iPad 13 – App Developers Must Improve Their Finished Product; Thoughts To Start My 2nd Laptop-Free Year

Just one year ago I took possession of Flatland, my iPad 3g. And just this week I’ve received Flatland 2 – my new iPad2 (64GB, 3g, black with Red case).

A laptop free year. After getting Flatland, it took a while for it to dawn on me that I had immediately started living Laptop-Free. In fact, in the past year, I carried a laptop only once (when I had to do a Skype presentation from Des Moines to an audience in Czecklosovakia).

This is quite significant. I travel about twice a month on business. And that travel extensively covers the US – from Florida to California to Boston to Oregon and points between. On these trips I leverage the iPad extensively. I create spreadsheets, Word docs, & presentations, show presentations on projectors, play back video, stay in touch, write blog posts, write scripts, review our TV work in progress, and do a whole range of other work. Flatland has been fully sufficient – even much better than my previous laptop.

It’s also interesting that around Portland I never carried a laptop much. But I take my iPad all the time and regularly get things done at the coffee shop, lunch, or waiting at my son’s swimming lesson.

Apple, great job! I might even have to bite the bullet and use the word “magical” (tho’ I despise it’s use in marketing anything but Disneyland).

App Developers? I Sure Hope You Get it Together…and SOON! After my year-long experience, App developer weaknesses are my one lingering disappointment in Flatland.

Seems that App developers must be a pretty thick headed group. The Apps they create (a) refuse to take advantage of the pad’s strengths and/or (b) abuse the screen by wasting it on “white space” that abuses my screen space productivity.

A small handful of examples:

– Why is it that Huffingtonpost’s iPad app is so weak? (I’m not alone. Many other iPad owners complain about it. (It’s weird, because they’re iPhone app is good.)
– Why can’t WordPress get a good app? One year later, it remains buggy, tricky to use in some cases, and seems to have been left to fall apart on the sidelines.
– Why don’t Apps like CBS Sports, Bloomberg, and many more have the most basic interface fundamentals – like indicators to tell you when you’ve selected something? This is a user interface basic!
– There is no single App that does what I need to do with Office documents. There are 3 that each have strengths. But each has a major weakness. And none of them work well with MS/Word tables.

App after App simply doesn’t live up to the potential it SHOULD bring to the iPad. Obvioiusly, I’m getting by quite well. But it remains disappointing that every App I download shows up one or two significant weaknesses in major areas. My guess is that these weaknesses result from a few things.

App developers learned their skills with phones but haven’t grown up to tablets. This is too bad. Survival will require that they figure it out. Phone users are more forgiving – tablet users aren’t at all. With a tablet, size is everything and I want apps that use the screen size to become more effective – not just to show off how cool they can be. That doesn’t mean to avoid white space. It means that if you use white space, use it to deliver a better app – not just meaningless space or cool hype.

Developers Don’t Charge Enough. So many apps are cheap – really cheap. Clearly, they are too cheap to be well crafted. Maybe this is driven by the mythology of the companies who build little gimmicks for no investment then sell millions of them at $1.99 each. But I’m pretty well past those cheesy cheap apps. It’s time for real ones that we pay more to buy. How much? Clearly I’d not hesitate to pay over $20 for the right high quality app.

Android’s strength may lead developers to make apps that are lowest common quality (Android). My students describe Android as “the Windows of mobile operating systems”. And that’s not far off. So I’m guessing at this leads to Android “dumbing down” because the Apps feel like they’ve been built with the same hamfisted approach we find in many PC applications.

Of course, history suggests that developers will probably blame Apple (lack of tools, communication, kickbacks, so forth). So I’m ready for it. But I doubt it (having worked briefly at a developer and watched the developer battles since the early 1990’s). In fact, my first software development project was in 1982. And I’ve watched software progress with tremendous interest since. The mistakes I’m seeing are mistakes of an immature industry.

App Developers Need to Catch Up to Apple. The way I see what Apple has achieved in the past 10 years is that they turned technology quality into consumer quality. Nowhere will consumers put up with the fundamentally poor finished quality that is delivered in electronics – except in electronics because they haven’t had a choice.

But in the iPod, iPhone and iPad, Apple has delivered fully consumerized electronics products. Despite Apple’s figuring this out, the rest of the tech manufacturers really haven’t. They’re still delivering products with the same fundamental messiness that they were delivering in 1995. (The specifics may have changed, but the overall experience remains the same.)

Other than game developers, App Developers haven’t figured it out either. Many of the game developers already consumerized their software – but they had to because their “under 10 year old” audience required it.

