By John Gruber
Instabug: Application Performance Monitoring Built for Mobile Apps
Back in December, here’s how I concluded my piece on what I expected from Apple’s then-still-unannounced tablet:
If you’re thinking The Tablet is just a big iPhone, or just Apple’s take on the e-reader, or just a media player, or just anything, I say you’re thinking too small — the equivalent of thinking that the iPhone was going to be just a click wheel iPod that made phone calls. I think The Tablet is nothing short of Apple’s reconception of personal computing.
After the iPad was announced, I got two types of emails from readers. The first group saying they were disappointed, because they had been hoping I was right that The Tablet would be Apple’s reconception of personal computing.
The second group wrote to tell me how excited they were because I was right that The Tablet would be Apple’s reconception of personal computing.
Count me in with the second group. Apple hasn’t thought of everything with iPad, but what they’ve thought about, they’ve thought about very deeply. I got mine Saturday morning, and I’ve been using it since — or at least as often as I could get it away from my son. Here are my thoughts.
The whole thing feels fast fast fast. The only thing that feels slow overall, so far, is web page rendering. Not because it’s slower than the iPhone — it’s not, it’s definitely much faster — but because it’s so much slower than my MacBook Pro. It’s easy to forget on modern PC-class hardware just how computationally expensive HTML rendering is.
The funny thing is, the iPad, in raw CPU terms, is a far slower machine than a modern Mac. But the iPad is running a lightweight OS and lightweight apps. It’s like a slower runner with a lighter backpack who can win a race against a faster runner wearing a heavier backpack. Thus, many of the things you do are faster, or at least feel faster (which is what matters), on the iPad than the Mac. Like, for example, launching applications. The built-in apps, and many of the third-party apps I’ve been using the most, are ready to use within a moment of launching them. (Games tend not to load instantly, but that’s true on high-power consoles like Xbox and PS3, too.)
There’s something fundamentally strange about how fast the iPad feels considering how underpowered it is versus a modern PC or Mac. How can a computer with so much less CPU speed feel faster? What Apple has done is re-think several fundamental aspects. The iPad was designed from the ground up with a different set of priorities. I think Tim Bray summarizes it well:
For a 1Ghz device with limited memory, the iPad is unreasonably fast. I suspect this accounts for a whole bunch of the “Wow!” reaction the iPad obviously provokes.
Since there’s no free lunch, I think it’s really important that we understand what they sacrificed to get that performance. My bet would be on some combination of windowing and virtual memory. I tend to work on lots of things at once, but in fact I look at things in rapid succession, my eyes can really only focus on one thing at one time. Given sufficiently fast switching, maybe we all ought to be getting less WIMPy.
The iPad (and iPhone OS across all devices) does indeed lack virtual memory.1 The only memory is honest-to-god RAM. RAM is fast, virtual memory is slow. The tradeoff is that without virtual memory, the iPad can do far less at once, but what it does do is never going to require hitting virtual memory. Without a windowing system, drawing is simpler and faster.
Apple has made other significantly different tradeoffs as well. Battery life on the iPad is simply stunning. Reviewers across the board are getting real-life results that beat Apple’s promise of 10 hours of battery life. This is a function both of software (which does less and works hard to keep the CPU from drawing power while the iPad is being used) and hardware — iFixit’s teardown shows that, internally, the iPad looks more like a battery with a computer than a computer with a battery.
The iPad, so far, never gets warm. Browse a bunch of web sites. Play some video. Play a game. It still feels as cool to the touch as when it’s turned off. It is also dead quiet — no fan, no humming, nada. This is the future of computing.
The iPad was designed with an entirely different set of priorities than Macs or PCs. Someone may well produce a worthy iPad rival in the next year, but it’s not going to be something like HP’s Slate that runs Windows 7, an operating system that epitomizes the traditional set of computer design priorities.
