Apple caught with their pants down

The other day Apple released an absolutely terrific product, the iPad Pro. This is the king of tablets - with a price to match - and it further blurs the boundary between a tablet and a laptop. Along with the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, these two devices are solidifying a new category of device. But Apple has a very rigid user interface for their devices, and they shipped the iPad Pro with a huge flaw, which is the icons are spaced too far apart on the home screen, and the iOS interface doesn't take any advantage of the huge screen real estate.  The space between the icons on the iPad pro's home page has more pixels than the original iPhone screen!  Even though this product was started over a year ago, Apple could not get even a simple change effected on their operating system. 

courtesy http://www.macworld.com/article/3004823/ipad/5-things-i-noticed-in-my-first-hours-with-the-ipad-pro.html

courtesy http://www.macworld.com/article/3004823/ipad/5-things-i-noticed-in-my-first-hours-with-the-ipad-pro.html

Apple has tried to keep the number of screen sizes to a minimum, but market forces are pushing them towards a wider range of screen sizes, but the way you make software in the Apple world is to use their design tools, and those tools weren't designed to handle that wide a range. Adapting to a wide range of physical screen sizes is a major unsolved problem in software today, and you can see how tough it is when the mighty Apple with limitless funds at its disposal, couldn't fix the operating system home screen to make it show more icons. The size difference between an iPad Mini and the iPad Pro is so huge, that the one-format-fits-all approach Apple has been using has broken down.

In the Android world, you never know what size and shape device you are going to encounter. There are screens that are long and narrow strips, in the shape of a Hershey's bar, there are circular screens with a slice cut off the bottom (Moto 360), and dual screen oddities. There are over 12,000 different Android devices, and not one of them has more than 10% market share! Making software that fits itself like a liquid into any shaped container is a major challenge, and certainly one of the most important goals of my Beads project is to make it easier to write software that makes freely flowing interfaces.

android_fragmentation.png

The above chart shows the market share of each android device. This chart is from a few years back, it is much worse now!  graphic courtesy of OpenSignal.

Sooner or later, Apple will need to acknowledge that their software system needs to accommodate a wider variety of sizes. Eventually they will end up with a product in every size range. Look at Samsung's product line and their sizes. Basically they have every size imaginable, and the challenge to the software designer is to make things look good at every size. When Steve Jobs was around he insisted on only a few device resolutions and aspect ratios; Jobs was like Henry Ford who used to joke that you could have a car in any color you wanted as long as it was Black. But Samsung is like General Motors which offered cars in any color. Note that this diagram is obsolete, because Samsung has an 18 inch tablet now! And Nabi offers at 24 inch tablet for $400. It is a challenge to get software to work well on all these crazy devices.

Samsung device size chart, Image from http://tech.sina.com.cn/ 

Samsung device size chart, Image from http://tech.sina.com.cn/