No, Huawei MatePad Pro isn’t an iPad Pro killer

Huawei MatePad Pro is all over the news, mostly because the company with no shame has yet again more or less cloned an Apple product. Only its sleek tablet has a camera hole punch in the corner, rather than Apple’s rather better solution of hiding the camera in the bezel. (Urgh.) Still, given that the unit will cost less than half the price of an iPad Pro, most sites are falling over themselves to label it an iPad Pro killer.

No.

I spend a lot of my time investigating, using and writing about apps on mobile. With a few exceptions, the Android tablet apps market is garbage. There is very little there. For most people, this doesn’t matter. They grab a cheap tablet and are happy with Netflix, Google Docs, Gmail, Facebook and a browser. But with iPad Pro, the clue is in the name.

A great many people using Apple’s flagship are actual professionals. They require professional software. And despite a (fortunately diminishing) number of people still screaming into the void that you “can’t do real work on an iPad”, that ship has long since sailed. Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer are great for graphic design. LumaFusion is excellent for video editing on the go. Korg Gadget, GarageBand and a slew of synths cater for musicians. Scrivener, Ulysses and iA Writer exist for jobbing writers who need something more than Google Docs. And so on.

Head to Google Play and pretty much none of this kind of thing exists. So, sure, give the MatePad Pro an article, but keep your breathless headlines, because until the Android app ecosystem dramatically changes, MatePad Pro might be an answer to the iPad Pro hardware (if you can stomach the hole punch), but it then presents a tricky question: where the hell are all the pro apps I need to do my job?

November 26, 2019. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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Adobe Photoshop for iPad’s problems are down to hype, value, and not managing expectations

Bloomberg has run the piece Adobe Exec Defends Photoshop for iPad After App Falls Flat, quoting Adobe’s Scott Belsky about the launch. In a series of tweets, Belsky said:

a real-time v1 lesson: you’ve gotta ship an MVP to start the journey, but it will be painful at first. by definition, it won’t please everyone (and if it’s a reimagination of a 30yr old popular/global product, will displease many)

if you try to make everybody happy w/ a v1, you’ll either never ship or make nobody happy. such feats require customer feedback to truly exceed expectations. you must ship and get fellow passionate travelers on board.

He’s right, but the problem is that expectations weren’t managed. Instead, we got a hype train, and suggestions we would get full-fat Photoshop; instead, v1 is a stripped-down release. Belskey says the team decided to “nail perfect PSD support” rather than “just port 30 yrs of stuff (and baggage) on day 1”, which is sensible, except some of that baggage includes taken-for-granted features like layer effects.

Photoshop on iPad also represents a U-turn for Adobe, who’d previously argued people didn’t want this kind of pro-level software on iPad. It now feels like that argument was made because Photoshop didn’t exist. I can’t help wondering how long this app has been in development. Was it around in some form for years, or is it a reaction to Affinity Photo showing that, yes, pro-level creatives really do want this kind of app on iPad?

Affinity Photo itself is another piece of the puzzle, in the sense of the value proposition. If you already pay for Creative Cloud, Photoshop for iPad doesn’t require further outlay. But if you don’t, it’s a tenner a month. By contrast, twice that cost nets you Affinity Photo – with its richer and mature feature-set – forever. (In fact, at the time of writing, Affinity Photo is on sale, in an epic piece of trolling, for the same price as a single month of Photoshop for iPad.)

Despite its flaws, I’m glad Adobe released Photoshop for iPad. It’s something that needed to happen, and further cements the importance of Apple’s device. But it doesn’t surprise me that the response to what we got has been a mixture of anger and disappointment. Adobe must now iterate very quickly, and bring Photoshop towards feature-parity with the desktop version. After all, that’s another thing that Affinity Photo enjoys – the iPad version is not a ‘lesser’ product.

November 8, 2019. Read more in: Apple, Apps, News, Opinions, Technology

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The iPad is an ergonomic disaster for traditional computing work, and needs full pointer support right now

From day one, the iPad to me never felt like a device purely for consumption. As half the tech industry fell over itself to claim you could ‘never do real work on an iPad’, I saw everyone from artists to technicians doing real work on an iPad. What people really meant was that the iPad didn’t have a full version of Microsoft Word, because that is the only ‘real work’ in the whole world. Or something.

That said, I’ve always wanted to do more work on an iPad than I actually do. The big blocker for me has always been interaction. Simply put, the iPad is an ergonomic disaster for long-term ‘traditional’ work.

By this, I’m talking about the aforementioned ‘real work’ – the sort of thing most people do on a PC, which mostly involves staring at a screen, typing, and interacting with text-based screen content. Ergonomically, the best set-up for this is a display where your eyeline meets roughly its top third. You should be sitting straight in a chair, arms naturally bent and lightly resting on a flat surface, keyboard directly in front of you.

