But they also talk about the work they’d have had to do to make a code editor that might be viable for today’s developers, and how that kind of product is basically impossible on iOS:
And still, even if we could find some clever technical way around all of these limitations, we wouldn’t know if our approaches would be allowed on the App Store until we’d fully built and submitted them for review. So, we’d be facing a huge investment of time with the possibility that it would all ultimately get rejected.
It is ironic that this app, which made it barely possible to manage a static or PHP web site from an iPad, is getting pulled from sale the same week that Apple ships their fastest iPad Pro models to date, running the same processors as their newest, fastest Macs.
My idea of what makes a good computer is anchored in what I need as a web coder and product manager, but I’m not aware of any pro use case where an iPad Pro is able to replace a laptop or desktop. In fact, I can’t really call out any essential apps or use cases that will fully utilize an M1 processor — Microsoft and Adobe’s iPad apps are stripped-down versions of the desktop ones, for instance, which were already quite fast on last year’s A16X. Code editing on iPad already required any real computing to happen on a server somewhere else — you could use Code Editor to edit your WordPress site, but you could never, ever run a local WordPress environment on an iPad.
And, regarding the economics, Code Editor is yet another casualty of how poorly Apple has supported pro software sales on iOS and iPadOS, pushing many businesses toward subscription models whether they like it or not. Nova, Panic’s newest macOS code editing app, costs $99 for a perpetual license plus the first year of updates, with license renewals for $49/year. Even at that price point, they couldn’t afford to also develop and maintain an iOS app, especially one that couldn’t match Nova’s full feature set.
If Panic could ship a fully-fledged web IDE for iPad, I personally think it’d be worth at least $100/year, but they’d be unlikely to find enough takers to make it viable, and (of course) they’d be at Apple’s mercy to keep the app approved for sale.
So, as always, the question is: what exactly is pro about the iPad Pro, if pro software creators have no incentive to develop the kinds of apps that would make the hardware sing?
Thoughts on Apple’s “Spring Loaded” Event
It’s that time again—Apple has announced products, and now we will talk about the products that were announced!!!
I did not watch today’s event live, because I had other things going on: my newly vaccinated in-laws are visiting, I had to pick up lunch carryout, the dog needed walking, and then I had a meeting. I kept one eye on The Verge‘s liveblog, and have spent a chunk of the afternoon catching up on everything, so I may have missed some stuff and, if so, will update this post with additions or corrections as needed.
Finally. Apple’s Tile-like location tracking dinguses have been rumored for years, and now they’re here. I like that they’re relatively inexpensive ($30, or $99 for four), and I like that you can get them personalized. I’m less wild about how keychain or lanyard attachments cost extra — on one hand, it means you can choose how they attach to your stuff, but on the other, it’s more money on top of the cost of the tracker. (At least the battery is replaceable!)
Another way of looking at AirTags’ pricing and pitch: Apple will bring the “play a sound or look at a map to find that thing” feature from your iPhone to any object you can attach a small round puck to, for as little as $30, which seems like a bargain after the hundreds or more you’re already paying for a phone.
Tile’s trackers start at $25, and while they do have a lanyard loop, they are bigger, less personalizable, and more utilitarian-looking than AirTags. Not to mention, they aren’t nearly as well integrated into Apple’s ecosystem.
Before Covid, when I left the house regularly and there was a non-zero chance I might leave my keys at the office, I used to keep a Tile Pro on my key ring. It worked okay, but the Tile app had a bad habit of alerting me that I’d left behind my keys anytime I walked more than a block from my house without them. I told it that home was a normal place for them to be… but then it started to think that the keys were a few doors from my house because that was where my phone lost the Bluetooth signal.
If nothing else, I expect Apple to do quite a bit better at that, for only a bit more money, and an AirTag will look like a nice, engraved steel keychain to boot.
Speaking of nice steel keychains, check this out hiding at the bottom of the pricing page for the very affordable and accessible AirTags:
Confession time: I actually own an Hermès strap for my Apple Watch. It was over $300, and it’s easily the best watch band I own — the leather is supple, and unlike some other, far cheaper leather goods I own, it actually has gotten more supple and better looking with time and wear.
That’s to say, I’m willing to grant that a Hermès leather-encased AirTag with an exclusive Hermès engraving is something someone would pay $350 for. I’m not quite there — I think these look pretty hot, but it took four or five years for me to work up to wanting a luxury Apple Watch strap, and AirTags are -1 week old.