The iPad is also eminently affordable. $500 for this thing seems hard to believe. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it at double the price. But clearly there were tradeoffs involved to hit this price point. Build quality is not one — the thing feels perfect in hand. But it only has 256 MB of RAM — perhaps the single biggest hardware weakness of the device (see the section on Safari below). It is super high-quality, but clearly designed for the mass market. Anyone who thinks Apple only makes high-priced products has completely lost sense of reality. “Affordable luxury” is the sweet spot for mass market success today, and Apple keeps shooting bulls eyes. In fact, the only thing that makes my heart ache regarding the iPad is when I start imagining a hypothetical Pro model — imagine what Apple could put in an iPad that cost as much as a MacBook Pro. (My dream iPad Pro: double the display’s pixel resolution and include a gigabyte or two of RAM.)
Affordability presents itself in other ways, too. Nothing is included in the box other than the power adapter. The dock and case are separate SKUs, and it doesn’t even come with headphones. It’s like buying a Honda, not an Acura — the base model is not “well-equipped”.
$500 is affordable but not cheap, and the iPad does not feel cheap in any regard. The build quality is outstanding. The brushed aluminum back makes my plastic iPhone 3GS feel cheap. The iPad takes more cues from the current iMacs than it does from the iPhone. The seam between the glass and the aluminum is nearly perfect. It’s just one piece of aluminum and a piece of glass — there is no superfluous chrome bezel between the glass and the backing as there is on all iPhones and iPod Touches to date. Even without turning it on it looks and feels a step beyond the iPhones and iPod Touches we’ve seen to date.
One thing that’s making it hard for some people to grasp the purpose of the iPad is that no one has an answer to what precisely it is for. This was not so for the iPhone. The answer to the question of what the original 2007 iPhone was meant for was right there at the bottom of the iPhone home screen, in the “dock”: phone, email, web, music and video. The other apps were icing on the cake. The four apps in the dock were what Apple designed the iPhone to do.
The iPad also has a “dock” on the home screen, and the default apps in that dock are clearly important: Safari, Mail, Photos, iPod (which, on the iPad, is only for audio). But some are treating the iPad as, fundamentally, an e-reader. Others as a gaming device. Others as a movie player. None of those things are represented in the iPad’s default dock apps.
The truth is that the App Store is the killer app. The iPad is meant for anything that can be represented on a 10-inch color touchscreen. Back in January when we were playing the “What’s Apple going to name the tablet?” game, my favorite, by far, was “Canvas”. I’m not saying here that Canvas would have been a better name than iPad, but the word conveys perfectly what the iPad is.
The iPad becomes the app you’re using. That’s part of the magic. The hardware is so understated - it’s just a screen, really - and because you manipulate objects and interface elements so smoothly and directly on the screen, the fact that you’re using an iPad falls away. You’re using the app, whatever it may be, and while you’re doing so, the iPad is that app. Switch to another app and the iPad becomes that app. If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.
As did Cultured Code’s Jürgen Schweizer:
Steve Jobs said about the iPod that “it is all about the music”. With the iPad, Apple has done the same for personal computing as it has done before with the iPod: it made technology go away. But if the device is gone, and the operating system is gone, what is left?
The iPad is an empty canvas that invites us to imagine what is possible. It inspires our imagination and it makes us want to create, because never before were we able to create software that was so close to the user.
The iPad hardware and OS are profoundly humble — they put all the focus on whatever app it is that is open.
One thing that is very iPhone-like about iPad is that when you first take it out of the box, it wants to be plugged into your Mac or PC via USB and sync with iTunes. In some ways, that’s understandable. USB syncing is how you load your iPad with music and videos and transfer over stuff like your email accounts, and, if you’re not using MobileMe, your contacts and calendars. But, on the whole, it feels retrograde. It creates an impression that the iPad does not stand on its own. It’s a child that still needs a parent. But it’s not a young child. It’s more like a teenager. It’s close. So close that it feels like it ought to be able to stand on its own.
Android devices do not have this problem. You can sync an Android device with a desktop computer via USB, for transferring things like music and videos, but you don’t have to. Out of the box, a Nexus One is ready to go. Google’s big advantage here is that they’re using online services as primary data stores. The Google Way is to use Gmail for email and contacts, and Google Calendar for events. You just tell your Android device your Google ID and password, and your email, contacts, and calendars start syncing over the air.
