Category Archives: Apple

Finally, a smart discussion of pro apps on iPad

I recently discovered Cup of Tech podcast and gave a listen to episode 129 and I’m really glad I did. I found perhaps the best, most mature and informative discussion of “pro apps”for the iPad Pro. I think the quality of discussion is largely due to the fact that the podcast hosts are all developers and it’s reflected in the information provided by the discussion. They begin by discussing the apps that currently exist which might be defined as pro such as Affinity Photo, Affinity Designer and Procreate. They then move on to the usual mention of Apple’s pro apps specifically Final Cut Pro, Logic and Xcode. But then they go into an actual discussion of what needs to be happening behind the scenes and what might explain the lack of these apps that’s far. Specifically they go into a fascinating discussion of SwiftUI, Catalyst, and development process of those frameworks as it might relate to the complicated process of writing the pro apps. They don’t dig so far that a non-developer would get lost (I’m not a developer) but rather discuss the frameworks in terms of what they can currently do, current limits (in the publicly available versions) and what they can probably do behind the scenes (given new versions likely being used at Apple), and just a generally excellent discussion of the various considerations in developing complicated apps and in developing frameworks to produce those apps.

In other words it’s not just a brief and pointless repetition of the usual complaining but rather an actual exploration of what happens when a company has to build something complicated from the ground up.

The discussion begins at about 1:10:00.

A few notes on Apple’s Spring 2021 hardware releases

So, this week Apple’s latest, the new color iMacs and the new iPad Pros are shipping to customers and of course the reviews have come out. Also, the updated AppleTVs and AirTags. The only thing I’ll say on the last two is, great, good to see! The AppleTV needed an update and the AirTags look very cool and useful.

The 2021 iMac

I’ll start with the iMac. I’m loving Jason Snell’s post about the new M1 iMac and the original iMac G3:

It’s hard not to look at the new 24-inch iMac, which I’ve been using for the past week, and not feel at least a little pang of nostalgia for the original iMac. Introduced in 1998, not only did the iMac G3 save Apple, it injected a blast of color into the beige world of personal computers.

In his nostalgia filled post he offers some delightful comparisons between the iMacs of the past and today’s new colorful iMacs.

I had the lime iMac and loved it. I would later buy the first generation of the white G5 iMac but then moved on to the Mac Mini for my desktop Mac. This new colorful iMac? I love it. These colors are fantastic and I’m really digging the new design. The perfect desktop Mac for a lot of people and so beautiful! And contrary to all the critique of Apple keeping the chin, I’d say the chin is iconic at this point. It’s a part of the design and I hope it doesn’t go away. It’s what an iMac looks like and differentiates it from a plain display.

In short, like the other M1 based Macs, this is a powerful machine and it’s a beautiful, fun design.

2021 iPad Pro

Processor
Not surprisingly, the M1 based iPad Pro is a very fast computer. Of course, the 2018 iPad Pro was also very fast. Day to day interactions are instant (as they were with the 2018). Where I expect to see differences is when I’m working with LumaFusion projects or Affinity documents in Designer or Photo. While those apps are very fast in use, while editing documents or video timelines, there is a noticeable delay when exporting.

Memory
With the added memory, now 8GB and 16GB, apps do a much better of holding onto content. I’ve got an 8GB model and in several days of use I’ve not noticed any reloading of any app content. A welcome change.

Screen
The screen is indeed beautiful and it is better than the previous generation.

5G
Lastly, one of my reasons for upgrading was 5G. T-Mobile/Sprint has excellent coverage in my area and my 5G iPhone has been great. I wanted that for the iPad too and it’s been great. That said, set-up was a pain. With my previous LTE iPad Pro set-up was a breeze and took only seconds to accomplish via the Settings app. This time around it ended up that I had to order a physical SIM card from Sprint/T-Mobile as the built in eSim is not supported by Sprint anymore. After several phone calls this became apparent but was not immediately obvious. Activating that sim involved 2+ hours on the phone which I suspect was also unnecessary and probably reflects a shortcoming in Sprint’s preparedness. But, once activated, it’s excellent.

Logitech Combo Touch Keyboard Case
I debated between 4 options for the keyboard case:

  1. Logitech Combo Touch Keyboard Case
  2. Apple Smart Keyboard Portfolio
  3. Apple Magic Keyboard for iPad
  4. Brydge Max+

I won’t go into all of my considerations and will just say I went with the first. I’ve only had it for a day so it’s hard to say how it will play out but it’s very well made and feels nice to carry. The fabric cover is very nice though some may not like it. It seems very sturdy and I’m really liking the fact that it is fairly easy to pull the iPad off of the keyboard for hand held use. That said, the magnets connecting them are very strong so they won’t come apart on accident. It’s not as thick or as heavy as I thought it might be. The keys and trackpad feel fantastic. That’s my quick review. I suspect I’ll have more to say after a few more days of use. But, all in all, off to a great start!

