82 thoughts on “iPad May Be Magical. Apps Aren't. Here's Why.”

  1. well thought out nice article, but I think people like to read more about android v/s ios and google v/s facebook and how one is winning over the other. That seems to trigger comments and discussions. I wonder why.

    1. Pissing contests are more fun than actual fact. It starts out with children playing games with imaginary guns or super-powers. I can fast-draw my finger than you can and I shot you dead so how can you be alive. Guys at bars are always talking about their choice is better than yours. It’s great fun as long as nobody gets hurt. Besides, iOS is winning and is the best mobile platform in the world and maybe the universe. THE. WHOLE. UNIVERSE. Top that! See how I win that argument. Sweet.

  2. Until app development is done on a PC, app will be like PC. Apple should support app development kit on iPad.

    1. I wonder if that is indeed the case. I think most people who develop for tablets have access to them and should know the capabilities of that device. I think it as ability to dream up new experiences.

      Regardless, if I am missing the nuance in your comment, please expand.

      1. not to be presumptuous… but i don’t think that’s the point he is trying to make… it’s not about just technically doing it on a tablet or desktop.. it’s about the mental baggage that comes from working on a desktop…

        people need to fundamentally change the way they think about these things… the world is not flat any more.. it takes an extraordinary person (i.e. these people are few and far beween) to be creative enough to think out side of the box and envision how things can work in this new world.. when development itself is routinely done on tablets people, the average dev will think like ‘spherical world people’.. they won’t any longer need to be extraordinary and have great vision.. it will just be the way things are.. not implying that innovation would no longer be necessary.. but the traversing a great mental chasm, doing a big mental transform won’t be a hurdle anymore and many more people will be producing quality, appropriate software products, services etc… eventually people will actually think differently and won’t have all that mental baggage getting in their way of just designing for this new “post PC era” that we are living in.. you see Job’s in the initial iPad presentation even eluding to the fact that he was having trouble letting go.. it’s going to take a little while for people to let go of the preconceptions before we see the real potential here… we are just at the beginning here..

      2. It’s the “curse of knowledge”. The more we know something the harder it is to imagine not knowing it. The more familiar a developer is with developing PC applications the more difficult a time they will have creating something that leverages all of the strengths of a tablet.

    2. This does not make sense to me. PC ‘enables’ you to do development for iPad or iPhone or even to launch a rocket. Besides, what ever we develop, we put them on simulator anyways. What Jobs point hints also is that the idea, the spark that is needed and development make it possible, for iPad.

      I think of iPad as a blank slate with set of capabilities and develop what ever we can imagine.

    3. Development *is* done on an iPad. You attach a Mac to an iPad and run Xcode on the Mac and you develop. The Mac in that setup is an iPad accessory, a keyboard/compiler, and the iPad runs the app. The fact that all the iPad has to do is *run* the app (not host a code editor, run a compiler job) enables the developer to see their app 100% in context.

      If not for the Mac, you would need a second iPad running an Xcode app for iPad, and you’d have to add a keyboard to it and have a mode that opens up the Unix Terminal and pretty soon you’d be wanting to put an Intel chip in there to get 25 times faster compiles and then you’d have a Mac.

      The Mac+iPad development setup is also great for Web development, running BBEdit, Photoshop, Apache, PHP, etc. on the Mac and seeing your work in context in the iPad browser. This is better than toggling back and forth between BBEdit and a browser on one computer.

      If Apple didn’t already have the Mac, they would have to invent it for the sake of iPad. They are perfectly symbiotic, they are not separate at all.

    4. doctorspoc good points you make. But in a way you are helping make my point. I think we need some apps to standout and yes there won’t be as many, but the few that will actually benefit.

      PS: I asked Prakash, mostly because I think i might have been misreading his point of view.

      1. I think we might be there when we have an iPad IDE that exploits the iPad. Where you accomplish most of what you want to do through gestures and object manipulation. When it starts to feel like sculpture, painting, and conjuring.

      2. agreed.. once a few strong, unique, forward looking archetypes are established the platform will move forward at a much quicker pace..

  3. Hi Om, great article. Challenging software developers to forget about how they built software for the desktop is exactly what needs to happen to move productive (as opposed to “neat”) tablet use forward.

    I would like to add another company to the mix that you have mentioned – Ge Wang and his team at SMULE. His philosophy is to look at each and every piece of the iPhone and iPad and see how they can use it to make music. Their approach is not from the software out but from the capabilities of the device in. I think this echoes what you are saying here.

    1. Rob,

      Thanks for the comment and calling my attention to SMULE> My bad for forgetting them because when they launched I was totally rocked by the capabilities. I think that indeed is the right approach. My apologies to Ge Wang for him not being in the article.

  4. Does the non 3g version support location awareness? I thought on the ipad GPS support was only on the 3g models? Do the wifi only versions support skyhook/Google positioning?

  5. Agree in general, but I’d qualify that ‘Apps aren’t magical’ statement with ‘yet’.

    ‘Post-PC’ is exactly right – huge opportunity that is certainly centered around iPad today, but by no means exclusive to it. We’re in very early days.