I did just pre-order Nomad’s AirTags glasses strap, because as ridiculous as I may look having a glasses strap (at all, let alone one with a tracker on it), I feel more ridiculous when I lose expensive sunglasses (again).
The next iPad Pro
I gotta hand it to Apple: they’ve now stuck with the same form factor and accessories for the iPad Pro for not one, not two, but three years. (Well, almost.) This is the fourth iPad model that works with the Pencil 2, and the third that will work with the Magic Keyboard. If you (like me) have spent $400 or more on iPad Air/Pro accessories, but worry that someday Apple’s designers will get bored and make you buy new stuff that’s only a millimeter larger or smaller, like they do with iPhone cases every year, well, we dodged that bullet for another year.
Apple’s big headline for these iPads is that they are powered by the same M1 processors as new Macs, and in fact support the same Thunderbolt 4/USB4 connectivity. They are, in essence, tablet-shaped Macs that run iPadOS—or are the new Macs laptop-shaped iPads that run macOS?!
It is unclear what Apple thinks we’ll do with all this power. They say the new iPads have “console-quality graphics”, but they’ve been saying that for years. It’s been true for years! But nobody is using an iPad as a PS5-replacement, even if it’d be fine at it. Maybe there’s something waiting in the wings, maybe Apple (as ever) is hoping the ecosystem will make fetch happen with these devices if the specs get good enough.
Currently, I’m using an 11″ iPad Pro from 2018. I’m a little bit interested in these new models, especially the extra-bright XDR screen on the new 12.9″ Pro. But I’m also quite happy with my 11″ — it’s plenty fast enough for me, and while I am certain this new iPad can do more than my current one, I have no idea if I need more. (Also, on the topic of those accessories I’d rather not buy again: I have a $299 sunk cost, in the form of the 11″ Magic Keyboard, incentivizing me to stay on the 11″ iPad.)
But you know, that’s probably fine. The iPad is what it is, and Apple seems to be OK with that.
The new M1 iMac
The other day I was thinking about what Macs, if any, Apple might announce now, with the Apple Silicon platform still very new, amid a massive global chip shortage.
And that got me thinking about the iMac, which started out as Apple’s flagship computer for families and everyday users, but has ended up their de facto pro model for most use cases, owing to the Intel-based ones having very robust specs (not to mention the only 27″ 5K Retina displays in the industry). Before the last big chip transition, anyone with any sort of demanding use case needed a Power Mac G5, and the rest of us could get by with an iMac. In the Intel era, eventually Mac Pros became absurdly high-end supercars, while iMacs gradually became powerful enough to do all but the most demanding work. The short-lived iMac Pro, which Apple apparently made as a stopgap to tide those highest-end users over until the current, absurdly powerful and expensive, Mac Pros were ready, was one of the best Macs Apple ever shipped.
Now, with these new M1 iMacs, we have a return to the original concept for the product: a simple, beautiful, impeccably designed computer for everyday use. That idea extends even to the display: it only comes in one size, around 24″, which is not big enough for the kinds of pro workflows iMacs had found themselves in, but perfectly fine for home use.
Like the other M1 Macs, the new iMac will probably be absurdly fast, but with something of a performance ceiling especially when asked to do sustained high-CPU work. They seem like great computers, which if anything only whets one’s appetite more for what kinds of true pro-level ARM Macs are coming later this year.
One of the most exciting, then disappointing, announcements today was the new Magic Keyboard that comes with these iMacs. The new keyboards have a feature I’ve wanted for a long-ass time: Touch ID. In theory, there’s no reason why Apple couldn’t put a Touch ID sensor on their keyboards and use it to allow users to unlock their Macs or pay for things while their laptop lids are closed. Microsoft sells a $130 keyboard with a built-in fingerprint sensor that works with any PC that supports fingerprint-based biometrics. I have one; it’s great. I want something like that for my Macs.
Sadly, these new keyboards are available only with the new iMacs, and as far as I can tell, only support Touch ID when paired with the iMac. (I guess if your color-matched keyboard, mouse, or trackpad breaks, AppleCare has to send you a new one. Likewise, if you choose a mouse over a trackpad and then change your mind, you’re stuck with a non-matchy trackpad later on.)