Apart from the big games, I wouldn’t say that there are many Apps of exceptional consumer quality. Yes, I can get things done. And, yes, the Apple business apps are the best ones (although they still have some unusual failings).

App developers, help us all out. Set a higher standard for yourselves. Set a standard that your apps have to deliver dramatic value and exceptional satisfaction among the mass audience (and not just the tinkering digi-rati).

And I’ll bet that the first one who does will dominate the world within a very short time. Because those of us who live in our own Flatlands will become your fast friends.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

My Ipad – Post 10 – iPad Input Strengths and Press Misinformation

We simple citizens expect that major news organizations work hard to find the truth about topics. And we expect they won’t pass along mis-information coming from competitor’s attack machines.

But it doesn’t work that way. In politics, Clinton’s 1992 team found that the first story to be filed almost always established the one “storyline” coming out of a speech. The rest of the press would repeat that storyline – no matter what else important Clinton might have said – thus creating the surprisingly bland range of topics covered by news outlets.

This press laziness is the only thing I can find to explain the miserably poor coverage of iPad “input”. Following the Apple announcement, pundits formed a theme that “there’s no input to the iPad”. And that theme appears in nearly every article about the iPad.

Except, it’s not true. Consider all the input options:

…The on-screen keyboard is far better than the frivolously shallow news reports would suggest.
…Using a full size keyboard (dock or Bluetooth) is so effective you can write books on the iPad.
…There are many options for getting files to and from the iPad (email, iTunes, FTP, document sites, etc…).

Whats unusual is the approach to files. Apple turned files on their head. On a desktop or laptop, we seek out the file to open the application. On the iPad, the application keeps track of the files. So we open the App in order to get to our files.

Why? I don’t know – they didn’t consult me. But this shift delivers simplicity. Files don’t only live in the app. They get to the iPad through an iTunes file cache, through email, or downloaded from the web. From that point, they live in the app.

It works quite well once you get used to it. And it gets me thinking that a file driven system is pretty archaic. (How many times do you need to open Word files in Excel?)

The lack of a USB port seems to confuse techies. My guess is that adding a USB would add an entire level of complex structures to make files independent of programs. Not a good trade off when you already have simpler options.

Fortunately, the storyline hasn’t caused a problem for Apple yet (they’ve sold plenty). But I still think Apple should confront the issue.

How? First I’d put an iPad in its keyboard dock in each store so people can use it. When people use mine, it takes about three or four keystrokes before their eyes open wide in surprise. (“Its just like a computer!”)

And, Apple should work with press outlets to get the story right. They’re leaving an information void on the topic. Information voids usually fill with damaging information.

Lacking an Apple response, their competitors are using the press to great advantage. Bill Gate’s comments on the iPad last week brilliantly capitalized on this storyline. And with the predictability of cattle returning to the barn, the wire stories about Gate’s comments picked up his erroneous comments unchallenged.

Sadly, though, the technology press only rarely suffers for being wrong.

Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett

My iPad – Post 9 – The Good Old Days of Mobility

In the dark ages before desktop computers (way back in the 70’s and 80’s) we were able to work lots of places with pens and pads of paper. At General Dynamics, I used to sit at outside picnic tables or in the lunchroom to sort out problems (and ponder whether the paper cups with the quality tagline “Nothing Short of Right is Right” were a subliminal political statement).

Then, the desktop computer arrived – a tremendous step forward. But we also became chained to the desktop. Laptops returned some limping mobility. But not enough.

So it’s one of those funny ironies that the iPad mobility isn’t new. It’s what we used to have. And mobility is why the iPad works for me. In fact, it’s only after living in iPad Flatland I find how limited laptop mobility really is.

…When in Portland, I live a very mobile work life. Being chained to my desk often kills off the creativity. Work happens in the coffee shop, at home – all around. And while I very rarely carried my laptop, I always carry my iPad.

…When travelling, I need to keep in touch and write as I go. It doesn’t get any better than an iPad when on the road.

All this, of course, is made possible because I WRITE a lot on my iPad. Yup. I write/type – whatever you want to call it. I regularly compose 4 to 10 paragraph emails, blog posts, and other written material with the onscreen keyboard. And in the keyboard dock or with a wireless keyboard, I can write 10,000 word reports.

Week by week I’m getting more proficient with the touchscreen keyboard. Rather than being a “throw away” like the iPad nay-sayers claim, it turns out to merely be something new you need to learn.

Of course, iPads aren’t for everyone – no product is for everyone. But as a businessman who thrives with mobility, it is a work changer.

Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett