iPhone Apps on the iPad

Brian X. Chen at Wired, on the default iPhone apps that aren’t present on the iPad:

But if you recall, the iPhone ships with some apps that appear to be left out from the iPad: Stocks, Calculator, Clock, Weather and Voice Memos. What gives?

Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment, but I’m willing to guess Apple will just stick those apps in the App Store for a free download, and they’ll be the same apps as they were on the iPhone. After all, it’s unlikely there’s much to do with those particular apps to make them visually special for the iPad.

Actually, it’s sort of the opposite problem. It’s not that Apple couldn’t just create bigger versions of these apps and have them run on the iPad. It wasn’t a technical problem, it was a design problem. There were, internally to Apple (of course), versions of these apps (or at least some of them) with upscaled iPad-sized graphics, but otherwise the same UI and layout as the iPhone versions. Ends up that just blowing up iPhone apps to fill the iPad screen looks and feels weird, even if you use higher-resolution graphics so that nothing looks pixelated. So they were scrapped by you-know-who. Perhaps they’ll appear on the iPad in some re-imagined form this summer with OS 4.0, but when the iPad ships next month, there won’t be versions of these apps. At least that’s the story I’ve heard from a few well-informed little birdies.

(There is, alas, no secret “widget” mode for iPad in OS 3.2, either.)

Some (maybe even most?) iPhone games will work well as-is, on the iPad. Not just technically, but in terms of being fun and feeling right. But non-game iPhone apps that are just upscaled on the iPad are going to feel weird. And the run the app in a little iPhone-sized rectangle in the middle of an otherwise black screen mode is even weirder, I think. A 3.5-inch screen is just totally different than a 10-inch screen.

On the whole, it’s actually rather un-Apple-like that they’re even allowing iPhone apps to run unmodified on the iPad. It’s a huge compatibility win, of course: an instant market of thousands and thousands of titles. Given the runaway success of the App Store and the fundamental technical similarities between the iPhone and iPad, it’s the sort of decision that most companies wouldn’t even think twice about. But it’s undeniably a sub-optimal user experience. iPhone apps on the iPad are a “good enough” thing, not an “exactly right” thing. Most companies — the ones that wouldn’t even see it as a tough decision whether to allow iPhone apps to run on the iPad — settle for “good enough” all the time. Apple, on the other hand, usually goes for “exactly right”.

I’ll go so far as to predict that by the time Monday April 5 rolls around, it’ll already be an established meme that non-iPad-optimized iPhone apps are to the iPad what Classic apps were to Mac OS X — something you’ll make do with “for now” but can’t wait to abandon for the real thing.

I’m not saying it’s a mistake that Apple is allowing the iPad to run iPhone apps. I’m just saying that the iPad is not a big iPhone.