iPad Software Part 1: The OS

iPad Software: The OS


The OS is wonderful and terrible at the same time.  It is wonderful to have an instant-on device that is capable of reading PDF files. More on this later. It is wonderful to have a device that is so blindingly fast.  It is wonderful to have a selection of several thousand iPad apps available through a seamless app store.  It is wonderful to have access to over a hundred thousand iPhone apps available through the app store. The OS is wonderfully stable.  I have had my iPod Touch restart a few times over its life but my iPad has not done this once.  I have had a few apps quit, but they never affected the OS. For a first release first gen device, it is very stable. 

Slightly Terrible at the Same Time

It is terrible that out of the box, the only way to read PDF files is by having a live internet connection.  There is no Apple-provided provision for "carrying around" anything but music, ebooks, photos and videos, and files associated with applications that are only visible to the application they are associated with. Oh, I almost forgot. You can take a senimental journey back to 1999 and dig out that USB cable to get files on and off your iPad despite it's built in wifi connectivity. Oh, and you can email things to yourself. So basically managing files on the iPad requires imposing on another computer's generosity.

Lack of Flash, Yay! (I think)

Lack of flash support.  My son is a member of the a cappela group at University of Michigan: Amazin' Blue.  Normally I can't stand flash and I support Apple standing up to Adobe.  I went to Adobe to look at the order form for CS5 and they use flash for the order form.  Order forms have been part of plain html since the beginning but Adobe replaces such a rudimentary element with their proprietary solution.  And yes, it is a proprietary solution regardless how hard Adobe tries to get "flash everywhere". 

Apple iPhone OS is not the only environment where flash does not work.  Most smartphones won't display it either.  But for Steve Jobs to trash Adobe in front of the world at the iPad announcement seems to me to be going too far.  It is a corporate squabble that belongs behind closed doors, not fanning the flames of mostly-meaningless debate by end users who don't know action script from objective C.  I have mixed feelings about the lack of flash.  I used to run flashblock on all my browsers.  As browsers became more stable and more tolerant to adobe products crashing (reader, flash and shockwave), I got rid of flashblock.  I guess I'd just like to see Apple and Adobe work things out without me in the middle.  Then I'd be able to read my son's web site from my iPad. Instead, I get a blank screen and no explanation why it doesn't load.


There is no multitasking.  This is promised in OS 4.0 but it does not exist today.  It's not such a big deal most of the time but there are apps that don't know how to "pick up where you left off" and the multitasking APIs coming in the fall should help (if the developers elect to use them).



You can drag apps around. You can set wallpaper for both the lock screen and the home screen.  You can enable the home button single and triple click for different things.  I set triple click to inverse video so I can use iBooks at night.

Frankly there isn't enough customizability for a computer of this size and price.  We will have to wait for OS 4.0 in the fall to get more control including folder organization of apps.

Included With the OS

You get Browser, Email, Calendar, Memos, Settings, Photos, iTunes, iPod, Maps, You Tube, Videos, and App Store but no calculator. You can buy he 3 iWork apps (Pages, Numbers and Keynote) for $9.99 each from the app store and since they are made by Apple, I'll include them here in the OS portion of my review.


The browser is the same as the iphone but better on a larger screen.  Some sites detect iPhone browser and switch to a crippled version.  One example is google reader which on the desktop displays unread articles and their preview text in line with a preview window at the bottom for easy, rapid reading.  On the iPad, google reader forces you to click each article which in turn leads to two page loads.  Too inefficient for me to seriously use for reading hundreds of articles at a time. I'm evaluating third party RSS readers but haven't settled on one yet.

There is more wonderful here in the browser.  Despite a few quirks in not working on a handful of pages, the browser is stinkin' fast. This is the way the internet was supposed to be.  Not bogged down while the browser fetches god-knows-what and cruches it.  You know that complaint people have about every page having to reload?  Yeah, I've got that complaint too.  A little.  The iPad browser is so fast, I don't mind so much that every page has to load almost every time I touch it.


Email on the iPad is a pleasure to use.  There is one sticking point I hope Apple deals with.  I aggregate a number of emails to my mobileme account.  When I reply to an email, I want it to be as whoever the email was addressed to, not my mobile me account name.  Apple still doesn't get this so while I read my email in the Mail app, I send email from the Gmail third party app. I'll talk about the Gmail app later.  For now, let's carry on looking at the apps that come with the OS.

Email is pushed to my iPad from my Mobile Me account. There is no unified inbox, but that is supposed to come with OS 4.0. Email looks like it does on the desktop.  I prefer reading email on my iPod Touch and my iPad to reading it on my Blackberry.

