Putting the Pro in iPad Pro

There was a lot of talk a few months ago about Apple’s marketing of the iPad Pro, and how they are positioning it as a PC replacement. In order for app developers to produce professional-level content creation apps, Apple needs to create more complex and generalized user-facing developer components that are designed for the human finger.

Folks are talking about all kinds of things, from split screen multitasking, to drag and drop. Some contend that adding a mouse is a requirement for a serious computing platform, while others focus on flaws in the App Store model.

The key part of content creation is the creation tool itself. The kind of content created is directly dependent on the tool used.

In order for apps to support the complex kinds of content that pro users demand, it needs to be built in to the software’s DNA. Hardware accessories alone aren’t sufficient. The software development kit that Apple provides needs pro components.

The trouble for the iPad is that we’re essentially using the same basic building blocks as we were on the iPhone in iOS 3.0, with a view exceptions. There are a few new things, such as Stack Views, which allow developers to split the screen within their app, and Popovers which give us those transient tooltip overlays for quick tasks within an app.

But expecting app developers to build professional apps with the current UIKit is like asking a chef to make a pizza with only flour, and water. Without more ingredients it’s not pizza.

If we want iPads (of any flavor, be it Air, Pro, or baby Pro) to flourish as content creation devices, the off-the-shelf software development components need to be more diverse. I think a really good example of this is the new Swift Playgrounds app.

Apple did a phenomenal job with the user interface there. There are a few aspects of the app which made be take a step back and go “Huh. That would awesome if it were available as a UIKit component.” The number pad, specifically, with its circular slider and precise value types was pretty cool.

Apple’s use of the Autosuggest bar above the keyboard was also very well done. Contextual suggestions work well to eliminate inputs that are irrelevant in a given context to make the user more productive with their so-called “imprecise” finger input.

The iPad already has a ton of great hardware inputs, including the touch screen, cameras, and microphones, but when it comes to providing content creation software ingredients, the ones on the shelf are starting to get stale.

This matters because not every app developer is going to be able to design the right user interface for their use case. If developing a pro app requires that much more custom design, not every indie will go for it.

When the iPad came out, Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines for developers explained that the larger screen provided for more opportunities for custom interfaces. Remember, though, skeuomorphism was at its prime then, and there was tons of real world inspiration.

Even then, though, iPad apps were a bit of a free for all in terms of design. Either your iPad app was really great, or it wasn’t. I don’t remember a lot of consistency on the platform. Every app did large screens a little differently.

That said, there’s a lot of potential for pro apps on iOS, but we need to step back and think about the core tenets of creation. iOS developers are not supernatural powers, and as such cannot create something from nothing. Developers and iPad users need proper tools to get the job done. Apple can help get us there.

What if Apple expanded the Xcode templates to do different layouts, depending on industry? For example, an audio video starter template might include a timeline component and a split screen on either side. A productivity app would have the menu already coded up.

At a more basic level, extending sliders on iOS to support vertical positioning, rounding to an interval, and displaying the precisely selected value for scientific applications would be a nice set of enhancements.

Inline media pickers and file pickers would be great too. Maybe make them popover based on iPad. A simple callback block when the selected set changes would be a good start.

Pro apps would also benefit from calendar and password user interfaces that developers can plug into their own apps. The list goes and on, and I’m hopeful that someone at Apple might see this and say, gee that’s not a terrible idea.

If the tentpole features of iOS releases are any indication, Apple is indeed working on the problem of creating iPad software for professionals. If iOS 6 and 7 gave us Maps, Passbook (now Wallet), and freed our content consumption from stitched leather and green felt, iOS 8 and 9 gave us app extensions and multitasking to move our content more freely between apps. iOS 10 is going even further with systemwide features such as Continuity Clipboard and iMessage sticker packs.

Sticker packs are cool, but hardly pro-level content. They, like Swift playgrounds are a means to a better pro iPad world by way of example, but a professional user interface framework on top of their existing one would work wonders.


Originally published at Thoughts of a New Yorker.

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