Apple has MobileMe, but because it’s a paid service, they can’t (or at least won’t) assume that all iPad owners are going to use it. But then even those of us who do use MobileMe get stuck with a first-run iPad experience that involves a tethered USB connection to a computer. The Apple Way is to assume that your primary data stores for these things are locally stored on your Mac or PC — Address Book, iCal. At the very least, these things ought to be able to sync between iTunes (on your Mac or PC) and your iPad over your Wi-Fi network. Third-party iPhone OS apps like Things do a great job with this — there’s no reason iTunes and the iPhone OS shouldn’t too.
On the iPhone (and iPod Touch; assume from here out that when I say “iPhone” I’m referring to both), app icons on the home screen sit atop a plain black background. On the iPad, they’re spaced further apart, which is why I think Apple has added wallpaper — making the iPad home screen look a lot more like a Mac or Windows desktop. The default wallpaper shows a sunset skyline of a mountain range in front of a lake. There’s a meteor shower in the sky. And the streaking meteors look, at a glance, like a series of severe scratches on the display. It’s a curious choice.
Update: They’re not meteors. It’s a long exposure and the “scratches” are the tracks of stars moving across the sky.
It’s a lot like the iPhone’s, but, it’s different. Because it’s bigger, there are no pop-up indicators showing which key you hit as you type. They’re not necessary. The feel, overall, is pretty much like typing on a really big iPhone.
If you’re in a position where you can set the iPad down on your lap or a table top, it’s not too hard at all to type with all your fingers when the iPad is in landscape (horizontal) orientation. Now, to me, it’s nowhere near as good as even the worst full- or nearly-full-size hardware keyboard I’ve ever used. You can’t just rest all eight of your fingers on the home row keys, and you can’t feel where the key cap edges are. You have to look at the keyboard a fair amount as you type. On a hardware keyboard, I hardly ever look at the keys. But for a touchscreen, it’s good.
In portrait (vertical) orientation, I can type on the iPad using just my two thumbs, as I do on my iPhone. I have relatively large hands, though — I don’t think most people can do it. The keyboard in this layout is way too small for me to type with all of my fingers, though. In portrait orientation most people will type using one finger, I expect.
Now, the funny thing is, in general, bigger keyboards are easier to type on than smaller ones. That’s why big laptops are easier to type on than compact ones, and, indeed, that’s why the landscape iPad keyboard on the iPad is easier to type on than the portrait one. But at a certain point, the curve flips around and smaller becomes faster. I type much faster on my iPhone using the smaller portrait orientation keyboard than the wider landscape keyboard. In both modes, I use just my two thumbs. With the smaller iPhone keyboard, my thumbs have to travel less from one key to the next. People who aren’t very proficient at the iPhone keyboard, or who have very large thumbs and therefore have trouble precisely tapping the smaller keys, may well prefer the iPhone’s wider landscape keyboard. But for me it’s not even close. I never type in landscape on my iPhone.
And in fact (and this is the aforereferenced “funny part”), I type faster on my iPhone than I do on the iPad. That’s especially true for when the iPad is in portrait mode, which puts the keyboard size in a no-man’s land — too small to eight-finger-type, too big to thumb-type. But it’s also true for when the iPad is in landscape mode. I’m hopeful that this is just a factor of experience and muscle memory — I have nearly three years of experience typing on the iPhone, and, as I type this sentence, only two days experience with the iPad. Last Friday I watched Andy Ihnatko eight-finger-type on his iPad — which he’d been using for over a week — and he was typing pretty goddamn fast.
One problem I’ve run into is that Apple has subtly changed the layout of the keyboard from the iPhone’s. On the iPhone, the Delete key is on the lower right, above the Return key. On the iPad, it’s in the upper right corner, and the Return key is next to the L key. The iPad adds a right-side Shift key.
