Do the iPad's missing apps point to a multitasking dashboard?
Tuesday, Feb 02, 2010
Steve's iPad keynote felt just a little off. We got what we wanted, but it still felt a little like the iPad was a vehicle full of potential rather than a self-contained package of productivity. This morning I woke up and realized what was missing: The minor apps. I'm looking forward to the amazing apps that will undoubtably be written in the coming months, but what about the existing apps that the iPhone and iPod Touch ship with? The iPad's home screen isn't just sparse because of all the extra real estate. There are six apps that are simply missing! I've made a matrix of the apps that ship with the iPhone 3GS, the iPod Touch, and those shown on Apple's web site and during last week's keynote on the iPad:
3GS Touch iPad
Voice Memos
iTunes Store
App Store
iPod ✔* ✔*
iBooks ?
*The Touch splits iPod into two apps: 'Music' and 'Video'. The iPad splits it into 'iPod' and 'Video'
The first thing to notice is that the iBook app is missing from all of the promotional shots on Work on these promotional graphics, especially the video shots, must have started weeks if not months ago, and there's been some buzz on the web that iBook was a late addition and wasn't a sure thing, so it makes perfect sense that it didn't make the deadline for inclusion in the promotional assets for the January unveiling. If you check out TechCrunch's hands-on video, you'll see at 1:10 that the iBook app is there, but that there are only eight apps total on the machine. Presumably apps not quite ready for prime time were kept (literally) away from the hands of the press. Far more interesting though are the simple apps that are missing from the promotional materials: Stocks, Weather, Voice Memo, Clock, and Calculator. With the exception of Voice Memo these are all basic apps that have been staples from the very beginning, and it makes no sense that they wouldn't be on the iPad, so why are they absent? I see two options, one of which is far, far more interesting than the other. The apps were left off of promotional materials for aesthetic reasons. (boring) It's possible though unlikely that Steve wanted to underscore the simplicity of the device by making the home screen as clean as possible. This makes the device seem less cluttered and showcases the beautiful Richard Misrach photo that Apple spent good money licensing. I say 'unlikely' because Apple wants to show off what their device can do, and because if this were the case then these 'minor apps' would be on the second page. Only there isn't a second page. The magnifying glass and the dot at the bottom of the home screen clearly indicate that this is the only page of apps. These apps are missing from the launchpad because they're no longer apps. They're dashboard widgets. (interesting) As I alluded to earlier, what Stocks, Weather, Voice Memo, Clock, and Calculator have in common is that they're all simple 'minor' apps that wouldn't know what to do with 1024x768 if you gave it to them. They're intended for quick reference, for quick 'in and out' tasks. In short, they're multitasking apps. It's clear that Apple believes this because with the exception of Voice Memo all these apps were OS X dashboard widgets before the iPhone ever existed. I would put forward that they're going back to their rightful place. The lack of multi-tasking has been a major criticism of the iPad this past week. A more dedicated device like the iPad suffers when you have to exit your browser, book or Keynote presentation just to bring up a calculator or check the weather (or respond to an iChat, but more on that in a moment). Luckily, this is a problem that Apple solved nearly a decade ago in a rather elegant fashion with the dashboard. Imagine if the same concept is lifted wholesale and brought to the iPad. Imagine that a five-finger pinch caused the screen to dim and a bevy of widgets flew in to the screen for quick consumption and calculation, and then were dismissed by another five-finger flick? With props to Entourage, 'Is that something you might be interested in?' It might not be OS multitasking but it's user multi-tasking and, unlike running several apps simultaneously, it behaves nicely. OS X dashboard widgets sit quietly when the dashboard's not up and make their calls and updates quickly when the dashboard is called up. Apps are designed either to be full-screen applications or quick-glance widgets. I'm assuming there's still some sort of occasional polling or push notification mechanism and user notification system so they can be alerted when there's an action they need to attend to like an instant message or a countdown timer. It's also a strong solution for the problem of iChat. Without SMS on the iPad it's clear that instant messaging will need to come to the device, but it's also clear that any practical IM client would have to be able to work nicely simultaneously with the user's primary task. An iChat dashboard widget would fit the bill nicely. Sixty days is a long time to try and maintain excitement for an unavailable product, and it's certain that Apple has a few updates planned between now and the end of March. Will they announce a front-facing camera? Maybe, but I'm more confident about this one. It's too good to pass up.
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Hi, I'm Kevin Fox.
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