Better software, not a bigger screen, is what the iPad needs

The iPad Pro

 

The iPad Pro is now available, with its much larger screen. Admittedly I haven't had a chance to try one yet, and having only purchased a new iPad last year, I probably wouldn't consider such a purchase so soon anyway. But as someone who does try and do real work on an iPad, (I enjoy stepping away from my desk from time to time to focus in on something, and the iPad is perfect for this.), I am not frustrated by the iPad's lack of screen real estate (though I've no doubt more is better, it usually is) but by its limited software.

This 'limited software' is not always the fault of Apple, developers purposely try and simplify their iPad releases in an effort to route out the bloat that dogs their desktop equivalents. This is mostly a good thing, as someone who runs complex software projects for a living, I am always a proponent of the KISS philosophy (Keep It Simple, Stupid). However, there haven been numerous times when I've had to walk back to my desk and grab my laptop because something just isn't possible on an iPad.

Take Microsoft Excel. The desktop version may be a horrible, bloated and full of legacy code (it seems to have its own rules on when to wipe your clipboard unexpectedly), but to its credit, it does make a lot of complex, routine tasks very quick and easy. If I have a list of stuff and I want to remove duplicates, it's one click. If I have a CSV file (or values separated by another delimiter), converting this to columns is only 2 or 3 clicks. None of this functionality exists in the iPad version. Microsoft OneNote on the iPad doesn't have Outlook integration (the ability to pull in meeting details), and while Microsoft have recently added support for audio recording to OneNote, it's modal – meaning I can't take notes while I am recording – which is one of my favourite features of the desktop version, because it synchronises your note with the timestamp of the audio recording, meaning you can quickly seek to important parts of a meeting when you're trying to remember what was going on. Again, back to my laptop.

I don't want to pick on Microsoft, they make some of the highest quality iPad software out there, and I know all too well that quality, time to market and the number of features are all opposing interests, and Microsoft has made the decision to go for quality over features. There's nothing wrong with that, in fact it's the best decision they could have made in my view, but it doesn't change the fact that the iPad just can't do these seemingly simple things a laptop can. Adobe and Apple both have examples too. I was sent a wireframe that had been hand-drawn and had been scanned and emailed directly from a networked printer/scanner. I wanted to annotate the resulting PDF. On the Mac I would use Preview, on Windows I'd use Adobe's Reader application. Preview on iOS doesn't support annotation, so I used the Adobe Reader app for iOS. It did support annotation, but due to the way the image had been scanned in, it was upside down. Surprisingly, there was no way to rotate the PDF. Back to my laptop, again. Yes with a little help from Google, I'm sure I could find an app that lets me rotate a PDF, but will it also support all the other things the Adobe app does? The bottom line is, it's not feasible to go on an app hunt every time one of the simplified versions of an app comes up short. When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007 he made a big deal out of the fact other smartphones only showed you the 'baby web' and the iPhone didn't – we have the same situation on iOS now, we get baby applications.

Then there is the inability to have more than one document open at once. I can now have Twitter and Pages open at the same time, but not two Pages documents. Even just a way to quickly switch between documents would be nice. At the moment I have to close the first document, find the other one (navigate a long list of files and folders), load it (and wait while it loads), and then repeat the process when I want to return to the original document. Writing one document when referring to another is not an uncommon computing task, and yes there are workarounds like exporting one of them as a PDF and opening it in a separate application, but this isn't very clean, and what if I want to edit both documents?

I don't want to take way from the iPad what is is great at; web browsing, writing this blog post, simple spreadsheets, reading books, playing games, managing email, task lists – the list goes on. While I'm sure the iPad Pro is a beautiful device, and if money was no object Id buy one today, I don't think having a bigger screen is going to turn it into a laptop replacement. I would love to be able to work solely on an iPad, but until the software improves, I can't see this happening, no matter how big the screen is.

 

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Apple Watch Battery Saving Tips

If you have the smaller version of the Apple Watch, then you may find the battery just about gets you through the day. Over the past 6 weeks of using it I've been experimenting with the various settings to find the best way to save battery life.

Note: Like with battery saving tips for phones, these tips will reduce functionality, so they're not meant for daily use. Apple Watch has a built in power save mode, but with that switched on the watch is less useful than a £10 Casio watch (at least you don't have to press a button to see the screen on one of those!). These tips are meant for those long days or weekends where you want to keep the watch going for as long as possible, while maintaining the fitness tracking and ability to receive notifications (these things are not possible in Power Save mode).

