Month: April 2021

The iPad needs the software to catch up with its hardware

In case you missed it, Apple unveiled new iPad Pros April 20th for their Spring Loaded event. These new iPad Pros are beyond anything that was expected from a hardware perspective.

Here’s a quick list of the best new features:

  • M1 chip inside
  • 5G Capability
  • 12.9” iPad Pro gets an all new mini LED Liquid Retina XDR display
  • Up to 16GB of RAM available
  • Up to 2TB of storage (with SSDs that are twice as fast as previous drives in the iPad Pro)
  • All new 12MP front-facing camera with ultra-wide lens and Center Stage

It is clear that Apple is leaning hard into the idea that the iPad Pro can be a laptop replacement. According to Apple, the M1 processor offers 50% faster CPU than the A12Z and 40% faster graphic processing. it’s clear no punches were pulled.

The difference in hardware between the 2020 iPad Pro and the 2021 iPad Pro isn’t a small jump, it’s a large leap over the chasm between the Mac and the iPad. That said, I can’t help but wonder what about the software?

These latest iPad Pros aren’t looking to be an improvement in the user experience for the next version of iPadOS 14, but instead it is looking at iPadOS 15 and beyond.

It is almost a given that Apple has another trick or two up its sleeve for the iPad this year. They showed their hand for the hardware in the new iPad Pros but they have yet to flourish what iPadOS 15 will bring.

I’m not the only one that thinks that this is just part one of a two-part reveal for the future of the iPad.

Christopher Lawley spoke briefly about his thoughts on what is going to happen with iPadOS 15 saying this in his video about the event:

Seeing as this iPad both got the M1 which gave a huge CPU and GPU performance and a crap ton of more RAM this makes me think that there’s still another shoe to drop on the software side. That there is going to be other stuff that we’re gonna see probably at WWDC or maybe later this year.

Christopher also mentioned the release of the iPad Air 2 in his video, which was a very compelling example of the last time Apple threw everything into the next iPad. While it seemed like overkill at the time, iOS 9 started to make the iPad a pro user computer and it needed that new hardware to make it happen.

It reminds me in a lot of the iPad Air 2, the iPad Air 2 when it came out it was completely, it was overkill, it I was so powerful. But then we got iOS 9 and multi-tasking came along. So I ‘m really curious to see what this other shoe is going to be that can drop.

I remember being so elated with Split Screen and Slide Over when it came out that I truly felt like it was the beginning of a fantastic run for the iPad. So far I still feel like we are in the midst of a transition for the iPad Pro to be an optimal choice for users wanting a fantastic computer.

However, I think that until the software catches up with this new hardware upgrade we will continue to see people comparing it to the Mac. In fact, Jason Snell raised an interesting point about this in his Macworld article.

This is the crux of the issue: Apple’s decision to market the iPad Pro as being powered by an M1 processor. As a marketing move, it’s solid. There’s been so much positive press about the M1 that wrapping the iPad Pro in its halo makes sense. (In truth, the M1 is an evolution of the processors Apple has been building for the iPad Pro for years, so the  real story is that the Mac has adopted the iPad Pro’s processor, not the reverse.)

Here’s the problem with this clever marketing, though: it draws a direct parallel between the iPad and the Mac. And while the Mac definitely lacks in some areas (no touchscreen or Apple Pencil support, for instance) you can basically do anything on your Mac, including run a bunch of apps that originated on the iPad.

The iPad Pro, in contrast, can’t do all sorts of “pro” things that a professional-level user buying a device starting at $1,099 might want to do. They can’t run Mac apps (though if you connect a keyboard and trackpad, you certainly could!), and Apple has failed to build iPad-optimized versions of its own professional apps.

Harry McCracken from Fast Company also had thoughts about the distance between hardware and software for the iPad Pro in his Fast Company article.

Ideally, a device’s software and hardware become so symbiotic that you stop thinking about the distinction between them. Over Apple’s long history, it’s achieved that state of zen more often than any other company. However, the iPad—at least in the iPad Pro era—has yet to reach it. The platform consists of remarkably advanced hardware running an operating system and apps that lag in sophistication.

To make the disparity even more obvious, new iPads don’t follow the dependable, synchronized release schedule of iPhones, which show up in the fall running a newly minted version of iOS. Buy one of these iPad Pros upon release, and you’ll probably be a bit antsy waiting for iPadOS 15—which, even if you’re brave enough to install a beta or preview version, is months away from availability.

