Just before Apple swamped us with a tsunami of product announcements last Tuesday, I posted a blog entitled “Here’s what the iPad 5 needs in order to be really exciting.” I noted that the feature I miss most in my current iPad is real multitasking—a consequence of the iOS being unable to display simultaneously open windows of two applications, or even separate windows of the same app.
I also mentioned clumsy and erratic text selection and manipulation (which seems to be even worse in iOS 7). An element that would help immensely would be a mouse driver at least supporting Bluetooth pairing (or, even better, USB), and lamented the iPad’s lack of access to a file level directory. I noted that real USB and SD Card slots would be great, even if it meant the enclosure had to be a bit more bulky in order to accommodate them. So would an Apple-made keyboard case a la the ones available for Microsoft’s Surface tablet PCs, making viewing and support for keyboard commands, as well as more comfortable typing.
However, I expressed doubt that the new iPad would include any of the features on my fantasy wishlist, and I was right in that prediction. Apple went in the opposite direction with the iPad Air, making it physically smaller and adding none of the productivity features I outlined above.
Please, don’t misunderstand. I think the iPad Air and its mini with Retina display sidekick are impressive engineering and industrial design accomplishments, especially if Apple’s claim of undiminished battery runtime bears out in real world use. I’m sure they will be superb content consumption devices. I will more likely than not end up buying an iPad Air. But it’s disappointing Apple once again ignored the needs of productivity-oriented users. Also puzzling, since it seems that Apple is intent on courting serious enterprise users.
A reader responded that everything I had described is offered in Microsoft’s Surface now—USB, card slot, a proper keyboard—and suggested that I either buy a Surface or a MacBook.
Believe me, I’ve pondered both. A switch to a Windows machine would be a radical departure for me. I’ve been A Mac OS (and recently also an iOS) guy since I started using computers. On the other hand, my limited experience with Windows 8 has me cautiously impressed, and the reader is correct in his observation that the entire feature set in my iPad wishlist is there in the Surface tablet PC. As for a MacBook, I presume he’s implying a 12-inch MacBook Air. I already have a 13-inch MacBook, and it’s an excellent machine, probably the best computer I’ve ever owned. However, not being a tablet, it doesn’t have the qualities that attract me to the iPad: self-containedness with no moving parts save for a few control switches, and use virtually anywhere portability. I just wish there was an iPad that could run OS X.
I’m obliged to concede that the Surface is looking more attractive in its Surface 2 iteration that was released to consumers Oct. 22.
PC Mag’s Jamie Lendino (who thinks the A7 powered new Air and mini 2 are going to be home runs for Apple) acknowledges that content creation and productivity oriented users will continue to complain about there being no windowed OS, and all that switching back and forth between apps gets tiresome and tedious. I hope he’s mistaken, but Lendino says he’s pretty sure Apple won’t ever add windows to the iOS, because that’s what Macs are for, and a 9.7-inch display isn’t ideal for viewing many windows at once (viz: early Mac Pluses and SEs from the 1980s with 9-inch monochrome screens)
Well, I’d still be happy to put up with any small-window aggravations (as i did on my ancient Mac Plus) in order to have windowing, at least as an option.
PC World’s Brad Chacos maintains that in some respects, Microsoft’s ARM-powered Surface RT tablet blows the pants off the iPad in direct comparison, noting that when PCWorld spoke to a sampling of first-gen Surface RT users, all of them without exception had bought the tablet for productivity, not pleasure use, and he notes that beyond the baked-in Surface 2 improvements, a tranche of new and updated Surface accessories add to the tablet’s productivity potential.
On the other hand, Chacos concedes that the Surface 2 follows in the footsteps of its failed predecessor despite its beefed-up internals and retooled software, the Windows RT operating system remaining a proverbial albatross, but says that as far as all-day-plus Office machines go, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything more focused than the Surface 2, which crystallizes the productivity tasks that shone in the original version, sharpening them into a machine that could, in his estimation, excel in school or business scenarios.
He’s also of the opinion that the iPad’s Retina display and much more extensive app ecosystem simply make Apple’s tablet the better option for all but the most ardent Office lovers, noting that plenty of people use their iPad for work, too. He also notes that Apple is giving iWork away for free now, and that Microsoft plans to release Office for the iPad someday. Chacos advises that if you absolutely, positively need the full-fledged version of Office in long-lasting form, the Surface 2 should be right up your alley, but for everybody else, the iPad is still the superior option, despite its productivity support shortcomings.
Which is, I guess, what keeps me leaning toward the iPad Air rather than the Surface. I don’t care about MS Office so long as I have software that can open and save Word format documents, and I do. I don’t even use Word on the Mac. Windows 8.1 offers better productivity features, but the whole Apple user experience is elegant, and elegance counts for a lot.