iPad Week One: Feature Requests & Observations

Today marks my first full week with the iPad. It goes without saying that I love it and keep finding more uses for it, especially as nifty apps keep appearing with each passing day.

I think it was a couple of days ago that I started to settle into truly using it rather than just marveling at it. By this I mean it is becoming routine to use it in very normal, productive ways rather than hopping around among apps just to see what’s new. I followed a similar cycle with the iPhone when it was first released and I’d hazard a guess that this is not an unusual experience for most new iPad owners.

halfpress.com meets iPadThis past week has also given me a chance to consider a few things I would love to see happen on the iPad (and, to a degree, the iPhone as well). Most of these things will depend on implementation by Apple and a few could happen through the contributions of third party app developers.

iWork Putting its Head in the Cloud(s)

I’m a big fan of Google Docs, which we have recently adopted here at Sweet Briar College through our migration to Google Apps for Education. We’re still waiting for Google to increase functionality on the iPad beyond that of the iPhone, so for right now it’s mostly an iPhone-esque, predominantly read-only experience. Some enterprising app developers are beginning to make Google Docs-connected apps (which, frankly, is probably the more versatile way to go), but it will be a while before those mature.

The iWork suite of Pages, Keynote and Numbers on the iPad is quite cool. There are a few bugs and limitations in 1.0 that have spurred user reactions ranging from an indifferent “meh… works fine for my needs” to a holy war-magnitude threat to return their iPads (to the latter group: come on, seriously!?). I’m still experimenting and, aside from needing to tweak my more HD video-laden presentations a bit to appease iPad Keynote’s current limitations, it seem to be working fine for me.

One of the major complaints from people is the round-trip process for moving documents in and out of the suite. One method is dropping them into their appropriate slots in iTunes at synch time. This works well. Another method, of course, is import and export via email. I believe it was John Gruber in this past week’s MacBreak Weekly that correctly pointed out that this is cumbersome and leads to unsynch’ed copies of your work being made in the process. In this age of cloud computing, synching our works in progress is something we’re worrying about less often either because of centralized working copies or through really well designed synching mechanisms.

My request for Apple is that the iWork suite become cloud-connected. As Alex Lindsay has stated many times (including, again, in this past MacBreak Weekly), Apple’s iTunes approach of using Internet-connected applications vs. web pages is pretty ideal. In his example, he often compares the more elegant user experience of searching and buying items through the iTunes store (a desktop and iPhone/iPad application) to using Amazon’s web-based MP3 store (even considering its relatively well-integrated iTunes helper app). I agree with him 100%.

So, returning to the iWork suite, I’d like to see them continue to be the apps that they are today (fully functional as traditional apps on the desktop and iPad), but with the option to sync live with “the cloud”. That cloud might be some aspect of MobileMe (least desirable option) or an extension of the iWork.com component Apple has been developing for document sharing and (somewhat disjointed) document collaboration.

In essence, this becomes far more like Google Docs in its centralized, cloud-based, access-from-anything-or-any-device approach… but rather than an in-browser application, you’re using the standalone iWork suite that we know today. You can still work locally without ever using the cloud component as you do today. You could start locally and then move to the cloud or you can work disconnected from the cloud with an automatic re-synch as soon as connectivity is restored.

Let me emphasize that I am referring to relatively live synch’ing of your works in progress… NOT just saving periodically to an Internet-based shared volume. Without consciously saving (or even closing the app on my desktop), I’d like to pick up my iPad and resume where I left off at my desk… then reverse this arrangement again minutes, hours or days later.

This opens the door for live Google Docs-like collaboration on documents as well. And if Apple wanted to extend an olive branch and/or take the high ground in the supposed Google/Apple feud they could even make it a front-end to Google Docs much like a number of the third-party apps I mentioned above. This last thought is probably impossible, but I figured I’d throw it out there.

Whatever the case, I’d relish being able to use the iWork suite on my iPad and my MacBook Pro seamlessly with no copying much like I achieve today with Google Docs… but I’d be doing it with device-native apps that are certainly more powerful than anything that can currently be implemented within a browser. While Google impresses the hell out of me with what they can do with javascript, AJAX, etc… a cloud-connected, dedicated application will still have the upper hand functionality-wise right now. We’ll revisit that issue in a year or two as the browser capabilities increase through wider adoption of HTML 5.

iPad Printing Support via a Network Client

The iPad currently has no means of printing, even to network-connected printers (is there any other kind of printer these days!?). Having pretty much hated printers, printing and the headaches that go with printer drivers for years, I can’t say this is at the top of my list right now. I’d very much like to keep most document sharing completely electronic anyway so we can save some more trees and reduce clutter. That said, even I find a need to print things sometimes and I do know that, for increased adoption of the iPad, others are going to need traditional printing support sooner than later.

I’m pretty sure Apple does NOT want to get into the printer driver scene on the iPad. Their intentions for stability and simplicity on this platform would seem to exclude that from ever happening and, frankly, I applaud them for that. Yes, I’m applauding Apple for a stance that I have just projected on them with no knowledge of their true intentions… but this is a wish list on my blog, so I can live in whatever fantasyland I choose without needing to acknowledge your indignant sputtering. 🙂

Anyway… I’d love to see printing implemented via PDF and communication with a desktop/server network daemon. This could be a tiny, light-weight service running on desktop Macs, OS X servers and even Linux or Window boxes if Apple wanted to provide the apps or open the standard to developers. In a nutshell, it’s there on your desktop or server to interface with your printers and utilize their required printer drivers. All the iPad has to do is locate this service via Bonjour (or direct IP address configuration in settings) to hand off the PDF’d content and the desktop takes care of the rest. There would be little or no need for intervention even on the desktop side making the process seem to be a direct iPad-to-printer conversation.