Turn off Wrist Raise

On the watch itself, under Settings > General you can turn off Wrist Raise. This makes the watch a lot less useful because you will have to press a button to see the screen, but if you are out and about on a weekend and don't particularly care about the time, but want to make sure your fitness progress still gets tracked, it's a great way to save significant battery life.

Use the X-Large watch face

If you can do without seeing the weather or other useful widgets on your watch face, the X-Large's use of lots of black and no widgets means it uses far less battery juice, in my experience at least.

Use Power Saving Mode for workouts

In the Apple Watch app on your phone, choose the settings for the 'Workout' app, and select power saving mode. This stops the watch from continuously reading your pulse during workouts – very useful if you're doing long runs or walks, as the heart rate monitor sucks battery life. It will mean however, that your calorie burn stats wont be as accurate.

Turn on Airplane Mode

This one is only slightly better than Power Save mode. You'll still be able to track your activity, receive stand notifications or notifications for appointments already synced to your watch – obviously you wont get any alerts that come from your phone (such as messages). If you're away camping for the weekend, maybe that's OK?

Stay near your phone

I've noticed the battery life is a lot worse when I spend a lot of time away from my desk at work, but leave my phone at my desk. This makes sense – when the phone is within Bluetooth range, the watch will use this connection for things like alerts. When you move away from your phone, it instead has to connect to Wi-Fi directly. Wi-Fi is much less power efficient than Bluetooth.

 

 

Apple Watch – First Thoughts

I know that it seems everyone wants to blog about their experience with an Apple Watch, so why would I need to too? Well, I’m not a professional journalist (as if you can’t tell) – just an everyday person with an interest in technology, so perhaps I’ll offer a different perspective.

So after 3 weeks, what does a ‘normal’ technology enthusiast think? Well… I went for the 38mm black ‘Sport’ Model as I figured fitness would be my main usage scenario.

Wearing a watch

I’ve always loved watches. Not for the bling factor – for me something being expensive doesn’t equate to it being stylish or useful. Ever since my Granddad introduced me to a Casio watch at the age of 8 I’ve loved a good gadget watch, and so the Apple Watch was right up my street. I actually have a Casio which I wear at weekends. It’s a radio controlled analogue/digital hybrid. I don’t wear it to work during the week since I’m usually at a computer all day long, it doesn’t really add much utility. So wearing a watch isn’t a habit I’ve had to get back in to.

 

With the classic buckle strap

Needing the phone

So a major factor in anyone’s purchasing decision is going to be ‘do you own an iPhone 5 or newer’ – if you don’t you can’t make much use out of an Apple Watch. My two and a half year old iPhone 5 still does the job (and until Apple increase the base storage from 16GB, I won’t be upgrading), so I was fine.

The iPhone is needed for a number of things – most apps require the phone to either be in Bluetooth range or the watch to be on the same WiFi network as the phone. This is fine for me as my office has WiFi throughout the building, so I can easily leave my phone in a draw and walk anywhere in the office (even outside) and receive notifications – pretty cool. Some apps don’t even need your phone, they only need a WiFi connection. Messages is one of those apps – I left my phone in my car at the gym, but was able to send and receive iMessages from the watch no problem. Siri also works like this. Maps didn’t work, although it was able to determine my location (from the WiFi base station, I assume), just not show me the map.

Overall the ‘need’ to be tethered to an iPhone is overstated in my opinion, though one thing to note is that the watch will only connect to a WiFi network your phone has previously connected to. So you can’t just head to a coffeeshop with only your watch and expect to get online.

Apps

Most of the built in apps seem well thought through, though with some annoying limitations. I can reply to text messages, but not emails. Both the BBC News and Guardian apps only show me a paragraph before requesting I take my phone out. I’m sure people can make that choice for themselves, so why not show the whole article?

Battery

If you use it like a watch, the battery will easily last you all day. If you use the Workout app or play with apps a lot, you’re going to struggle to get through the day. My Casio is solar powered, so I’m used to feeling the warm rays beat down on my watch and thinking about all that goodness it’s doing charging the battery, however that’s sadly not the case with the Apple Watch. If anything the heat will kill the battery’s longevity. I do hope Apple add solar charging in future iterations.