The story of the iPad Pro 2021

On April 20th Apple announced it’s 2021 update of the iPad Pro and it’s a doozy of an update with all new screen technology, the M1 chip with 8 or 16gb of memory, 5G, Thunderbolt port and of course the usual improved cameras.

And, like clockwork, all of the Apple pundits have come out with their predictable “The iPad hardware is too powerful for the software” articles. They’re not entirely wrong but I do think the echo-chamber is over emphasizing how bad the problem really is. The various articles point out the usual iPadOS shortcomings (currently groupthink is focused on Files, lack of proper 2nd display support, and limitations of multitasking), the lack of Apple’s pro software such as Xcode, Final Cut, and Logic. The story is that the hardware is plenty powerful and that what it needs are updates to OS and pro apps.

Let’s break it down.

The Hardware
I’ll start by saying that the 2018 iPad Pro that I’m currently using has been a fantastic work computer for 2+ years. I’ve used it everyday and after 2+ years it is still very fast for my daily work. From Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo to the occasional LumaFusion video project, it has handled it all with relative ease. From booting up, waking from sleep, authenticating, to app launching, it all is nearly instantaneous. I consider myself a “power” user and make my living with this device.

The only area where the hardware has lacked is in memory which was stuck in the 4 to 6GB range for the past two releases (2018, 2020). This limitation shows up when I do a lot of switching between apps. While most apps do a great job of holding their previous state the more demanding apps such as the Affinity apps will sometimes need to reload if I’ve been away using other apps for awhile. The new 2021 iPad Pro will have 8GB and 16GB of RAM so I expect this problem will be greatly reduced.

Too few pro apps
It’s true that Apple’s own professional apps such as Xcode and Final Cut Pro are not available on the iPad. But it’s also true that, at least on the video front, at least one very powerful solution exists: LumaFusion has grown each year into a more capable application for increasingly complex video projects. Why not give more credit where it is due? The same should be said of Serif’s incredibly powerful Affinity graphics apps. Over the past three years we’ve heard countless complaints that Adobe’s apps are not available (Photoshop now is with others on the way at some point). But Affinity brought it’s two well regarded and powerful image/vector design apps, Photo and Designer, to the iPad several years ago and they’ve got the third app in the suite, Publisher, headed to iPad sometime in 2021 (expected, not announced).

And I’m just pointing to three that I have experience with. There are many, many others, especially in the area of graphic design. I would suggest that there might be a bias in the coverage because it’s podcasters and writers whose voices are most amplified via publishing in well known publications and podcasts, but these folks perhaps lack the experience with this category of applications so they go unnoticed. People out doing other kinds of work with some of the more powerful applications such as those I mentioned above are not equally amplified.

A simplified OS
While Apple has continuously pushed the iPad forward it is still a different experience. Given it’s foundation as an intentionally simple, easy to use computer, those differences are often viewed as shortcomings by advanced, “power” users. The most often repeated complaint in the past year is multitasking. Apple has steadily improved it but advanced users still consider it to restrictive, likely because they come from the Mac with it’s unlimited windows. An iPad limited to displaying 2 app windows and a third in slide over is never going to please power users. Previous to that the loudest complaint was the Files app which could not display external drives attached via usb.

Another prominent example being discussed online are the limits when displaying to an external screen, namely that it’s mirroring only and, when attached to a widescreen display, it’s got the black pillar-boxing on each side. No doubt this is a shortcoming and, as the new iPad Pros have Thunderbolt, will need to be addressed by Apple. Some apps do take advantage of the full screen but not many. With the increased power of the iPads it should be improved in the next version of iPadOS and likely will be.

But as the story goes, these apps and features are all present and more powerful on the Mac. But of course the Mac OS is far older and more mature. And it’s also an OS, given it’s power, maturity and complexity, that many people can’t use. Again, it’s important to remember the origin of the iPad as an easier to use device with a focus on more casual computing.

I’ll point out that with each year we get improvements. Some years they are big improvements, others just more iterative refinements and fixes. In 2020, even before WWDC, Apple added a huge mid-year feature, full trackpad/mouse cursor support, something no one saw coming. It was widely praised as it should have been. But at WWDC the iPad was given fewer features and iPad OS 14 looked to be more of a bug-fix, refinement release. It’s notable that many users had complained about the bugs and had called for a bug fix type release. But many of them still complained at the lack of features and the focus on bug fixes. Basically, Apple will be criticized either way.