    1. Yeah, it’s exclusive to iPad today. We’re talking about the iPad app platform becoming more “magical,” that is to say iPad-specific in their usage. The other device makers are still at a much earlier stage of trying to make a magical device. They do not even have any apps yet, let alone ones we can criticize. Maybe one of them will soon, maybe all of them will, but it is a much harder task than is made out by a wishful thinking I-T analysts.

      Also, other device makers all seem to be doing widgets only (Java, Dalvik, AIR, FlashPlayer) not native apps specific to the device. Writing a widget to run on Mac, Windows, Ubuntu, and Android is not going to make it tablet-specific. It’s the same problem we see with Web apps, where the PC is the lowest common denominator, even IE6 in some cases.

  6. Great article, Om. While the iPad doesn’t “have” GPS as you note in the above comment, it is location aware. Actually it surprises me that Apple didn’t add GPS considering all the outdoor use shown in the “how the iPad was used in 2010” video. Stunning omission IMHO as an iPad could otherwise be the ideal car computer. Clearly room for competition.

      1. This is one of the reasons why Apple can maintain lower prices for iPads while their competitors can’t, and in the same time have a healthy margin on them, too. They don’t add everything that their competitors add or in the same quality. They add fewer components and of higher quality, but in the end their devices end up cheaper.

        I know it has been hyped up that Apple locked the market for most tablet components, but I don’t think that’s as true as most people think it is. For example, The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 was supposed to have a 8 MP back camera, while iPad 2 only has a 0.7 MP back camera and a 0.3 MP front one. I think if Android competitors would make a tablet with the exact same specs as iPad, they might actually be able to price it at $450 or even $400.

        Too bad most of them are still not smart enough to prioritize specs properly, and think that adding an 8MP camera to a tablet would actually help them sell it for $700. They also make the same mistake by adding a 3G chip to their *entry level* tablet (or by releasing the wifi one much later), probably a bit forced by carriers, too. Apple adds $130 for the 3G chip alone. Most people will prefer the wifi only version, so they are pricing themselves out of the market when they add $100 to the entry level tablet. Hopefully, they will smarten up by the 2nd wave of Android tablets, and learn how to plan them properly with price in mind first, then quality of components, and then the number of features.

    1. iPad 3G has GPS, cell tower locating, and Wi-Fi base station locating. iPad Wi-Fi just has the Wi-Fi base station locating. However, they all have Location Services, which abstracts that all away. So from an application developer perspective, the app just has to ask the iPad “where am I?” and the iPad always answers. There is no technical reason for apps to ignore location.

      1. This is a big country. WiFi outside the major metros is far and few between, way too far to get triangulation. The only way it’s going to really work and be ubiquitous is if all the devices have a gps chip.
        At the moment I’m in a medium sized town coffee shop so it knowns my location but two blocks away it doesn’t have a clue.

  7. Agree there’s still a lot of magic yet to come from creative developers. I believe even apps like the spreadsheet, which you describe as an exercise in futility, can be re-imagined for the touch device. And when that happens, it might not even be a grid of cells anymore…

  8. Thanks for a very good article. You are sooooooo correct. Apple has created something extremely exciting. The possibilities are endless… but the MAGIC is the synergy of the software and the hardware:

    Hardware + Software = MAGIC

  9. Great article. I’m an aspiring app programmer myself and this is great to see into the minds of knowledgable users.

  10. Regarding “Cloud Services” – which you want to make apps like GarageBand more “magical”: The biggest problem to having cloud services is that it costs A LOT OF MONEY for a developer to add on cloud services. Someone has to pay for the servers, the internet access, and the electricity and the office space and the engineers to run cloud services. You also have to have a steady stream of income to do so – e.g. a subscription service. A one-time fee to purchase the app just won’t cut it.

    1. James

      I think from the cloud services perspective, I think integrating with third parties is a good way to overcome the cost problem, especially for smaller providers.

      IN a similar vein, even AWS and others have cloud-based offerings that scale with the business. That said, your point about going beyond one-time fee makes perfect sense and more developers should be thinking about it.

  11. Great analysis. But but miss developers these opportunities? Missing tools? Missing education by Apple? Too much “old school” thinking? Did Silicon Valley become complacent?

    Angry Birds and Shadow Cities should be a wakeup call!

  12. As steady lover of tablet computers for now nearly 15 years (I’ve tried many kinds), I was exited with the arrival of the first iPad, but actually it was a let up. Yes, now I use it often – like you describe it. But it is consumption device – not creation. So now i perceive iPad same as television – mindless brain stealer. Nothing changed with iPad 2 – so no incentive to buy one. The problem is Apple close environment. Strict and changing on the whim rules for admission make development of many innovative apps risky or impossible. iPhone/Ipad is actually no real cloud device. Apps are operating in separate sandboxes and inter-app communication is crippled and restricted. There is no common file support and even simple moving files from computer or USB device is very difficult. No flash means, that a lot interesting of the track sites are closed. Media compatibility is restricted to official DRM closed, expensive and mainstream media content. No P2P or XXX content… Generally it is a device for well behaving and boring rat racers. And suffocating atmosphere of Apple orwellian sect means that even having fun from beautifull industrial design of many Apple products is spoiled.