The iPad layout makes perfect sense — both these keys are now where they reside on traditional hardware keyboards. Their weird positions on the iPhone are a compromise forced by the extreme lack of space on the iPhone display. Apple has also added a new key to the iPad keyboard’s numeric/punctuation mode: Undo. It’s a good idea — I have the feeling most iPhone users don’t know about the system-wide shake-to-undo gesture, and even for users who do, the iPad is harder to shake (and, when docked, downright silly to shake). But this new Undo key moves the period and comma keys over to the right by two positions. The iPhone keyboard layout is so firmly ingrained in my mind that these changes are problems for me — I keep hitting the (new to the iPad) right-side Shift key when I mean to hit Delete, and I keep hitting Undo when I mean to type a period. I’ll get used to it soon, I’m sure, but I find it interesting that my iPad typing muscle memory is based on the iPhone keyboard, not regular keyboards. I think this is because, overall, it really does feel like a big iPhone keyboard.
I don’t have (and did not order) the iPad keyboard dock, but I have been using an Apple Bluetooth keyboard. In fact, I’m using it to type this entire review. Pairing (via the iPad Settings app) is easy and quick. And it works great. Several essential text-editing shortcuts from the Mac OS work system-wide on the iPad: Command-Z, -X, -C, and -V work for Undo, Cut, Copy, and Paste. Command-A works for Select All.
You can use the arrow keys to move the insertion point. Option-Arrow keys work to move the insertion point one word at a time. Command-Left/Right moves the insertion point to the beginning/end of the current line; Command-Up/Down moves the insertion point the start/end of the current text field — which, in the case of something like Pages, is the beginning/end of the entire document. Holding down Shift extends the selection range, and works in conjunction with the Option and Command keys as expected. (Some of Cocoa’s long-standing Emacs-style text editing shortcuts work too: like Control-K (kill) and Control-H (backspace).)
Certain of the function keys on the Bluetooth keyboard are useful on the iPad. The brightness keys control the iPad’s display brightness. The volume (and mute) keys work. The playback buttons — play/pause, next, previous — all work to control the iPod app.
By default, once you’ve started using a hardware keyboard, the on-screen keyboard no longer appears, which is great, because the full display is now available for displaying content. But if you want to use the on-screen keyboard while a hardware keyboard is active, you can toggle it using the hardware keyboard’s Eject key. The Esc key dismisses the auto-complete suggestion — it’s like tapping the little “x” next to the suggestion under the current word you’re typing.
While a keyboard is connected, you can wake up the iPad by hitting any key — completely bypassing the iPad’s slide-to-unlock screen. Very nice.
The iPad is fundamentally a touchscreen device. You absolutely do not need a hardware keyboard for it. But if you’re hoping to do any amount of serious writing with it (and, for obvious vocational reasons, I plan to), you’re going to want one. There are a few places in the iPad UI where I really wish the keyboard was useful but it isn’t. For example, Safari location field suggestions. On the Mac, you can use the up and down arrow keys to move through the list of suggestions. On the iPad, you must use touch to select from the list. Since you’re already typing if you’re entering a URL, this is just begging for arrow key support. (Ditto for suggested results from the Google search field in Safari.) The Esc key does not dismiss popovers, but that’s probably OK. It’s only possible to invoke popovers via touch, so it seems OK that you must dismiss them via touch as well.
The Tab key can be used to switch between text fields; Shift-Tab goes in reverse order. (When using the hardware keyboard, I do find myself hitting Command-Tab, without thinking about it, when I want to switch to another app; it does nothing on the iPad.)
The iPad display is, overall, wonderful. Colors are bright and (unlike the Nexus One’s OLED display) accurate. Photos and videos looks great. Touches seem precisely accurate. The glass feels good. Viewing angles are shockingly good. You can lay the iPad flat on a table while you eat or drink and it looks just fine at a decidedly skewed angle — far more so than with the iPhone. This IPS stuff is the real deal; here’s to hoping for an IPS display in this year’s new iPhones.
The only complaint I have about the display is that the pixel resolution isn’t all that dense. The iPad’s 1024 × 768 display has a resolution of 132 pixels per inch. The iPhone’s 480 × 320 display has a resolution of 163 pixels per inch. The difference isn’t huge, but it’s definitely noticeable. Type looks crisper on the iPhone than the iPad, and type rendering falls far short of even newspaper-caliber resolution, let alone glossy-magazine caliber.