In short, people tend to focus on what they didn’t get rather than what they did get. It’s easy to focus on the negative. I’ve thought for several years that much of the problem lies with the culture of tech punditry and the over emphasis on critique. And, another aspect of this, the insular nature of tech enthusiasts that are focused on what they want as “power” users often forgetting that the iPad was really pointed at people who are not tech enthusiasts or professionals. So, yes, now we’ve had the iPad Pro for 6 years and iPadOS for 2 years, the iPad is maturing as a platform and needs to serve the original user base as well as the more advanced users that have grown in numbers over the years.

I recently came across Matthew Panzarino’s review of the 2020 iPad Pro on Tech Crunch where he concludes:

It’s insane to have a multi-modal machine that can take typing, swiping and sketching as inputs and has robust support for every major piece of business software on the planet — and that always works, is always fast and is built like an Italian racing car.

Who can argue with that?

I think that sums it up really well.

A small sampling of posts below.

Andrew Griffin at the Independent had an interview with Greg Joswiak and John Ternus, two Apple Execs to discuss the new iPad Pro, iPad Pro: How Apple Made Its New Tablet – And What Exactly It Is. They cover a lot of ground including ongoing speculation that the Mac and iPad will eventually merge which again Apple denies.

Jason Snell, writing for MacWorld,
The iPad Pro is a killer machine but its software is killing me:

And yet, in 2021, it feels like the same story: Apple killed it on the hardware side, and the software…well, the software lags behind, to put it nicely. Apple built a spectacular sports car, but where are the roads to drive it on?

Harry McCracken, noted for his use of an iPad as his main computer for a decade chimes in with
The iPad Pro just got way more pro. Now it needs pro software:

Apple clearly envisions the iPad Pro serving some of the world’s most demanding users. During Tuesday’s launch event, most of the applications the company referenced for the new models were heavy-duty tasks such as shooting movies, creating augmented-reality content, designing buildings, and editing vast quantities of 4K video. The kind of stuff, in other words, that people do for a living—and for which no tablet is yet the most obvious mainstream choice.

But while Apple’s hardware strategy for making such folks happy seems to be a smashing success, the software side is as murky as it’s ever been.

Thinking about Internet publishing

In my last post complaining about the complexity of posting and especially editing WordPress posts, I had a reply from Pete which led me down a rabbit hole. I tapped Pete‘s name to view his profile… I get so few comments here that I usually do this to see if commenters have their own blog which I might follow. I ended up on Pete‘s Micro.blog which found me reading through a conversation over there and an hour later I was checking out TiddlyWiki. Funny how easy it is to fall down these rabbit holes! I‘m not going to delve into TiddlyWiki here though I might in a future post. My interest in this post is frictionless posting, internet community, and publishing silos.

In my reply to Pete I wrote this bit which I‘m just going to paste with a bit of minor editing:

I’m just longing for an interface that is more simple! I’ve got my other blog tied into micro.blog and have used that app for posting on occasion. Actually, I think the micro.blog app and platform is a step in the direction that I’m looking for.

Thinking about micro.blog, as a specific platform and kind of community, it hasn’t been sticky for me. I visit and engage a little every so often but then stop. I think, in part, because it feels secluded. In a strange way, I both like and do not like that feeling of seclusion. Every time I pop over and try to use it I end up feeling like I’m in a kind of gated community. I suppose I’m longing for some sort of internet home that is connected in a more meaningful way to my analog life where I use Messages for family communications and Slack for local friends.

So, in total, my current internet experience, in terms of sharing with others, is this blog you‘re reading, my less tech focused Beardy Star Stuff, Twitter, Instagram, Apple Messages and Slack. In short, I have lots of silos, none of which are connected. Actually, some of my friends and family are also on Instagram so that is one connection. To my knowledge none of my friends or family read either of my blogs. For many people Facebook is a primary internet home but I quit it long ago and even back then it never felt like an internet home.

So, I come back to my desire for a different internet where more people post to a timeline of their own which they can share. Something as easy to use as Facebook but without all the ugly. Or alternatively, a version of Messages but which posts to a timeline rather than to a private chat. Thinking about Messages as it is and I can imagine a “My Timeline“ tab where I could just tap or click that tab to post. To see others that I follow, just tap another “Timeline“ tab. Well, at least it‘s easy to imagine!