    1. There is nothing that actually suggests this is the case.

      If you believe today’s apps aren’t “magical” or truly “creative”, then you can’t say it’s because of the “closed” environment, as being closed has nothing to do with what kind of app you make.

      In addition, Android is definitely “open” (I can only assume that’s the contrast you’re trying to draw), and yet the apps available are in the exact same class or direct ports — Android has not demonstrated that it is anymore “creative” than iOS apps.

      The restriction of the app approval process has only to do with whether you abide by Apple’s guidelines, not what your app actually does – you can make your own bookstore, you can program *anything* – as long as, Apple says, you give them their cut.

      You’re reading too much into what you think is magical software. You assume that a lack of XXX content or P2P content actually supports your point – in fact, I’d argue their absence is actually a sign that Apple intends more for the App Store to be for consumers, and not for nerds or roamers of the dark corners of the internet.

      Your points don’t make the sense you think they do.

    2. Please, please, please just stop with the “it’s not for making stuff” argument. That has been thoroughly debunked. Just because you do not use it creatively does not mean it is not being used creatively.

      Do you not see the GarageBand app Om cites in this very article? There are hundreds of music creation apps on iPad that are similarly better than the ones on a Mac because of the touch interface. I have personally written hundreds of songs on iOS devices. I know about 10 other songwriters who have done the same. The iPad can instantly turn into an 8 track recorder/mixer with 60GB capacity and 10 hour battery and USB audio interface. When inspiration strikes, you are seconds away from capturing it. I sold my “real” portable multitrackers because I got tired of them always being out of battery juice and storage space, and I always had an iOS device with me for other things.

      There is much, much more to creativity than PC style typewriter creativity. Most people do not even use a PC (6 billion people, 1 billion PC’s) and will be MORE creative with iPad than a PC because iPad turns into painting tools they already know how to use.

      There are even many, many professional writers using iPad and their favorite Bluetooth keyboard to bang out books and other long-form writing because iPad actually turns into a better typewriter than a PC does. Not a better page layout or publishing system necessarily, but a better writing system. A quiet place to bang out 10,000 words, sometimes with a PC nearby for research.

      Another interesting example is user interface designers. These people almost all can make Photoshop sit up and beg, but for years, they have made their initial designs in paper notebooks, even though what they are making is fundamentally digital. They want the opportunity to make 25 sketches and then scan the best one into Photoshop as a template for their first mockup. Today, it is common for those 25 sketches to happen on an iPad, then email the best one to a Mac and work in Photoshop.

      Business people … whiteboards … iPad: mobile virtual whiteboard.

      In short: creative people are being creative with iPad. Yes, it is also a great interactive TV.

    3. Oh yeah, I also wanted to say that your other points are all wrong, too. They don’t hold up to actual real world evidence.

      > flash

      … is PC software. If you want it, buy a Wintel tablet. The Web is moving full speed away from it towards W3C HTML5 and ISO H.264 audio video because now that IE9 has shipped, all mobiles and PC’s and set-tops come out of the box with 100% HTML5/H.264 support.

      > Media compatibility is restricted to official DRM closed,
      > expensive and mainstream media content.

      You can’t argue FOR Flash and AGAINST DRM. The online publishers who are still Flash-only are using it for the DRM.

      And you are wrong about iPad again. You can put any media you like into iTunes on Mac or PC and sync to iPad. You can access any content you like in the standard HTML5 browser. And the device itself supports standard ISO audio video, and standard HTTP streaming. There are apps that will pull video streams from your Mac or PC or other sources. App Store is optional. The HTML5 application environment on iPad is 100% open and actually predates App Store.

      > No P2P or XXX content

      Wrong. Put your P2P or XXX content into iTunes and sync, or access through the Web. iPad caused XXX publishers to move almost instantly from FlashPlayer to HTML5/H.264. There is a TON of porn on iPad (uh, so I have heard).

      > even simple moving files from computer or USB device is very difficult

      There is an app for that. Install Air Sharing. Sheesh. Your iPad will appear to other computers on your network as a Bonjour file server, it will show on your Desktop like a USB disk except wireless. On the iPad, you will see folders, files, zip files, all kinds of servers, viewers for PDF and Office and movies and music, a whole PC-style setup if you want it. You can copy 20GB of MP3 over Wi-Fi and play them in Air Sharing. You can open documents from Air Sharing in other apps and save documents from other apps into Air Sharing. You can do all the computery thongs you think iPad lacking because you don’t know what you are talking about.

      Finally, all your “Orwellian” talk is just BS. Users are spied on and victimized by malware and denied software updates to force them to purchase new devices on other platforms, not on iOS. Users are forced to be systems integrators to keep their bulky, expensive, committee-designed devices working on other platforms, not iOS. Developers are forced to work for free on other platforms, not iOS. Users bow to an I-T/carrier privileged class on other platforms, not iOS. If anything, the criticism you could make of iOS is it is Randian (hyper-capitalist), not Orwellian (hyper-communist … although Orwell himself was anti-communist, “Orwellian” refers to the setting in “1984”). Everything on iOS is market-priced and sold profitably and there is a feedback loop to serve the customer better or lose your profit. The user is not promised anything for free and is not obligated to look at advertising or have their personal information sold or even sign up with a carrier because there is always a Wi-Fi version. You either buy in to iOS or you don’t, your choice.