(Those of you who doubt that the pixels-per-inch resolution isn’t high enough, just wait until you see the type rendering on this summer’s new iPhones.)
The iPad is so good as a web reader, that, if you’re a web junkie, everything else the iPad does is just gravy. It’s good. I’m so used to Safari on the iPhone, though, where the toolbar is at the bottom, that I’m having a hard time getting adjusted to the toolbar at the top. I’m not saying it’s a bad decision on Apple’s part. In fact, the iPad HIG is quite explicit that iPad toolbars should go at the top, not bottom — which makes me think Apple thought about and tested this and has concluded that the top works better for the iPad form factor. It’s just that I use Safari on my iPhone a lot, and I am really used to the button placement.
When you create a new page in Safari on iPad, text focus goes to the Google search field by default, rather than the URL location field. That’s a change from both desktop and iPhone Safari. I’m finding this hard to get used to, but I can see how this might be a better design for typical users. It makes the default search engine all the more essential to the web browsing experience, though.
Zooming and flicking are essential to the experience, just like on the iPhone. Flicking is how you scroll, no surprise. The zooming, though, may come as a surprise. It wasn’t too long ago when 1024 × 768 was considered a large display for full-size web browsing. But: what matters on the iPad (and iPhone) is not the pixel count of the display, but the physical size. 9.7 inches diagonally is a bit small for a non-zoomed web browser. But the action of zooming — whether through double-tapping or pinching — is so smooth, fast, and natural that it feels better, not worse, than old-school desktop web browsing.
There’s one severe problem in Safari for iPad, though: memory crapping out. MobileSafari for iPhone has always allowed you to open up to eight pages at a time. It tries to keep them all truly open, in RAM, so that you can quickly switch between them. But when it runs out of memory it starts flushing some of the pages. It doesn’t forget the URLs for those pages, and, in recent versions, it saves a static thumbnail image of the rendered page, but when you switch back to those purged pages, MobileSafari must reload the page — thus, you must wait both for the contents of the page to download and for the page to actually render (which — the rendering — often takes longer than the downloading). It’s very noticeable. Switching between unpurged Safari pages is instantaneous. Switching to a purged page takes as long as opening it from scratch.
Wolf Rentzsch, linking to this complaint from Peter-Paul Koch, wrote a brief technical overview of why Apple might have designed MobileSafari this way. (Keep in mind that iPhone OS does not use virtual memory; thus RAM is severely constrained.)
This purging problem got a lot better with the iPhone 3GS. The original iPhone and iPhone 3G only had 128 MB of RAM. The 3GS has 256. MobileSafari’s ability to keep more pages in memory is probably my single favorite aspect of the 3GS.
The iPad also has 256 MB of RAM. But, in my use, iPad’s Safari isn’t able to keep nearly as many pages open as I can on my 3GS. In fact, sometimes it seems I can only have one, and every page I switch to gets completely reloaded. This is more than just annoying — it can lead to data loss if you have unsubmitted form data sitting in an “open” iPad Safari page. I’ve run into this posting items to DF from the iPad — my posting interface is a web page form. When I want to link to the current page, I invoke a bookmarklet which opens a new page with the title and URL fields of the posting form set to the title and URL of the page from which I invoked the bookmarklet. Often, though, I want to switch back to the page I’m linking to copy another URL or a bit of text to quote. Twice so far, when going back to the posting form, it’s been purged and must reload from scratch — in which case I lose anything I’ve already written. I never run into this problem on my iPhone 3GS when switching between just two open Safari pages.
The problem is also severe for AJAX web apps, which tend not to be designed with full page refreshes in mind.
I hope this can be improved significantly in an iPad software update, but I worry that it’s endemic — that because the iPad screen is so much larger than the iPhone’s, that MobileSafari must allocate significantly more memory per page for the framebuffers. 256 MB of RAM simply may not be enough for MobileSafari to keep more than two or three pages in memory. If so, Apple really needs to consider some sort of caching or serialization scheme rather than completely flushing away purged pages.
