When I posted some musings here last week about productivity features supported by Android in the Samsung Galaxy Tab that aren’t available in the iPad, I expected some disagreement. I didn’t anticipate the flame broadside that the commentary provoked (see Why I won’t be buying the new iPad (and would consider Samsung). Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but that should include me. I expressed an honest one in good faith, but some responders lapsed into ad hominem invective or even suggested I was on Samsung’s payroll because I said positive things about the Samsung tablet’s feature set and criticized Apple for not including similar functionality in the iPad. Mercy! We’re discussing operating system features here, folks.
I like my iPad. I use it a lot. The first thing I usually do upon waking each day is reach for it to check my inboxes, the weather forecast, and the morning’s news headlines—a pattern usually mirrored at the other end of the day.
I admire and appreciate the iPad’s superb build, materials quality, and its solid engineering, just as I do that of my aluminum MacBook and of most of the dozen or so other Macs I’ve owned over the past 20 years, plus a handful of iPods. I didn’t suggest that the Galaxy Tab was better or even equivalent in those qualities, and I don’t dispute that Android has angularities that one happily doesn’t have to contend with in the iOS.
What I did say was that I’m not enchanted with the new, third-generation iPad’s marquee feature: the Retina display. It’s lovely to behold, but at the expense of an awful lot of processing overhead and battery demand. Early benchmarking reveals that despite having nearly twice the battery capacity (42 watt-hours as opposed to the iPad2′s 25-watt-hours), the new iPad offers about the same 10 hour battery life as its predecessor, and also reportedly takes a lot longer to charge.
Even if I didn’t have an iPad 2, and was shopping for a tablet, I would be seriously weighing whether to go with the 2 rather than the new one (not just because it’s a hundred bucks cheaper), and that isn’t a completely outlandish view. The better camera in the gen-3 might still rope me in, though, since it’s the one new iPad feature I really covet.
Instead of the cool but power-hog high-res display, I would prefer the Galaxy Tab 10.1′s facility to do stuff like:
work with two apps at the same time
cut-and-paste content between two apps’ windows opened side-by-side
take notes in one app while viewing content in another app
support USB device connectivity and expandable storage options
These are all features I would love to have on the iPad. And while I’m at it, HTML 5 may be the future of the Web, but I need Flash support in the meantime.
In short, while I acknowledge and enjoy the things my iPad does well, I really miss real multitasking, multiple open windows, directory level file access, and non-wireless data transfer. Using the iPad is in some ways like a regression to the very early days of the Macintosh, before the introduction of the System 6 MultiFinder feature in August 1987, which added the ability to have more than one application open at a time and windows from different applications on-screen simultaneously with application layering. These abilities were greeted enthusiastically at the time and considered by some, including me, to be a game-changing advance. The full, preemptive multitasking that arrived with OS X was even better, and Apple’s failure to support actual multitasking in the iOS strikes me as perverse retreat that makes the iPad so much less of a useful productivity tool than it easily could have been.
I know; I know. There are laptops for that. I have three currently in service, all synched to each other and the iPad via Dropbox. But I love the iPad’s easy portability and work-anywhere attributes. It would be so great if these qualities could be combined with the much less limited and restricted productivity capabilities that Android tablets support. And I think that would appeal to a lot larger demographic than some folks seem to imagine.
Unhappily, things appear to be trending in the other direction, and not just with Apple. The Register’s Trevor Pott says he recently spent a week tinkering with the Windows 8 consumer preview, and contends that power users who have the traditional computer menu + toolbar system burned into our muscle memory are being thrown under the bus, by Microsoft as well as Apple.
Pott further observes that the takeaway message with Windows 8 Metro is that the people who don’t like the new full-screen, gesture-centric, mono-tasking interfaces are simply afraid of change, their numbers small enough to constitute a rounding error that Microsoft won’t lose sleep over.
This doesn’t set any better with Pott than the iOS way of ordering things has with me. He says he runs dozens of applications—hundreds of individual windows and tabs—simultaneously on his PCs, and allows that he couldn’t do his job without the ability to multitask, to compare multiple windows side by side, and to tile windows so he can check the status of a dozen things going on in the background at a glance by monitoring layered title bars.
Pott says he creates dozens of documents every day, edits websites, and at any given time will be in the middle of several research projects involving hundreds of open browser tabs. He has instant messengers and phone applications; Dropbox, Teamdrive, email, file browsers and command lines; Photoshop; Visio; and plenty more up and running and pretty much perpetually. That’s somewhat more multi than for me, but not radically different. I keep nine Spaces configured on my MacBook, usually with different applications of the up to two-dozen or so I’ll have running at times, and a constellation of projects in progress. We are enabled to employ this sort of workflow motif thanks to operating system development advances over the past few decades having created personal computer multitasking OS ecosystems that allow multiple applications to be run in a windowed environment, steadily enhancing our ability to multitask more efficiently.
Trevor Pott, like me, has spent the past two decades honing and refining his multitasking abilities—as he puts it—”beyond skill, beyond experience, and into instinct,” observing that the “one thing at a time” approach in Windows 8 Metro is ruinous, and that sadly for anyone who falls into the categories of “multitasker,” “power user,” or “content creator,” the Windows 8 client operating system may well end up unfit for their purposes. I have similar apprehensions about the iOS and creeping “iOSification” of Mac OS X.
In the meantime, I’m struggling along with my iPad. It’s only nine months old as yet, so I’ll wait a while yet before upgrading to a different tablet, and will definitely skip the third-generation iPad.
However, a year from now I’ll probably be seriously considering a new tablet, and while the next-generation iPad will definitely be on my shortlist, it won’t be the only candidate unless, by some miracle (which I’m not expecting), Apple relents and decides to support longtime customers and supporters who would like to combine real multitasking and productivity support with the iPad form factor.