A few days ago, iTunes helpfully informed me that Apple had released an update to the iPad edition of Keynote. I read the list of new features: additional stability; a fix for a bug I’d never encountered; it no longer invisibly sends your bio slide to the Jumbotron in Times Square so thousands can laugh at your CV; then… “Enhanced presenter display shows the current slide, next slide, or notes when connected to an external display”. Yippee, I’ve wanted this feature for ages! I felt like I’d just won Wonka’s golden ticket.
I have a love-hate relationship with most pieces of technology. But with the iPad over the past nine months I’ve been, at worst, love-slightly irked. If I’m travelling for just a couple of days to give a talk, I don’t even really think about taking my MacBook now. I just pack up the iPad and a display adapter and I’m good to go.
However, the one thing I didn’t like about it as a presentation device is the fact that I needed to keep twisting my neck around to see what slide I was on. Pre-Keynote 1.3, the app would keep this huge 10in screen almost completely dark.
It felt like the developers of this app were lashing out passive-aggressively against me for something I’d said at dinner. But now I get to see the slide that the rest of the room is seeing! Huzzah! Wait. Shouldn’t that have been built into Keynote 1.0? I mean, obviously?
It’s not as though Keynote’s developers needed to overcome a huge technical hurdle. I’d been using a wonderful alternative to Keynote that worked The Right Way from day one. Picture Link (£2.39 from www.zuhanden.de) is a trim little presentation app that offers clean iPad/projector mirroring. It also scores above Keynote in its ability to host nonlinear presentations. Plus, you’re not limited to the conventional Next/Back buttons: you can also add HyperCard-style hotlinks to any or all of your slides and forge multiple paths through your images.
The one drawback of Picture Link is that it only works with existing images. No worries. I use Keynote to build my presentation, then use the iPad’s screen-capture feature to save those screens to my Saved Pictures roll.
I’m not going to presume that a garage startup like Apple has all the staff and resources of Picture Link creator Zuhanden GmbH, of course. Still, the omission of a seemingly basic feature is a signature move for Apple.
The new edition of Keynote rolled out alongside iOS 4.2. A dispassionate observer might note that multitasking and printing were things the iPad should have supported from day one, to say nothing of cut-and-paste.
The usual answer is that Apple would rather develop broad infrastructures than simple features. Allowing multiple third-party apps to run simultaneously takes no time at all; developing a framework and an API so that arbitrary third-party apps can run together without knocking heads takes time. Cut-and-paste is so simple that even I wrote a routine like that in a few hours. A cut-and-paste system that works consistently across all apps with all forms of media takes time.
And that same personality quirk holds true with things like iPad printing. It’s easy to forget that iOS, like Mac OS, is built on a version of Unix and that all the architecture for printing is baked right in. Just add printer drivers and two eggs (three if you’re at altitude) and your iPad can print… at least on the level of what’s technically possible. Apple wanted to create an infrastructure for driverless printing, and that concept seems to becoming increasingly important as mobile devices take on more and more of a conventional computer’s workload.
We tend to forgive the features that Apple left behind, though. We’re confident it will get around to them in time. It’s like lending money. We understand that there’s a gamble in giving Apple our cash, but the company is a good credit risk and we’re confident that within 12 months they’ll give us a feature that they never promised.
Lovely. The danger there is that we might someday accept all of this as Normal. It isn’t. Our expectations should always be high and we should never lose our ability to feel a sense of disappointment.
I’ve been playing with the Samsung Galaxy Tab for the past few weeks. While not an outright challenger to the iPad, it’s correct to say that it’s the first tablet to roll down the tracks that the iPad laid. One of the first things I did was point my browser at a TV network’s website and see how well the Tab played Flash video. And I’ll be damned: it plays just fine.
It’s not a full-on win for Adobe. Interactive Flash games are hopeless and when playing video, it works best when the camera’s locked down. But even when you’re watching a sports video, it’s within the bandwidth of watchable.
So why can’t we have Flash on our iOS devices? Why must we wait for Apple’s HTML5 infrastructure, when Flash is an adequate feature? It’s the difference between being able to watch the Doctor Who special edition of The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson… and not.
I recently read something about Walt Disney that seemed very familiar. A man who worked with him said “Walt wanted to make sure that if you came to Disney World, you would have a fantastic time. And he succeeded. But he also wanted to make sure there wasn’t the option of having a bad time.”
That’s everything you need to know about Apple. Its roller coaster is smooth, clean, and well-maintained. But sometimes there’s a little extra thrill to going on the shaky old wooden coaster, particularly if you know it came off the rails last summer.