I wrote the entire 4,828-word first draft of this piece on my iPad using Pages.2 I didn’t use any of the formatting or layout tools — I used it as a text editor rather than a word processor. It’s quite serviceable. What I like best is that it opens very quickly. Switching between, say, Pages and Safari and back to copy-and-paste a URL feels more like switching than quitting, launching, quitting, relaunching. You don’t need to (and can’t) save manually. Whatever you do in a document simply persists automatically. When you go back to the list of documents, they’re presented as big thumbnails — very much like the list of open web pages in Safari.
Pages’s toolbar and ruler are only visible when in portrait mode. In landscape mode, all of the chrome disappears. It’s just a full-screen editing view, a la WriteRoom. I’m writing this piece in this full-screen (landscape) mode, with my iPad propped up on a table in Apple’s iPad case. It’s a nice setup, and I can genuinely imagine leaving my MacBook at home for trips in the future, with the addition of a few missing iPad apps (like, say, a good SFTP client).
But when I say there’s no chrome in the landscape mode, I mean none. Pages has a decent simple little find and replace feature, but it’s only possible to invoke it in portrait mode. (I must have hit Command-F a dozen times so far, to no avail.)
There are already complaints piling up that the iWork apps don’t support the complete feature set of their current Mac counterparts — open a file created in a Mac version of Pages/Numbers/Keynote on your iPad and certain document features may be removed. (The iPad apps prompt you with an alert telling you which aspects of the document have been changed or removed.)
Another way of looking at it though, is that the iPad iWork apps are to their Mac counterparts what the iPad as a whole is to the Mac — simpler, more focused, but in some ways faster. Pages launches and is ready for input far quicker on my iPad than on my MacBook Pro. Writing this review, I’ve been switching back and forth between Pages and Safari. It doesn’t feel like quitting Pages, launching Safari, copying a URL, quitting Safari, and re-launching Pages. It feels more like switching — it only takes a moment after tapping the Pages icon on the home screen to be back where I was in my open document. (My only complaint is that you lose the insertion point when leaving and coming back to Pages — the document re-opens to where you left off, but you must tap the screen to place the insertion point. When switching several times, that becomes slightly tedious.)
This is obviously not even close to a full review of Pages, but I can say without hesitation that it’s easily worth $10.
There is, however, a severe shortcoming inherent to the iWork suite of iPad apps: document syncing between Mac and iPad. It’s a convoluted mess. In short, the only way to edit a document on your iPad that was created on your Mac, or vice versa, is to go through a convoluted multi-step process of exporting, copying, syncing or downloading, and importing.
Ted Landau has copiously documented the entire situation in this article at The Mac Observer. Read it and weep.
What it boils down to is that there is no syncing really. Real syncing is something like IMAP for email, or the way MobileMe handles calendars and contacts. When I read a bunch of new email messages using my iPad or iPhone, when I next sit down at my Mac, those messages are marked as read in my inbox. I don’t have to do anything on the Mac for that to happen. That’s just how IMAP works. I can add a new calendar event on my Mac, then walk away from my computer, take my iPhone out of my pocket, and the event is there. I can add a note to that event using my iPhone and a few moments later the note will be synced to the event on my Mac.
Certain of my favorite iPad and iPhone apps sync like this too. When I read a bunch of RSS items using NetNewsWire on my iPad, they’re marked as read on my Mac. Sitting at my Mac in my office, I can send a long article to Instapaper. I go downstairs, pick up my iPad, sit on the couch, launch the Instapaper iPad app, and a few seconds later, there’s the article I just added to my Instapaper queue. This is the sort of data flow that makes me feel like I’m living in the future — using multiple hardware devices to view, edit, and modify the same data. I don’t worry about where separate copies of my data exist. Conceptually it’s just there in the apps, and the apps do all the hard work of pushing and pulling changes made on other clients.
The data flow with these iWork apps isn’t like that at all, and needs to be for them to be truly useful. It doesn’t matter how good the user interface for viewing and editing spreadsheets is in Numbers for iPad if my spreadsheets aren’t there. Here’s an example. I keep the schedule for Daring Fireball RSS sponsorships in a Numbers document. What I’d like to be able to do on my iPad is launch Numbers and access the current version of that spreadsheet. But the only way I could possibly do that today would be if I went through the following steps every single time I made a change to the document on my Mac:
Before opening the current version of the file on my Mac, check to make sure there isn’t a more recent version of it on my iPad.