On the marketing page for the new iMacs, I find it interesting how much emphasis Apple puts on these being the 24-inch iMacs — both by way of comparison to the old 21.5″ models, and in contrast to the 27″ ones. It makes me think that Apple isn’t done with the iMac this year, but that they’re planning for a bigger-screened iMac to have more pro-level specs, in line with what higher-end users have come to expect from the bigger iMacs.
Apple Card now supports family accounts — not only shared cards between spouses, which had been a common request, but the ability to share a Card account with kids, teens, or anyone else in a Family Sharing group. This is a really interesting move that is Apple’s first truly differentiated feature in the world of money and payments. Banks like Chase offer kid accounts (either traditional or prepaid) that are somewhat integrated with parents’ banking, but nowhere near this sophisticated, and without the ability for the less credit-experienced users to rely on their parents’ credit to help bootstrap their own, while also giving parents tools to monitor and control kids’ spending on the account.
iPhones now come in purple. I mean, it’s a small announcement, but I think it’s the first non-PRODUCT(RED) new color announcement for the iPhone since the white iPhone 4 first dropped a decade ago. (There are purple cases too, if you already have an iPhone 12.)
Oh, and iOS 14.5 is coming sometime next week. When? Apple didn’t announce a date for the new update, but they did say that AirTags will ship on April 30 (next Friday), and that they require 14.5, so…
In addition to enabling AirTags, the new OS update will let you unlock your phone with a paired Apple Watch if you’re wearing a mask — I’ve been beta testing this feature for over a month and it’s a godsend — and will also include a revamped Podcasts app with support for paid podcast subscriptions, which, OK whatever.
What wasn’t announced? No new AirPods yet. No less expensive standalone Mac display. No AR goggles, ambient smart display, or FaceTime-on-the-TV gadget. No car, obviously.
The first developer beta of iOS 4.2—the first 4.x release that's compatible with the iPad—is now available to registered iOS Developer Program members. The new software will include a new wireless printing technology called 'AirPrint'; iOS devices (including iPhones and iPads) will be able to print to shared printers attached to their Macs/PCs, or directly to wireless printers (such as some new HP models shipping this Fall) that support the new protocol.
When you want to eat, you go to the refrigerator. When you want to listen to music, you go to your stereo system. Completing these actions just requires knowing the locations of the things you want to use. If you want to look at photos in the real world, everything you might want to accomplish is in a single place: in the album on the bookshelf. The photos themselves are even inside the album.
Because most computer operating systems don’t organize things this way, accomplishing simple tasks can be extremely confusing for casual computer users; doing anything requires the user to know several things before he can even start his task. … With the iPhone’s interface, the user only has to know which application to open. The files are simply always available.
I wrote about this several weeks ago, though Curtis says it more succinctly and clearly than I did. And I stand by my conviction that hierarchical filesystems (i.e. paths, volumes, endlessly nestable directories) define computers as we know them, that filesystems are going away sometime soon, at least for non-power users, and then we'll see a new generation of post-filesystem user interfaces that are simpler, easier and more focused. In other words, more like "app consoles" than "computers."
Ten Weeks Later…
Yesterday was the iPad's launch day. It's a new beginning, and the consensus so far seems to be that the iPad really is a new kind of device, that the future of computing will look more like this magical multi-touch gadget than the clunky keyboard-and-mouse jobs we've been using these last two decades.
What was most surprising to me about yesterday's launch, though, was how smooth it was, and how Apple, their developers, and their accessory vendors (like Incase and Belkin) managed on day one to get an entirely new computing platform off the ground in roughly ten weeks.
When other companies launch new devices they pre-announce them weeks or months in advance, or at least give certain key partners early access so they can rush some software or other stuff to market for launch day. Apple doesn't do that. While some iPhone OS developers got early access to iPads and pre-announcement alphas of the SDK, most found out about it on January 27 with the rest of us, and didn't have actual hardware to work with until yesterday at 9 AM, just like the rest of us. Case manufacturers like Incase had it easy—they had the physical specs, and so could design products around (say) a cardboard replica of an iPad and be pretty sure their sleeves and stands would work with the real thing. Developers could only poke around in the simulator and create paper mock-ups of their user interfaces based on those same physical specs, and had only Apple's developer support and their own design judgement to guide them.
