TechnologyTell

Making the argument for a real iPad Pro

Sections: Features, iPad, iPhone/iPod touch/iPad, Opinions and Editorials, Originals

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Apple’s press release accompanying the recent announcement of the addition of a 128GB capacity iPad contained less-than-subtle indication that the company would like the new model to be taken seriously by enterprise and power users as a sort of “Pro” version of the iPad.

The release highlighted that “the iPad continues to have a significant impact on business, with virtually all of the Fortune 500 and over 85 percent of the Global 500 currently deploying or testing iPad. Companies regularly utilizing large amounts of data such as 3D CAD files, X-rays, film edits, music tracks, project blueprints, training videos and service manuals all benefit from having a greater choice of storage options for iPad. The over 10 million iWork users, and customers who rely on other productivity apps like Global Apptitude for analyzing team film and creating digital playbooks, Auria for an incredible 48 track recording system, or AutoCAD for drafting architectural and engineering drawings, will also benefit greatly from having the choice of an iPad with more storage capacity.”

However, it will take more than adding greater storage capacity to make the iPad as serious tool for pro users who highly value their time, and therefore productivity and efficiency.

In his Monday Note column this week, entitled “iPad Pro: The Missing Workflow,” Jean Louis Gasseé—former senior Apple executive and founder of Be, Inc.—analizes the iPad’s deficiency as a production tool and eloquently make their case for an iPad Pro capable of supporting real, desktop operating system interface features.

Gasseé notes that the new 128 GB iPad is becoming popularly known as the “iPad Pro,” but critics contend that 128 GB is more storage than any sane person could ever want in a pure tablet. Nevertheless, Gasseé thinks an iPad Pro actually does represent the future of both the iPad and tablets in general. In the meantime, when he scrutinizes the iPad as a Pro platform, he sees that at its present stage of development the device is a long way from realizing its professional potential. He maintains that critics have it wrong about increased storage, which is a necessary element, but that’s nowhere near sufficient on its own.

Gasseé observes from experience that when one does attempt to get some real work done on an iPad, things get quickly complicated, noting:

Once I start writing, I want to look through the research material I’ve compiled. On a Mac, I simply open an Evernote window, side-by-side with my Pages document: select, drag, drop. I take some partial screenshots, annotate graphics, convert images to the .png format used to put the Monday Note on the Web….

However….

On the iPad, these tasks are complicated and cumbersome…I can’t open multiple windows. iOS uses the “one thing at a time” model. I can’t select/drag/drop, I have to switch from Pages to Evernote or Safari, select and copy a quote, and then switch back to the document and paste. Adding a hyperlink is even more tortuous and, at times, confusing…. [the] order of operations is intuitively backwards. On a Mac (or PC), I select the target text and then decide which link to paste under it.

He notes that things get even worse when it comes to graphics, since on the iPad, one can’t take a partial screenshot. The only options are either snapping full screenshot by simultaneously pressing the Home and Sleep buttons, you can tap on a picture in Safari and save it -the whole image of course. In either case, the image ends up in the iOS Photos app, where I personally just give up and email it to my Mac where I do any necessary processing before posting—all facilitated by OS X’s blessed access to the file system, which is not available on the iPad.

Annotations? Nope. Control over the image file format? Nope. Gasseé also points out that there is no iPad equivalent to the superb OS X Preview app. And that if one stores a Preview document in iCloud there’s no way to open it on the iPad. He laments that iCloud doesn’t match the slickness, simplicity, and convenience of Dropbox or even Microsoft’s Skydrive, adding, “One wonders: Is the absence of a Dropbox-like general documents folder in iCloud a matter of technology or theology?” Good question. I just don’t bother with iCloud for a whole raft of reasons, and I love Dropbox.

Ergo, simply throwing more storage at these problems is, clearly, not nearly enough to make the iPad a serious pro device, although more and more users in the enterprise will surely attempt to put it to pro use, with all the kludginess, clumsy workarounds, and compromise that that means living with.

I understand. I love a lot about the iPad, and I find myself using it as much as possible instead of my laptops for the sort of stuff it does reasonably well, or at least tolerably (often barely). However there is much for which it doesn’t clear even the lowest-set tolerability bar, alas.

Still, I have to agree with Mr. Gasseé that tablets are the future of personal computing, so we can only hope that the iPad gets better, which in this context means in part a philosophical change at Apple regarding support for multitasking, multi-screen views, decent text tools, more versatility with graphics-handling, and user access to the file system. And while we’re at it, a real USB port or two and an SD Card slot would be immensely helpful as well.

However, I don’t think this would necessarily require an iPad able to run OS X or having to have a Core i processor. I think the iPad and iOS could be fixed to address most or all of the deficiencies outlined by Mr. Gasseé and my own comments here, and of course much depends upon if and for how long OS X and the iOS remain separate worlds anyway.

It will be interesting to watch how Microsoft’s Surface tablet computer fares with users in the enterprise and other pro/power users now that it’s finally available. The Surface Pro exemplifies one approach to answering most of the iPad’s shortcomings on tablets as content producer devices. It runs the full desktop version of Windows 8, and therefore a vast array of current and legacy Windows productivity apps. It supports real multitasking, multiple open windows, and file system access. It’s powered by an Intel Core i5 processor and ships with 4GB of system RAM. Also in its favor is that the Surface Pro supports the external pointing devices some of us still prefer for precision and speed in production work in addition to external keyboards. It offers decent connectivity via standard I/O ports including USB 3.0 devices like external hard drives and USB flash drives, and also has an microSDXC card slot that lets you store up to 64GB of additional content.

PCMag’s Dan Costa notes that although it’s neither the proverbial fish nor fowl (actually some of both), after weeks of testing the Surface Pro in the PCMag Labs, their lead PC analyst, Joel Santo Domingo, has decided that whatever it is, it is a great product. The operative question for Microsoft is of course how many potential buyers will agree. Sales of the consumer RT version of Surface have been anything but encouraging.

Costa notes that while critics complain the Surface is a strange hybrid that straddles the line between tablets and laptops, that’s kind of the point, and that while Microsoft still has work to do, he thinks it’s one of the most exciting PCs he’s seen in years.

I don’t think it’s coincidence that Apple got a 128 GB iPad out the door for consumer release four days ahead of Microsoft’s scheduled Surface Pro launch of February 9, and I can hope along with Frédric Filloux and Jean Louis Gasseé that “the competition might spur Apple to move the already very successful iPad into authentically Pro territory.”

The iPad has so much more potential than is being exploited by Apple, and I hope they’re just strategically holding back.

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