I don‘t really know what the answer is. In so many ways it would seem to be a syntheses of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Messages and Slack. The danger of course is that such an integrated experience, is difficult or impossible to bring under one umbrella. Or possibly not desirable. The internet is meant to be decentralized.

In thinking about it I can see how Facebook has become so dominant as it offers much of this experience as a very easy to use portal. Of course we can see the danger of this as it has manifested in the practices of Facebook (the company) and the manifestation of Facebook the website/platform. Would it be possible to have a more ethical version of Facebook both in terms of the company and the created platform? Could a company like Apple build such a thing? I think, technically, yes. But, it would come with it‘s own set of problems. Apple already faces accusations of being too big and having too much control. So, perhaps not Apple.

But I can imagine some sort of standards-based consortium. A cooperative effort to build a new platform. Safer, more ethical, less susceptible to the propagation of misinformation but still valuable as a place for free expression. Is such a thing possible or is it too contradictory? And what about some sort of verification to cut back on unaccountability and anonymous posting? It would seem that there should be some way to create a standard of verified user that might serve as a filter to remove bots or accounts created with fraud/spam or other mis-use as the intent.

I doubt it would be easy but it would seem that it is doable.

Mac OS X Turns 20!

I missed this by a few weeks but wanted to mark the occasion anyway. When Apple released OS X twenty years ago (March 24, 2001) I was there on day one. I‘d actually been running the public beta on my lime green iMac. Exciting days! Like many I really loved the classic Mac OS which I‘d used from 7.x on my Color Classic all the way thru to OS 9. It was a beautiful, fun OS to use when it wasn‘t crashing! To be fair, it was mostly stable and I did a lot with my Macs before OS X. But my oh my, OS X was a thing of beauty! In hindsight we might look back on it as a bit overdone but in the moment I loved it. In the early days it was slow but even then it was fairly stable, especially in comparison to Mac OS 9.

Image courtesy of 512pixels.net Image Archive

Apple made no secret that OS X was the future of the Mac OS. There would be no turning back and really, it did feel like the future. It was similar enough to the classic Mac OS that one could use it without feeling lost. But, with the new Aqua interface it also felt very different. Add to that the new Finder, the Dock, Mail and a few others. Then there was the new ability to create pdfs from any application via print to pdf which felt a bit like a super power.

Fun fact, in contrast to today‘s free, downloadable os updates, back in those days the os was delivered via DVD and cost a bit, in the case of OS X 10.0 it was $129.

My current desktop on my MacMini running macOS Catalina

Looking at OS X then and now I am still somewhat astounded by the fact that we‘ve seen so many transitions over the past 20 years. That OS X is the core OS of the watch on my wrist, my phone, and my iPad as well as the Mac on my desk in an amazing iterative achievement. And while the pinstripes of Aqua were transformed into a variety of textures over the years and are now utterly absent, replaced by light grays, whites and subtle gradients, looking at my Mac running macOS Catalina or my iPad running iPadOS 14, I can‘t help but recognize the many persistent similarities. I see OS X on my screen. From the Dock to Mail to Files, traces of OS X in it‘s infancy continue today.

My current iPad Pro Homepage

Looking through the excellent 512pixels image archive I can‘t help notice that as much as has changed over the years so much of that first 10.0 version is still so visible today.

Here‘s Steve Jobs at the MacWorld 2000 Keynote presenting OS X. A really fun video!

From the web:

Stephen Hackett of 512pixels.net has a brief post which consists of some great links. A fantastic screenshot library. Start with OS X 10.0

Jason Snell has these three articles:
From Aqua to Catalina: The evolution of macOS X

Mac OS X: An act of desperation that formed the foundation for the modern Mac

Mac OS X turns 20

John Voorhees over at Mac Stories: 20 Years Ago, Mac OS X Set the Stage for Today‘s Apple

Still here!

So, it’s been awhile. Almost a full year since my last post here. But really, that’s just the way it goes. Interesting, looking at my last two posts from Late March and April 2020 explains why I’ve not posted here in a year which is to say that not much has changed that was really worth posting about. There are plenty of websites in the world sharing the details of Apple related news. Lots of sites discussing using Apple tech. This site is my journal of sorts where I’ve enjoyed sharing my work or my tech journey as it evolves and over the past year it has been steady-state. It’s been a fantastic year but with no new developments in how I’m using my iPad or other related Apple gear. Looking at the last two posts made me laugh because as I sit here writing I realized why I’d not posted: my set-up is exactly the same.

My iPad Pro, Smart Keyboard Portfolio and the Magic Trackpad 2 in a scene that is nearly identical to the second image in my March 31 post which was captioned:

“My current set-up changes all the time. Sometimes used with a keyboard, mouse and monitor on a desk, other times outside on the porch or under a tree. It changes based on the task.”

