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Friday, April 09, 2010, 08:05 am PT (11:05 am ET)

In-depth review: Apple's IPad and iPhone OS 3.2




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iPad software: Human Interface Guidelines & Flexible Orientation

Another aspect of the iPad HIG is its insistence that the device has no default orientation. There is no up nor any left end; it's however the user wants to hold it.

iPad's iPhone OS 3.2 introduces a Home screen that can flip sideways and upside down. Apps are supposed to work however the user desires, although some can pick a fixed orientation, such as how Keynote only works in landscape, or how CBS's app only works in portrait.

If you don't like the headphone jack being on the "top," just twirl it around and its now on the bottom, and your screen adjusts for you. This is so slick its completely invisible. It's also a very new idea, something that I've never seen in a consumer electronics device.

iPad software: new tweaks and features

In addition to the overall structure imposed by iPad's HIG, the new iPhone OS 3.2 incorporates a variety of new little tweaks and features across the system and within apps.

Apart from the aforementioned text selection features, there's new support for custom virtual keyboards suited to a particular purpose (as demonstrated by Apple's Numbers spreadsheet) and custom finger gesture recognition.

Users can change their Home screen background (and as noted earlier, flip the Home screen into a landscape orientation. One annoying thing is that Apple swaps apps around on the page between the two orientations. It does not need to do this, as the six icons in the fixed Dock indicate. This is a pretty flagrant violation of the HIG principle of not shifting the location of expected user interface targets).

iPad Home flip


A variety of bundled apps get new features: Photos supports iPhoto 09's Places feature, presenting photos by their geotagged location. iPod can create and name new playlists. YouTube now supports 720p video playback. Maps now has support for Google's terrain layer, along with a simplified user interface for finding directions.

iPad software: conspicuously missing apps

Some apps on iPhone that did not make it to the Home screen of iPad are missing for obvious reasons: there's no SMS or Phone; there's no real need for a stand alone Compass (that app was largely a show off thing for iPhone 3.0; most people only use the digital compass within Maps or augmented reality apps); and it makes no sense to go jogging with Nike+ and an iPad strapped to your chest.

But there are an array of other handy little apps that also didn't make the cut. Their omission possibly suggests that Apple excluded them because it has a new strategy under wraps for widget-style apps like Calculator, Clock, Weather and Stocks.

The idea that iPhone 4.0 would introduce a new model for running multiple concurrent apps which included a way to overlay a dashboard of widget features above the primary application (much like the original Macintosh's Desktop Accessories) did not get fleshed out or even implied. In Q&A, Jobs even sidestepped the idea of widgets on iPad.

While users can perform most calculations or check weather or stocks using a Google search from Safari, the across-the-board omission of all widget apps is hard to explain unless you assume that Apple still has a Plan B in progress, and simply decided that including the old iPhone versions would look cheap and upgrading them all to a sharp, full screen interface befitting iPad would take too much time and effort.

If the company is gearing up to deliver an alternative way to present foreground applets that enable users to look up this kind of information, set a timer, or perhaps even chat over IM or play streaming Internet radio, it would certainly explain why there's currently nothing in that empty space right now.

It is apparent that iPhone 4.0 will offer things that Apple didn't detail in its initial unveiling; for example, developers have noticed an iChatAgent that could only be useful to a bundled Instant messenger app. We'll have to wait and see about widgets. And iPad users will have to wait a bit longer, as iPhone 4.0 will ship around June, but its iPad version won't be delivered until "the Fall."

On page 7 of 10: iPad software: other notable details; Calendar; Notes; Maps; Safari; Mail; Photo; Videos, iPod, iTunes and App Store; and YouTube.