Taking Away The Magic


Update: Apple has since re-enabled multitasking gestures for the iPad in the iOS 5.0.1 beta. Display mirroring (for those who asked) doesn’t seem to be officially supported, but I currently have it working as a side effect of my previous diddling with .plist files.

I should perhaps warn my readers that this is going to be a rant. A pointed, but very heartfelt rant about how frustrating Apple can be for early adopters in more ways than one.

On An Upgrade To Nowhere

After most of the excitement died away and Apple’s servers became accessible, I took a stab at upgrading one of my devices to iOS 5, and given that I make more use of iCloud-y features such as documents and calendaring on my iPad, I chose that.

Everything went pretty much as expected (I only had to retry the upgrade once, took advantage of the opportunity to clear out a bunch of junk apps, etc.), but when I tried to use multi-tasking gestures, I hit an extremely unpleasant brick wall.

I have a 1st generation iPad, and in case you don’t know, multi-tasking gestures were added to iOS 4.3.x as an “experimental” feature, and one you could enable only if you were a developer (which basically equated to you having Xcode installed).

Beta Bliss

Obviously, an unsightly number of people became “developers” overnight solely for playing around with this, but I was not one of those people - despite not having a single (public) app to my name (yet - maybe in a few months, perhaps), I had early access to the 4.3 betas, although I stopped short of trying iOS 5 because I didn’t want to fiddle around with iCloud at that point.

More importantly, I had been hoping for a touch-enabled way to switch apps since the very beginning, because it was perfectly obvious that the home button was a bad idea to do that with the iPad’s form factor.

The thing about those gestures is that when you got used to them, magic happened. And by that I mean Apple-grade, “boy, this is great” magic.

I soon realized that swiping up to reveal the multi-tasking bar made a world of difference when using the iPad for any extended length of time, in either portrait or landscape mode.

It’s The Form Factor, Stupid

And I soon realized that they were an indispensable feature for me. Why? Because unlike the iPhone, you seldom have any fingers near the home button when holding the iPad:

  • When you’re holding it in portrait mode, both hands are well away from it gripping one or both sides.
  • If you’re holding it in landscape mode with, say, your left hand and working with your right, your thumb is actually pressing down on the iPad to hold it.

So trying to hit the home button twice invariably means shifting your grip on the iPad, and is extremely awkward, not to mention risky when you’re standing.

And it becomes even more awkward to try to even find the damnably useless button if, like me, you tend to use it in pretty much any orientation, shifting from portrait for reading to landscape for writing.

A Working Tool

And when I am writing, I use multi-tasking a lot for switching between, say, the browser, Twitter and Evernote, or between e-mail, my calendar and Keynote - so much so that swiping up and letting my thumb hang over the multi-tasking bar to tap on the app I was previously using became an instinctive (and extremely satisfying) gesture.

It was a breeze to use the iPad with just that one gesture - pinching to get to the home screen and swiping to switch apps also worked, but those were less useful to me in general because I did not necessarily agree with the iPad’s definition of the “previous” app that I was using.

The swipe-up (and tap) was sheer magic. It punctuated my interaction with apps and was beyond merely useful or efficient - it felt wholesome, gratifying, and the closest thing to actually manipulating applications as I shuffled between them effortlessly without the gross fumbling I’ve come to associate with the home button - hitting it twice is gauche, inelegant, frustrating, and far from Apple-like when you’ve used the gestures.

A Broken Tool

And Apple took away that magic, bestowing it solely to iPad 2 owners and leaving my hindbrain and fingers pointlessly swiping every now and then (even as I typed this and tried to switch to Twitter momentarily to gripe about my usual morning headache).

But maybe I’m not getting the full point across here, so I’ll try again:

I became so used to switching between apps without using the home button that the iPad is now the most frustrating device I own.

Of course I complained. Immediately. But to what avail and based on which (likely mistaken) belief that they’ll listen, I cannot tell.

Planned Obsolescence Sucks

I don’t see any conceivable reason why early adopters are shunned other than to establish another (meaningless and stupefyingly irritating) distinction between old and new devices.

I’ve been a witness to Apple’s approach to planned obsolescence for years (witness, say, the inability to set wallpaper images on the original iPhone 3G), and I understand that features have to be tested and signed off on, but the removal of a feature (even an experimental one) that made a device much more usable makes me, in a word, furious.

And yes, I’ve wondered about possible technical limitations, but not only did gestures work fine for me over a number of months, the iPad 1 now sports AssistiveTouch just like the iPad 2 - only the multi-tasking gestures were taken away.

So thank you, Apple, for ruining my iPad for me. I suppose that’s the thanks I get for buying a first-generation device (oh, yes, I knew that would come back to bite me) and beta-testing stuff for you.