The amazing thing is: it worked. When Apple announced the iPad SDK in January I fully expected to have to make do with scaled-up iPhone apps for a few weeks while the developers of my favorite apps—Evernote, Instapaper, Twitterrific, Things—got their shit together. I expected the App Store review process (which was already slow) to grind to a halt, leaving only certain top-tier game and app developers like The New York Times and EA able to get launch titles out in time.
It never occurred to me that Apple would do such a great job with their developer tools, and iterate them so quickly. It never occurred to me that the iPad would launch not only with apps, but great apps, and lots of them.
Apple's developer ecosystem ain't perfect, and it sure as hell isn't open. (As far as I'm aware, the actual iPhone OS 3.2 SDK was still considered "in beta" until yesterday at 9 AM, and therefore was still under an NDA.) But we've come a long, long way from 2008. Remember when iPhone OS 2.0 came out, yet Apple kept the SDK under the "FUCKING NDA" for three whole, completely unnecessary months?
It feels weird to compare the shotgun marriage of Apple and its developers to the old cliché about a whole village coming together to build a barn. But that's basically what happened in the last ten weeks. On January 26 we had rumors. Today, on April 4, we have a platform.
Zach Holman hypothesizes that the iPad's lack of multitasking as we know it — its single-window UI paradigm — isn't a bug, or just a feature, but the secret sauce that makes iPhone OS apps so tasty.
You play differently when you're on stage by yourself than when you're in a 300-piece marching band. Each breath you take — and each you don't take — will be scrutinized by an audience with its attention solely on you and you alone.
I'll add that composing this post right now could have been easier on a real computer (guess what I'm using instead), because task switching feels like it takes a lot of effort. Then again, I can't honestly say it was harder; it just felt harder because the one-window UI makes you painfully aware of the context switch. Which, like Holman says, may be the point.
Never let it be said Apple's CEO doesn't use his own products: for the second time recently an Apple customer reports having gotten a one-word e-mail answer to a question from Jobs himself. The latest question: will the iPhone OS get a unified email inbox like Mail on the Mac? To which Jobs replied: "Yep."
Of course, this is not news because Jobs let slip a detail about a future product (a unified inbox being one of the "hundreds" of new features Apple would likely promote in an upcoming iPhone OS update) or because one of the most guarded men in America is answering his own e-mail.
No, it's news because in the unified-inbox email reply, his signature reads: "Sent from my iPad."
NEWS FLASH: STEVE JOBS HAS AN IPAD. PLEASE REPOST.
No more computers.
Most people wouldn't even think of file management as a feature of traditional computers; files are just always there, like grass or rocks, part of the landscape.
It's not just that filesystems are ubiquitous. From a technical standpoint, especially in Unix-like systems like OS X, the filesystem really is the computer, or at least a user or developer's first, best way to interact with the system. And for ordinary folks, their whole mental model for distinguishing computers from other kinds of gadgets (like game consoles or phones) revolves around hierarchical file systems.
These days, tech support calls involve questions of how to do stuff these folks like to do. Because they can now actually use their computers instead of simply restarting them, I’m able to better see how they use them. And the one commonality I’ve seen is that no one knows how to use the file system.
Unfortunately for the average person, the file system is so complex that everything outside of the desktop and the documents folder appears to be a vast labyrinth which most likely hides booby traps and minotaurs.
I've had to deal with friends-and-family support calls too, and there's only one thing in Foster's post I disagree with: a lot of the friends I've had to help also don't understand the desktop or documents folders. One very bright person I know saved everything to her desktop because that was the only place she knew she could find it, except that after a while she had so many files she couldn't really find anything there either. So she started keeping windows open for weeks. When she needed a file, she skipped the desktop and went looking for its minimized window in the Dock.
When my friend had to restart her computer, it was like she was losing weeks of data every single time.
The genius of Apple's approach to file management in iPhone OS is to make this workflow — ignoring the filesystem and looking at apps or windows instead — not just the default, but the only way for users to work with files. The iPhone and iPad still have a filesystem, of course, and there are several new frameworks in iPhone OS 3.2 for working with files and documents.
But, to quote Apple's iPad Programming Guide,
[…]it is important to remember that although you can manipulate files in your iPad applications, files should never be a focal part of your application. There are no open and save panels in iPhone OS for a very good reason. The save panel in particular implies that it is the user’s responsibility to save all data, but this is not the model that iPhone applications should ever use. Instead, applications should save data incrementally to prevent the loss of that data when the application quits or is interrupted by the system. To do this, your application must take responsibility for managing the creation and saving the user’s content at appropriate times.
