Six updates in, iPadOS still needs work

It hasn’t even been two months since Apple shipped iPadOS, but in that time the tablet offshoot of iOS 13 has seen six maintenance updates–from iPadOS 13.1.1 to 13.2.3.

That plethora of patches has squashed some obvious bugs, like the ones that made Dock shortcuts to recently-opened non-Apple apps inert. They have not, however, cured other trying aspects of iPadOS:

• The new QuickPath gesture-typing option is, for some reason, confined to the floating keyboard you can invoke, not the standard-sized one. Has nobody at Apple tried using Google’s Gboard?

• The new multiple-windows option for an app is buried beneath a long-press of a Dock icon–sufficiently hidden that I did not realize that feature existed until reading Ars Technica’s iPadOS review.

• I appreciate Apple’s attempts to make me aware when apps request my location in the background, but after being nagged 10 times about my choice to let the Dark Sky weather app check my coordinates in the background, I’d appreciate having an option to the effect of “I know what I’m doing and you can stop asking about this.”

• Seeing which apps have updates or have been recently updated takes more steps than in iOS 12–presumably, so that Apple could use that spot at the bottom of the App Store app to promote its Apple Arcade subscription gaming service.

• The process of moving app icons around feels even more maddening than before, especially if I happen to drop an app inside a folder by mistake. Meanwhile, the OS still affords no relief from its inflexible app grid; I can’t leave a row or a column blank as negative space to set off particular icons.

• AirDrop remains as enabling of anonymous harassment as ever.

• I still see display glitches like the charming overlap of portrait and landscape screen modes shown in the screengrab above.

It’s not that I regret installing iPadOS–some of the new features, like the privacy-preserving Sign in with Apple option, are only starting to reveal their promise. Others, such as the Sidecar Mac screen-mirroring option, require newer hardware than the aging iMac on which I’m typing this. But seeing these obscure, illogical or insensitive bits of user experience, I can’t help thinking of all the times I’ve taken a whack at Windows for the same sort of design stumbles.

An iOS mystery: Where and when will Gboard not appear?

The fact that I own an Android phone has rarely been more obvious than when I use my iPad–and I try to “gesture type” as if I were using my smaller mobile device’s onscreen keyboard.

The arrival of iOS 8 and its support of third-party keyboards made tracing a path from letter to letter to enter text not just a pointless exercise but a possibility. And with iOS 9’s less buggy support, it’s become a less annoying possibility, but still not a sure thing.

Gboard app iconThat’s become clear to me since Google shipped its Gboard keyboard app in May and, after a satisfactory tryout, I made that free app the default keyboard on my iPad mini 4.

Most of the time, Gboard appears whenever I touch a text field. I can gesture-type with ease (except when I’m holding the tablet sideways), and I could season my prose with emojis and GIFs were I, you know, 20 years younger.

But Apple’s built-in keyboard keeps on surprising me by resurfacing on its own. To get a better sense of how often that happens, I tried taking notes on this behavior this week and reached three conclusions:

• The system works more often than I gave it credit for. The departures from the norm stick out, but keeping track of them made me realize how rare they are.

• In certain cases, the stock keyboard shows up because it’s supposed to. As an Apple tech-support note explains, iOS’s keyboard automatically takes over in secure data-entry fields like the password dialogs of the App Store and Amazon apps.

• In rare occasions, iOS does get confused about keyboards for no apparent reason. A tap of the address bar in Safari would sometimes invoke the stock keyboard instead of Gboard, while the Duolingo language-tutorial app proved itself capable of alternating between the iOS and Google keyboards in a single session.

It’s tempting to blame Apple, given the iffy quality of much of its software. But I can’t rule out this being Google’s fault. I mean, as good as Gboard is, I still had to do a copy-and-paste job from a Web site to enter the symbol that best captures my latest diagnosis of the situation:

 

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Weekly output: Facebook Live and Flash, Facebook Trending (x2), sharing-economy privacy, Tech Night Owl, iPad keyboards

I’m at the start of two weeks of a ridiculous travel schedule. I flew to Boston this afternoon to cover the cable industry’s INTX convention, Tuesday night I’m off to SFO to spend the rest of the week at Google’s I/O conference in Mountain View, Saturday I come home… and I won’t spend much time there before getting back on a plane. More about that in next Sunday’s recap.

USAT Facebook Live post5/9/2016: Flash makes one of its last stands on Facebook Live, USA Today

As I wrote in my Facebook post advertising this story, I’ve yet to do anything with Facebook Live video. Should I?

5/10/2016: Facebook Trending news, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news channel had me on to discuss the Gizmodo report that Facebook’s Trending list of headlines suppressed some conservative sites. My first take was that the sorry record of accuracy at the likes of Breitbart.com and the Drudge Report invited skeptical treatment, but talking about this on camera got some wheels turning in my head.

5/10/2016: Some sharing economy companies share too much of your information, Yahoo Finance

I always enjoy reading the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s annual “Who Has Your Back?” accounting of how tech firms say they’ll answer government requests for your data (see my writeup of last year’s report), and this year’s mostly-uncomplimentary look at “sharing economy” firms was more interesting than usual.

5/11/2016: There are worse things than manipulated ‘Trending’ stories lists, Yahoo Finance

This is the post that resulted from those wheels turning in my head. The comments, as you can see, were neither friendly nor persuasive. There’s a broader conversation to be had about the detachment many Republicans seem to be having from observed reality on subjects like climate change and evolution, but I guess a story’s comments thread is not the place for it.

5/14/2016: May 14, 2016 — Adam Engst and Rob Pegoraro, Tech Night Owl

I talked with host Gene Steinberg about Facebook’s Trending list and Apple’s lagging computer-hardware updates, among other issues.

5/15/2016: How to use or avoid hidden iPad keyboard options, USA Today

Once again, my own computing malfunctions served as column fodder. Writing this allowed me to offer a first-look review of Google’s Gboard iPad-keyboard app; as I type this, it’s the default keyboard on my iPad.