Sanding the Rough Edges of iPadOS

I recently bought an 11″ iPad Pro to “replace” my aging 2015 MacBook Pro. My work has provided me with a 15” MacBook Pro that’s only about a year old, so there’s no reason for me to buy a new laptop for myself right now – especially when I’m working from home every day anyway. Given that I spend all day at my desk at home, the last thing I want to be doing is working with a traditional computer in my off hours. The iPad Pro is powerful enough for me to do most of my non-work tasks, and I can use it in a way that allows me to use it in different contexts (sitting, propped up at a table while drinking coffee, etc).

I’ve been super happy with the device and find myself using it way more than I did with my previous 9.7” iPad 6th generation. The screen and sound quality quality alone make a lot of media consumption like games and videos way more compelling, and it’s a best-in-class device for reading news, Instapaper and ebooks. I also really enjoy writing on it – whether it’s email for work or IA Writer for blog posts, the immersive writing environment helps me focus on the task at hand way better than I can on a desktop.

The area that the iPad still struggles a bit is the full-on laptop replacement. The recently-released Magic Keyboard is a fantastic companion that folks are raving about, and it seems to solve for about 90% of the things folks were asking for. There’s lots of little rough edges still to be worked out, though. None of it is really surprising as trackpad support is only about 3 months old and the idea of using an iPad as a full desktop replacement is still rather new. Heck, iPadOS is only a year old itself.

With WWDC approaching (you can see my wishlist here, which is somewhat duplicated here), I got to thinking about what Apple could do to make it easier for folks like me to treat the iPad Pro like my primary desktop machine, and not just a really amazing tablet.

External display support

The 11″ size of the iPad Pro is about perfect. It’s portable enough for me to use around the house and travel with (if traveling were a thing people still did!), and yet still big enough to be passable as a screen for most work tasks I have. To take things to the next level though, I’d love to be able to plug it into an external monitor and do more than simply mirror the content. I’d be smitten if I could have 2 apps open on my 24″ external display in split view with something else open on the actual iPad. Even if it’s a little limited in the first round (maybe the screen on the iPad is mirrored, but in the correct aspect ratio), I’d love to see some investment here.

Enhanced global keyboard support

Before I go all-in and buy Apple’s Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro, I want to see how they plan on investing in global keyboard shortcuts for media playback, brightness, homescreen etc. In a perfect world, I’d love to also be able to launch apps or shortcuts from key combos I define. Looks like there’s already some smoke on this rumor, so fingers crossed!

Better keyboard support

Related to the above point, I’d like to see more consistent keyboard support across the platform. Some of this falls to individual app developers, but I’d also like to see more tools for users to tab between split views and invoke (and close) the slideover view. In the same vein, I’d like to be able to switch between apps in slideover with the keyboard.

Key repeat rates are also not customizable currently, and that makes backspacing through sentences difficult. I hope we see some additional customization options for the trackpad & keyboard settings now that those input devices are first class citizens.

Better Safari tab persistence

This is a big one. When I’m typically working I’ll have multiple Safari tabs open as I switch between tasks. It seems like more often than not Safari will try its best to prioritize keeping web apps open even when the user switches to another application, but it doesn’t happen consistently. There are a lot of times where I come back to a form that I was working to add some data to and it refreshes. I’d love some sort of “pro mode” I could opt into if Apple is worried about performance. Let me make use of the insane power & RAM the iPad Pro has!

Multitasking improvements

I’d like to see more options available when tabbing between apps. For one, I’d like more than 6 or 7 apps at a time. In addition, I’d like more options around searching for an app and opening it in split screen, slide over or as its own app. A situation I find myself in a lot is working in one app and wanting to change the music to something different. Rather than switching to the app, making the change and then switching back I’d like some sort of keyboard modifier that could open an app in an “active” slide overview instead. I could then make the song change with my document still open and visible, then dismiss the slideover and be on my way.

Apple should also introduce a picture-in-picture mode for videoconferencing. Just like the PIP videos, I should be able to move the video around the screen or even hide it (showing the ‘tab’ to indicate I’m on a video call). I’d love to use my iPad for video calls given how great the camera and screen is, but it’s fairly limiting given it takes over the screen – and can’t even do split screen!

Better Spotlight typing interface

Make it easier to do a lot of the things you can do with Spotlight on the Mac. Instead of the Spotlight search interface taking over the entire screen, emulate what we see on the Mac with an overlay panel that expands when options are available. Seems minor, but a lot of times I’ll be writing and need to do a quick calculation or search and would prefer the entire screen not be taken over.

