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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: iPhone OS 3.x features and changes

Apple released iPad with iPhone OS 3.2, an incremental expansion upon the current 3.1.3 release used by the iPhone and iPod touch. AppleInsider profiled the core features of IPhone 3.0 in our review of the iPhone 3GS.

There are four categories of things that have changed between the last year's iPhone OS products and the iPad:

1) There's an entirely new set of Human Interface Guidelines for iPad.

The new HIG sets iPad apart as a larger format platform for apps. These guidelines shape how existing iPhone apps (such as Mail and Calendar and Mobile Safari) scale up as iPad apps, and how Mac OS X desktop apps (such as iTunes and iWork) can become native, streamlined iPad apps.

2) There are some interface tweaks and new features.

Some of these tweaks will likely make it to the iPhone and iPod touch via a forthcoming iPhone OS update. For example, iPad's expanded text selection and copy/paste system now offers spell checking, dictionary definitions, and other app-specific features. And of course, there's the new Bluetooth keyboard support.

3) There are several conspicuously missing apps on iPad.

For example, while it has a built in mic and support for mic-incorporating headphones, there's no bundled Voice Memos app (there are third party options). Similarly, Apple left off support for Voice Command (perhaps because its value is tied primarily to calling your contacts, even though it can also be used to navigate your iPod music playback.)

There's also no Compass app (but there is a digital compass, and it works in Maps). There's no support for Nike+, which wouldn't make much sense anyway, of course. And finally, there are no widget apps brought forward from the iPhone, such as Calculator, Clock, Weather and Stocks.

4) Finally, there are features that still just missing in general.

Some of these will be addressed in iPhone 4.0, which Apple presented on Thursday. Those features include such things as background third party apps, app organization into Folders, enhancements to Mail such as a unified inbox, Exchange improvements, and Game Center features.

The sections below will look into each of these four aspects of change relative to the previously existing iPhone and iPod touch.

iPad software: Human Interface Guidelines & App Design

In plotting the move from the small 3.5" screen of iPhone and iPod touch to the much larger canvas of iPad, there are several things Apple might have done. It could have simply made the iPad a way to run lots of existing iPhone apps on the screen at once, each floating like a window on a 1990's PC desktop. Fortunately, it didn't do that.

Instead, while iPad allows users to run the huge existing library of iPhone apps, Apple developed an entirely new expansion to its iPhone Human Interface Guidelines. This resulted in making a new tier of iPad software that is highly preferable to running the existing iPhone apps designed to run on a small screen. Once you get a taste of iPad apps, you won't really want to use iPhone apps on its big screen.

While many iPhone games are still completely playable and even look pretty good after being pixel doubled to fill the screen, users will definitely want to find iPad-specific software to get the most from their new device. And there's lots to choose from in the App Store.

Apple's HIG for iPad does not attempt to simply make iPhone apps bigger. In fact, the overall design of apps is changed significantly to make iPad apps feel more like desktop apps, rather than scaled up smartphone apps.

One example is toolbars. Mail on iPhone presents simple lists of accounts, mailboxes, and emails. Individual emails are presented on the screen with a toolbar at the bottom. On iPad, there's not only enough space to split the screen to show both your mail list and the email detail, but the HIG also specifies that the tools should be at the top.

Similarly, apps like Safari now present not just their toolbar on top (as shown below), but also use their menu bar to present new features, such as a Bookmark bar similar to the desktop version of Safari. On the other hand, iPad's Safari incorporates an iPhone-style, multiple page tabbed browsing system rather than trying to present desktop-style tabs, which would eat up a lot of screen real estate.

iPad HIG


iPad software: Human Interface Guidelines & Documents

Apple's iWork apps illustrate HIG principles for working with documents. On iPad, documents are part of the application, not something you search for in the file system yourself. Rather than saving documents manually, the app saves work as you do it, keeping a record of everything you do so it can be progressively undone later.

You get can documents in and out of iPad apps in a number of ways. One is email; you can QuickView documents from Mail and then open them using another app right from Mail. You can also export iWork documents to Apple's iwork.com service, although this isn't yet working flawlessly.

Thirdly, you can use Apple's "File Sharing," a feature exposed in iTunes (hidden within a syncing iPad's "Apps" tab, shown below) to copy documents to and from specific apps.

iPad File Sharing


The way Apple designated iPad to work with documents sheds light on how the company expects users to work with iPad: it's not a standalone computer designed to replace your notebook. It's a highly mobile tool for working on the go, requiring a uplink tether to move content back and forth.

Being able to email documents out from the iPad is pretty convenient, but there's still no way to wirelessly share files from the iPad directly without packaging things in an email. However, if you interview lots of office workers, you'll find that's exactly what they do now; many people simply can't figure out file shares and wireless networking, but they do understand the idea of emailing an attachment. And so that's what the iPad does.

In addition to apps like iWork that primarily create documents, there's also apps that work with media files, such as your photos. These apps browse through your photo library with a Media Browser rather than having you search your images as a list of files.

On page 6 of 10: iPad software: Human Interface Guidelines & Flexible Orientation; iPad software: new tweaks and features; and iPad software: conspicuously missing apps.