And in that context, it’s true, my set-up changes based on my location but it’s the same iPad, a keyboard and if at my desk the Magic Trackpad. I’m still doing the same work with mostly the same apps and it’s all been fantastic. If anything, I would just offer that I’ve had another successful year getting work done on my iPad though with Covid it was less work, it was enough to get by.

I suppose I’m posting today just as a check-in. To re-affirm that I’m here and still actively, happily using my Apple tech. But generally speaking, I’m not inclined to post just for the sake of posting.

But there is Apple-related news on the horizon that might be worth commenting on. Well, there’s been some of that over the past year for sure, most notably the M1 Macs, the new and widely acclaimed Magic Keyboard for iPad (which I surprisingly did not purchase), and the usual fall operating system upgrades. All significant but none of which were enough to prompt a post here as I wasn’t using the new hardware released and the software changes were, as expected, incremental.

I’m a little antsy about the possibility of a new iPad Pro being announced and I still ponder the purchase of the Magic Keyboard for iPad but given how well my current set-up works I’m not sure I’ll buy anything. My 2nd Apple Smart Keyboard Portfolio is showing the same wrinkling and bubbling that the first one did before being replaced under warranty. Eventually I’ll need to replace it with something. And in the 2+ years of use I’m definitely seeing degradation in the iPad battery. I’m just not sure it warrants replacement yet because for the tasks I use it for it remains a very fast and capable computer. So, ¯(ツ)

What I‘m hoping to see is currently rumored USB C with Thunderbolt which might also come with an iOS update allowing for better external monitor support similar to what we saw last year with the big mid-cycle release of trackpad support. If I were able to have a second desktop on another display (not just the mirroring that we have now) that took full advantage of the full screen width without the black bars on either side, well, that would likely be enough for a purchase. Add to that the faster processors and 5G (in my area I‘m getting excellent 5G thanks to Sprint/T-Mobile) and that would be a very solid upgrade. Though I‘m still not sure what I‘ll do for a keyboard.

iPad and a Magic Trackpad 2

Last week marked the 10 year anniversary of the release of iPad and I shared a few thoughts. In it I mentioned the recently released iPadOS 13.4 update which added cursor support. At the time I posted I’d been trying it with a Bluetooth mouse and found it fairly helpful though lacking in a few things, namely the swiping gestures that are so integral to using an iPad as a tablet.

For the past day I’ve been using Apple’s Magic Trackpad 2 with the iPad and as many have pointed out, it’s pretty fantastic. Of course, interacting with text on a screen for editing is great but, more importantly, the Magic Trackpad 2 fully supports all the gestures that make the iPad a great tablet. For the first time ever it’s now possible to use the iPad in an elevated stand without reaching up. In the past I worked around this by using keyboard shortcuts which works pretty well. Apps like Pages and Numbers are greatly enhanced with the new cursor and trackpad. LumaFusion is another great app that’s working very well with the cursor-trackpad combination. I’m sure many other apps work great as is or will be enhancing what is possible.

About the keyboard, it is often still faster for some tasks than using the trackpad and cursor. For example, app switching via touch on the trackpad is nice but often is much faster via Command-Tab on the keyboard. An even better example, Spotlight, which I use constantly, is faster via keyboard because it works from anywhere. With the trackpad the two finger swipe down to activate Spotlight only works from the home screen.

All that said, having the new cursor is a great new option and it works perfectly with the trackpad. This configuration, a raised iPad or an iPad with an external monitor with a Bluetooth keyboard and Magic Trackpad, is going to be a really useful set-up.

A last thought about the upcoming Magic Keyboard for iPad. I’m going to pass for now. It’s the perfect device for the iPad and exactly what I’d love to have. But I’ve already got the Smart Keyboard and I’m just not sure about how much work I’ll have given the current Covid virus situation. I opted for the Magic Trackpad because it will give me the option to use the cursor in an efficient way for a lot less money and has the added bonus of working great when I’ve got the iPad in a stand.

iPad Journal: A Decade of iPad

My original iPad docked in Apple’s Keyboard Stand

Note: I began this post in December 2019 intending to have it finished in time for the Anniversary of the announcement of the iPad. Rather than leave it unpublished I thought I’d tweak it a bit and publish now given we’re at the anniversary of the actual release of the iPad. Still seems appropriate.

On April 19, 2010 I got an email from Apple:

Thank you for your recent order of the magical and revolutionary iPad 3G.

