Apple usually manages to pull off a good combination of form and function. That's a subjective judgement if course, but it tallies with a lot of opinions I've read elsewhere. I have a plethora of Apple devices and, for the most part, I prefer them to their competitors' devices. But there are some lemons in their line-up of hardware and software; some Friday afternoon inventions that failed to make the mark.
Apple TV Remote
The Apple TV remote is terrible. It has just six buttons, which is about 20 too few if my other remote controls are anything to go by. I think I can see what they were trying to do, which is to buck the trend of remote controls festooned with buttons. I think they were aiming for simplicity, but replacing a lot of the buttons with a trackpad, of sorts, just doesn't work. It's fiddly and every time I try to use it I get in a pickle. If I try to navigate to an app on the telly, the cursor jumps around at random until, thanks to the law of averages, I happen to land on the app I want. But as I try to centre my finger in the middle and press the button — for the trackpad is also a big button in disguise — I invariably nudge it off the app I want and it starts jumping around like a demented bunny-rabbit again.
You may say I'm a ham-fisted oaf, and you'd be right, but there are millions of us in the Ham-Fisted Oafs' Society, and we want to be catered for alongside people who can operate their fingers properly.
Then there's the sheer timidity of the thing. I've photographed it next to my Sky TV remote below.
It's tiny and inconsequential. I feel like I should pick it up with tweezers. A remote control needs some fat in order to feel satisfying in the hand. And pressing a button that does a single thing is better than fiddling around with a trackpad that seems to do as it pleases. We could certainly lose a lot of the buttons traditional remotes have, but my advice to Apple is to prefer buttons over trackpads for this sort of thing. Sky TV needs to navigate in a similar way, but it uses a four-way button with a noticeable click, and it's all the better for it.
I was hoping I could say we're one down here because Apple recently announced a new remote to go with the new 4K Apple TV box, but that doesn't look much beefier than the current one. Some reports about the new remote suggest it's even worse, which I didn't think was possible.
What were they thinking with the Apple mouse? I've owned one for over a year now and it's still not house trained. The first point the prosecution would like to make is that it isn't a mouse, it's a trackpad shaped like a mouse. Yes, it does have a button you can left-click and right-click; the entire mouse is a button, but there are no scroll wheels because they'd be too logical. The entire top of the mouse is a gently curved trackpad. I could cope with the up and down tracking, but I can't cope with the side-to-side tracking. Like the TV remote, I'm always scrolling sideways when I don't want to, which makes it feel like I'm in a constant state of inebriation. I can't switch the sideways scrolling off either, at least as far as I can tell. If I wanted a trackpad I'd have ordered a trackpad.
But we haven't even got to the worst feature yet, and it's a biggie. The charging port is on the bottom of the mouse. Most mice have a charging port at the back or on the side so that you can still use it while it's charging. Not the Apple mouse, though. They put it on the bottom and I seriously wonder what sort of mind that came up with that idea. Hopefully whoever it was isn't terrorising society in other ways. I never keep an eye of the amount of charge I have left on my mouse, so the first I know about things is when it just stops working. Said mouse then has to lie flat on its back while it charges, which forces me to use my Macbook's trackpad in the interim. Another trackpad! Somebody at Apple loves them.
It's £100 too. That's a lot for a mouse-shaped trackpad.
In lots of ways iOS is an excellent operating system. It's fair to say it has revolutionised portable, touch-based computing. I think the iPadOS derivative is particularly good and if somebody asks me what computer they should buy, I'll tell them it's an iPad. Maybe a 12.9 inch with a keyboard, mouse (or trackpad masquerading as a mouse) and stand. I think it's the ideal computer for most people. I also happen to think the iPad is Apple's best value for money device.
The thing is, there's an iPad Pro, the latest of which is powered by Apple's M1 chip. The clue to which category of user this is aimed at is in the name: Pro. Yet Apple doesn't have iPadOS versions of its own pro software, such as Final Cut and Logic Pro.
Furthermore, there's a subcategory of Pro users like me who like to tinker with code and run command line stuff. I can't do either of those things on an iPad. Command lines on iOS are the devil's work as far as Apple is concerned, which means I can't run my static blogging software and build this site on the iPad. And there's no Xcode on the iPad of course.
I think the iPad was originally designed to make sure users couldn't screw it up. It's locked down tighter than a nun's knickers. I can see how this has it's advantages, but Apple themselves are pushing the Pro side of things, and I think the iPad has evolved beyond its original specification. Yet truly Pro activities are hamstrung by the software.
I can understand why they might want to keep iPadOS locked down the way it is for a lot of users. But if the iPad Pro is going to live up to its insignia, it needs to give more freedom to Pro users. At the moment the hardware's writing cheques the software can't cash.