Apple’s WWDC21 Inches iPad Forward

This week, Apple’s keynote at WWDC21 showcased a wide array of iterative and innovative software enhancements to its ecosystem of digital devices. The iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac are all becoming better, yet there are signs of feature creep. If true, it’s unsurprising and unfortunate, but I’m excited for some of the new and improved things. Apple’s overall focus and purpose, perhaps the theme of WWDC21, is privacy; the company wants your personal data to remain private. While overall this is a good thing, my focus is iPad.


Apple announced a tall and wide stack of stuff in the opening keynote. A big question and expectation going into the keynote concerned the evolving stance of iPad. Would Apple finally remove the training wheels of restriction from iPadOS and let it ride freely as a “real computer?” Many tech geeks, like me, had waited and wondered. Answer: it depends on who you ask.

I saw promising upgrades to iPad that I’m happy for, and if it persists as more of a tablet computer and less of a “real” computer, that’s fine with me — Apple, and others, still sell real laptops and desktop machines too. The most important changes to iPad affect its multitasking system; it’s being somewhat simplified with visible buttons in addition to its invisible gestures. Users can see windowing options (they’re discoverable) via a new button and choose one with a simple tap. No longer must normal people become power users and memorize a convoluted bunch of finger gymnastics to invoke multi-window layouts.

That said, since the previous multi-tasking methods remain intact, the new button set-up, though simpler in itself, is an addition atop an already complex system of windowing on iPad. This is construed as feature creep and upsets the balance between simplicity and capability. Such imbalance introduces complexity, antithetical to iPad, which threatens to become more convoluted and less elegant. Apple continues to slowly yet steadily evolve iPad to become “more” or “better” yet keeping its position between a smartphone and a laptop. Adopting the best of both ends of the mobile computing spectrum while mitigating compromise is a tricky endeavor. Failure incurs disdain with labels for iPad like, “just a big phone” or “not a laptop replacement.” Conversely, the better Apple succeeds, the more magical iPad becomes.

iPad has other new tricks up its sleeve. Like on iPhone, one welcome change lets widgets be placed anywhere. There’s also a new bigger sized widget that makes better use of iPad’s large display, letting users see more content at a glance. How useful this is remains to be seen, but I think it will aid productivity. iPad now has the App Library too. Like its phone cousin, the auto-categorized groups of apps appear in a full screen array when a user swipes past the last homepage. The App Library can also be quickly accessed from any homepage via the Dock, which is great for easily selecting any additional app for multitasking.

Other new features coming to iPad match those new to iOS 15 for iPhone. Some faves I’m excited for are: tags with custom smart folders in the Notes app, EXIF metadata in the Photos app, live locations of family in the Find My app, and tab groups in Safari to name a few. Inexplicably, the Weather app and the Calculator app remain missing from iPad, as if to offset feature creep with feature disparity.

The popular tablet designed in California is getting incremental updates this year, which isn’t half bad, considering it’s already a fantastic computing device. Prior upgrades gave iPad full mouse and cursor control, making it more computer-like than ever. Apple’s ongoing progress with iPad while maneuvering it along the mobile computing midline is laudable. Though imperfect or slightly disappointing to some tech enthusiasts, Apple’s overall strategy is sound and admirable. I miss my iPad Air 2 and plan to buy a new iPad later this Summer.

WWDC 2021 Wishes

Apple’s annual developer conference is around the corner, and there seems to be eager anticipation in the tech community. I’m excited as a consumer (okay, kind of a fanboy). When it comes to #mobilecomputing, the Apple ecosystem is tops, yet this year’s WWDC could raise the bar higher. I’ve got a few things I hope to see.