We would like to confirm that your order will be shipped in late April as communicated at the time you placed your order. You will receive a confirmation notice when your order has shipped.

Woot! According to Wikipedia the first iPad was released on April 3, 2010. Like many Apple nerds, I remember watching the keynote when Steve Jobs introduced the original iPad on January 26, 2010. I ordered it the day it became available for order. I was far more interested in the iPad than the iPhone which I didn’t purchase until 2012.

My iPad arrived a few days later and, like many (3 million were sold in the first 80 days), I loved it. But in my case I was immediately curious about the potential for using the device for work. One of my first app purchases was Gusto which was one of the first coding and ftp apps. For an early gen iPad app it was surprisingly capable and I used it fairly often. Here’s an excerpt of my mini-review of the iPad which makes pretty clear how quickly the iPad became a part of my workflow:

So, I finally have internet access at the cabin thanks to a new iPad…

For now I’m making an effort to actually do the work on the iPad which means adapting my normal Mac-based workflow. I’m using Gusto for html editing and ftp. It’s a pretty good app and allows me to get most of the work done. The exception is image editing and uploading of images. For editing my Blogspot blog I’m using BlogPress which works pretty well. For web browsing on the iPad I’m using iCab Mobile rather than Apple’s Safari because iCab has a much better tab system which does a better job of caching files and is much easier to switch between tabs. For rss reading I’m using Reeder which is by far the best rss reader I’ve found for the iPad. NetNewsWire didn’t cut it.

Depending on how well this goes I may end up jailbreaking which will allow for me to share the iPad internet connection to my MacBook Pro for working the old fashioned way. We’ll see.

Yes I think this is a fantastically cool device. I can now easily update my blog, check email and update my clients’ websites all from home. The AT&T network here is the slower Edge network but it’s better than nothing. I’m averaging 40-70k a second, which is basically dial-up speeds. Plenty to take care of the basics though I look forward to the day we get 3G!

Ha. I can’t believe how long I got by with 70K internet. And when 3G came it wasn’t much faster but I was happy to have it! I did jailbreak the iPad for the hotspot function but the iPad remained an important part of my workflow.

By the time the iPad 2 was announced in March 2011, 15 million original iPads had been sold. It was with the iPad 2 that I saw many in my family become daily computer users. My granny, mom, aunts and an uncle all became regular users of email and the web with their first iPads. The iPad became the primary computer for many, if not most of my extended family.

I often get frustrated when I hear tech nerd podcasters and writers discuss the iPad because they make it all about themselves. I think they forget or omit the important fact that many, probably most, iPad users were and probably still are users for which a simple iPad is better. The iPad, as introduced by Apple, was a computer for any person, not just advanced users that were already served by desktop and laptop computers.

In the years since the introduction we’ve seen that tension stretch and pull at Apple as it has attempted to reconcile the simplicity that serves beginner users, young or old, and the more complex needs of power users like myself that gradually moved to adopt the iPad as primary computers. Ten years on and it seems to me that the pro-class users that finds voice in the tech media are getting what they’ve been clamoring for, a more powerful iPadOS that matches up to the power of the hardware. Even so, anecdotally, the more basic users (such as my above mentioned family) are still happily using their iPads. I suspect that this reflects Apple’s gradual evolution of features with the basic features still on top while more advanced features remain optional for those that want them.

My current set-up changes all the time. Sometimes used with a keyboard, mouse and monitor on a desk, other times outside on the porch or under a tree. It changes based on the task.

In recent days Apple released iPadOS 13.4, a notable update with a surprise (and much requested) feature, cursor support with mice and trackpads. With a generic Bluetooth mouse I’ve found that the new feature works pretty well and much better than the accessibility features introduced with iPadOS 13. I’ve ordered a Magic Trackpad 2 for use with the iPad which I expect will be useful for some projects.

One of the often repeated questions is if the iPad is going to get all these features, why not just use a Mac? Or was Apple wrong with it’s approach as it seems to be moving the device closer to Microsoft’s approach with the Surface. I think the answer is pretty simple. The iPad is still a tablet first. That’s all that really needs to be said. On a fundamental level, any user can pick up the iPad and do everything they’ve been doing for the past 10 years using their fingers. It’s still a touch first device.

For those that want to do more we have more advanced features ranging from multitasking to multiple instances of the same app to added input options via the Pencil and now a mouse and trackpad. None of these features are required to use an iPad but they are now there for those of us that want them.