Even though I am a huge advocate of the iPad as a computer, I can’t help but agree with Snell and McCraken here. It is a two-sided coin for Apple to give the iPad Pro an M1 chip. One one side it is a fantastic jump in specs and gives the iPad more power than ever before. On the other, it also directly links the iPad and Mac together because for the first time ever they have the same chipset.

I can see reviews coming a mile away claiming that the M1 chip is overkill for the iPad Pro and that it isn’t worth the same price as the MacBook Air, or that users should save money on the iPad Pro and just get the MacBook Air instead. As of right now, I can’t come up with any new arguments on behalf of the iPad than I had before this announcement.

My hope is with iOS 15 there will be more compelling reasons for people to buy the iPad over the MacBook Air.

What iPadOS 15 Needs

Here is a small list of things I believe needs to be in iPadOS 15. This isn’t what I expect to see at WWDC, but instead it is what I believe needs to be included in the iPad for it to really contend against the Mac as a laptop alternative.

Better Multitasking

It has been 6 years since Split View and Slide Over were introduced on the iPad. While these two features have been a staple for any pro user of the iPad very little has been improved upon it over the years.

I think it is high time for Apple to come up with a new system for multi-app workflows. Whether it is something more elegant and easier to manipulate or something that offers even more power I just want Apple to improve upon this feature set.

Pro Apps

I was really hoping that with the new iPad Pro announcement Apple would also give us a taste of Apple’s pro apps on the iPad as well. Apps like Final Cut, Logic, and Xcode are all fantastic examples of showcasing the power and ability these M1 chips can handle. Alas, nothing of the sort came of it. Instead Apple showcased third party apps that have pushed the envelope of what the iPad can do for years now.

As much as I love seeing Apple showcase developers and third-party apps I can’t help but feel that it is a crutch Apple leans on year over year instead of using their own apps to push the envelope on the iPad.

Widgets on the Home Screen

When widgets were introduced on the iPhone the whole world exploded and began customizing the look and feel of their devices. Sadly, when iPadOS 14 came out that ability was only contained for a portion of the first home screen page and nowhere else.

This was a blunder from Apple and it needs to be rectified for iPad users everywhere. I have wanted my iPad home screen to be more of a command center allowing me to get glimpses of everything happening in my day. I also want my widgets to be like mini-apps available on my home screen to use without needing to open the full app.

According to Mark Gurman this is already on the way.

The company is planning the most significant update to the device’s Home Screen since first launching the product in 2010. Following a similar feature for the iPhone introduced last year, Apple plans to let users place widgets — miniature apps that can display the weather, upcoming appointments, stock tickers and other data — anywhere on the Home Screen. Users will also be able to replace the entire app grid with only widgets.

Wrap Up

I am excited about the future of the iPad, and anyone who saw that keynote should be as well. This progress for the iPad Pro is tremendous and I cannot wait to see what Apple has in store for iPadOS 15.

That said, if Apple doesn’t deliver with some kind of power user features what was this all for?

Apple Needs to Remove Weekly Subscriptions, Here’s Why

As I was scrolling through Twitter last Monday, I came across a tweet by Federico Viticci, editor-in-chief of MacStories, showcasing an app that is part of an ongoing problem in the App Store.

This isn’t the first time I have seen an app try to do something like this to dupe users into agreeing to a weekly subscription, and it seems to be a growing issue.

Simply put, these app developers are creating simple and easy-to-make apps with misleading names and app icons to try and trick you into installing them. Once you do install them on your iPhone or iPad, the app quickly asks you to start a “Free Trial.” Seven days later, you’re now giving this app money every week for their minimal work.

Thankfully, the app mentioned in the tweet above has since been removed, either by the developer or Apple. Still, the concern is warranted as there are plenty of other apps that will show up like a forever game of whack-a-mole.

If ever there was a time that I think Apple needs to remove the weekly subscription it’s now.

History of the App Store

In order to understand why the weekly subscription isn’t necessary we first need to talk about the origin of the App Store and App Store subscriptions.

The App Store Announcement

The App Store launched in July 2008, but before the launch Steve Jobs had to introduce it.

After speaking about the SDK for iPhone, Jobs had an example of what might happen after a developer created the app they want to share and sell to others.