  13. I personally find Zinio to be the best magazine reader instead of using 10 different publication specific apps, but I do agree with you that there is much more room for innovation. I actually don’t really like Flipboard because I have too many Facebook friends and don’t care what half of them are doing so then I can only use it as a news reader which it isn’t very good at, so I use Reeder instead to sync with Google Reader.

    1. I’m also an avid Zinio user, although only a few of the magazines that I subscribe to (National Geographic, PC Magazine, PC Pro) have taken advantage of the digital format to make a better reading experience. The standalone magazine apps that I’ve tried have the same problem, and they are using similar technology to Zinio, so the capabilities are there, it’s just the publishers not taking advantage. As an example of what I mean, National Geographic have pop-out slideshows and videos in the digital version of the magazine, whilst PC Pro offers full text of articles in a single column with control over font size for optimum readability.

      I’m also a Reeder user, and that definitely takes advantage of the iPad without sacrificing the reading experience.

  14. Steve did mention that Apple created these apps to inspire developers. “If Apple can do that, I can certainly do better… it sets the bar pretty high”. See video at 38:50 mark.

  15. This article goes exactly with what I mentioned on Twitter that iOS apps seem far too sandboxed. I owned iPhone’s from 1-3GS and have experienced Android with a Captivate and now the Atrix.

    Shareability is far easier on an Android phone and I always find myself having to just email myself on iOS if the app doesn’t support instapaper. On Android, install the app and the usability is everywhere. I truly think Apple will fix sharing and social in general with iOS 5 which should help that problem.

    This iPad app problem extends this problem and applies to what Om is saying.

  16. OK. I don’t who this person is, but he’s not OM Malik. Show yourself you villain. What have you done with OM?. Quick somebody get Steve Jobs on the phone. We need a couple hundred dollars to offer the kidnapper to get OM back. OH GOD. How could this have happened? Just when we need him the most. There is so much work to be done to continue the self-congratulating iPad 2 release. We can’t face an iPhone 5 release without our most ARDENT cheerleader. Please, who ever you are show some compassion. Think of all the grandmothers, and children and techless souls at the mercy of unscrupulous Android promoters. Only OM stands in the way of these poor, defenseless NOOBs.
    Suppose these fragile users were to get into the hands of a Droid X or the new XOOM. First they lay their favorite app in the middle of the middle home page. Then they organize all their games on home page number five. The next thing you know they’ve got a picture of their grandbaby as their wallpaper. It’s all over then. They’ll be snortin widgets like a Crack Queen. This could be the end of clueless smartphone users as we know them. We need to be SCARED, VERY SCARED. Anybody with information of the where abouts of OM Malik, FOR GODS SAKES, tweet Walt Mossberg immediately.

  17. Your comments about taking more advantage of location inside of iPad apps has made me think about some of the apps that I regularly use. The BBC News app, for instance, whilst very good in its use of the larger screen and touch interface, could use location to give me local news alongside the UK and world news. Similarly, the New York Times or International Herald Tribune could push UK news further up if they know that’s where I’m reading.

    My biggest concern right now, though, is that not enough streaming music apps are a) taking advantage of the iPad’s bigger screen, and b) taking advantage of the multitasking in iOS 4.2 in order to continue playing in the background whilst I use another app. Spotify, for instance, has yet to take advantage of multitasking, and I would use it a lot more if it did.

    1. Spotify? Spotify will be gone soon since unless they get a special deal with Apple, they won’t be able to pay them 30%.

      You should instead put your hopes that Apple’s own streaming app, which will be the only one available for iOS in the future, will be able to do what you want. And if it won’t, tough luck.

      1. Wow, you must be smoking something good over there. Have you even used Spotify?

        As for Apple doing streaming music, I’m not holding my breath on that one.

      2. Yes, I’m a Spotify user, and I really like it too, not sure what this has to do with discussion about their business model not surviving Apple demanding 30%.

        So, please tell me how Spotify will be able to stay on iOS if Apple demands a 30% cut of the £10/€10 you pay for the smart phone version?

  18. I think you hit the nail on the head. Most app development work for tablets to date is coming from a PC frame of reference. The antecedent to the PC mindset was mainframe computing – exactly why Xerox couldn’t see what they had when they developed the first GUI & mouse interface -which Apple subsequently used to start the whole PC phenomenon and Microsoft so sucessfully commoditized. We are on the verge of an entirely different approach to consumption and use of information, which even Apple has yet to fully grasp.

    1. You missed a generation of PC’s (Apple started the “PC phenomenon” in 1977 with Apple II, which IBM cloned in 1982) but your point is good. Notice that the first Mac had no command line, character mode apps, or even cursor keys (even though it has all of those today) so that developers were forced to create actual Mac apps, utilizing the mouse, proportional fonts, graphics, sound, and other unique new features. They couldn’t just port over Apple II apps. Microsoft created Word and Excel from scratch for the Mac because they had nothing to lose, they had no old character-mode apps.

