Give Me What I Want, Capitalist Pigdogs

I’m living several hours into the future 1 so in all likelihood I’ll be sitting up early Thursday morning, not considering sleep as ‘something better to do’, and hitting refresh on somebody’s liveblog of Apple’s iPad 2 event. When it was first announced back in January 2010, I was impressed but not exactly aching to get one. On the one hand, it was undoubtedly cool. A flashy portable reading device reminiscent of a PADD from Star Trek rather than the clunky OneNote terminals that Microsoft and its partners had been pushing for some time to little general interest. On the other, depressingly practical hand, I had no use for one. While browsing on the iPod touch’s smaller screen is not ideal, with the aid of Reeder and Instapaper it is quite sufficient. For more serious tasks, I somehow think the iPad is not quite up to cutting video as well as for instance my MacBook Pro.

Picking one up and using it however, it’s not hard to come to like it very quickly.

Cameras

It seems a given that the new model will at the very least have a front-facing camera in order to support FaceTime, and I’m going to add to that that I hope they make it one of the new HD-capable cameras included in the latest round of MacBook Pros.

The rear camera is a more unusual beast to me. While I should never underestimate the willingness for people to look positively goofy, I can’t get past the visual of people holding up their 10” slates to take a picture of something. Or waving them around to take advantage of some silly new augmented reality app.

Of course, my own lack of imagination and my hyperactive self-awareness should not stand in the way of others great ideas, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see a rear-facing camera in there as well. Of course it would be amusing if someone stood up on stage and said “No, it doesn’t have a rear camera. That’s a stupid idea.”

Weight

Finally picking one of these bastards up recently, the first thing I noticed was that it was slightly heavier than I’d imagined. As nice as the latest models look I’ve never quite connected with Apple’s desire to get the MacBook Airs as thin and light as possible (to the sacrifice of other features). I imagine their desire with the iPad is to get it as close as possible to simply feeling like a display, and that’s something I can certainly understand.

Gruber suggests they might switch to carbon fiber for the case. I have no clue on all these fancy materials, but it sounds fair enough. I’m at least somewhat confident that Apple won’t sacrifice the sturdy and reliable feel of the device (particularly the glass on the display).

I’m sure whoever Apple pushes up on stage will tout the reductions in thickness and weight in healthy disproportion to how important the tech blog writers find these properties. Of all the hardware advances on offer however, this is probably the one I’m most interested in.

That Damn Button

I’ve gone through two iPods, and two iPod touches and the only problem I’ve ever had with the buttons is that after five years, the center button on my iPod 5.5 is a bit stiff. Still, since they’ve gone and increased the load on the poor little mechanical device by overloading it (in the programming sense) with additional functions, I worry about it. I double click it to access the multitasking bar. I triple-click it to invert the screen (an accessibility feature I love). And I’ve heard of the button breaking on a friend’s iPhone, and the button on the iPad that I used felt uncomfortably loose.

Firmly in to “I don’t think it will happen, but it would be interesting” territory here, I’d like to see them drop the front home button, either shifting it to the side of the device or replacing it with a touch/gesture-based equivalent. A few things here:

  1. Palm’s use of a gesture area on the Pre was interesting, but seemed a bit unintuitive. Apple would need to deal with that.

  2. My brother has a Samsung Galaxy S which has one physical button and a few touch buttons. The touch buttons are incredibly frustrating, and very unfortunately placed for a game such as Solipskier. Apple would need to solve the problem of accidental clicks.

  3. My very young niece and nephew like to play with an iPod touch, but what they typically end up doing is clicking the home button over and over. This is understandable, since it’s the only thing on the face of the device that offers some tactile feedback. Also, repeatedly clicking the button results in nice fancy animation on the screen as it slides back and forth between the first page of apps and the search screen. This is such an obscure use-case, but I’d love to see some sort of solution to this, to make it a little harder to get out of an app.

I can’t think of any good simple way to solve these problems, but fortunately I’m just some dork with a website, and my job does not rely on coming up with these solutions. So good luck Apple.

Software

The iPad is in a weird position at the moment. The iPhone seems to be the flagship iOS device, regularly launching with the new version of the operating system in the middle of the year. The iPad instead gets the last gasping updates of the cycle. To that end I’d be curious to see how much Apple wants to go into their favourite new features of iOS 5, since they undoubtedly will not be available on the iPad 2 at launch.

But ignore that. What I really want to see in iOS 5 is an overhauled notification system. I want to see them come up with something better and more intuitive than Android’s swipe-able title bar, and the absence of inspiration I’d be happy with them just ripping it off. The only thing I miss about my jailbroken iPod touch is quick access to Airplane mode and other settings via SBSettings. Adding the orientation lock, player and volume controls to the multitasking bar was a nice addition, but that feature seems to be stretched as far as it can reasonably go now.

On that note I’d also like to see them overhaul the app switching feature, adopting something similar to Exposé or Mission Control as they’ve previewed it for OS X Lion.

I’m not sure if there’s anything notable to expect software-wise from the iPad 2 that we don’t already know about from the extensive iOS 4.3 beta.

Conclusion

My wishlist for the iPad 2 is pretty conservative. A pixel-doubled display would be fantastic, but stinks of being unrealistic. More onboard storage is always a plus, but I never fill my 32GB iPod Touch unless I fill it with music I’m never going to listen to. Any sort of stereoscopic 3D features (á la Nintendo’s 3DS) can fuck right off. Of course I want a faster processor, more memory, and better battery life, but that goes so much without saying that I’m going to stop saying it now.

In all honesty I’d be very tempted to pick up an iPad today if the new model weren’t just around the corner. Since they don’t have an ExpressCard slot they can remove from the iPad, I’m struggling to think of ways they could make the new device somehow less desirable.

  1. Unfortunately we still lack hoverboards and flying cars, despite a surfeit of films with delusions of stereoscopy. Back