A Formulated Technology Column


Don’t Buy The New iPads Just Yet

Anyone who has worked in the technology consumer technology pretty much knows this rule of thumb from the get-go: the best software means nothing if a bad software is running on it. Conversely, a great software means nothing if it’s running on a bad hardware. The two go together, hand-in-hand.

On hindsight, this was probably the problem Google had with Android from the beginning – before they finally decided to take the lead and step in with their very own Nexus line of products: Google was producing decent software but instead of letting it run on the best hardware available, many manufacturers that supported Android back then (and today, still) allowed it to run on mediocre hardware that was easy to design and cheap to produce. In the end, Google basically said, “enough is enough.” They didn’t want to take up the blame for something the manufacturers were doing to their software (vilifying it) and decided to produce their own line of devices that they could be proud of. A hardware that does the software justice. Hence, the birth of the Nexus One and the Nexus line of products, designed and constructed entirely from within Google’s labs. So what did Google learn?

Great software is nothing without great hardware.

Apple is about to learn the opposite.

Which seems weird, because given the position Apple is in right now, they sure can improve, but there’s really not much else they can learn. In fact, everyone is learning from them.

But with the latest release of the iPads, there’s truly some room for improvement.

When Apple released the new iPads, they were great. The size reduction from the iPad 4 to the iPad Air is, I dare say, magical. For as long as I’ve been covering the consumer technology industry, I don’t think any other company could have done it within the timeframe Apple did – just a year. The iPad mini was great too. A couple months ago, I heard from my sources within Apple that Apple would only save the retina screens for the iPad mini 3 due to potential production shortages. But instead, within the next few months, they showed the world what was possible when you have the brightest engineers working for you in your labs.

The iPad mini 2 is, quite simply, what the iPad mini 3 should have been.

But when I picked up an iPad Air for the first time last week, I wasn’t as impressed as I thought it would be.

Not that I thought the iPad Air was any less magical hardware-wise as when I first saw it unveiled during keynote.

But the software.

It was just terrible by Apple’s standards. If any other company produced that kind of software for a tablet, it’d probably be the greatest thing the universe has ever seen. But for Apple to simply scale up what was supposed to be an operating system for a 4-inch screen up to a 9.7-inch screen is just disappointing.

And it shows.

Folders, Siri, Notification Center and Control Center looks hilariously out of place on the iPad Air. From what was originally the most fluid software on a piece of device accessible to mainstream consumers, it is now sluggish, slow and crash-prone. While the iPad Air has internals that are comparable to a 3 years old laptop, iOS 7 fails to take advantage of it.

Great hardware. But software? It blows.

There have been reports that the reason why iOS 7 is so unsuited for the iPad is because during the great revamp from iOS 6 to iOS 7, Apple dedicated all their engineers to work on the iPad and not the iPhone. Which makes sense, given that way more people buy the iPhone over the iPad. But Apple shouldn’t have released the new iPads either if it doesn’t have a software that works greatly with the new hardware.

Apple had compromised the one thing I thought they would never compromise: the user experience.

Someone reasonable might say they did so because they wanted the new iPads to be available before the annual holiday gift buying season. But if Apple had really dedicated their best engineers to optimizing iOS 7 for the new iPads before releasing them, I doubt it would have taken them more than 2 – 3 weeks.

Of course, the fact that iOS 7 isn’t optimized for the new iPads yet shouldn’t be a deal-breaker since it should be fixable with a software update (which I sure hope is coming soon). For those of you who bought the new iPads, or has bought it for someone else, it’s okay. The fix will come in due time and even if it doesn’t (which I strongly doubt), the new iPads are still the best tablets you can get right now. But for those of you who haven’t bought it yet, I’d advise you to wait. After all, it’ll be a better feeling when you use a new iPad with a software that’s perfectly optimized for it than if it is half-baked.

Is this case representative of the direction Apple is heading towards? Getting products out of the market before it is perfect? I don’t know. But I sure hope not.