After a few months of owing it, I keep finding more and more uses for my iPad, many of them not possible on my Mac or my iPhone, and my affection for it keeps ratcheting up accordingly. At the same time, there are at least a handful of irritating shortcomings on the platform that I’m impatiently waiting for Apple to address. I know it’s been less than a full year since the iPad debuted, and perhaps there’s a significant upgrade due soon, but for now, I find that using the iPad is more frustrating than it needs to be.
In large part this is owing to the fact that iOS 4 is so good, making its current unavailability for the iPad feel particularly vexing. In the few short months since I’ve owned my iPhone 4, I’ve become thoroughly reliant on the iOS 4 unified inbox within Mail, for instance — I’m amazed that I ever lived without it on my iPhone and annoyed that I have to live without it still on my iPad. Also, the major efficiency gains that iOS 4’s multitasking makes possible have become second nature to me on the iPhone. Meanwhile, switching between apps on the iPad and having to wait for each app to load from scratch every time I access it seems like an archaic custom leftover from the first decade of the century.
Among features that the iPad does share with the iPhone, the ability to undo actions seems more rote than useful. As a gesture to invoke the Undo command, shaking a handheld device the size of an iPhone is clever and workable. Shaking a much larger device like the iPad is awkward at best and violates one infrequently violated but nevertheless important law of good user interface design: don’t force the user to look like a fool [original euphemism deleted in deference to British sensitivities] in order to use any given feature.
Means of Production
My complaint about undo intersects with the fact that, over time, I’ve started to use the iPad for content creation more and more (by now those early criticisms that the device is conducive only to consumption seem myopic). I still don’t quite believe that long-form writing or word processing will ever be something that people frequently do on the iPad, but on the other hand I’m on a train to Washington, D.C. at the moment and my MacBook has apparently died so I’m typing this particular chunk of reasonably long-form text on my iPad (using a preview release of an intriguing app forthcoming from Oliver Reichenstein’s Information Architects).
Whether we’ll ever type as much on the iPad as on a PC, it seems obvious to me that some refinement is needed in managing how ‘touchable’ the iPad’s screen is while entering text. As it stands, it’s too easy to reposition my cursor as I type by inadvertently brushing against the screen with a knuckle. With the iPhone’s much smaller screen real estate this problem was a nuisance, but with the much larger expanse of the iPad cursor placement can be much more volatile, and it becomes a serious impediment to usage. It should be possible for Apple to implement something along the lines of the ‘ignore trackpad while typing’ feature that the company includes with its MacBook line of laptops.
So long as we’re talking about productivity, I may as well declare my futile hope that Apple will one day allow some of the extensibility on iOS that’s available on Mac OS X. It would violate the platform’s vision of purity and its paradigm for stability, I’m sure, but I want more system-wide services. Services that often only third party software vendors excel in.
I want an editable dictionary that can supplant iOS’ built-in auto-correct dictionary. I want Text Expander available to every app, and 1Password and Instapaper too, while we’re at it. I’m sure many readers out there have their own wish lists of similar enhancements, but we’ll probably never get any of them so I may as well stop here.
Back in the territory of pure content consumption: I’ve become a big fan of powering through my RSS subscriptions via Google Reader in mobile Safari. Notwithstanding the fact that Google Reader’s iPhone-optimized interface needs some subtle but nontrivial adjustments for the iPad, it’s great. What’s not great is mobile Safari’s penchant for refreshing a browser window nearly every time I return to it, regardless of how long the window has been idle.
This is generally annoying but it can be particularly disruptive with a Web app like Google Reader where state is maintained on the client side — I can’t tell you how many times when, having clicked off to a site from a feed, I’ve wanted to return to the post as it appeared in Google Reader, only to have it lost because mobile Safari unthinkingly refreshed the whole page. If anyone at Apple really understands why the browser built into the iPad refreshes so aggressively and so randomly, they’re taking the company’s secrecy policy a bit too seriously.
Nothing on But Reruns
I was never a big consumer of Web video on my desktop or laptop, but with the iPad I’ve been consuming more and more of it. I also find myself scratching my head over how the device handles caching of video content. If I start watching a movie trailer the playback will begin after only a few seconds and play only what it’s downloaded before pausing to wait for more, which is fine.
After thirty seconds or so, I’ll often hit play and watch until the playback again exhausts what’s been downloaded — I’m essentially watching whatever comes through in chunks. But when I get to the end of the video, I like to scrub all the way back to the beginning so that I can watch the whole trailer in a single, uninterrupted pass. The problem is that the software then behaves as if it has to load everything over from scratch, as if it hasn’t cached any of the movie, and indeed the experience is just as if I’d never downloaded the video before at all. Frustrating.
Accentuate the Positive
Wow, I hadn’t thought that I had set out to write a ranting post about my iPad gripes but in retrospect it’s pretty clear that I was. It’s only because I think the platform has so much potential, I think. The first wave of iPad apps, which we’re still seeing being released right now, have been enormously impressive. What’s even more exciting is that the first wave of releases on any platform usually turns out to be the least interesting showcase for what the platform can do. I believe that before too long we’ll see iPad apps that strike out into radically new territory, leaving many of the current apps — especially those who simply pull in feeds for reading or emulate print magazines — looking like brochureware sites from the 1990s. On the way there, I just hope Apple fixes a few of these software shortcomings sooner rather than later. Then we can talk about all my complaints about the hardware, too.