You just spent 2 weeks, maybe a little bit longer, writing this amazing app and what is your dream? Your dream is to get it in front of every iPhone user and hopefully they love it and buy it, right? That’s not possible today. Most developers don’t have those kinds of resources. Even the big developers would have a hard time getting your app in front of every iPhone user. Well, we’re going to solve that problem for every developer, big to small. And the way we’re gonna do it is what we call the App Store.

After Jobs goes more into the 70/30 revenue split between developer and Apple, which has since changed, he then starts talking about what kind of apps Apple will not allow.

Will there be limitations? Of course! There are going to be some apps that we’re not going to distribute. Porn, malicious apps, apps that invade your privacy, so there will be some apps that we’re going to say ‘no’ to but again we have exactly the same interest as the vast majority of our developers which is to get a ton of apps out there for the iPhone and we think we’ve invented an incredibly great way to do it. Which is the App Store. It’s gonna reach every single iPhone user.”

It is clear that, from the start, Apple and Jobs both knew that there needs to be rules and guidelines to keep nefarious no-good-doers from their App Store, and they are willing to put their money where their mouths are.

Apple created an App Store Review team with the job of handling all apps that are submitted to the App Store and approving them before it becomes available to the public.

From the Apple App Review website:

We review all apps and app updates submitted to the App Store in an effort to determine whether they are reliable, perform as expected, respect user privacy, and are free of objectionable content.

The guiding principle of the App Store is simple – we want to provide a safe experience for users to get apps and a great opportunity for all developers to be successful. We do this by offering a highly curated App Store where every app is reviewed by experts and an editorial team helps users discover new apps every day.

App Store Subscriptions

Three years later, in 2011, Apple made the decision to allow developers to charge users a recurring subscription with the same revenue split as single-pay apps in the App Store.

From Apple’s original press release:

Subscriptions purchased from within the App Store will be sold using the same App Store billing system that has been used to buy billions of apps and In-App Purchases. Publishers set the price and length of subscription (weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, bi-yearly or yearly). Then with one-click, customers pick the length of subscription and are automatically charged based on their chosen length of commitment (weekly, monthly, etc.). Customers can review and manage all of their subscriptions from their personal account page, including canceling the automatic renewal of a subscription. Apple processes all payments, keeping the same 30 percent share that it does today for other In-App Purchases.

It has been over 10 years since App Store subscriptions were announced by Apple. The subscription-based app wouldn’t gain traction until years later, but Apple knew that if developers were to make their revenue recurring it would be a win-win for Apple and the developers.

A side-effect of this are the grifters and scammers that are utilizing this as a “get rich quick” scheme.

After 13 years of existing I wonder if the App Store has started to lose its grip on the netting protecting users from malicious, scammy, and nefarious intended apps.

Scammy Apps Aren’t New

There have always been scammy apps like the one in the tweet above, and my thoughts are the same as Matt Birchler when he commented on Viticci’s tweet.

As Matt said, I have never seen a weekly rate used in a meaningful way. It is always meant to be something that is deceptive and gross. All of the subscriptions I have are either monthly, annually, or lifetime. I have never seen any useful subscriptions in the weekly, bi-monthly, quarterly, or bi-yearly rates as the App Store also allows.

The only case I have seen for the need of a weekly subscription is for a newspaper, but even that seems to be a moot point. I cannot see the benefit of having a weekly subscription for a newspaper over monthly or yearly for either the user or the publication. If anything, the weekly subscription is meant to be a tool to make the total cost of a subscription to look lower than it actually is.

Take a look at the New York Times, for instance. They charge people $1 a week, which doesn’t seem like a lot. That said, if you change the phrasing to $52 a year it can cause people to put their pocketbooks away rather than pay the premium. If there is indeed a subset of apps that have weekly rates in a meaningful I would love to know.

A New Subscription Model

If I were able to wave a magic wand and become the person in charge of the App Store for a day I would remove all kinds of recurring subscriptions except for monthly, yearly, and lifetime. The other subscriptions are then required to change to one of those three options in order to allow for in-app subscriptions again. The case for a weekly recurring subscription is all but unnecessary, much like the bi-monthly, bi-annual, and quarterly subscription options as well.

I have reached out for comment from Apple, and will update this article if/when I hear back from the company.

How to Check Your Subscriptions

If you want to edit the subscriptions on your Apple account you can do so in various ways.

If you want to do it through the Settings app you can go to Settings >iCloud (top bar with your face on it)>Subscriptions.

You can also view your subscriptions through the App Store app by tapping on your icon in the top right, from there you can tap on Subscriptions.

If you want to get there faster you can use this shortcut.

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