Why WWDC 2020 going online-only may be a good thing

Apple has announced WWDC 2020 will be online-only. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The global health situation made it broadly impossible for Apple to continue with its standard format.

There will doubtless be people who are upset about this change— not least old-hands. I have only been fortunate to attend WWDC once — last year — but even that single experience made it obvious that the buzz extended well beyond the keynote. A big chunk of San Jose was awash with developers, excited at the prospect of talking directly with engineers, and attending superb sessions outlining the latest Apple technologies.

Attempting to replicate this format online will be tricky — not least that direct engagement with Apple engineers. However, Apple in its WWDC 2020 announcement press release also noted its global developer community has more than 23 million registered developers in more than 155 countries and regions.

WWDC 2019 was packed, but it obviously wasn’t that packed. Getting a ticket is essentially a lottery, and those applying are a filtered group: people who have the means (time; money) to travel to the US, and attend the event.

For the general public, probably not a lot will change. Apple will announce a bunch of new stuff at a keynote, and they’ll get the opportunity to play with shiny new toys when the public betas rock up. For some journalists, there will be a change — being present somewhere always provides you with a different viewpoint. But, frankly, we’ll cope. For the developers, though, this year’s WWDC could prove transformative, if Apple manages to truly democratise the event, and ushers in a culture of more equality throughout the wider developer community.

March 13, 2020. Read more in: Apple, Opinions

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Removing bezels from TVs, phones and tablets can cause rather than solve problems in tech

Back in 2014, I wrote for Stuff about the tech industry’s obsession with thin. The point was that a fixation on making products thinner was becoming detrimental to the user experience, given that a few extra mm could house larger batteries, or superior keyboards. Now, the  tech industry seems to have its eyes set on eradicating bezels, as outlined in Pocket-lint’s piece on new Samsung tellies.

Samsung’s not alone. In phones, removing the bezel now appears to be some kind of holy grail, and, frankly, this baffles me. Sure, I don’t want a massive chunky bezel that makes a device seem like it’s rocked up from a 1985 concept video. But most of the time, I want a bezel in a screen-based device. A frame around content provides focus. And with a tablet, it provides somewhere for your thumbs to go, rather than them covering what you’re looking at and interacting with.

It’s also notable that in the Android space, attempts to remove the bezel have resulted in some horribly ugly creations. Companies triumphantly boast about stripping the bezel back, but on devices that retain a ‘chin’, thereby resulting in something that looks visually imbalanced. At that point, the breathless rush to remove the bezel has not only impacted on user experience, but also visual design.

For my money, the current iteration of iPad Pro gets everything about the bezel right. There’s a bezel around the screen, but it’s even, it’s unobtrusive, and Apple has the confidence to omit a logo. It affords focus, ensuring whatever you’re looking at doesn’t blend with the device’s surroundings. Rounded display edges soften the bezel’s impact. The bezel’s size ensures you can hold the iPad without covering what’s on the screen. And the bezel also houses Apple’s complex Face ID camera system, without an ugly notch or ‘hole punch’ impacting on the display.

I imagine Apple and many within the tech industry are desperate to make this bezel thinner. I think it’s great as it is – and the same goes for the bezels on my TVs and phones.

January 8, 2020. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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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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