  19. One of the issues that keeps magazine apps from being as great as we can imagine on the iPad is the restriction preventing apps from downloading any additional code libraries. Whatever interface elements an app ships with is all it will ever have. Magazines can only download static image and data files. No new objects. This is a challenge for developers that you don’t see with web development.

    1. We shipped a product that essentially template-izes apps. It is controlled through data, and while all of the interface elements that will be used are in fact embedded, they are not apparent. Nor is all of the media…

      iPad magazines are the way they are because of the publishers, and the processes they choose to use — Flash. They don’t have to be that way, and getting them to look at other methods is an incredible problem, a business problem in our case.

      Products can be designed well, but it takes a lot of work to get companies to see the opportunities in mobile. This year, I believe we will see change.

  20. First post in quite some time where I get what Om is trying to say, but I totally disagree. But, that’s what makes life interesting!

    I don’t think you really have found some of the best iPad apps. You didn’t mention many of my favorites. Here, I made you a list:


    Many of these, like the Elements, http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/the-elements-a-visual-exploration/id364147847?mt=8 are visually rich awesome apps that would be hard to do anywhere else and, especially, would be hard to monetize the way they do on the iPad.

    Others, like Aweditorium, http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/aweditorium/id399946763?mt=8 or NPR Music, http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/npr-music/id378195188?mt=8 are really well done apps that help me enjoy music.

    Others, like 955 Dreams’ History of Jazz, http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/the-history-jazz-interactive/id411521458?mt=8 , or Fotopedia Heritage, http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/fotopedia-heritage/id383327395?mt=8 bring me places I just couldn’t go.

    Finally, apps like Star Walk, http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/star-walk-for-ipad-interactive/id363486802?mt=8 , just can’t be done on older laptop platforms.

    But, anyway, I want more of these kinds of apps, so overall I’ll give you a +1, even if I disagree with you that there aren’t good examples worth featuring.

    1. Robert, I just has a look at the list you posted over on Quora. You must have a job-and-a-half finding apps on your iPad screen. Unless you’ve gotten several iPads for different uses. o_O

  21. I sold my iPad last fall in favor of the MacBook Air because of the lack of apps. I am planning on getting the iPad 2 this week when it comes out because there are more apps now and I miss using it to consume content. I agree though that there are not many WOW apps for the ipad.

    The Apple made apps like iMovie and Pages, etc. really show you what is possible with the ipad, but many small developers do not have the budgets and the talent to create these kinds of apps. Om mentions Flipboard, but that is a joke compared to something like Pages and iMovie as far complexity and it is basically a feed reader.

    The reality is it is a small universe of big software players that make the high quality productivity apps for the Mac and Windows. Namely, Microsoft and Adobe. They are glaring omissions to the App Store. I have to believe that Adobe is working on at least lite versions of their Creative Suite for the iPad and Microsoft must be working on an iPad version of Office. If not, then someone else is going to fill that void eventually. I can’t believe Adobe and Microsoft would leave that much money on the table, but so far they have.

    So to me, it is Microsoft and Adobe that are the missing link that should fill the productivity void with the iPad. Om you should do a report on where these companies are on bringing high quality apps to the iPad.

  22. A different way at looking at the problem might be to think about it as an “data” inflection point.

    We are coming from a time where more data was better, from the early days of computing, which enabled a lot of tech we use today by automating paper processes. To “lessons learned developing practical large scale machine learning system”(mean 100 billion records)[1].

    But now we have the rumblings of Data overload[2] to Apple using no focus groups (less data) to being proud of saying no to features. To using curation (crowd sourcing) to social bindings to limit noise.

    Tablets are highlighting that conflict. But unlike the PC which solved the data processing problem of that time (IT orgs and interface to data and manipulation thereof) through the spreadsheet. The tablet with it’s better design for today’s mobile business and live style and intuitive interface hasn’t delivered.

    So I’m not surprised that the creative guys, music …, have come up with solutions to use tablets functions. What is needed is a rethinking of the ‘productivity’ apps. Interestingly with more “sensor” data one can organize data better[3]. But we are not taking advantage of “sensor” data we are still trying to solve the problem with smarter algorithms[4]. Which we could do in the mainframe, pc area because of the data “size”.

    Point is we might be close or have reached a new data inflection point, where we need to have a simpler more intuitive interface to vast amount of data while being mobile, tablets seem to go in the right direction but haven’t delivered. I don’t think putting a spreadsheet in the cloud will do.

    1. http://googleresearch.blogspot.com/2010/04/lessons-learned-developing-practical.html

    2. http://jeffjonas.typepad.com/DumbAndDumber.pps

    3. http://anand.typepad.com/datawocky/2008/03/more-data-usual.html
    4. http://anand.typepad.com/datawocky/2008/04/data-versus-alg.html

  23. Yes, more better game apps, that’s the brave new world beyond pc computing! That’s what’s going to make a difference in mankind’s future. Personally the killer iPad app would be one that holds the tablet for me so I can touch type this comment with two hands… or how about a browser enabled with Dragon Dictate? Probably not going to happen, I can’t even get Firefox on the iPad. Flash? Bueller? Anybody?