Workout

It seems to be pretty accurate (once trained by running outside with your phone’s GPS). I tested it on a treadmill and it was a few percentage points out. I have a tendency to rest on the side of the treadmill for 10 seconds while I switch tracks, it knows I’ve stopped running unlike a treadmill. The ability to leave you phone at home when you go for a run is great, you can play music from the watch via Bluetooth headphones. Unfortunately changing a track while running is not easy (it made me pine for my iPod classic). You have to exit the ‘Workout app’ by pressing home, tap the Clock icon and then swipe up to get to glaces, then swipe across to the ‘Now Playing’ glance. You could also open the music app from the home screen, but it’s way too complex and an odd oversight from Apple.

The daily activity goals are good, however the recommendations are a bit basic. For example I had a daily active calorie burn goal of 400 – On 5 out of 7 days in a week I exceeded it, however it took my average calories over the entire week and suggested a new daily goal of 220 (I had a very lazy weekend). It seemed more logical that it would know that a lot of people will have different behavioural patterns on weekends and suggested something a bit more realistic.

Run

 

Style/Cost

I went for the cheapest option, the black Sport model (I went 38mm not for price but because I have skinny wrists). I looks pretty nice, even with the leather buckle. I probably wouldn’t wear it to a  formal occasion such as a wedding, but for business, or social it’s absolutely fine.

Calendar

Notifications

The best thing about notification is I never have to check my phone any more, since I know I will have gotten a tap on the wrist if anything of note has happened. I had to make sure all but the most critical apps were turned off however, I don’t really want to be interrupted because someone followed me on Twitter.

Text Input

The only way to input text is via voice-dictation. This is fine if your a technology journalist who works from home, or an exec who has their own office – but for the average person who works amount other people (this applies to social occasions too), it’s not polite to start dictating messages to your girlfriend in front of other people. I value my privacy, and so unless I’m alone I generally don’t enter text into the watch. What this device really needs is a way to enter text, Microsoft have the right idea, and I’m disappointed Apple haven’t even included this in watchOS version 2. (I guess it did take the iPhone OS 3 iterations to get copy and paste).

 

The Watch

One of the coolest things about the watch is the customisable watch faces. You can add widgets that show the weather, sunset time, battery life, next appointment and more. In this sense, the watch really has utility that makes it worth wearing. I can look down on my wrist and see my next appointment or the current weather conditions.

Watch Face

This is the one I use when I’m not at work – it shows me sunset time (how much time I have left to go out for a walk or run before it gets dark), the battery level,  the day of the week and my activity for the day.

Watch Face

When I’m at work I like to use this face, which gives me the timezone of our other office, in addition to putting the date front and centre.

Overall, I’m impressed and don’t regret the purchase. Plus, future versions of the device can only get better .👍🏻

Apple Watch

So the details are finally in, and I have to admit – I’m slightly disappointed. I was hoping Apple would unveil some major new functionality at last week’s event, but it was just filling the gaps between what we already knew.

In essence, the watch has 3 main functions: a fitness tracker, notification viewer and of course telling the time. You could also add a 4th function: fashion accessory.

The fitness tracker part of it excites me most, as I have used the Nike Fuelband previously and found it was good at telling me how inactive I was, convincing me to workout more often. After 6 or 7 months, I didn’t need to wear it anymore as I kind of knew when I was active and when I wasn’t. I guess if I was marathon training I might need more detail, but surely and GPS enabled Garmin watch would be more suited in this case? So for me I’m partially excited about this aspect of the watch, but it doesn’t seem groundbreaking to me.

The notification viewing aspect of the watch doesn’t excite me at all. Mainly because it requires I have my phone in the same building. Not being a high-flying executive who needs to view every email within seconds, the thought of having notifications on my wrist makes me shudder. If the watch had cellular networking and meant I could leave the house without a phone, then I would be interested. In fact, one day I see the iPhone being obsolete and the watch being the main connectivity device. When they need a bigger screen, people will tether their iPad to their watches.

Telling the time is of course a very useful function. At work (where lets face it, I spend a good chunk of my time) I have a computer in front of me with the time omnipresent, and typing with a watch on can be uncomfortable. So I only need this functionality at weekends or when I go out after work. My Casio serves its purpose here – do i really need an Apple Watch for this?

