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New 64 bit A7 iPads impress, but Apple snubs content creator users again

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

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iPad Air

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.

iPad Air and iPad mini

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.

Surface 2

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.

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  • Vine

    You really need to live with a Surface for about a week, and I think your opinion as far as the elegance experience will change. The surface is a quality product, and there are plenty of apps in the RT ecosystem to do pretty much anything you need it to do in the consumer arena. And the multitasking is just unbelievable. I can have my camera app open video recording my English teacher while taking notes in Word. Or have my music App (xbox, Pandora, etc) snapped to the right while working in IE. or Having my facebook app snapped to the right while reading the news app. My ipad just cannot do the things that my surface does (which has since been regulated to the couch for guest to use when they come over). The other piece you are missing is that there is no conversion that needs to take place in Office/Skydrive. I work on something from my computer and open it instantly on my surface (iWork Pages takes a bit to convert). Someone at work has a file on a USB, I just stick it in there. ALSO, iOS7 Safari does not support flash, wheras the Surface IE supports HTML5, better and more compatable browser than Safari.
    As you are a technology website (even though I believe you are more Apple aligned) I would see if someone in the office has a Surface and take it with you for about a week. I think you will see just how elegant the experience is.

  • Pita.O

    Apple is not snubbing content creators. They are not snubbing even you. They are saying, “your idea of content creation should evolve beyond tactile input and split screens. You can do it. You did it before the MSFt mouse, you had the IBM selectric typewriter, and the Olympia typewriter before it.”

    If your idea of multi-tasking is screen sharing, you have no idea what multi-tasking really means. I know MSFT is playing ADs based on that ignorance but that’s no excuse. Sharing a 9.7″ screen among 2 apps may sound like a good idea until you are actually working on both.

    The iPad of your dreams is a very weird product: mouse, USB, keyboard, thick … You forgot CD drive. It’s called older PCs.You have to be satisfied with what you wish for since it already exists. That problem is already solved … Back in 1990.

    But the narcissism of feeling that the world is snubbed when you ideas are not adopted is something you may have to seek psychiatric help for.

  • Matthew

    Great article. I’ve been conducting an experiment by trying to use my iPad for everything – and have concluded that I would only ever use it for productivity because I had to. This has caused me to question our rush to move everything to mobile. And I don’t think Responsive Design is there yet.

  • WJC

    So glad you are not making product development decisions for iPad.

  • http://www.idtsoa.com J. Scott Anderson

    Your conclusion is wrong. Oh, it may be right about you and your needs. But to make a sweeping categorization regarding all content creators is just wrong. I’m one of those and I use the iPad all the time for content creation. Keyboard? You’ve got to be kidding me. I speak to my iPad (and my iPhone and Mac) to get content into the pages. True, I do edit with the on-screen keyboard, but the vast majority of the text spilling from my brain to my screen comes from my mouth and not from my finger tips. Yes, that includes this very post.

    Steve’s recognition is not perfect, However, neither is typing.

    I fail to see where a USB port is required for content creators. While you are at it, why not go ahead and request an RS-232 work to go along with the USB port? He request like that makes just about as much sense as the USB port.