Open the file on my Mac and make changes.
Dock my iPad to my Mac via USB.
Switch to iTunes and go to the Apps tab for my iPad.
Add the newly-saved revision of the document to the file sharing list for the iPad’s Numbers app.
Even after going through all of this, when I do want to open this file on my iPad, I have to remember not to open the last revision of it listed in the iPad Numbers app’s “My Documents” list, but instead remember first to import the latest revision from Numbers’s file sharing list to Numbers’s “My Documents”.
And, again, it’s effectively up to me to keep track of which machine, Mac or iPad, has the most recent revision of the file. To say the least, this is a recipe for disaster, and even if you don’t make a mistake and inadvertantly make significant changes to an out-of-date version of the document on one of the two machines, you’re stuck with a preposterously, mind-bogglingly convoluted workflow each and every time you make a change to the document.
The bottom line, obviously, is that there is no way that anyone is going to use these iPad apps in the way I describe above.
As-is they’re only useful to me in two ways. First, I can imagine using Pages on the iPad to compose original new documents — posts for Daring Fireball — while I’m using my iPad. I’ll either finish them there and then copy-and-paste the result into the web-based posting interface for DF, or, I’ll send the draft to my Mac for further editing (which is what I did for the piece you’re reading right now). I can also imagine creating finished Keynote decks on my Mac and then moving them, once, to my iPad, and taking only my iPad with me to the presentation — i.e. using Keynote, Numbers, and Pages on the iPad as viewers for finished documents. (And, conveniently, they’re viewers that can make edits if you notice a mistake or want to make a last-minute change or addition.)
But there’s no possible way to use these apps as clients alongside their Mac counterparts on an ongoing basis.
The sort of over-the-air syncing I’m imagining for iWork is, admittedly, a difficult problem to solve. But the bad news for Apple is that their top competitor in this space has a solution: Google Docs. With Google Docs, there’s no making copies, importing/exporting, manually invoked syncing, or USB tethering involved if you want to edit a single instance of a spreadsheet from multiple machines. You just make changes on one machine, and when you next look at that document from another machine the changes are there.
The workflow for iWork is downright antediluvian. It’s not just pre-Cloud, it’s pre-network. It’s effectively the “Who’s got the latest revision of this file?” workflow of the days when we moved files from one machine to another via floppy disks.
What in the world is iWork.com for if not for solving this problem? At least iWork.com lets you avoid having to physically tether the two machines via USB to get a document from the Mac to the iPad (or vice versa), but it’s no better than file sharing through iTunes conceptually. When you send a file to iWork.com (from either Mac or iPad) you’re pushing a copy, a snapshot of the document from that moment. After making subsequent changes, you’ve got to push those changes to iWork.com all over again. And to get them on the other device, you must manually import — making just another copy.
What you ought to be able to do is specify iWork.com as the canonical shared storage location for an iWork document. iWork.com doesn’t serve any such purpose today.
I predicted it’d be crummy to run non-iPad-optimized iPhone apps on the iPad — like Classic apps running on Mac OS X — and I was right. It’s OK for games — they look jaggy, but jaggy games aren’t that uncommon. But regular (non-game) apps just look and feel weird. When you run them pixel-doubled text doesn’t scale dynamically — everything is pixel doubled. It’s a good way of proving that the iPad is not “just a big iPhone”, though.
The only iPhone app I find myself using on my iPad is Simplenote, for copying and pasting bits of text to and from my Mac and iPhone. Needless to say, I’d love an iPad-optimized version of Simplenote.
The iBooks app is free, but doesn’t ship with the iPad by default — you have to download it from the App Store. Apple hasn’t explained why this is so, but there are several reasons I can think of. For one thing, e-book rights are managed on a country-by-country basis — it seems likely that the iBooks store won’t be available in every country where the iPad will soon be sold. Making it an App Store app will also allow Apple to update the app on its own schedule — built-in system apps only get updates along with the entire system.