Laptops heavily compromise this set-up. If the keyboard is in the right place, you end up looking down towards the display, thereby placing unnecessary strain on your neck. That’s fine for occasional use, but isn’t good in the long term. This is easy to fix, though: at your permanent workspace, connect your laptop to an external display, keyboard, and pointing device.

Apple seems reluctant to take that final step with iPad. At best, you can bung the thing in a case, whereupon it becomes a sort-of laptop. In fact, it ends up with the interaction model Apple ridicules whenever it releases a new MacBook Pro and pushes back on demands for a touchscreen version. Check recent Apple keynotes, and you’ll see various Apple executives saying it’s not a good thing when you constantly have to lift your arm to prod a screen. And they’re right – yet this is exactly the interaction model Apple forces you into on iPad.

With iPadOS 13, there is the first step towards a solution: in Settings > Accessibility > Touch, you can turn on AssistiveTouch. Connect a mouse, and your iPad finally has pointer support, only it doesn’t really because the cursor isn’t a cursor – it’s a virtual finger. Use Apple’s Magic Mouse and none of the gestural stuff works. To scroll something, you have to drag the content, which soon gets tiring and tiresome on lengthy documents. (Ironically, if you’ve a mouse with a scroll wheel, that does work. The net result here is I’ve an ancient USB Labtec mouse that cost about ten quid that’s works better with the iPad than Apple’s expensive slippy white puck.)

Yet even if this feature was perfect, it still wouldn’t be enough. We need to be at the point where the iPad can mirror the laptop set-up I mentioned earlier. In the hand, it needs to be a full touchscreen device, as it is today. When docked in a keyboard case, it needs to ramp up pointer support, so you don’t have to touch the display nearly as often. But also iPad needs a mode where you can connect it up to a bunch of other kit and never interact with the screen at all.

I love the iPad. The 11in iPad Pro is the best Apple kit I have ever owned. But it does feel like Apple’s unnecessarily digging its heels in when it comes to user interaction, stopping iPad from making that final step towards being the computer for the rest of us.

October 14, 2019. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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Google Play Pass and Apple Arcade are not the same thing

Earlier this year, Apple announced Apple Arcade – and it turns out the service is really good. Naturally, Google felt the need to offer its own take on Apple Arcade, which has become Google Play Pass.

The thing is, as much as the press wants to drum up these services as direct competition, I don’t see them as existing in the same space. Although there’s more than a whiff of me-too about Google Play Pass, it reminds me more of something similar I once tried on Amazon – bundling a bunch of existing apps under an all-you-can-eat subscription.

A load of games you’ve probably already played is a far cry from 71 shiny new exclusives. Also, as much as developers are concerned about viability in an Apple Arcade world, they might pause on looking at Google Play Pass, which for two bucks a month directly competes with apps that exist elsewhere on Google Play.

Say what you will about Apple Arcade regarding its impact on iOS game sales, but at least it’s not pitching full-priced premium title Monument Valley 2 against a subscription service that costs half the price – and also includes Monument Valley 2.

October 3, 2019. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, Opinions, Technology

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Apple Arcade: learning to love mobile gaming all over again

I’ve been keeping a close eye on responses to Apple Arcade. Beyond a hardcore that wouldn’t cross the road to pee on an iPhone if it was on fire, and those that don’t believe anything can be ‘proper gaming’ unless it’s an ultra–4K sequel to an almost identical grey/brown game, it seems to have gone down very well.

What surprises me most, though, is the amount of grading on a curve. Having so far played at least some of 68 of the 71 games on Apple Arcade (It’s a living! Sort of.), my personal take is they split right down the middle in terms of what’s good and what’s merely mediocre or outright crap. That in itself is not a bad hit rate, note, but I’m often seeing people championing the entire package – and even games that are objectively a bit shit.

It increasingly feels like people didn’t fall out of love with mobile gaming – they fell out of love with user-hostile freemium mechanics of the like Nintendo welded to Super Mario Tour. In fact, it’s interesting to contrast Nintendo’s mobile efforts (from a company that usually prides itself on top-tier fun-first gaming experiences) and Apple’s (the company that everyone argued needed to get Nintendo on board to get gaming right).

Now the cruft has gone, people are enjoying fleeting but beautiful creations (Assemble with Care), painstakingly crafted slices of artistry (Mutazione), bite-sized puzzlers (Grindstone), and slices of rampant absurdity (Sneaky Sasquatch), many of which would struggle to exist anywhere else – and certainly not with this kind of premium user experience.

October 2, 2019. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, Opinions, Technology

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