A Testament to UI Efficiency, Distinctively Apple

I've always called the iPhone OS a very efficient UI. The ease at which you can perform primary tasks on the iPhone is what I mean by that. By comparison, many earlier tablet and handheld computer concepts used full blown desktop OSes scaled down so much that you could hardly get anything done. UI elements were far too small to be navigated with portable screens. On the flip side, if you scaled the iPhone UI to a 22" desktop PC you'd also lose efficiency, the UI simply wasn't designed for that purpose. You use the right tool for the job and that's exactly what the iPhone OS, webOS and Android try to do. They are great smartphone interfaces.

The success of the iPad's UI is really determined by how well it scales up to the larger screen size and resolution of the display. Simply running iPhone apps on the iPad doesn't cut it, something that is made obvious by how little I wanted to use them on my iPad.


An iPhone app running on the iPad

Thankfully, with the exception of running iPhone apps, Apple has ensured at that all elements of the iPad UI are enhanced specifically for the larger screen. The most obvious is the larger keyboard but there's also liberal use of columns in apps. You'll also note that there's very little forced consistency between the look and feel of iPad applications. Their UI is determined entirely by their function.

The popup dialog is also widely used throughout the iPad OS:

Thanks to the A4 SoC inside, multitouch gestures react even faster and smoother than they do on the iPhone. Particularly the pinch and stretch gestures for zooming in and out. Apple also introduced a new pinch/stretch to zoom feature in its Photos app. To expand or collapse any album or event simply take two fingers and stretch them apart or pinch them together. It seemed gimmicky when I first heard about it but in practice it works really well and I'd like to see it used in more places.

While not really significant to the plot, there are some nice touches that Apple has included with the iPad that are worth mentioning. The home screen is, er, home to a lot of the more prevalent examples of Apple flair. All the icons have a nice drop shadow behind them.

Bringing up the home screen from another app causes all the icons to fly in from the outside as if they're all scurrying home before you get there. Rotating the home screen also results in a sweet zoom out then in effect.

Despite having the screen real estate Apple doesn't get wasteful with UI elements. They are all fairly tiny and not intrusive.

Scroll bars in the few applications that have them are far less boring. In the Calendar and Photo apps the horizontal scroll bar is a date and photo scrubber. In Pages the vertical scroll bar gives you a magnifying glass preview of each page as you scroll by it.

iPhone users will feel right at home as there is a consistency between these devices. Tap the home button once and it takes you home. Tap it again and you can search. Tap it twice while you're playing music and playback controls appear. Also, when you're playing music the cover art for the song or album temporarily becomes your home screen background.

Although there's no mute button, holding the volume down rocker for 2 seconds mutes the device instantly.

There are dozens of little features like these that show an attention to detail that is missing from most products. Rushed or not, the iPad still has the little things that do make it an Apple product.

It Was Meant For You Stop and Smell the Roses Computing
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  • TGressus - Thursday, April 08, 2010 - link

    "I don't think anything anyone can write can convince you"

    That's a tough sell right there :( Nothing against your post.

    This is the challenge all tablets have faced so far. That said, if anyone has the ability to succeed in this form factor it's the iCult.
    Reply
  • Mike1111 - Thursday, April 08, 2010 - link

    "While I realize that Atom hasn't been suited for such an application until now, there's no reason Apple should've picked the A4 over Moorestown. "

    I really think it was the right decision for Apple to go with ARM for the iPad, and that it's the right decision to stick with ARM for at least the next few years.

    (1) Mobile version of Moorestown is not available yet, the netbook one draws too much power
    (2) Apple has to use ARM in it's iPhone and iPod touch for the next few years, so for cross-device OS, app and SoC compatibility and development ARM was the right choice for the iPad (e.g. if Apple makes safari use the hardware better on the iPad, the iPhone and iPod touch will directly profit from it too)
    (3) Moorestown would have been more expensive
    (4) With ARM Apple can control and modify the CPU design as needed, they have total control. And Apple likes that.
    (5a) There is a clear upgrade path for ARM with the Cortex-A9 and a multi-core version of it.
    (5b) The A4 is already fast enough for most people and most iPad tasks (how many reviews mention that the iPad is unpleasantly slow, even for the average consumer?)