At most the iPad would offer the usual choices of portrait or landscape and a few other basics. Even the model of the printer would be pretty irrelevant, I’d think.

No, it wouldn’t be the all-powerful, options-laden process of printing at your desktop… but the goal here is simplicity. We’re all starting to accept that iPads are meant to be a simpler approach to computing that doesn’t fully eliminate the need for desktop systems in every situation. Besides, if the iWork suite was cloud-connected, you’d just open your document on your desktop without ever even “transferring” it from the iPad and could proceed to then knock yourself out with the usual exotic printing options.

iTunes Cloud-Syncing of Audio/Video “Bookmarks”, Playlist Contents, Etc.

This concept is probably closest to Amazon’s Kindle Whispersync. In fact, I might have even heard that Apple is going to do something similar for their iBooks with the iPhone OS 4.0 introduction of iBooks on the iPhone this summer.

Whatever the case, what I’m asking for here is a way to wirelessly synch where I’ve left off in my videos, podcasts and audiobooks. I frequently move between my desktop and my iPhone or iPad mid-stream while listening to podcasts and audiobooks or watching videos such as movies, tv shows and video podcasts. Video podcast mobility has really increased during this last week with my iPad. I find myself watching something like MacBreak weekly at my desk, then switching venues to the kitchen to continue listening and watching out of the corner of my eye on the propped-up iPad as I prepare a meal or bake bread.

Keeping the location where I left off in any of these media sources is pretty well accomplished by iTunes, but it requires USB-connected synching. Now with an iPad and an iPhone, I also have to be sure I tell each device to synch or I might walk out of the house with my iPhone an hour off from where I stopped listening to an audiobook on my iPad.

I’d love to see Apple establish a media implementation of the same kind of wireless, push-based syncing we already get for mail, bookmarks, calendars and contacts with MobileMe. If I pause or stop a video on my desktop, by the time I get to the kitchen with my iPad, I’d like the option (if not the default behavior) to be a resume from that very point. When I climb into the car a few hours later and jam my iPhone into the in-car dock, I’d like to resume the audiobook I was listening to on the iPad without having remembered to dock it and cross-sync through iTunes at my desktop.

If I was traveling without my laptop (a far more likely scenario now), I’d not have iTunes available and iPad to iPhone synching would just not happen at all.

This same function could apply to the contents of playlists (relying, of course, on the same media existing on all devices).

Along these same lines, having full-blown iTunes synching of my iPad to my MacBook Pro without USB would be plenty nice. 802.11n is quite fast, so even large files would come across pretty quickly. User-adjustable thresholds for the maximum size of files to wirelessly synch would cater to your individual amount of patience (and home WiFi speed).

Tethering of the iPad through my iPhone 3G

I covered this in my pre-iPad post a couple of weeks back, so I’m not going to do anything more than re-iterate my hope that this is coming. I still think AT&T would prefer to rope people into iPhones (like I’ve been for three years now) over selling month-to-month, non-contract 3G service to iPad owners. Those of us maintaining iPhone contracts and buying non-3G iPads are still generating plenty of income for AT&T and Apple… so how about some love, guys?

On a side note: AT&T, please hurry the hell up with lighting up 3G in the Lynchburg area. It’s in Charlottesville, Richmond, DC… I’m surrounded by it as long as I’m out of town. 🙁

Tethering the iPhone GPS/Camera to the iPad via WiFi or Bluetooth

Again, I discussed this a bit in my earlier pre-iPad post. In a nutshell, I’d love to see Apple implement apps (or, better yet, OS-level tools that are not app-specific) to share iPhone cameras and GPS datastreams via Bluetooth. Prop your iPhone in a little stand on the cafe’ table and you’re doing video conferencing without either device having a front-facing camera. Your iPhone 3G in your pocket could be feeding a nice stream of standard GPS NMEA sentences to my iPad for on-foot navigation while on one of my frequent trips to, say, Washington, DC. Granted, the latter scenario is less needed since the far more portable iPhone still strikes me as a plenty adequate in-hand guidance device… but you never know what cool new things could be realized with the extra iPad screen real-estate. Once again, I’m asking for Apple/AT&T to reward those of us who are paying subscribers rather than punish us for not buying 3G iPads. Combining the two devices seems to be a win for all parties.

Thus endeth my latest overly long screed about the iPad. I’m sure I’ll have more feature requests and thoughts soon, so look for future posts as time goes on. I’m sure you simply can’t wait for another 10,000 words on the topic. 🙂

2 Responses to “iPad Week One: Feature Requests & Observations”

  1. Robert Boyle says:

    Interesting thoughts… I agree with most of what you say (although I will admit to have skimmed a little!). Couldn’t fill in your poll since my vote would have been “got it sight unseen as soon as I could… 3 days later”. More on my own first impressions on my blog: http://rboyle.co.uk/2010/04/10/ipad-first-impressions/

  2. Mark Stagi says:

    Great observations, thanks! I also agree they should put iWork into the cloud that would be great.