I think this is the real strength of the iPad is this flexibility of form factor. For my aunt it is still just a big iPhone, a bigger slab of glass that she can use by tapping with her fingers. It’s still easy for her to send an email, browse the web, send a message, save a photo or play a game. She does these things everyday and has for 10 years. When she ordered the very first iPad she also got the keyboard Apple made for it but she never used it. She wanted the big iPhone, a tablet that was easy to use.

On the other hand I bought and used that keyboard. And many Bluetooth keyboards in various shapes and sizes since. I still use the iPad as a tablet and appreciate that I can do so. But I also use it with a keyboard and sometimes attach it to an external monitor and now I’m also using a mouse with it. Not all the time, but some of the time. When the Magic Trackpad arrives this week I’m sure I’ll use it most days that I use my iPad for certain tasks. Other times it will sit on a desk.

The first 10 years of the iPad has been a hardware and software evolution as will it’s next 10 years. I suspect that going forward it will retain the surface-level simplicity as it’s depth of power-user features increase. I’m looking forward to where Apple takes the iPad and have little doubt that it will continue to serve a wide variety of users in the future. On a personal note, I’ll happily continue to use the iPad everyday whether I’m holding it in my hands, using it in a stand with an external keyboard and trackpad or attached to the Smart Keyboard Portfolio. The iPad is still the personal computer I prefer to use for work and fun.

A Siri Anecdote

A couple days ago I posted an update to what appears to be a long running, though not necessarily intentional, thread on Siri.

Yesterday, while driving to the store, I got a text reminder from my dentist about an appointment next week. When I parked I read the text and called them to reschedule. I ended the call and asked Siri via AirPods to “cancel next week’s dentist appointment”. She confirmed the date and appointment to cancel and then deleted. I probably could have asked to reschedule rather than delete. Afterwards I asked Siri to create a new appoint for the dentist in January. I gave her the date and time and of course the appointment was created.

It really does feel like living in the future.

Siri, I Trust You. Mostly.

Just as I keep track of the status of Pages on the iPad (as compared to the Mac) I also like to check in on the experience of using Siri. I recently browsed through a short thread on the Mac Power Users Forum and was reminded that I’d not written about the Siri experience in awhile. That thread was quite negative about Siri and in fact, most of what I seem to come across on the internet in regards to Siri is usually negative. Siri is like Lucy holding that football for Charlie Brown. In the early years many people learned that trusting Siri was just a set-up for failure and frustration.

Well, it’s been a few years now. Can we trust Siri?

I’ve been using Siri fairly consistently over the past three years and continue to use Siri many times a day from a variety of devices and generally find the experience to be helpful, usually successful and increasingly pleasant as the voice of Siri is improved to be less robotic. But it’s been a process getting here.

How I use Siri

I make Siri requests from the full ecosystem of devices ranging from an iPhone X to 3 iPads to the Apple Watch and HomePods. Also, occasionally to the AppleTV via remote.

At home most of the requests are handled by the HomePod as it generally takes precedence over other devices in the room. When I’m out it’s the iPhone via AirPods. On occasion I’ll also use a button push on an iPad I’m using to ensure that my interaction is with that iPad though that’s not all that common. I think I’d likely use Siri directly on the iPad if there were a dedicated Siri key or keyboard shortcut.

The Apple Watch and Apple TV are probably the least used Siri devices I have. One feature that may not be immediately obvious to some is that when using HomePods as the audio for AppleTV, it’s possible to control playback via voice, no remote needed. Just issue commands such as pause, play, rewind 20 seconds and the HomePod will control the video. Very nice!

As for the Watch, I’ve tried a few times and it does not work nearly as well as the HomePod or AirPods. More often than not I just get a long delay followed by “I’ll tap you when I’m ready”. Mostly, I’ve stopped trying but it’s no real loss because I’m always within earshot of the HomePod and if I’m not I’ve probably got the AirPods in my ears.

My common uses range the full range of what is possible with Siri. Early on I got in the habit of occasionally reading through the possible actions and check every so often to see what’s been added. As a result of being aware I’ve been able to take better advantage. From timers to adding calendar events to tasks to audio video playback to smart home devices such as heaters and lights. Before I list out more I’ll contrast this with a recent poll I conducted via a persistent group iMessage with my extended family. Here’s what I asked them:

  1. Do you currently use Siri regularly? If yes, how many times per day.
  2. If you do not, have you ever tried it in the past? If yes, why did you stop using it?
  3. If you do use Siri regularly what device(s) do you use to do so?
  4. What are your most common uses/requests?
  5. If you are a regular user, are you generally happy with the experience?
  6. If you are not a user do you think you might at some point try it again? Why or why not?