When you click on an attachment, you can open it in the associated application.  For iWorks apps, this leads to an "import" dialog.  When you want to email a document out again, you get an "export" dialog.  The only way to "copy" the document off your iPad onto another computer is by the usb cable.  If you compose a message in Mail, you don't get to pick an attachment, but most iPad apps offer a way to email documents and you can compose a message then.  Of course this means you cannot possibly send one email with a PDF, pages and keynote files created or modified on your iPad.  You would have to send 3 emails.

I prefer using email in potrait orientation.  I like seeing a list of my messages on the screen rather than having to click "inbox" to get a popup of messages and having them go away again as soon as I select one to read.  I guess it takes getting used to and I'm more used to the behavior in landscape mode where the messsage list is always there.


The calendar app is a pleasure to use and even the month view is useful at the resolution of the iPad screen.  Calendar events are pushed to the iPad from MobileMe.  I have not tested creating an appointment on the iPad to see if it shows up back on the desktop. 


The memos app is quite useful for quickly taking text-only notes.  You can email the note to yourself when you're done (if you're in range of wifi).


Under general settings, you can check your memory, serial number and software versions.  You can change brightness and wallpaper as well as switch on or off auto brightness.  I keep auto brightness on. I turned off sounds for email and calendar so my iPod Touch is the only device oinking at me when I have an appointment.  

There is also a preference pane for each installed app that requests one.  The ones at the top of the list are Apple apps like Pages, Numbers, etc.  But it's clear that every app can get a preference pane in Settings if it wants one.


I can't really do Photos justice because I have never sync'd anything over from iPhoto to my iPad.  I shut off sync to save time.  I'll turn it on this evening (if I have time :o) and report my results. For now, I can say that the photos app works well and viewing photos on the iPad is an absolute pleasure.  It seems like some intelligence goes on behind how photos are shown, resized and cropped.  I like how easy it is to set wallpaper from the Photos app or from Settings.


I found the time to make iTunes buy stuff and I think I need the 64 gig model.  I went looking for movies to watch and found the LOTR trilogy for $14.99 but it was close to 8 gig!  I think my iPad has to go back... so I can get more built in memory.  I'm not planning to carry around a lot of stuff, but if I carry around 2 or 3 movies, my device is suddenly over half full!


Sorry, Apple.  I use Rhapsody for music.  This is a 16 gig iPad after all. Still, I do have several hundred meg of my "favorite favs" that I could load so I'll do that soon and get back on this app. Well I went in an bought Marvin Gaye "What's Going On" for $1.29 when I probably have several copies rolling around here somewhere.  But it allowed me to see more of how the iPad really works.  It's sweeeet!  So I start Marvin playing in the background and decide to shut off the device.  He keeps playing.  I turn it back on and the lock screen has a control where I can pause or whatever.  Then I notice what looks like a flower icon.  I click it and the iPad is now cycling through all my photos with Marvin Gaye playing in the background.  Now I know I gotta hide this from the rest of the family.  If they keep thinking this is another one of Jeff's geeky toys and if I make sure there is a boring old RPN calculator on the screen whenever they come in the room, I might be able to hide out for a few weeks.  


Google Maps found my location right away, presumably from wifi since I was indoors and my iPad couldn't "see" any gps satellites even if it did contain a gps chip which I am convinced it doesn't.  This app only works with a wifi connection because the maps need to be loaded from google.  Perhaps when multitasking arrives the maps can remain on the device and the state of the app preserved so I can pick up the maps I want, then wander away from wifi and continue to browse them as long as I don't go outside of the area I already downloaded.


Here is an app I only glanced at.  It seems about the same as the iPhone version. It allows me to watch youtube videos without flash.  Often, when I click a link for a video, I get switched to the youtube app.


I haven't touched this. Perhaps I will load a movie to my iPad just for testing.  Hmmm... What should I grab?  I've got plenty of dvd's lying around to rip...  I'll think of one and rip it so I can have it with me when I've got some down time away from an internet connection. I would never bother with something like this on a netbook or notebook but with the iPad form factor and battery life, it's a no brainer for me to invest some time  converting some videos to keep with me on my device, and give up a gig or 2 of storage for them as well.

I downloaded a Shakespeare lecture from U of M from iTunes U.  It took up 400 meg.  I can watch it, then archive it so I don't mind.  It came down over wifi.  So the whole usb joke only applies to content I create.  I can get anything I want via wifi, I just can't give anything except by email.

App Store

This is much better than the iPhone / iPod Touch app store and is much more web like.  There is a cover flow based featured apps section.  There is the ability to search or pick from one of 20+ categories to see top paid and free apps for that category.  By default, iPhone apps don't come up but you can easily get to them.  Updates seem faster on the iPad than on my iPod touch. This might be due to the faster processor since everything else (internet connectivity, etc) is roughly the same.

iWork: Pages and Numbers

I've been tied up and haven't gotten back to update my OS review with details about the iWork products.  Meanwhile, Ars Technica has a spot-on review that sheds light on this whole gimpy situation. more at ars...


more to come...