Widget Wishlist

First up, new and improved widgets. I love the clean and simple design direction Apple took last year with iOS14. Now I’d like to see widgets become actionable. For example, the Reminders widget could allow you to check things off a list in the widget without needing to open the app. Also, I think the Clock widget should have a digital option (2×4 size). Just let me place a large digital clock on my home screen (like Android) – thanks. Next, I noticed that the News app has a widget option for “full screen” 4×6 size, but only on the “Today” screen (left of Home) and only using the “For You” section of News. In iOS15, this 4×6 option should be enabled for all widgets on any home screen, and for the News app it should extend beyond the “For You” section. Finally, iPadOS15 should allow widgets to be placed anywhere like iOS14 while also gaining the above improvements.

iPad Upgrades

I plan to buy an iPad in the near future, eager to use it as my primary computer (because, “What’s a computer?”) I love the last few big updates iPadOS received (desktop-class web browser, Smart Connector, full native mouse/cursor support, app Sidebars) that make iPad more computer-like than ever. But there’s still room for improvement. I’d like to see multi-user support, so I could let my kids use my iPad with their own user account for example. Also, I think it’d be good for iPad to finally support Xcode and other “pro” apps because it would further legitimize iPad as a “real” productivity device. This, in turn, would spur greater focus on iPad development in the long-term. Another big area in need of advancement is multi-tasking. I think Apple should strive to simplify gestures used for app management without sacrificing multi-app capability. At the same time, I think iPad should never enable windowed apps like on macOS or Windows. Apps should remain full-screen or split-screen, but there must be a way to make multi-app control more intuitive.

Outside of software for iPadOS, I have a specific request for Apple on the hardware side. Please give the entry level iPad base model (at $329) 64GB of RAM instead of the paltry 32GB. Seriously. Or at least compromise and add a 64GB option mid-way at $379. Another choice: make the 32GB model cost just $299 and the 128GB model cost only $399.

watchOS

For Apple Watch, there’s at least one app sorely missing: Notes. The next watchOS should add the Notes app simply to view notes on my wrist and enable voice dictation to create new notes. Speaking to my watch to add short text snippets to iMessage or compose quick email works great, so it would be easy to use for capturing a new note on the go. It’d be nice to just raise my wrist and say, “Note to self…” and fill in the blanks, creating a new note in the default section of the app.

iCloud

I understand that Apple is a traditional hardware/software company. Its paradigm is for consumers to use native apps on local devices. I like this a lot. But we do live in a mobile first, cloud first world where web apps are growing better and more prevalent than ever before. With that in mind, Apple should seriously revamp its iCloud website. It works. It’s nice. But it has feature and design disparity with its native app counterparts. And it’s slow. Because iCloud.com could use much improvement, it does disservice to the many web users who happen to not compute on an Apple device. Otherwise, the iCloud sync service works well in the background yet could be more reliable. I’ve seen a few inexplicable sync issues within Notes between iCloud and my iPhone. Thankfully, the issues always get sorted out in time, but they don’t instill confidence in the service.

Apple is likely to surprise developers and consumers with new and improved features across all its devices. I hope they do their usual and add more quality of life/ease of use things, the kind of stuff that “just works” in daily life. I’m sure there will be a lot of upgrades related to the M1 CPU with new software/hardware that relies on it. That stuff is exciting because, if nothing else, it shows that Apple continues to innovate. The Apple ecosystem as a whole will benefit.

Missing iPad App Beyond Bonkers

Today, Apple did a thing. It was huge, with tons of little things in it. Like, my brain can’t take it all in. And they didn’t do only small things; they did big things. Pretty much, all the things, Apple did them. They called it WWDC19.


This post is short; I could try to talk about many of the new and improved things Apple did at the WWDC19 keynote today. But, for now, I will just mention this one little teeny tiny omission.

The Calculator app on iPhone did not make it onto iPad.

Is it hyperbolic to think, as my post title suggests, that the simple Calc app should be a default app on the iPad? I don’t think so.

If there were any remaining doubts that the iPad is a computer, today Apple annihilated those with iPadOS.1 And being a computer, the iPad performs calculations. Plus, it’s a super-user-friendly machine. So…a simple calculator app just fits.2

Maybe I’m being obtuse about this whole missing app business. But, in my defense, look, the Apple Watch, with the new watchOS announced today, is getting the Calculator app! So why not the iPad!? Are you kidding me?


Anyways, I’ll cut Apple some slack here. They were busy making the new Mac Pro insane with teraflops. Maybe the next iPadOS will introduce the long-awaited Calculator.


Do you miss the Calculator app on iPad? How about the still missing Weather app?? Comment below or message me. Thanks for reading!

  1. Just look at the more capable Files app for starters.
  2. I must still resort to a third-party calculator app.