Since Apple’s WWDC keynote on Monday, it has been fascinating to see how people reacted to two things in particular: the death of iTunes and mouse support for iPad. In a way these were non-announcements as neither of them was announced on stage and I put them together because in my mind these two are deeply rooted in legacy workflows and it seems that people’s feelings about both are quite polarized. On iTunes there is a camp feeling nostalgic and sad to see it go and one that wished its death was called much earlier. On mouse support for iPad there is a camp rejoicing for it as it brings the iPad closer to deliver a PC experience and there is one that sees this addition as a step back in allowing for new touch-first workflows. So which camp am I in?
iTunes Can Now Rest In Peace
The iTunes brands sure meant a lot for my generation. iTunes, and of course iPod, were the door into digital music so I can understand why so much of the WWDC press coverage focused on this. It is the end of an era, and the steps Apple took to transition the iTunes functionality reflect precisely where we are with content consumption.
iTunes has felt tired for a long time, and it also felt like it was trying to be too many things at once. Apple itself made fun of this second point on stage, announcing that they were adding calendar and email support to it before unveiling what they were really doing: splitting its functionality. For content, we now have three distinct apps: Apple Music, Apple TV, and Podcasts. These are the same apps we use on iOS, so it just makes sense to have consistency with the Mac, especially given the efforts around Project Catalyst, aka Marzipan. The change also reflects that music is no longer the only digital content people consume regularly. Personal content users had is not suffering from this change either, and it will be automatically transitioned in the apps that match the content type, so your music library will be in Apple Music and your movies in Apple TV.
iTunes was also how consumers synced their content and performed, but even this has changed for many consumers. If you have embraced iCloud, you have had little need for iTunes already. But if you have not transitioned to the cloud, you can still perform these tasks via Finder, which, if you think about it, is a much more logical place for this task.
Digital content has moved on, and so have we. I am thankful for the service iTunes provided, but I am glad to let it go.
To Mouse or not to Mouse, this is the Question!
This non-announcement is a little more complicated. At no point on stage, Apple referred to mouse support as a feature for iPad. Instead, Apple talked about an enhanced touch experience that would improve editing on iPad something that many users had been asking for. As someone who uses an iPad Pro as my primary computing device when I travel I can attest to how painful editing text can be. Apple also announced Desktop-browsing support for Safari, which basically means that while in iOS sites were defaulting to a mobile version and users could force the desktop version now iPadOS will be set up in the opposite way. This is a step that will improve workflows quite significantly for users.
So how do we get to mouse support? A developer noticed an accessibility feature in iOS13 that delivers Assistive Touch and the mouse target that replicates a finger touch and can navigate using Bluetooth and USB mice. This feature was already available in previous generations but has been optimized. iPad also got the newly introduced USB support for external storage, so I do wonder if the USB mouse support is part of the same release.
Of course, you can be a skeptic and say that Apple buried the feature not to admit that their stand on iPad and mouse has changed. When I look at some of the videos people, have posted on how this new mouse feature works and, more interestingly, when I read comments from regular users I can’t help but think that at least this version of mouse support is really what it says on the label: an accessibility feature. I say that because it is clearly not designed to replicate the traditional use of a mouse. Users will try and use it in that capacity, but I would guess the experience will be subpar to what it could be if Apple really decided to give iPad a mouse. It is not the first time that Apple changes its mind and markets the U-turn in such a way that you think it was always planned that way. I just don’t believe this is the case in this occasion.
From the short demo I had of the new gestures, it seemed to me that a lot of my pain points were addressed but I was curious to hear what people who downloaded the developer beta thought of it in comparison to this accessibility feature. One comment was particularly interesting to me:
I tried them and unless you’re typing on the on display keyboard all day it’s not really much improvement (I use the keyboard case, it’s easier)
— Owen Williams ⚡ (@ow) June 4, 2019
Owen talks about the gestures being useful if you are typing on glass while the accessibility feature makes a difference when using a keyboard with your iPad. I find this interesting because it seems to align with Apple’s position on touch on the Mac. Apple has always said they do not believe in vertical touch. If your hands are on the keyboard, it is unnatural to reach out and touch the screen. I used to share that conviction when my primary devices were Macs and larger PCs, but I have come to use touch and keyboard a lot with my iPad because that is what I learned to do on my Surface. The reason why this is more natural to me than with a larger PCs is simply that both Surface Pro and iPad tend to be much closer to me than a regular PC making lifting my hand to touch the screen much more comfortable. As a matter of fact, I do not use the touchpad on the Surface Keyboard as much as I use it on a traditional notebook.
We are all a little different, and our workflows are all unique, even when we use the same apps. For me, what it really should boil down to, and I said this before, is whether the device fits your workflow. I admitted to my editing and browser pain with iPad Pro, pain that I endure because the return I get from being able to do everything I want with one device is enough of a driver for me. Am I happy that Apple is addressing my pain points with improved touch? Absolutely! Do I want a mouse? No, I don’t because if it were such a crucial part of my workflow, and the same goes for the keyboard, I would carry a Mac.
If you still think you cannot do real work on an iPad because of the lack of mouse support, I don’t think the iPad fits your workflows, and that’s ok. If you want to try and use the iPad and feel that you are compromising on user experience in such a way that the pain is more than the reward, then the iPad is also not for you, and that’s ok too. With Project Catalyst, it could be that some users for whom keyboard and mouse are essential might find that iOS-like apps on a Mac bring them closer to an iPad experience without compromising on their core needs. This is the beauty of being able to choose a tool that best fits your workflow, not the other way around.