Then there’s the fashion element. Apple has, since the iPod been a fashion brand – though a slightly geeky  fashion brand. I have a feeling Smart Watches will end up like calculator watches in the 1980’s and early 1990’s – looking dated and ‘of their time’. Then there’s the ridiculously priced ‘Apple Watch Edition’ made out of solid gold. I get that some watches cost tens of thousands of pounds. However, isn’t part of what justifies the price of a Rolex that fact that they have been engineering watches for over a hundred years, and have a reputation for exceptional quality? If Volvo released a Rolls Royce-priced car, it wouldn’t make it comparable to a Rolls Royce. Making something expensive doesn’t make it fashionable. I personally go out of my way not to wear overtly branded clothing (to my dismay, the craze of wearing ‘Super Dry’ plastered over your front like you’re selling children’s nappies door-to-door hasn’t subsided yet, at least in the UK), and so I wouldn’t want a watch that was too ‘showy’.

Of course I haven’t mentioned the apps yet. This is where I think the watch could excel. it could be like the iPad, which I was doubtful about upon its release, but now I think it is the world’s greatest personal computer. Will I buy an Apple Watch? No. I’ll wait and see what the second generation has to offer. My hope is it will have a way of using the device purely over WiFi (I accept cellular is  a long way off for battery reasons) so I could realistically go out for the evening, and as long as the place I am going has WiFi, I can still keep in touch.

Outlook for iPad

Last month Microsoft released Outlook for iPad (based on Acompli, an app it has previously purchased). Since the company I work for uses Exchange 2013, I was able to take advantage of this and try it out. The interface is a breath of fresh air for anyone, like me who is stuck using Outlook 2013’s confusing and dated interface. My favourite feature is the ‘Focused’ inbox with automatically shows you a view of messages deemed important. Newsletters, alerts and other noise are quietly hidden away so you only get to see emails from real people. The ‘other’ inbox is only a swipe away, and the focused view is only that, a view; so it won’t have any effect on your desktop email view. This is surprisingly accurate and didn’t require much training. Replying and managing email is pleasant, with the ability to swipe to archive or flag email quickly.

Outside of the corporate word, the app supports Outlook.com, Gmail and other well-known email providers. I like to keep work and personal email separate, so I haven’t tried these.

 

Attachments

Another surprising feature of Outlook for iPad is the ability to connect to cloud services such as Dropbox and Google Drive 1. A lot of network administrators will loose sleep over this, but ultimately it’s a step forward – especially for users of Office 365 who will be able to access all of their ‘OneDrive for Business’ files and attach them to emails wherever they happen to be.

A week point however is the lack of a system extension, so it’s not possible to share a link from Safari to Outlook, or send and document directly from Word for iPad. I’m sure this is on the way, but I do think it should have been included in the initial version.

 

Calendar

The calendar seems quite basic. It doesn’t seem to do a great job of letting me see other invitees ‘free/busy’ information (the main benefit of using the desktop version of Outlook), but it’s serviceable for a version 1.0 release. It’s quite buggy, for example, I tried to update an appointment start and end date, but it just didn’t work. No crash, no error message, it just didn’t do anything. I’m sure Microsoft’s latest purchase, Sunrise indicates Microsoft is putting some thought into its calendaring strategy, and so major improvements should be on the way. I’m not sure about the unified app approach – I’ve always wished Outlook on the PC were separate applications instead of one big conglomerate (especially since it’s still full of model dialog boxes! I digress…) – separate apps seems especially fitting for iOS, and I can only think it’s a branding decision to go with one big ‘Outlook’ app on iOS.

 

Security Concerns?

The first release had no security requirements at all, so if your system administrator had mandated users have a passcode on their device, Outlook would ignore it. This has been resolved, though unfortunately it requires you set a PIN at a system level on the device, rather than just for the app (as had been the case with the pervious OWA app). I liked the fact I could have more lax security on my personal device (e.g. ‘Ask me for a PIN after 1 hour’) while the app could be much more strict (‘ask me for a pin after 5 minutes’) – this worked in the old OWA app, but not anymore; which is a major disappointment. Some system administrators might lament the fact the then app will store your emails on Amazon’s AWS servers (soon to be Azure, I have to believe), but it does allow the app to do lots of cloud processing that ultimately benefits users. The fact that Microsoft just released the app without any warning and a way to block the app is probably the bigger concern in my views, as I can understand organisations who have various security practises (ISO et al) not being very happy about being caught off-guard like this.

 

Conclusion

Overall, Outlook for iPad solidifies the iPad as a tool for business and makes me think that one day, many users will be able to use an iPad (or similar device) exclusively at work.

