Apple’s iPad Problem – There’s NOT an App for That

Steve Jobs is clearly hoping that the Apple’s new “magical and revolutionary” iPad will mesmerize the masses into not seeing all that they left off to obtain the “unbelievable price” of $499. Put aside the beautiful screen, the fancy graphics, the multi-touch interface, the blazing speed, and all you are left with is a slightly bigger iPod Touch and a slightly modified iPhone OS. I was hoping that the long awaited Apple “Tablet” would be a real computer, not just a bigger clone of Apple’s crippled mobile platform.

Apple’s iPhone advertising claims “There’s an App for that” for almost every conceivable situation. Well I’m sorry Mac fanboys, but there’s not. There are literally dozens of applications available for any self respecting computer that are missing in action from the iPad and its mobile predecessors. Entire categories of applications are nowhere to be found. Apple cannot expect us to take the iPad seriously as a computer until these glaring omissions are rectified.  Examples include:

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File Management

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File managers give users control over the computer’s file system. This is not a new concept, Apple! Finder was introduced with the very first Mac in 1984, and Windows 95’s Windows Explorer replaced the venerable Windows 3.x File Manager 15 years ago. I want to choose how to organize my files on my computer. I want to choose where to put programs, the optimal folder structures for my data, how to use aliases or shortcuts to quickly access often used files, etc. You get the point. I have spent enormous amounts of time, sweat, and tears coming up with the ideal file structure to keep my computer running and make sure I can find my files. Don’t make me throw that all away!

Now I will admit that with great power comes great responsibility. Moving a file to the wrong place can render a program – or even the entire computer – inoperable. And I cannot count the number of times I have had to help less competent users than myself find files because they cannot remember where they saved them. But that is the whole point! What use is all the knowledge I have amassed if I can’t lord it over the clueless masses.

Please don’t treat us like children who want to buy something and just have it work! The iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad do have file systems, but it is hidden from us, the users. Stop trying to protect us from ourselves Apple! I think I now better than you where my files should go on my computer.

File Management – There’s NO App For That!

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Disk Utilities

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Macs have always included a wonderful program called “Disk Utility” which almost (well sometimes) magically repairs the inevitable disk corruption that occurs from normal use (like users mucking around with the file system). We all know that computers are fragile machines and that we need a good stable of tools to keep them running. If “Disk Utility” doesn’t cut it for you there are several 3rd party programs that might or might not solve your problems. I know when and when not to run “Repair Permissions”, boot into “Safe Mode”, reset the PRAM, and so on and so on.

When I got my first iPhone I just assumed that it  would include some version of “Disk Utility”, just as every computer I have ever owned did. Sadly, with Apple’s new “Touch” devices your long-held assumptions about what a computer is and what you have to do to keep it running have been thrown completely out the window. Although to the best of my knowledge none of the 10s of millions of Touch products has ever had any disk corruption, or permissions issues, or been infected by a virus, mark my words. The day is fast approaching when the dreaded “b-tree errors” start appearing on iPhone, and then you will hear the cry of…

Disk Utilities – There’s NO App For That!

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Customizations

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Customizations on these so called computers is a joke. Changing the iPhone’s background is customization? Again, this is my computer Apple. On my real computers I can make my Macbook Pro look like Windows 7 or my Lenovo ThinkPad look like Mac 10.5 (although of course the functionality doesn’t change and it does make it kind of confusing and hard to troubleshoot). There are dozens if not hundreds of 3rd party apps – like TinkerTool for the Mac – that put the user in control of the user experience. You can literally spend days getting your Mac to look just like you want to, not how Apple’s human interface specialists dictate. And I am a big boy, I will take responsibility if the theme I patched into Snow Leopard causes a kernel panic. I know how to fix that, remember?

Customizations – There’s NO App For That!

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Extensions

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Don’t even get me started on Extensions. Look, a computer is not a computer unless the user can extend it’s functionality; it’s just an appliance. Take only one example, Unsanity’s Application Enhancer, which provides an entire Framework to “load plugins…containing executable code into the running applications.” What does this mean in plain English? Unsanity and any 8th grader with a free copy of Xcode (and too much time on their hands) can release a “haxie” that injects their code into Mac Applications like Safari, Mail, etc. providing functionality that Apple’s engineers in their infinite wisdom decided wasn’t needed, or too “dangerous”. Is this wonderful app available on the app store? Nope – I checked.

Extensions – There’s NO App For That!

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Time Machine

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If I have heard it once I have heard it a thousand times – it’s not if you will lose a hard disk it’s when.  Apple introduced Time Machine (and Time Capsule) to make backing up your Mac as easy as possible and Time Machine was pushed as one of the most important features in Leopard. Even so, it is AWOL on the Touch devices. I suppose Apple thinks that just because they hide the file system, sandbox apps, and don’t allow third party customizations or extensions – in short, completely change how we think about and use computers – that we will no longer need to obsessively back up our devices.

True, when upgrading the iPhone Touch OS, the device is backed up to the host computer. If you need to restore your data you can just re synch it.  But still, I would feel a LOT better if I were able to choose the backup progam of my choice, the media, the schedule, etc. But – you guessed it.

Backups – There’s No App For That!

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Apple wants us to think of the Touch devices like we do appliances, everyday devices that require little training and just work. Maybe I am just caught up in the past, but I can’t get my mind around the iPad as a “computer” because it doesn’t correspond with what my experience has told me what a computer is. One last example. I bought a small ebook when I wanted to upgrade the Mac OS. There were backups to create (2 sets), options to consider, contingencies to ponder. The upgrade process was much nicer than it was 10 or 20 years ago, but the general principals were the same.

When I upgraded to iPhone OS 3, I clicked a button, drank a glass of milk, and it was done. How boring…

I’ll try to keep an open mind, even though it is difficult to think that decades of hard-earned knowledge might become obsolete.

I will have more to say on this topic at a later date but I need to spend the rest of the afternoon working on my 73 Camer0 – changing the oil, get a new set of sparks, and giving it  a good tune up.

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