The results varied. An elderly uncle reported that he uses Siri two times a day from his phone and is happy with it. My aunt reports using it 4 times a day on her phone and she likes it. My dad uses it 10 to 15 times a day on his phone. He uses it to open apps, play music, make phone calls, ask sports questions and set reminders. He thinks it’s great.

My mid-20’s nephew doesn’t use Siri much, only once a day or so. He stopped because she often “can’t immediately answer some of my questions and sends me to Safari.” When he does use it it’s to activate maps and directions or to call people on the phone. My brother uses it in his car to play music. He also reports being turned off by the fact that he’s often sent to Safari after a query.

The last response I got was from my niece, also in her 20s who reports using Siri 10 or so times a day via her phone. She uses it to play music and control playback. She uses it to make calls, ask about sports information, send texts, set timers and check the weather and the time. She uses it while driving for hands free. She concludes by saying that for the most part Siri works well for her and notes improvement in that it picks up her voice better, possibly do to a newer phone.

So, a mix of negative and positive. The negative seems to center on being kicked out to Safari results after a Siri request. What isn’t clear from the responses is what questions are asked that lead to that result. I took note that the two most positive responses, my dad and niece, both specifically indicated a broader range of Siri requests and I think that touches on something important in regards to voice-based computer usage, in this case Siri. Both of these users have made it a point to use voice requests over a broader range of activity. Put another way, it seems that they are being more deliberate and, as a result, are getting better results. My guess is that an interest in using Siri results in more persistence and more practice and, not surprisingly, better results over time.

Of course, it’s just a tiny pool responses from one family but it seems an accurate reflection of much that I’ve read on the internet.

In my own experience I’ve found that over the past 3 to 5 years my usage has certainly increased both as Siri improved and as I learned more about getting better results with the service. This seems obvious if we view Siri as a tool, as a form of interaction that can be improved upon by users over time, but I think because of it’s personal nature of the technology and the sense of possible embarrassment or frustration with failure, we don’t quite view it the same as we view the development of other skills.

By design, Siri and other voice assistants are presented as just that, assistants. They take on a kind of personal role, a sense of relationship. Apple and others have made it a point to make voice assistance sound increasingly human and natural in their interactions and I think one result is possible frustration and embarrassment when we encounter failure. It reminds me of Charlie Brown trusting Lucy to hold that football. Of course, she pulls it away at the last second and he flies through the air. When we trust Siri and she fails us there’s an element of frustration that we went out on a limb to trust that she could help. I think there’s also an almost “out of body” observation we make of ourselves. Oh, how silly, there’s me talking to my phone again and there she is making me look even sillier with her failed response. I may be getting too far out in the weeds here but there may be something to it.

I’ll wrap up with a list of my most useful Siri interactions. And to reiterate, I think this list is getting longer all the time and that the success rate is, in my use, almost always improving.

  • Reminders: I constantly add items to various lists. Both via HomePod and AirPods. This is 100%.
  • Calendar events: This is also 100%. Almost everything I add to my calendar is via Siri.
  • Timers: All the time and it works perfectly.
  • Weather: All the time and again, it works perfectly.
  • Phone calls: I don’t use my phone as a phone much but when I do make a call it’s via AirPods to phone and it’s 100%
  • Sending and replying to texts. This one has gotten much better and I use it all the time when walking, again via AirPods to phone.
  • Audio playback via AirPods when walking is excellent. Pause, play, skip, fast forward, initiating playback of an artist, playlist or album. The hardest part here is my ability to remember the names of things. Great with podcasts too.
  • Control of Homekit devices. All day everyday. About 95% success here. One of my favorite things relates to the fact that I live in a rural area and have an outside well-house that has to stay heated in the winter. In the past I’d go out and visually check on things to confirm proper heating in the cold weeks of late December thru February. Now I can simply ask Siri: “What’s the temperature in the well-house?” It’s the perfect compliment to the Home App.

My Siri Wish List

Right now, at the time of this writing, I’ve got just two big things that I’d love to see and they both are iPad related:

  1. On the new iPads Pro with FaceID, there is no Home Button which is a pretty convenient way to access Siri on older iPads. Even better, when using an external keyboard with older iPads a long press of the keyboard home button activates Siri. Very conducive to using Siri on those devices. For some reason this does not work on the new iPads Pro and so I find I don’t use Siri as much on device as I used to.
  2. When activating Siri on iPads, is there a reason that Siri should take control of the whole screen. Might it be better to do something similar to the Mac and have a smaller Siri window pop-up? Maybe the size of a slide-over window? Or, at most, a half-screen split-view.

I’m sure there’s more to be done to improve Siri but those are the two I’m hoping to see.