It’s missing some key features at the moment (you can’t set your ‘Out of Office’), but I’m certain they will come in time. The bigger question is whether tablet-devices will ever replace traditional PCs in the workplace. This is probably the subject of a future blog post, but with Outlook, Office and the cloud it’s becoming an increasing possibility. I personally use Outlook for iPad as more of a sidekick device than a laptop replacement, but then my job does involve using a lot of traditional desktop software such as Visual Studio, or macro-enabled spreadsheets. That said, for many enterprise users, an iPad with a decent hardware keyboard is now a viable alternative, if not for the small screen size.

 

 

 

1. Great to see Microsoft embracing interoperability, in contrast to Google, who refuse to support Windows Phone.

iOS Disappearing Calendar Notifications – Mystery Solved

Ever turned in your iPhone to see a calendar notices suddenly disappear from the lock screen? I've been seeing this a lot lately, and it's really bugged me – especially when my phone is on silent (as it is most of the day), so I can check it at chosen intervals rather than be disturbed (developer thing, no doubt) .

Well it turns out iOS will remove a notification after the event has finished. Kind of makes sense, although it does mean if you totally miss an appointment, you'd be none the wiser unless you pay very careful attention and see it before the notification quickly disappears.

Odd quirk, but probably not a bug – just a design choice (I would say it makes sense to remove them from the notification centre, perhaps not the lock screen) and Apple should probably hide it before the screen turns in to avoid the confusion of seeing something for a split second.

I like Siri

But wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to speak to it?

Google Now seems like a preferred approach, you tell it the teams you follow, and where you work (or it works it out), and the information just appears when it’s needed.

Size doesn’t matter, it’s what you do with it that counts

Apple seems to be getting a lot of bad press recently because of their refusal to release a larger iPhone. That and the fact that iOS is apparently getting 'stale' because hasn't changed much since its release in 2007.
I completely disagree with this criticisms – and here's why: Firstly, when it comes to a phone, I don't believe bigger is better. What matters to me is the portability of the device, coupled with software which is of a high standard and turns this 'black mirror' into something useful. If anything, quality and resolution of the screen matters far more than the dimensions.
When people start talking up screen sizes, it reminds me of the TV market, where people routinely buy the biggest screen they can get for their money, even if it means the screen will disproportionately intrude into their living room. There hasn't been much innovation in TVs in the past 6 years, we've seen half-hearded attempts at 'app' ecosystems, but ultimately people just want to sit passively and watch stuff, not mess about with apps. Since the iPhone was released in 2007, introducing multitouch, inertia scrolling and a touch screen that didn't need a stylus, we haven't seen any other big changes in paradigm. The iPhone 4 got a super high resolution screen that made reading text all the more pleasurable. Apart from that, in terms of hardware at least, we've gotten thinner, lighter and faster and that's all.
With phones, the quality of the apps and ease of use is what makes the difference – not the size of the thing. Price also plays a part – a big part. Having used Android for the past 18 months (HTC Desire S, and a Nexus 7) I can't help but be drawn back to iOS, purely because th software is so much better.
 

 

How long should a tablet be supported for?

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Tablets are billed as “post-PC” products designed to replace the job of a PC for most people. The argument goes, most people don’t need a truck (a PC) and instead they just want a small car. True as that may be, I see a problem when the car only gets supported by the manufacture for 2 years. That’s the case with the original iPad. According to Apple, iOS 6 will not run on the iPad 1 which was released in 2010. Buy not having the latest operating system, this means the latest security updates will not be available, nor will the latest developer APIs. Many of Apple’s own apps (such as the Pages) will likely be updated, and these updates will only support iOS6 (this was the case when iOS 5 was released). Will the file formats be compatible? Let’s hope so. The same will probably happen with a lot of 3rd party applications. It also means the new OS features such as shared photo streams and Facebook integration wont be available.

Yes this is a fast moving industry, and yes the iPad 1 was woefully underpowered (especially when it comes to lack of RAM, the version of iOS it came with didn’t support multitasking remember) and you might argue the that iPad 1 is a special case, as it was mostly purchased by early adapters who will probably be running the latest model of iPad by now. I can also see how Apple might not want developers to hold back their software to ensure it works on the older hardware – iPhoto doesn’t run on it today.

That said, I really think Apple should be sending the message to consumers that their tablet will be relevant in at least 2 years time (you would expect a laptop to be). If they can continue to support the iPhone 3GS (released roughly 6 months before the iPad in 2009) then why not iPad?