I’ve written so often about my substantial qualms with Apple’s products that I probably should open a glue factory. The recent stories about Apple’s quasi mea culpa regarding the Mac Pro, and the anticipated new-form-factor iPhone coming this Fall/Winter, however, lead me back to the well yet again.
What is a Pro?
The rumors that have come out recently about the next generation of iPhone(s) highlight some substantial issues that Apple faces as it tries to bring out “Pro” branded products that are aimed at…well, who are they aimed at, actually? Because it doesn’t really seem like they’re aimed at a certain class of “Pro.”
The new MacBook Pro, for example, introduces a gimmicky touchbar at the top of the keyboard. It’s a thin and light computer, sure, but it maxes out at 16GB of RAM. Which is a lot, but surely there are Pros who wouldn’t mind having more. You can’t have it, though.
The iPad Pros, too, are currently marketed as “Super. Computer. In two sizes.” Clearly, Apple is feeling some heat from people using Surface (and Surface-clone, such as my Miix 700) devices–and liking them. And so Apple is trying to make the argument that the iPad Pro is the one device you really need. Yes, they’re pretty tablets, and I know a handful of attorneys who use them, and don’t mind them, but I find them less than optimal. Which I’ll get back to in just a second.
Next Generation iPhone(s)
Every year, at about this time, there’re always rumors of what the next iPhone will look like. For the past 2 years, it’s been pointless to worry about because iPhones 6s and 7 look almost exactly like the iPhone 6, with the exception that the 7 doesn’t have a headphone jack, nor does it have a mechanical home button. Otherwise, they all look the same. Rumor has it that there will essentially be a 7s, which….*yawn*
In addition, though, there will be a special 10th anniversary iPhone …. 8? Who knows? But it will purportedly ditch the home button and side bezels altogether, and switch to an OLED display. Which plenty of Android phones have done already. But this new iPhone will also apparently have dual front-facing cameras? (Or will all next generation phones have this feature? It’s a little unclear…) Which means better selfies, I guess.
Hardware is Only Part of the Equation
Revamping hardware, and putting in a few extra bells and whistles is all well and good, but at some point, the hardware melts away, and you’re left actually having to use the thing. You can have a Ferrari body, but if you put a Yugo engine in it, no one will want to drive it. To be fair, the processors Apple designs for the iPhones and iPads are not slouches. They are sprightly little things. But the operating system…? Ugh.
And this brings me back to why an iPad Pro (or standard) simply cannot be my “computer.” iOS 11, to be debuted at WWDC in a couple of months, is supposed to introduced a refreshed user interface. The design language we’ve been living with since iOS 7 is, in my opinion, an improvement over the language used through iOS 6. However, there are still a lot of annoyances. Not being able to put icons wherever I want, for example. Or the fact that we’re still using a grid of icons at all.
The issues aren’t just cosmetic. Siri is all but useless, serving mostly to amuse and argue with my kid. The baked-in mail and calendar apps have improved, but they’re still not great.
The most glaring issue, though, is the lack of an accessible file system. My electronic file for any random case includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint docs; PDFs; jpgs, gifs, pngs, and tiffs; and various audio and video formats. They all coexist happily in a special folder on my hard drive, which can be synced to remote storage. But that folder can also be put on a thumb drive, which can be plugged into my Miix 700, and lo and behold, they’re all right where they’re supposed to be, easily accessible, easily worked with, and easily moved aside. I don’t even need access to the internet to work with them.
“Where are you that you don’t have access to the internet?” you might be asking. Well, courthouses, for example. While the Harris County courts have public wi-fi, it’s not secure, it’s slow, and it isn’t reliable in every courtroom. Montgomery County also has wi-fi, but I’ve had to ask prosecutors to give me their guest passwords to hop on it.
“Well, fine, wi-fi is for losers, LTE is where it’s at, anyway.” Sure. If you’ve sprung for the extra expense of getting the model of your device that includes an LTE chip. And if you’ve paid for the extra line on your phone plan. Even then, when you’re on the 18th floor of the Criminal Courthouse, in the middle of the brick, stone, and metal building, your LTE coverage is going to be unreliable. (This would, admittedly, be less of a hindrance in a place like Montgomery County, where you’re at most three stories in the sky.)
Using your phone as a wireless hotspot, too, would potentially be a solution, but anyone who’s done that can tell you how frustrating that can be.
Still: you can’t tell me it’s more convenient to access files over the internet than it is to simply pop a thumb drive into the side of the device.
The other area where the iPad Pro shows real problems acting as a “computer” is in its support for peripherals. The iPad Pro has one port: the Lightning port at the bottom of the device. My Miix 700 has three: 2 USB and one micro HDMI. That means that if I want to plug my device into the courtroom’s a/v system (which is based on HDMI in most courtrooms in the Houston area), all I need is this $6.50 cable:
By contrast, if I want to do the same with an iPad Pro, I need, at a minimum, Apple’s $50 lightning Digital AV Adapter. Which, for what it’s worth, has terrible reviews. And you still need to buy an HDMI cable. (Theoretically, perhaps, you could order one of those $20-some-odd cables off Amazon, but they’re pretty skeezy.) For what it’s worth, the Digital AV Adapter does allow you to charge your device at the same time you’re using video.
Not Trying to Sneer
The point of this post is not to say “neener neener Appl3 1s t3h suxxor” (I’ve written a few of those posts, to be fair). Rather, I’m pretty much stuck using an iPhone for the foreseeable future because it’s the least bad smart phone out there and it handles Exchange reasonably well. Since I’m stuck using it, I’d like to see it, and iOS, become better.