Make the status bar more useful for iPad users

I should be able to make use of the status bar on the iPad more like what we can do on the Mac. I’d love a persistent calendar widget showing my next appointment, a music widget showing current playing song, or additional controls around Bluetooth, volume, brightness or more.

Multiple audio sources & control

Right now it’s not really possible to have 2 things playing like music and a video. Additionally, a use case from a few days ago really annoyed me that I hope we can see a fix to: I was playing music on my living room speakers via airplay and wanted to turn up the volume on my iPad to better hear the voice in Duolingo. Ideally, an advanced audio settings pane would allow me to adjust my output volume for multiple apps or destinations.

Conclusion

The iPad Pro is an amazing machine that helps me work or entertain myself in ways that work best for me. On top of that, last year’s iPadOS 13 is a really fantastic step in the direction of making iPads true laptop replacements for most folks. If Apple could focus on a number of the refinements that I’ve listed here as part of an iPadOS 14 release, I think I’d be smitten.

The Deathly Tragedy of American Exceptionalism

From Robert Reich:

With 4.25 percent of the world population, America has the tragic distinction of accounting for about 30 percent of pandemic deaths so far.

Some folks have tried to downplay the extremely high death count numbers in the US by looking at infection rate per 1000 – which does show that some countries like Spain are seeing more infections than we are. However, our death numbers are staggering. I think some of that is attributable to a poor testing strategy – you can have “invisible” infections but it’s much harder to hide deaths. There’s probably some blame to go around for our healthcare system as well, that puts poor folks at a disadvantage relative to those with money.

Our inept leaders and broken unemployment system have handicapped our recovery as well.

We saw some good news last week, relatively speaking, with 2.5 million jobs added but I fear the road to recovery is going to be bumpy.

A detailed timeline of all the ways Trump failed to respond to the coronavirus

From Cameron Peters at Vox:

In fact, there are many reasons the US death toll is so high, including a national response plagued by delays at the federal level, wishful thinking by President Trump, the sidelining of experts, a pointed White House campaign to place the blame for the Trump administration’s shortcomings on others, and time wasted chasing down false hopes based on poor science.

[…]

Throughout the pandemic, however, much of the Trump administration’s spin — regarding Trump’s own response, China’s role, and more — has been misleading, if not outright untrue. Here’s what Trump and the federal government have — and have not — done to respond to the virus.

A sobering blow-by-blow breakdown of the Trump administration’s failed response to the Covid-19 pandemic. No rational person can blame any leader for allowing the disease to land on their shores – this is a truly global outbreak. However, the absolute lack of action, leadership, planning and coordination once we started to understand what was happening is inexcusable.

On a related note, I think this sort of breakdown is a helpful way to put Trump administration’s incompetence into context. I don’t know about you but at a certain point all of the scandal and drama of the past 3.5 years becomes a bit of a blur at some point.

Apple Plans to Announce Move to Its Own Mac Chips at WWDC

From Mark Gurman at Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. is preparing to announce a shift to its own main processors in Mac computers, replacing chips from Intel Corp., as early as this month at its annual developer conference, according to people familiar with the plans.

The new processors will be based on the same technology used in Apple-designed iPhone and iPad chips. However, future Macs will still run the macOS operating system rather than the iOS software on mobile devices from the company. Bloomberg News reported on Apple’s effort to move away from Intel earlier this year, and in 2018.

Apple’s chip-development group, led by Johny Srouji, decided to make the switch after Intel’s annual chip performance gains slowed. Apple engineers worried that sticking to Intel’s road map would delay or derail some future Macs, according to people familiar with the effort.

This has been rumored for what seems like years now, but it appears to be finally happening. This will be a huge shift, and I’m excited to see what the transition plan looks like. I’d imagine we’ll see it first hit the “consumer” lines and work out from there. A couple of questions that come to mind for me are:

  • How will this affect things like virtualization software?
  • What about cross-platform software and games? My Steam library was already decimated by the 32bit to 64bit transition. I’d imagine an ARM transition will finish it off.
  • Will iPad Pros be a test device during the transition?
  • What are the tradeoffs going to be? What are the gains going to look like?

Really excited to see what we learn in a few short weeks!

WWDC20 still lacks a schedule

With WWDC 2020 just 2 weeks away, I was kind of surprised to check out the developer site today to see the same announcement landing page that we saw a month or so ago. I’m still very curious to see what this year’s virtual conference looks like as I could imagine a hybrid model being used in future years.