In other words, except in cases when you're sending or receiving a document to another user (i.e. via e-mail), files and folders are as much developers' concern as the Cocoa framework or the processor architecture. And even in the e-mail case, users are not to be exposed to arbitrary files so much as meaningful documents.
This approach seems obvious on the iPhone, but a little bit radical on the iPad. I think that's because of a weird semantic fixation we have about iPhones as phones.
Palm tried for years to sell general-purpose pocket computers, but only really found a wide audience when they started integrating the Palm OS into smartphones.[^1] Windows Mobile is a similar story: its predecessor OS, Windows CE, was mostly used on nerdy niche products like PDAs and 'palmtop PCs' until there were Windows-powered phones. And I shouldn't have to tell you what happened with the Newton.
It's been rumored that when Apple was first developing the iPhone, they were really working on what is now the iPad but decided it would be a good idea to release a phone first while they perfected the multi-touch user interface.
People just react differently to phones, portable game consoles and music players than they did to PDAs. A pocket computer that manages your e-mail, calendars is a nerdy indulgence. A cell phone that does those things, on the other hand, is luxurious, convenient, and cool. Even the iPod touch, today Apple's top-selling product and the driving force behind the iPhone OS's dominance in mobile software, seemed a little bit weird when it first came out, because it seemed more like a PDA than an iPod. Apple even intentionally removed apps like Mail from the OS for the first iPod touches, because they didn't think anyone would want to use them on a device that wasn't a phone.
The iPad has an even bigger hill to climb. It's definitely not a phone. Arguably it's not even portable. Several people I've talked to about the iPad believe it's supposed to be carried around and used outside the home, even though in their ads and marketing photos Apple usually shows people using it at home, sitting on the couch.
It seems appropriate to call iPads computers, because like laptops they're multi-purpose devices that run a variety of apps and aren't pocketable. Definitely I feel like the iPhone OS approach — where the default input method is touch, and computery bits like file systems are abstracted away behind windows and apps — is the future of GUI computing, and the iPad is merely the first mainstream device to go there.
Obviously an iPad is not a phone, bit nor is it just a game console or e-book reader. It's a multi-purpose device, like a computer, but it doesn't have a desktop, windows, or an exposed filesystem. It handles many of the jobs we use computers for, and has similar technology at its core.
But I wouldn't say the iPad is just a friendly computer that hides the filesystem. I would say that without a visible filesystem, an iPad is not a computer.
So, what is it? That's the thing: we can easily describe what the iPad is not, but we don't yet have a category for what it is. Maybe that explains why everyone is so perplexed by it.
The iPhone is just a phone and the iPod touch is just a music player, but despite being just a larger, more powerful version of those same devices, the iPad is something completely new.
[^1]: Technically, it was Palm's archrivals Handspring who made the first Treo smartphone. Palm chose to acquire Handspring (who were founded by the inventors of the original PalmPilot) and take over the Treo brand rather than develop their own competing product.
Not only can you now [pre-order][ippo] or [reserve][ipr] the iPad, Apple has updated their site with some fresh info about the device.
The biggest news is about the iBooks app: yes, it will support DRM-free ePub books from any publisher, meaning tech books from O'Reilly and the Pragmatic Programmers, as well as a vast selection of public domain works, will be usable on day one. iBooks can also use the iPad's VoiceOver technology to read books to you aloud, a feature that sparked a huge controversy when Amazon added it to the Kindle.
Well, maybe not now. But pre-orders begin tomorrow at 5:30 am PST, and it was exactly 5:30 pm PST when I started typing this.
Anyway—Jim Dalrymple reports what you may already know if you signed up for Apple's iPad e-mail list:
Apple on Friday will begin accepting pre-orders for the Wi-Fi iPad on Friday morning at 5:30 am Pacific Time. You can get more details in an email Apple is sending out to those that signed up to be notified of pre-order news.
It is considered likely that Apple will also be taking orders for the Wi-Fi+3G iPad model tomorrow, for shipment in "late April."
It's also my understanding that while you can have your iPad FedExed to you for delivery on April 3 (a Saturday), you can also 'reserve' one for pickup at your local Apple Store. How the concept of 'reservations' will work is still a mystery, though however it works, you can be sure there'll be some long, long, long lines at Apple Stores that morning.