    It's a real possibility that an iPad with a more optimized OS and safari, a better utilized (and more programmable) GPU (like the SGX545 with OpenCL etc.) and a dual-core Cortex-A9 @1.x GHz will improve the browsing performance beyond that of a netbook. And IF APPLE SAW THE NEED FOR IT (but I don't think they do), it could happen as early as next year (other ARM SoCs like Tegra2, OMAP4 and the dual-core Snapdragon will be available by then with comparable specs, so Apple should be able to pull it off too). Intel's Atom will still be a more power consuming, more expensive and way bigger multi-chip system early next year. And beyond that are ARM quad-core CPUs and dual-core GPUs...

    It will take Atom at least 4 years to overtake ARM, in the areas that count for dedicated smartphones/slates/tablets, if at all. At some point, real life browsing will just be fast enough on an ARM slate and Intel netbook, so that 99% don't care about browsing speed as a feature anymore (like it will happen with video thanks to all these powerful but small dedicated decoders/encoders like IMG's VXD/VXE).
    Reply
  • softdrinkviking - Thursday, April 08, 2010 - link

    are you saying that there is no clear upgrade path for intel's moorstown line?
    and that apple has complete control over the future of ARM?
    i didn't know they had already gone that far.
    i seem to remember apple fumbling out of the power series of CPUs and crawling into into intel's arms when they realized it was the way to go.
    there is nothing to prevent apple from switching to moorstown in a couple of generations, and they have proven that they are willing to make those kind of changes when the situation demands it.
    Reply
  • Mike1111 - Friday, April 09, 2010 - link

    "are you saying that there is no clear upgrade path for intel's moorstown line?"
    Of course not. I'm just saying that even if you think the ARM Cortex-A8 used in the iPad is not powerful enough, that there are clear CPU upgrades coming your way for years to come (higher frequencies, Cortex-A9, dual-core Cortex-A9, quad-core Cortex-A9). It's not like Apple is using a quad-core Cortex-A9 @ 4 GHz in 22nm right now, with no better ARM architecture on the horizon and standard lithography reaching a dead end...

    "and that apple has complete control over the future of ARM? i didn't know they had already gone that far."
    Sorry, what I meant was that Apple has complete control over how they implement the ARMv7 architecture in a chip (since Apple has most likely an architecture license like Qualcomm).

    "there is nothing to prevent apple from switching to moorstown in a couple of generations, and they have proven that they are willing to make those kind of changes when the situation demands it."
    I agree that Apple can and most likely will switch to Intel if their chips are clearly superior in all the ways that matter for a mobile product. I just think that's at least 4-5 years out for retail devices so there's no point in talking about how Apple should have used Moorestown for this year's iPad... or any iPad for that matter. I don't even think that Moorestown's successor will be ready (Medfield). Maybe Medfield's successor's successor in 22nm will be clearly superior (although parity could be reached a generation earlier). We'll see.
    Reply
  • MadAd - Thursday, April 08, 2010 - link

    Its huge. Way too big for car centre consoles. If they cut it in half, so its mid way between that and an Iphone then I would definitely want to upgrade my existing car PC.

    Its got all the right airs and graces to be a super satnav/speedcam/music/incar wifi unit, just need to cut the size and sell it with some kind of some kind of quick release device for power and cabling (or ill fabricate one) and its a winner.
    Reply
  • teng029 - Thursday, April 08, 2010 - link

    "Companies like Crestron and AMX supply ridiculously poor touch screen interfaces to their very expensive home automation installations."

    How exactly did you come to this conclusion? Have you extensively either used or program a control system touch panel?
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Thursday, April 08, 2010 - link

    Used, but not programmed. Those touchscreen controllers are just not in the same league in terms of UI as the iPad/iPhone honestly. I haven't used the latest incarnations but from the looks of them, they haven't changed tremendously.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • athreya - Thursday, April 08, 2010 - link

    1. Does writepad (phatware) or sketchbook pro (autodesk) allow one to take handwritten notes on the ipad? As in, im not looking for handwriting conversion to pages or word but can notes be taken and emailed across in the body of say a gmail or a Mail message? WHich stylus is the best for the ipad?

    2. How do you think iphone os 4.0 will solve the multitasking problem?

    3. Between the wireless keyboard and the keyboard with dock which would you recommend and why? Will ANY BT keyboard work with the ipad?

    4. Can you tell us how good it is at projecting powerpoint ppts onto a standard VGA projector? Does it support Office for Mac yet?

    thanks a lot Anand. Terrific balanced review as always.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Friday, April 09, 2010 - link

    I doubt any stylus works with the iPad, due to the capacitive screen. Reply
  • dagamer34 - Friday, April 09, 2010 - link

    A capacitive stylus would work. Reply

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