk to build something when it would be an uphill battle — you are not just needing to build something that people will see as the best app for X, but rather as an app so amazing that it flips the narrative of the product itself. The risk is too damn high.
If you wonder why, then, the iPhone isn’t ridiculed more (it is way fucking harder to use than an iPad for work), that’s simply because it has better software, and it has better software because the media absolutely loses its collective shit over how great the iPhone is. In other words if you make a new iPhone app, you simply have to convince people yours is the app to use for that thing, you don’t first have to convince them of the iPhone itself.
Yes, some (much?) of this has been Apple’s fault. Like with the Apple Watch, Apple had no clue what the iPad would be when they launched it. It was a cool thing that seemed really useful. But, when Apple launched the iPad Pro, they shifted the narrative and showed that they knew what the device should be. And since then, they have been steadily working towards making it that device for everyone.
Remember that cheeky commercial for iPad Pro where it ends with a young women laying in the backyard using her iPad? She asks “What’s a computer?” And everyone laughed at Apple. The thing is, Apple was and is spot on with that. My 5 year old taught her grandmother how to use a Messages feature on the iPad over the holidays. A feature I never taught her how to use, and honestly one I had long forgot existed (that thing in messages where you can scribble a message in your hand writing). To kids today, the iPad represents what the advanced GUIs of the mid-90s did for most of the audience reading this. Asking todays kids to use something like a Mac or a PC is akin to me telling you that you should go grab Linux and use the Terminal because the power there is way amazing dude.
And I know you don’t quite get that, you don’t quite believe it, because neither do I. And yet, I see it everyday. Don’t even get me started on things at work around the iPad, because the push towards the device is astonishing.
That said, here’s some interesting thoughts from the past week:
Om Malik shared some great thoughts, but this bit is my favorite:
If anything, it has been let down by the limited imagination of application developers, who have failed to harness the capabilities of this device.
This rings very true. As someone who not only works full time on iPads, but as someone who helps strategize software for iPads, it is tremendous what these devices can do if put to good use. And I like the way he phrased that, as a two part failure: imagination, and harnessing the device. The iPad is supremely good as a hardware device, and iPadOS is very versatile — but you need to work with it, and wrangle it, to get it to do what you want. Which makes the entire process of making good software harder when compared to doing the same thing for iPhone.
Yes, what I am saying is that the iPhone is an easier path to making good software than iPad for the average developer. It’s kind of like being given an empty 1,000 square foot space to design and decorate as a living space. The constraints make doing so easy, because it’s not too terribly small, but also small enough that you don’t need to think as hard about layouts and cohesiveness — that’s the iPhone. The iPad is like a 60,000 square foot warehouse with some odd angles thrown into the mix — the potential is amazing, but it requires a significant amount more time to figure out the best way to use it. (In this example the Mac is like a huge shopping mall, with so much noise and intricacy that you’re bound to have an eye brow art shop somewhere in the mix.)
Malik closes with: “Ten years later, the iPad still is magic.”
And then there is the other side with John Gruber writing:
Ten years later, though, I don’t think the iPad has come close to living up to its potential.
On this he is right, but I see that as a good thing. I’d hate to use a device where I felt it has reached it’s full potential because that means I am using something outdated — at least when it comes to tech. That would be like driving a sports car that has no ability to burn just a little rubber. You want some wasted horsepower, otherwise things feel awfully boring.
Software is where the iPad has gotten lost. iPadOS’s “multitasking” model is far more capable than the iPhone’s, yes, but somehow Apple has painted it into a corner in which it is far less consistent and coherent than the Mac’s, while also being far less capable. iPad multitasking: more complex, less powerful. That’s quite a combination.
The amount of flak he has received over this line is large, but mostly justified from where I sit. He is flat out wrong on this. It’s really hard to step through this without laughing, but the gist of what he seems to be saying is that using multi-tasking on the iPad can be frustrating.
But what also needs to be kept in mind is that this level of multi-tasking is incredibly new. It’s not a 10 year old paradigm that we are still trying to wrap our heads around, if that were the case he would be spot on, but in fact is: the iPadOS stuff came out less than a year ago. To be fair Apple dipped its toes into the water in 2017 with iPad multi-tasking, so it is not all new. But what people are really complaining about are the iOS 13, or iPadOS, multi-tasking features. These were introduced June of 2019, and released publicly in September of 2019. Or to put it more directly: we have barely had 4 months using this new system, so it is far to early to judge this one.
(Here’s a good spot to see what was added in 2019 should you want to see if I am telling the truth.)
Multi-tasking on the iPad isn’t bad or hard, but it is very new. And if you are someone who simply doesn’t use the iPad as their full time/main computing tool, then it will still be a jarring system to you because of that newness. It’s like switching your kitchen garbage can to one with a motion sensor lid — it takes some time to get used to those damned things, but in the end they are a lot better. And then when you try to use a non-motion sensor garbage can you look like an idiot wondering why the lid isn’t opening.
The iPad is now ten years old, and people still have to write articles about how, no, really, you can do real work on an iPad!
There was no need to write articles about how you could use Macs for real work, because for Macs, it was – and still is – actually true.
Bullshit. Like, for real, you really want to say that there was no need to write articles about using Macs for real work? First, there were, and are, entire magazines written expressly to tell people how to do this. Heck, there were even classes being taught in person to do this. And, for a very long stretch of time, let’s call it 1993 – 2003, PCs were considered to be the machines people did real work on, where as Macs were for a niche group of artists and that was that.
PCs were the tools of the Fortune 500 where real work was done, and Macs were the tools of a select group of misfits who contorted everyday to get them to work with the PC driven world. Yes, different tact that what Mathis means, but you have to compare apples to apples, and when you do that, Macs have long fought the real work battle.
Mind boggling defense.
Let’s see what someone who really should have railed on the iPad has to say. This is what Steven Sinofsky, who was at Microsoft at the time, has to say looking back:
There was no stylus..no pen. How could one input or be PRODUCTIVE? PC brains were so wedded to a keyboard, mouse, and pen alternative that the idea of being productive without those seemed fanciful.
Actually, let me think about that, yes he’s right. Only what we have here with the iPad now is not ‘PC brains’, but rather ‘Mac brains’ — wedded to the idea that the only way to be productive is to use MacOS.
That’s too bad, well at least for them, because they are really missing out on a much better way to compute.
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