My biggest fear going into yesterday’s Apple event was that the tablet would just be a giant iPod touch. At first glance, that is exactly what the iPad seemed like – a large iPod touch with revised core apps, and a productivity suite and eBook reader/store to take advantage of the large screen (and no additional new features). Coupled with gimmicky iPhone app support, which allows “classic” iPhone OS apps to run at native resolution with a big old black border or at 2x resolution with a smaller black border, something about this presentation seemed off to me.
I love the iPad hardware – a 0.5" thick, 1.5 pound tablet with a gorgeous screen and great battery life. It’s the operating system component of the package that made the whole presentation feel very un-Apple-like.
iPad runs iPhone OS 3.2. A revolutionary device does not ship with an operating system that is a tweaked upgrade from an OS designed for a device with a screen four times smaller – it ships with an OS tailored to the device’s features. The iPad’s home screen is telling: while the icons have been upscaled to 77 pixels x 77 pixels (compared to iPhone’s 44 x 44), the iPad only displays four icons per row, leaving 460 of the 768 horizontal pixels to uselessly display the background image rather than displaying up to five more icons. Aside from support for background images, landscape orientation and an increase from four to five rows of icons per page, the iPad’s home screen is identical to that of it’s pocket-sized counterparts. The iPhone OS home screen works well under the limitations imposed by a 3.5" screen; bringing the home screen to a 9.7" screen without changes is doing the large screen injustice.
Classic iPhone App Support
The iPad’s value proposition becomes a lot better with its ability to run existing iPhone apps. The execution, however, feels amateurish and rushed. Despite the fact that the iPad’s screen could fit four iPhone screen’s worth of content, the iPad runs iPhone applications either centered in the screen with a large black border, or pixel-doubled with smaller borders. Why not allow a dashboard of iPhone apps, or the ability to run the apps at the iPad’s native resolution?
I used to consider the lack of 3rd party background processes in iPhone OS as simply an inconvenience. My opinion on this changed last week when I was unable to respond to an SMS I received because doing so would cause my Skype call to drop. I now consider the limitation inexcusable on a mobile phone. I find it almost impossible to believe Apple would ship a tablet device that supports hardware keyboards and offers a productivity suite with such a handicap. Have fun begging developers to make their apps remember previous state and to work on improving launch times. The iPhone has limitations that restrict productivity that have largely been removed with the iPad. Background processes is the last limitation left, but also perhaps the most restricting one.
All that said, I do believe Apple will ship the device with OS 3.2 in late March. Shortly before that, however, Apple will hold their annual iPhone roadmap event where they will pre-announce iPhone OS 4.0 and it will ship in June for iPhone, iPod touch and the iPad.