Some of my favorite things

I’ve been using iOS 6 since the announcement last June and an iPhone 5 for a few days. None of the changes have been drastic or revolutionary. But the sum total of both the new OS and the new phone is somehow more than the sum of its parts. Obviously, a lot of press has been given to the big new features, but less ink has been given to some of the smaller features. Some of these, for me at least, have been a big deal. These are my three favorite:

  1. Panorama Taking a panorama is pretty cool. I’ve had a panorama app for quite a while, so it’s not foreign at all. But building it into the OS has made people start using it quite a bit more. So has foregoing 3D viewing apps for the basic super-wide picture. This means people post it to Twitter and Facebook and use it like any old picture. Panoramas are new or revolutionary, but making them easy to use and easy to share really is.

  2. Screen colors The screen is taller and the image is closer to the surface of the glass — those are pretty cool things you notice right away. They also became the new normal for me after about 10 seconds. But the richness of having the full SRGB gamut means vivid colors look amazing. I added a lock screen from David Lanham. Every time I’ve turned on my phone I’ve blown away by the colors and contrast of the screen. Every time. It really is a vast improvement over prior generations.

  3. Speed It’s really fast. No, seriously, I mean it. This was not a minor incremental change. It’s running some complex apps faster than laptops I own. This processor screams. And it’s made me rethink where the boundaries of mobile and desktop will lie in the next few years. What would it mean to have a processor like this in a notebook or desktop machine? Perhaps Xcode on iPad (or something like it) is not as far off as I thought it was yesterday.

Why my iPad is NOT my laptop.

I’ve read a number of articles recently about using your iPad as your only computer, about all the wonderful text editors for iPad, and all about all the work getting done on iPads.

The problem is that writing, posting to a blog, and reading blogs are some of the tasks that an iPad is perfectly suited to do. So there seems to be no end to the number of writers that can tell us about their iPad productivity. It’s a bit of a self selecting bunch, though.

These articles aren’t very useful to folks who need to do things the iPad is not very well suited to do. And while the iPad is indeed a magical thing, there are still many things it can’t do well.

So, this is my counterpoint to those articles.

Speaking personally, my job revolves around: writing and debugging software, manipulating production graphics design, and supporting customers. I’ve tried to do all of these tasks on an iPad, and while all are possible, at least in part. There isn’t any task that’s made easier by the iPad. And most are made much more difficult.

Editing Code

There are almost as many text editors as angry bird rip-offs on the App Store. But while many are great for editing Markdown prose, there are just a few that are descent code editors. And, let’s face it, comparing them to BBEdit or TextMate, none rise to that level.

After trying a couple, I changed tack and just went old-school. I used an ssh app to remote log-in to my Mac and used vim to edit code and compile on the command line. In theory, I can do just about everything short of submitting to the App Store from the command line.

I’m a force to be reckoned with when using vi and bash is my friend. Nonetheless, vi and bash are no match for the efficiencies of Xcode’s code-completion, header indexing, and many other Obj-C specific improvements. I love working in vi, but I have to face facts, I work much faster in Xcode. We all switched to IDEs for good reasons.

Graphics Design

While there are a number of good iOS tools for manipulating photos and a few for creating design from scratch, there is no rival to CS5 or CS6 on iOS. That may be a high hurdle to clear, but even if we give iOS a handicap and pose the question, “Is there any single design task that’s more efficient on iOS?” I think the answer is still no, but I’m optimistic that this is temporary.

Email Support

The last one is a bit more debatable. I suspect there are some that can do email support from an iPad. For me, the challenge is task-switching. My email support requires bouncing between an email app, several tabs in a web browser (support queue, customer database, paypal, etc.), and the customers file/app/screenshot/website. Even with iOS 5 4-finger gestures, and dropbox on my side, I find switching between more than a couple modal tasks in iOS to be painful at best. And when it also involves a few tabs in Mobile Safari, and it’s seeming random cache flushing behavior, my frustration reaches critical mass.

A MacBook Air may not have nearly the pixel count of an iPad 3, the battery will not last half as long, and there is no LTE. But what it lacks in hardware it makes up software that does far more and does it far more efficiently and the ability to multitask with grace and ease.

I don’t think this situation is permanent. For now, though, the iPad remains a very nice web browser, book reader, and doodle pad. That is, when I can pry it away from other family members, who think it’s a great portable Wii.

My LTE Chowder

Streaming data eats through data plan. News at 11.

The WSJ ran a story on how users are surprised that an LTE iPad can eat through their data plan quickly. Dalrymple poked fun at it, and Gruber chimed in, and the Mac community had a good laugh. I laughed too.

But, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I think the Mac community is dead wrong here. I know that Gruber and Dalrymple aren’t often wrong and I’ll probably have to eat my hat, but I’m going to bet that I’ll stay hungry.

Stupid n00bs need to learn

Laughing at LTE neophytes feels very familiar. I laughed when people clicked on spam emails because they were ignorant of spam. Then spam got tricky enough to trick me. I laughed when only n00bs got viruses because they were ignorant of how to stay away from them. Then viruses got good and I got infected. Laughing at ignorance is funny right up until things get complicated and you become the ignorant one. Then it’s not so funny anymore.

Abundance

Mobile wireless data services have, at least in recent years, provided an abundance of data. You buy a service capped at some large limit, 5GB per month here in the states, and that’s plenty for the vast majority of users. Even as a geek I’ve only come close to the 5GB limit a couple times. I’ve never gone over it. The reason is that 3G data is slow. Watching streaming services like Netflix and Hulu on 3G is painful at best. This isn’t to say that people don’t ever use up their 5GB. Some heavy users surely do. And many folks probably hit it once in a blue moon. But for the vast majority of users it’s always plenty.

Scarcity

Now with LTE, we suddenly have a big fat pipe to to empty our data plan quickly. And a beautiful iPad to view the data on, just in case we needed the extra motivation. Suddenly, that 5GB of pre-purchased data isn’t quite as limitless as it seemed last month. Worse, each extra 1GB of data is going to cost you about $10.

What’s the big deal

Is this wrong? No. RF bandwidth is costly and scarce. Carriers have to pay for that bandwidth and the equipment to use it. The carriers must charge us for using it or lose money. As much as I like to gripe about the carriers, I don’t want them to go out of business or stop innovating.

The big deal is that for the past 5 years wireless data has been marketed as practically unlimited. The LTE iPad changes that. LTE’s speed means that you can blow through your monthly allotment in an afternoon of YouTube videos or a road trip streaming kids videos to the back seat. It’s not just that you can use up your data plan, it’s that it’s become easy.

An analogy

For the past few years we’ve been driving a Smart car to run our few errands. The 5 gallons of gas we pre-paid for was plenty to get things done. Heck there was gas left in the tank on most months! Now, iPad 3 owners have traded in their Smart car for a Hummer. They can finally tow their boat while transporting most of the baseball team. It has so many more uses! But that 5 gallons of gas sure does go fast. And it doesn’t help that gas is $10 gallon and you can only buy it from one gas station. All of a sudden that Hummer isn’t so useful.

Claim chowder

Just so it’s clear, here’s my claim, all prepped and ready for chowder: I think a whole bunch of novice users are going to blow through their limits in the next two months. I think it’s going to be so many that either Apple or the carriers will have to respond in some public way shortly thereafter. I think this will take about two months to brew, another for people to get the bill and freak out, and bit more for the response. If it doesn’t happen by July, I’m wrong. I don’t think this will adversely affect iPad sales in any measurable way. I think the result of this will depend greatly on the response — but I’m not making any bets about what that might be.