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Dear Apple: don’t let a trackpad turn the iPad into a Mac

Good morning and congratulations on another week. I intended to write about some of the problems I had while writing my Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra review – in particular my astonishment that Samsung is again reviewers like me ask to be beta testers. It is unthinkable that the company did not realize that there were problems with the camera and it was also very strange that it was not so much a hint for a software update for me until the day before yesterday. I say it again: never buy anything in the hope that future software updates will solve it. Wait.

But we handled it fairly well The Vergecast will be released later today, so please listen. Instead, to the surprise of no one considering my obsession with how companies are trying to get large-screen computers beyond the UX paradigms of the 1980s and 90s, I am interested in an iPad rumor about a keyboard.

The news is simply that Apple is reportedly releasing an iPad keyboard with a trackpad later this year. It is a good scoop of The information. A good piece to read afterwards is about something Jason Snell commented on the iOS beta released earlier this month: better support for keyboard functions such as modification keys. A third thing to note is that Apple software boss Craig Federighi said, “If you like what you’ve seen us do with iPadOS, keep an eye on it, we’ll keep working on it.”

If you are wondering when this can happen, the Apple-o atmosphere has all worked on the belief that Apple will hold a Spring hardware announcement. There are too many rumors to fit in one event, but a new iPad Pro and a new keyboard would certainly succeed. Given all recent cancellations of tech events due to the corona virus, Apple might be able to reconsider its plans.

In any case, I have many thoughts about the iPad – which you may have guessed since I have written so often about the evolution of the iPad as a computer in recent years. I’d like to speculate about the physical shape and design of the keyboard, but I think this is better until later when we have a better idea of ​​what it might look like.

Instead, I just want to point out that the iPad is an operating system that is currently hostile to mouse input. I do not mean that as criticism, but I think it only mentions facts. I know that there are people who have enabled the “AssistiveTouch” mouse function, but what it mainly does is that you can emulate your finger taps with a mouse. That means it’s actually not that handy with two things that make mice stand out: tap small UI buttons and work with text.

I insist that I think Apple’s recent attempts to improve text manipulation, such as selecting, copying, pasting, and even cursor placement, are not very good. And since AssistiveTouch currently only works like a finger, it doesn’t help.

I bring this up because I have a radical idea: what if the only thing that provides trackpad support for the iPad is better text manipulation? I actually think that’s it right movement for Apple, at least for a start.

With the new iPadOS last year, Apple was incredibly ambitious. It has added all sorts of new ideas and interaction models to the user interface, some of which were confusing. In my original review I gave Apple the honor to finally make the iPad complicated and I stick to that. But I also believe it is not intuitive, because the functions cannot be learned gradually over time – you should actually view or read tutorials, which is incredibly un-Apple-like.

I bring this up because the iPad now has a lot to do with its overall user interface and I think the last thing Apple should do is add another variable to the mix. Unless Apple is planning its second major reconsideration of how we will handle the iPad in two years, it is simply a heavy burden for users.

Because, as I said before, using a mouse is basically a weird thing – it’s actually an abstraction level that goes beyond just touching the screen. It only feels ‘intuitive’ because so many of us first learned to use one, and because ‘desktop’ operating systems teach you how to gradually learn new skills while using them. They are consistent and learnable in a way that the more advanced features of the iPad are simply not.

I don’t want Apple to fall back on the mainstay of just using desktop OS paradigms to solve the user interface intuitiveness problem. The last thing we want is for the iPad to become a Mac. It’s on a different path and it would be a shame to throw those ideas out of the window so that we can have more traditional windows on the iPad.

But I am not an anti-trackpad. I really think it would be a huge help for text selection and would allow some app developers to create smaller touch targets on their apps. Plus, and this may be an anathema to some, the iPad now makes extensive use of right-click style actions (long to see them), and a trackpad can help with that.

If you haven’t done this for a while, go and have a look The groundbreaking iPhone introduction from Steve Jobs. Pay special attention to how he talks about styluses and fingers. It is now easy to forget, but the iPhone was a radical reinvention of user interfaces compared to what most people had used. Only a small amount of apps on smartphones are designed to be used with a finger – call to SnapperMail, my favorite email app for the Treo and the subject of a beautiful Walt Mossberg review from 2003.

However, none of the smartphone operating systems prior to the iPhone was optimized for fingers. They all needed a stylus or physical buttons to get around. The iPhone UI was revolutionary because it only had one button – the home button – and was designed to be touched from the ground up.

The iPad continued that legacy, only on a large screen. Adding a trackpad to that seems like a good idea, but I sincerely hope it doesn’t take away all the benefits we get from a purely touchscreen interface. We already have the Mac, the iPad does not have to be one either.


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