Will the keynotes be presented in the same format as it is with live audience members? I think it will be for the same reasons that the Bundesliga and the Premier League are piping in fake crowd noise for their games without fans. People have expectations around how these sorts of things are supposed to look & sound, so Apple will faithfully recreate the event at the Steve Jobs theatre or similar.

For everything else, I’m curious to understand how crowd control works when attendance and the financial outlay that comes with isn’t the limiting factor. From what I’ve read from other bloggers that attend WWDC, the networking angle is quite possibly the most important aspect other than getting 1:1 time with actual Apple engineers.

I’m hopeful that me posting about this will mean Apple releases their schedule today around noon. Let’s see if I can jinx them!

Update 6/11: Schedule posted!

Asynchronous Communication: The Real Reason Remote Workers Are More Productive

From The Doist blog:

The trend toward near-constant communication means that the average knowledge worker must organize their workday around multiple meetings, with the time in between spent doing their work half-distractedly with one eye on email and Slack.

I love working remotely because I get to spend more time with family, avoid nasty commute times, get more rest and in a non-pandemic world, spend more time with friends. In addition, I can optimize my day around the rest of my life for the most part to run errands or do things around the house when it makes the most sense to do so.

What I don’t love is being on video calls from 8-5 every day. It leaves no room for any meaningful work outside of business hours, which slowly robs myself and others of their newly-gained additional free time. I think most companies are still trying to recreate all of the ceremonies, processes and expectations of the physical office. What this fails to do is take advantage of the massive productivity gains teams can get from working more asynchronously. If trust levels are high and you work in an environment that’s focused more on results than punching the clock, teams can really crank through work and still maintain a high level of communication.

I recently heard a really interesting episode of Sam Harris’ podcast where he spoke with the founder of Automattic about their history as remote first. There’s a lot of interesting tidbits in there about how companies transition from first trying to replicate their office environment and eventually move towards “enlightenment” – where almost all communication is async and open.

The main tips are to lean into note-taking when you are in meetings to ensure high levels of alignment, handle what you can in slack or email and in higher quality communication than standups in Zoom. On the teams that I work with that have leaned into these practices, I’ve found way more time to focus on making my team better instead of running on the meeting treadmill.

Seven years later, I bought a new Macbook. For the first time, I don’t love it

From Carlos Fenollosa:

This computer is bittersweet.

I’m happy that I can finally perform tasks which were severely limited on my previous laptop. But this has nothing to do with the design of the product, it is just due to the fact that the internals are more modern.

Maybe loving your work tools is a privilege that only computer nerds have. Do taxi drivers love their cars? Do baristas love their coffee machines? Do gardeners love their leaf blowers? Do surgeons love their scalpels?

A comprehensive review with lots to love about the new machine, but the lows are low. While the performance, speakers, screen and build quality are exceptional as always, he points out a lot of issues with the ports, software, and the webcam quality’s complete lack of progress in the past 7 years. I’ve also heard a number of different versions of this quote over the years:

I would have paid extra money to not have a touchbar on my macbook.

I think that on balance, people are just more negative about technology these days but it’s also worth pointing out that our expectations are higher now as we depend on these devices for our livelihoods more than we did a decade ago. I appreciate experimentation and pushing the boundaries of tech but most Apple customers would prefer “it just works” to “thin, light, experimentation”.

How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change

From President Barack Obama:

So the bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform.

He’s right. Voting out national officials is important and something we should be striving for but the place to make a real difference in the fight to reform police departments and our entire criminal justice system is at the local level. I also love this point:

the more specific we can make demands for criminal justice and police reform, the harder it will be for elected officials to just offer lip service to the cause and then fall back into business as usual once protests have gone away.

All too often, these sorts of protests turn into a culture war distraction instead of a catalyst for a discussion on the specific issues. Let’s not allow cable news and social media to distract from the reforms that are needed. Of course, Obama wouldn’t be Obama without thinking this angle through already. He’s linked to a really great (153 page!) plain-English set of resources you can consult when trying to advocate for change in your local community. Additional resources were posted on the Obama foundation website as well.

The bottom line is, police officers in many communities do not see the folks they’re supposed to be protecting and serving as one of them. They’re insulated from their communities, often don’t look like the demographics they serve, and are outfit like warriors due to military surplus programs. No wonder they treat criminals, especially black ones, the way they do.

A lot of cities in the south are sprawling and so concepts like community policing are not deeply ingrained at the level that they should be. But even if they aren’t walking a block or two and interacting with the community, there are other ways they can get involved and make a difference in breaking down barriers between themselves and their community. Turn the corner on that and roll back the programs that allow local police departments to be outfit like they’re going into battle and we might be on the right path.