  24. Om, could not agree with you more. I finally plunged in to get my iPad in December. However, unline you, after the initial love wore off, I find myself gravitating more towards the PC than iPad. Lack of flash support is a serious hindrance for a restaurant lover in New York city. Also, like you said, lack of truly revolutionary apps is a bit disappointing. The only truly fascinating app I have seen IMHO is the Scrabble app. With the iPhone player app, and the main scrabble app on iPad, the 2 work together to make for a truly exciting way to play Scrabble. I infact would go on to say its better than playing Scrabble on the board!

  25. Of course you’re right on this. I’ll go a bit farther — don’t expect innovation to come from incumbent media companies. History says they are too stymied by their business models and internal processes to break out (despite their talk about the need to do so.) I’m equally interested in how iPad design effects web design. seems to me, basic web design hasn’t changed much in the past 15 years. Can web designers get some inspiration from iPad usability? I sure hope so.

  26. Good article. Another article on this topic including the omitted iPad GUI smart apps would be great!

    There is, at least, one major category of apps that you’ve left out! (You can hardly be expected to keep track of ’em all.)

    Those are the astronomy apps that have made brilliant use of the compass and gyro to let one simply hold the iPhone, IPT, or iPad up to the sky and determine what’s up there! Fantastic! Even magical!

    In addition, other astro apps let one tour the solar system, cruise the Moon, Mars, Jupiter, etc., and identify features, rotate the planets via an intuitive touch interface, etc. Others combine the Astronomy Picture of the Day from NASA with a cover flow, pinch-zoom interface that makes one feel they are in space.

    A simple, free app, and one of the first games I downloaded, was Labyrinth– and it, too, made good use of the i-device hardware in its software.

    One final observation: many apps, while ports, provide qualitatively new experiences when embedded in the touch interface. I’m thinking of solitaire apps, dictionaries, and ebook readers. We don’t want to be so expectant or demanding that we forget the magic even in such basic apps–when done well.

    The app Crossword is an example of a brilliant use of the touch interface–without regard to having to use all the spiffy hardware features. It shows how important smart GUI programming is!

  27. I have a suspicion there are two reasons the apps OM is longing for aren’t coming. As to the first reason, I will leave it to people who understand how apps can be developed to investigate my supposition. But here it goes. Is it possible that the very nature of tablets, not just the iPad but all tablets, is the limiting factor? I have yet to figure out how to handle these devises in any way other than to consume content and play simple games.

    Any type of input involving large typing jobs is arduous at best (hence word processing, spread sheets etc.). When laid flat on a surface, typing is unnatural. Yes you can purchase or invent some sort of device to angle the device. Or you can purchase a separate keyboard. But then there is just more stuff to drag along. A laptop is much more useful if your going to add hardware such as keyboards, mouses etc.

    Ditto for video consumption. Ready to veg on the sofa or your favorite easy chair, holding these devices at a reasonable distance, at a reasonable angle for any length of time requires more stuff and ingenuity. Is it possible, yes. But its not intuitive. I won’t repeat the number of iPad 2 users themselves who cite the iPad 2 as less than ideal for shooting photos or video. Can you do it? Sure you can. But at an incremental level compared to dedicated devices. For that matter, iPhone 4 users report better results.

    Connectivity? At least as it applies to the iPad 1&2 and as I understand the features, no universal usb or universal wireless sync means any device outside the Apple ecosystem is a real bear to input/output to. Correct me if I am wrong.

    Good, bad or indifferent, Flash is still incorporated into a lot of the outside world (at least outside Apple). And iOS for the iPad does not allow a full enough integration to allow universal interoperability. More limits for the developers. And that limited connectivity hampers importing photos, videos, music, documents. All the things that will be necessary for those brilliant new apps.

    On to reason two. This is more philosophical. Apple’s view of the immediate future is app driven. And the iDevices (iPod, iPhone and iPad) do an admiral job as app delivery devices. Where Apple seems to come up short, is when you venture out into the web/cloud. As a full featured browser that could integrate with complex apps, Safari needs much work. That is certainly one area Honeycomb is well ahead. Further, this probably speaks directly to comments about apps being developed more from a web/pc perspective. It may well be that developers either can’t, or won’t, commit to an app centric world.

    This part of the mobile world is far from sorted out. In fact, it seems to become more fragmented daily. This is the reason I won’t be buying an iPad or an XOOM any time soon. My 4.3″ Droid X fills the bottom end of content delivery and my Dell laptop handles the rest. For the time being anyway.

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  29. It took nearly a year for the release of the original SDK, so the iPhone’s success was established. The iPad was a question in many customer’s and developer’s minds. It will take time, and usage patterns are not established.

    Treating the iPad like a large iPhone or a small laptop is wrong. Past that we are only recently seeing what people actually do with the things. You’ll see many more this year, now that most of the competition is being dismissed.

  30. This is a really interesting article, Great Job! I think that a lack of app quality is fascinating given the idea that apple has already built such a good purchase culture with there app store -something android struggles with- I think you can blame the print apps on apple itself though. They wish to be so controlling of the publishers that I think there may be an idea that jumping through the hoops and getting the content out is more important than app quality. Or, maybe there is more to this… WHat if publishers are intentionally keeping the app quality on ipad low and will develop better android apps as a way to get apple to loosen up its regulations. But what do I know. Great article regardless.


