Ten Years of iPad: Simply Complex

John Gruber, as part of his 10 year of iPad Retrospective:

Consider the basic task of putting two apps on screen at the same time, the basic definition of “multitasking” in the UI sense. To launch the first app, you tap its icon on the homescreen, just like on the iPhone, and just like on the iPad before split-screen multitasking. Tapping an icon to open an app is natural and intuitive. But to get a second app on the same screen, you cannot tap its icon. You must first slide up from the bottom of the screen to reveal the Dock. Then you must tap and hold on an app icon in the Dock. Then you drag the app icon out of the Dock to launch it in a way that it will become the second app splitting the display. But isn’t dragging an icon out of the Dock the way that you remove apps from the Dock? Yes, it is — when you do it from the homescreen. So the way you launch an app in the Dock for split-screen mode is identical to the way you remove that app from the Dock.

The above statement reminds me of my days at school, adding extraneous words to my coursework to hit the 10,000 word requirement. Why use twelve words (open one app and then drag another one in from the dock) when you can say the same thing in one hundred and eighty four words, right? While I’m being a bit facetious here, this article, and the above statement in particular did highlight to me a strange phenomenon that has surrounded the iPad, and has since it’s introduction ten years ago. Unlike the majority of tech / gadgets released each year, it seems many people can’t seem to try the device, realise it’s not for them and just move on to the next thing. It feels like if you’re somebody in the tech world you need to shoehorn an iPad into your life somehow.

This then leads to statements like John’s, where people can, on the one hand, criticise the iPad for being held back by some perceived software limitations, and then quickly renounce the device as too complex as soon as one of these limitations, or deficiencies, are addressed. Taking the various accessories that are currently available for the iPad, at it’s core, and in its default state, it’s essentially a slab of glass. In all it’s products, perhaps barring the Mac range, Apple has always had a focus on making sure their devices are accessible and usable by everybody. Ready to use the moment you remove it from the packaging. When you combine basic hardware, in the sense that there are essentially no input mechanisms bar the touch interface, with an imperative to keep it simple the every day tasks the device was designed for need to be front and centre, such as the ability to simply open a single app. This can be done by child and grandparent alike, without a single instruction being provided. This is something Apple nailed from day one, and they’ve kept it at the core of what the iPad is ever since.

Photo by Aaron Burden / Unsplash

Jump forward ten years, however, and some users have demanded more and more out of the device. Apple has been working to address the difficult problem of keeping the device accessible to 5 year olds and 90 year olds that love the simple device whilst also allowing power users to push the platform to its limits. This must have been an absolutely mammoth undertaking.

If you’ve been following me on Twitter for any length of time you’ll already know I’m a huge proponent of the iPad, and I think Apple have done an incredible job of making the device one of the most flexible pieces of technology around today. How many other devices do you know that are used by such a wide ranging type of person? This flexibility comes at the cost of discoverability, however.

In the same article I quoted above, John goes on to write:

Oh, and apps that aren’t in the Dock can’t become the second app in split screen mode. What sense does that limitation make?

This is just untrue, and is a prime example of a very casual iPad user tentatively trying to use a more advanced feature that utilises a different UI paradigm than they’re used to, and coming up short. I appreciate that, to you perhaps, multitasking isn’t an advanced feature at all, but I can guarantee it is when you consider that my mum uses the same device. To her, and others like her, the iPad is fundamentally a single app device.

The issue here is that, just like with anything in life, we need to learn how to do things. More often than not, when I’ve seen people complaining about things the iPad can’t do it’s untrue. They often can do these things, you just have to do it in a different way than you may have in the past. This doesn’t make the device bad, or unintuitive, necessarily, it just means that some effort needs to be put in to understand how these things are achieved. Everyone is well within their rights to simply not learn these things, but then you lose a bit of the weight in your argument that the tasks you’re trying to do can’t be done.

While I’m clearly a card carrying Apple fan boy, I’m not here to say the iPad, it’s software, and Apple’s ability to make even complex tasks on the iPad more discoverable don’t need more work, they clearly do. The device has already come on leaps and bounds, however, and I’m really excited where the platform goes next and also how Apple keep adding features before it just gets too difficult to trigger everything from a swipe or tap alone.

For now, however, my advice to people is threefold:

  1. You don’t need to use an iPad. Your nerd card is safe without one.
  2. If you do insist on using one and think it should do more, take the time to learn what it can already do. You may be surprised.
Andy Nicolaides

Andy Nicolaides

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