So in some ways, the iBooks app is on equal footing with other e-book readers available in the App Store, particularly Amazon’s Kindle app. But iBooks does get some special treatment — the first time I launched the App Store app on my iPad, it prompted me with a dialog box asking if I’d like to down the free iBooks app. It’s impossible to miss. The iBooks app also has display brightness controls that are not available through public APIs.
Winnie the Pooh is included as a free sample, and the choice is genius — it’s a beloved story, a good read, and best of all (from Apple’s perspective) it can’t be read properly on the Kindle because the color illustrations are a big part of the experience. No book on the Kindle will ever look this good. The Kindle has its own advantages — its books are generally cheaper, its selection bigger, and e-ink works better in bright sunlight — but Winnie the Pooh epitomizes the iPad’s advantages.
iBooks’s page-turning animation is delightful — it doesn’t just track your finger-swipe precisely, but even renders the type faintly in reverse on the other side of the “sheet”. The practical minded can simply tap the right and left edges of the screen to turn pages.
Amazon’s iPad-native Kindle app is good, too. Oddly, to my mind, it is superior to their recent Mac app in every way. It looks better, feels better, renders text better, and has more features. I say this is odd because the iPad was announced just two months ago; Mac OS X was announced over a decade ago. I suspect part of the reason the Mac version is so crippled is that they were more worried about keeping Mac users from un-DRMing Kindle content than they were about making the Mac app an actual good-to-use app.
The Kindle doesn’t do animated page-turning, but that’s not a big deal. Reading is great. And the Kindle’s ace-in-the-hole, of course, is the far larger selection of e-books in its store — hundreds of thousands versus Apple’s tens of thousands. I bought When the Game Was Ours, a new book by Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. It is not available in the iBooks store.
So Kindle’s advantage is library size (and, secondarily, price per title). iBooks’s advantage is the color display. I’d be shocked if every single piece of advertising Apple produces for iBooks doesn’t focus entirely on screenshots of books with color illustrations, photos, and video. I think it’s going to be easier for Apple to improve the iBooks store library than it will be for Amazon to create a Kindle hardware model with a color display. I think Amazon would do well to add color support to Kindle e-books for use on iPads and iPhones. Kindle has a better chance of long-term success as a software platform than a hardware one.
Update: Several readers report that some Kindle ebooks do contain color when displayed on color-capable devices like the iPad. Good to know. Also, you can turn on page-turning animation (which is off by default) in the Kindle app’s “Info” popover. (But the animation sucks compared to iBooks’s.)
Given that most iPad-native apps in the store right now were developed using only the simulator by developers without access to actual iPads, you might expect apps to be buggy and UIs to be awkward. I’ve found the bugginess to be true, but the UIs are actually good. I think the physical prototypes developers jury-rigged for themselves paid off, design-wise. There’s no question that UIs are going change rapidly in the coming weeks now that developers have the real deal to measure the feel of their apps against, but for the apps I’ve been using the most, they’re pretty damn good already.
As for the bugginess, I’m not saying it’s inexcusable or even surprising — the SDK simulator is not a perfect simulation. Several of the bugs I’ve reported are only present when the apps are running on actual iPad hardware.
On the whole, though, the quality of iPad apps on day one is better, by far, than I had expected considering that developers had to build them in the dark, as it were.
Prices, so far, are significantly higher than for iPhone apps — but still far cheaper than category equivalent Mac apps. For example, NetNewsWire is $10 (and going to $15 in May); Things is $20; and OmniGraffle is $50. No doubt there are going to be wildly popular 99-cent iPad apps, but it’s also shaping up as a serious platform for serious tools. Games are a bit more expensive, too, but, to me, reasonably so.
Technically, the iPhone OS has “virtual memory”, but it doesn’t have swap files. What’s running has to fit into physical memory. And in layman’s terms, swapping RAM to storage is virtual memory. ↩︎
The final word count is just short of 7,300, so admittedly I wound up writing quite a good chunk of it in BBEdit on my Mac. ↩︎