  31. I absolutely agree with writer. It’s really magical. I think, that the Ipad is one of the most perfect invention for last years.

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  32. Try these two apps on iPad.

    Tap Fish (watch any 4-9 year olds play this and you’ll say their experience is magical!)

    WebEx (hassle free, anywhere/anytime meetings with High quality video included)

    As for media/news, I guess it is upon you guys to build one for gigaom.com 😉

  33. Part of the problem is a lack of investment in these more pure-play iOS apps. I’m currently working on a location based casual iPad / iPhone game and find it difficult to raise the required dollars to get it off the ground. Investors seem to love the concept but appear to shy away from ideas that are so tied to a platform, such as the iOS. As someone who has used (and hated) the Droid devices and is now (thanks to Verizon) entirely on iOS devices, I believe that focusing on the most popular (by app installs and dollars) OS at this time makes the most sense and crossing the bridge to the potential Android market later.

  34. great article with valid points. And while seamless downloads are fun, wireless providers slam us with hopeless roaming charges for global data, so it’ll be while until I want my iPhone or iPad to connect and “pull” content automatically.
    Just as I do not allow anyone to automatically access my bank account…

  35. Incremental/evolutionary innovation is the safest and cheapest kind. The iPad itself leveraged the existing OS and added only a few new GUI controls to great success. Start simple to see what sticks, then make modest improvements with each iteration. Revolutionary innovation is costly and maybe too risky for many of the small programming shops that keep the app store stocked.

    Also from a developers perspective – once you get close to the metal you understand how unmagical/underpowered the first gen hardware was in terms of CPU/GPU. We had to change coding style to squeeze every drop of performance out of the neon core and in the end had to jettison features to keep from overloading the CPU. Try running 2 multitasking DSP audio apps and you too can bring your iPad to its knees.

    The iPad 2 hardware upgrades are just what we need to push forward… no doubled/retina resolution to tax the hardware, just more horsepower.

  36. I wholeheartedly agree with Om’s desire for better apps, but it’s not a problem of creativity, laziness or even an understanding of user needs. It’s the economy (or in this case, the economics) stupid.

    A development team can create a fantastic, amazing, life changing application, but to do so the app must to work well with iPods, iPhones and the iPad, which dramatically increases development costs. They also need to make sure it works just as well on older devices, or they risk losing a major portion of the market and having their app completely destroyed on the App Store user ratings. This whole model of development is expensive to say the least, and puts hard limits on how extensively developers can even leverage newer hardware or OS features. For example, any new app that truly leverages the iPad2’s dual cores or built in cameras will lose all business from iPad1 owners, and be absolutely savaged in the app store reviews for it. There is no question this approach would harm your app sales (and possibly your brand), and is only counterbalanced by unproven benefits of “pushing the envelope.”

    Point two is that Apple’s system is in fact closed (which is fine) and they are extremely controlling and touchy about what will and will not be approved, including how your navigation is presented, how it can access remote data etc. The non-stop flow of arbitrary rejections has weakened developer’s will to push any limits at all, and the Apple developer guidelines do impose very real limits on how creative or groundbreaking your app can even be. To make matters worse, Apple is constantly changing the rules of game. As a simple example, apps like Kindle, monthly magazines etc. just got their butts handed to them by Apple’s new subscription policy, and their entire financial model is now in jeopardy. There are dozens of similar scenarios where developers went out on a limb, and Apple chopped the entire tree down beneath them. This is NOT the way to inspire devs to take risks and build expensive apps for the platform.

    Once a dev team’s iOS app is live, they hand over 30% of every dollar to Apple (which again is fine and reasonable, whatever), and most iOS users will, as a matter of course, turn their nose up at any application that costs more than 4-5 dollars. This boxes developers in to a pretty rigid model – they can’t reasonably charge more than X for the product, will owe Apple 30% of the haul, and given the sheer number of new apps released each month they can only reasonably assume a modest level of sales. This puts a pretty hard limit on development expenses and hence the quality and/or feature set of the app. Unlike other business models, an app’s success isn’t so directly tied to things like marketing budget or even quality of product – it’s very much influenced by timing and luck, and the most successful devs out there have admitted as much. Any developer who ignores these financial constraints is headed toward financial failure, and given the high cost of developing a truly amazing app (as the article is calling for) the prospect of failure is simply too great to be worth the risks.

    Finally, good applications are built over time. All of the great software we’ve come to love and use regularly had a version 1.0 that sucked, but over time they improved it. They were only able to do this by charging for the upgrades (therefore recouping on the massive resources poured into ongoing development), which is something that is practically verboten on the iOS platform. Once someone buys your $2 app, they expect frequent, ongoing, absolutely free improvements and upgrades, with no concern over how you as the dev are supposed to finance this cycle.

