Lack of external display support leaves iPad Pro second best to the Mac

And Apple should do a DeX with iPhone too


Last year, I griped that the iPad is an ergonomic disaster for traditional computing work, and needs full pointer support right now. Surprisingly, Apple responded to such complaints by reinventing the pointer system for its tablet. We didn’t even have to wait until iPadOS 14 later this year—it came as a late update to iPadOS 13. People were thrilled. They noted that now, finally, the iPad was a ‘proper’ computer. Only, it still falls short in one key way.

At the very top of my wish-list for WWDC 2020—and I wasn’t alone—was full external display support for iPad. Right now, you can hook your tablet up to an external display, and one of two things happens. With a handful of apps, the external display becomes a presentation screen, for example providing full-screen playback for work within a video editor. Mostly, the iPad display is mirrored, leaving ugly black bars left and right on your 600-buck 4K display.

This is nonsensical. Given that iPad now has desktop-grade input, it should have desktop-grade display support. Being able to transform iPad into a laptop and instantly back to a tablet when using Apple’s fancy new keyboard is only two thirds of the modular computing dream. It should also be possible to use the iPad in a desktop-like manner.

I know what some will say in response to this: get a Mac. Sure, I get it. But why get a Mac, when Apple has for years been pushing iPad as a ‘proper’ computer? Why get a Mac, when iPad has desktop-grade software that would work wonderfully on an external display? Why get a Mac, when an iPad is your primary computer? And purely from an ergonomics and health perspective, Apple should surely be promoting a means to have people use iPads in a manner that’s beneficial for their general wellbeing, rather than encouraging them to hunch over a sort-of laptop?

My hope is that there’s “one more thing” to iPadOS 14 and that Apple springs a surprise on us this autumn—although I’m not holding my breath. My fear is the company is hampering iPad a little to nudge people towards Macs. But then even if iPad gets this feature, it won’t be enough. I’d like to see a future where iPhone, too, gets full external display support.

You might think that’s a step too far, but a recent Samsung device loan showed me the way. DeX is flawed and too often a sub-optimal experience. Yet there was something amazing about hooking a phone up to an HDMI display and just getting on with work. It showed a future where a pocket computer is your only computer. Apple already has all of the pieces to make this a reality—and in a superior manner.

Perhaps it’s too soon, but that certainly isn’t the case for iPad. 2020 is the year Apple should usher in full modular computing for its touchscreen tablet; but 2021 is the year it should do the same for the iPhone.

 

July 2, 2020. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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Android users and an unwillingness to pay for great games

Half the time, mobile is a disaster for gaming. There’s so much entitlement, and freemium fare has only intensified the idea from certain quarters that all games should be free. When they aren’t, such people tend to get very annoyed; and this problem is especially bad on Android.

I’m asked why premium games often rock up first on iOS and in some cases many months (or years) show up on Android, like an afterthought. In reality, games creators have put in plenty of thought. Mostly, said thought is whether porting their game to Android is worth the hassle, given the state of the market.

A recent case study of this occurred when a games creator whose work I’m fond of announced one of his older iOS games was coming to Android. Said game remains objectively excellent — a highly polished premium effort that is like a classic arcade title finely tuned for mobile play. Short of you being a gaming genius, it’ll take you a good few hours to get to the end of the game; and because it’s arcade fare, there’s plenty of replay value.

When the game was first announced as coming to Android, people were very excited. This games creator has a strong and loyal following. But he’s noted in the past — publicly — that free to paid conversions for his other titles could be better. In part, I put this down to a certain subtlety in his pointing people towards the paid option — this creator has a tendency towards being too generous. Even so, some reckon he’s not generous enough: I’ve seen plenty of gripes about in-game ads, in his flagship title that is otherwise free, and moans that updates from a tiny one-man indie were taking months to materialise.

With this latest title, things hit a nadir. On announcing the game would be premium, people kicked off. “Why can’t it be free?” they complained. And today, I’m told that a whopping 50% of Android users are requesting refunds on the title. Now, perhaps by some staggering coincidence, this game is just not their thing. More likely, they’re taking advantage of Google Play’s two-hour refund window, burning through whatever they can in that time, and then getting a fiver back into their pockets.

Ultimately, this event merely highlights why a lot of game developers no longer bother with Android at all. 50% refunds probably sounds extreme, but I’ve heard of similar figures from other games creators who’ve released objectively good games. In short: Android gamers as a group too often just aren’t willing to pay. (iPhone/iPad users aren’t yet quite at the same level, although things on Apple’s platform aren’t exactly rosy for creators, judging by what I hear from various quarters.)

Perhaps this is the final nail in the coffin — yet more confirmation of sorts that freemium killed mobile games. That notion everything should be free extends far beyond gaming, and is a major problem from creative indies to publishers alike. I suspect what many people forget in their entitlement is that there are creative people at the other end of these games — and their livelihoods. So, again, if you claim to love something, support it — it really is that simple. Otherwise, whatever praise you’re offering is nothing more than hot air.

April 13, 2020. Read more in: Apps, Opinions, Technology

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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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Kill your productivity: free browser games ahoy!

I spend a lot of time writing about games and the internet. Over the past two decades (eek!), the two of these things have in one area combined: browser games. Back in the early 2000s, games you played in your browser were rare and mostly awful. Flash shook everything up, but then Steve Jobs punched Flash squarely in the face.

Today, though, tons of genuinely great games are playable without any additional plug-ins. I some time ago penned a piece for Stuff on the best of them, but it mysteriously vanished one day. Not sure how. Anyway, by way of magic (Internet Archive: bless you), and a smattering of elbow grease, it’s now back, with revised content and some new games.

Whether you’re into bizarre endless text adventures, retro classics, surprisingly engaging clickers, one of the best match games ever created, platformers, puzzlers, or a version of Pong played against endearingly dopey bears, there’s never been a better time to kill your productivity with browser games. And while you’re doing so, perhaps take a moment to marvel at what’s now possible in a web browser – and what might be possible another two decades along the road.

January 16, 2020. Read more in: Gaming

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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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