    In short, the entire mobile economy is not a practical environment for developing “amazing” apps just yet. Potential reach doesn’t offset the fact that both iOS and Android have hundreds of thousands of apps available and yours will probably get lost in the shuffle without substantial marketing budget and a dose of real luck. Besides, reach doesn’t matter as much as profit margin – you can sell a million apps but if you’re losing $1 per sale, who cares. Apple can deliver massive, very impressive apps (like GarageBand for iOS) ONLY because they have swimming pools full of money, and they have a direct incentive in releasing marquee applications that showcase the experience/platform, not generating actual revenue from the app. They don’t care one whit if apps like iMovie and GarageBand for iPad make a dime, it’s all about encouraging hardware sales and developer interest.

    Apps like Angry Birds didn’t succeed because of the factors called for in this article. It barely even leverages the iOS platform (it really could just be a web-based game), and the underlying concept of physics-based puzzle game wasn’t new or revolutionary. They mostly benefited from major buzz, timing and luck. They admit as much themselves.

    1. Those who blame the economy are indeed also among the lazy who look for excuses or reasons to justify failure.

      If Apple had spent any time at all blaming “the economy” they wouldn’t be nearly as prosperous as they are now.

      The solution to a bad economy is: DO YOUR JOB. Plain and simple.

      That’s what Apple is doing and has done–in particular with setting up an elegant and powerful integrated development system and environment for third party developers to use to produce great products.

      Applying the above principle to developers, then, the ACTUAL reason for lackluster apps is that developers of such aren’t doing THEIR jobs–they’re not using Apple’s tools and their own creativity and resources effectively enough so as to produce especially high quality apps.

      The programming tools are all there. The ecosystem is there. It’s all waiting to convey quality products to the planet. No excuses from Apple. They’ve done their job.

      I don’t want to hear lame excuses like blaming the economy. That’s just laziness, plain and simple.

      1. Daniel,

        I appreciate your point, but I suspect you only read my opening line and therefore missed my point entirely.

        It wasn’t about “the economy” but rather the economics of developing mobile apps. It was a long winded post so it’s my own fault, I suppose.

    2. “timing and luck”
      Most successful business people I know attribute a very large percentage of their success to just that – It doesn’t just apply to apps.

    3. So I get the feeling that you didn’t understand MY post.

      A bad economy results from a relatively wholesale absence of people doing their jobs. It’s a matter of exchange of valuables–too many checks are cashed while the recipients don’t deliver valuable services (work) or products for them.

      Slip-shod app development may produce some income. But apparently too few developers have the insight or dedication or creativity to take their products up at least a few notches before putting them on the market.

      They think that no app will sell if it’s priced more than a sawbuck, so why invest in a lot of effort beyond that? This is very backwards, self-defeating logic. Of course, they won’t know if their products will command higher prices unless they put out the extra effort–FIRST. Too big a gamble for the lazy ones.

  37. Om,

    Thanks for writing up your post today. I can’t help but wonder what News Corp. would have done on the iPad if John B. Evans was still with us [1]. In the 1990s John was Rupert Murdoch’s digital media guru and visionary within News Corp., having been appointed by Rupert to run News Electronic Data (NED). John was also a friend of One Laptop’s Nicholas Negroponte. NED was working on some phenomenally creative stuff in the pre-web pre-iOS era namely using General Magic’s technology, Magic Cap and Telescript. For those who think the “cloud” meme is something new, hip and fashionable today, it was very much alive in the General Magic era (we had clouds sketched all over white boards then). I had the rare opportunity to work with John and NED. Like Steve Jobs, John was a creative genius and imagination deficit was not a problem though he and General Magic were a good 15 years ahead of their time. Remember Microsoft’s Bob? Bob was a poor knock off of NED’s Marilyn digital travel agent / avatar [2] (no surprise that Microsoft screwed it up).

    Apple played a leading role as a General Magic partner, but the duo creative genius paths of Steve Jobs and John Evans unforutnately didn’t cross because Steve was running NeXT on Chesapeake Bay Drive in Redwood City at the time (at least not what I was aware of — my then business was founded on NeXTSTEP).

    If John were around today there’s a good chance he’d have chalked up a killer app or two for the iPad / iPhone (perhaps Android too). Maybe some of the wise and insightful General Magic founders like Andy Hertzfeld and Bill Atkinson still have it in them to revision the magic of the past to the world that has emerged today?

    – Brendan Lane Larson

    [1] http://www.johnbevans.com/
    [2] http://www.johnbevans.com/gallery/album01/photo14

  38. You tell us a lot about what ‘you’ want from an app. That’s the problem, it’s subjective. I’m pretty sick of ‘app culture’.

  39. There’s no doubt that the iPad – and now iPad 2 – offers companies and developers seemingly endless possibilities. Despite this, and as you mention, companies are only scratching the surface of this device’s potential with the technologies they’re incorporating within their offerings. The iPad provides countless ways of interacting with consumers, such as through augmented reality, swiping, or location-awareness. The problems arise when due to companies’ desire to make their offerings available across various platforms and devices, they sacrifice the native capabilities of the device or tablet. I work for Kony, and one way to overcome this and implement these capabilities is by using a single application definition. This allows companies to generate mobile offerings on multiple OSs and devices (not just iPad) without sacrificing their native capabilities—taking full advantage of each device’s potential and creating a more “magical” user experience.

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