Different expectations

A few days ago, I received an email from an acquaintance I had previously helped with minor computer-related issues. He’s in his forties, like me, but he’s not a geek or a ‘power user’. He’s just a regular person who had to learn to use computers at work, has become increasingly proficient over time, but has maintained — to use his words — a ‘pragmatic approach’ with technology and devices: he uses them to get stuff done and that’s it. He doesn’t obsess over platforms, apps, nerd stuff, etc. though he likes to keep moderately up-to-date with what’s happening in technology. Things move faster and faster in tech today — he writes — so it’s always useful to know what people around you talk about.

George (let’s call him George) wrote me essentially to vent his frustration after attempting to go iPad-only for everything he does — work and leisure. Now, he doesn’t paint a detailed picture of what exactly went wrong with his attempt (or ‘experiment’ as he calls it), but there are a few observations he makes in his email that I think are worth considering. Most importantly, I think it’s worth sharing his point of view because he’s not a tech geek, and because his attitude towards platforms and tools felt quite unbiased to me.

George’s idea to go iPad-only came to him because it was time to upgrade his MacBook Pro, and after reading many contributions from tech writers who have enthusiastically embraced the iOS-only, iPad-only route, he was wondering if perhaps he could do the same. From what I understand, George is a Mac user, has had experience with Windows PCs, has never used a tablet (apart from playing with various devices in stores or asking friends to let him try theirs), and owns an Android smartphone. 

He purchased a 9.7-inch iPad Pro, and the first days of exploration — he writes — were exciting. Thanks to online reviews and friends’ recommendations, he quickly populated his new iPad with the essential productivity apps we all know about, plus some fun games and photo/video apps for entertainment. Soon, however, the frustration began, and I appreciate the candor of this first negative remark George wrote: From what I’d heard, I honestly thought iOS was smarter than that. Note that he’s not actually making comparisons here, he’s not saying that Android or Windows are better. If there’s a comparison, it’s not with products from the competition, but with Apple itself: Some things felt unnecessarily disjointed, sometimes I found hard to believe this [iOS] comes from the same people who made OS X.

He certainly appreciates how single apps work, and he agrees that his experience within various different apps was satisfactory, but what frustrated him most was integration, or lack thereof, and the unexpectedly meandering ways and workflows to accomplish tasks. I thought things would be more transparent and, I don’t know, simultaneous? Instead it all feels very much sequential, always in and out of apps. Open this app, then jump to this other app, then jump back to another. And yes, I know you can use split-view, it’s useful sometimes, but do you honestly think it’s intuitive? I loved the Mac back when I switched from Windows, because I could find my way around very easily. Sure, then you discover you can do a million things if you master the Terminal, and you discover ‘tips and tricks’ you never imagined. But the basics… I never needed to read a single page from a manual. While on the iPad I could do certain operations simply because I knew where to look.

Also, you’d think ‘normal people’ would be happy not to have to deal with a visible filesystem, but George thinks differently: I deal with all kinds of files all the time. On my [Mac] notebook, I just drag them wherever I need to, it’s all very direct, in front of you. On iOS, it feels like you’re constantly telling someone else to move and handle stuff for you, it’s like telling your car what to do (accelerate, turn here, go there) instead of just driving, you know what I mean? Tap, tap, tap, tap, it feels you’re jumping through hoops for things that take 1/4 of the time on the Mac.

By reading my articles, George knows I’m more or less on the same page, nonetheless makes a few defensive remarks that are worth sharing: Look, I know that work can be done on an iPad. There are people out there who managed to do just that. Maybe it’s a matter of patience and a matter of investing a certain amount of time, but I don’t understand the hype. I don’t get why this is supposed to be ‘the future’ or a better solution than the computer. I mean, I can learn to become efficient on the iPad more or less to the point where I am now with Macs and PCs… although there are certain things you’ll always do faster on the computer… but at the same time I wonder why I should bother. It’s not that I don’t like new things, but here we’re talking about working with something. And my impression is that to switch to iPad-only, I have to take three steps back in order to make one step forward, while I just can keep moving forward by staying on the Mac. I may be totally wrong, but it doesn’t really feel like ‘progress’, this re-learning of workflows to maybe one day be as efficient and productive as I already am now.

George, predictably, has returned his iPad. He told me that maybe he will get a more affordable model down the road and use it for more leisure than work — but now he has to get back to his plan of upgrading to a new MacBook Pro, and doesn’t have the budget for two new devices.

Maybe some tech-savvy people or iOS power users have been reading George’s observations and shaking their heads. I decided to bring his point of view to the foreground — with his permission, of course — to illustrate that some tech writers/journalists don’t really have a clue when they talk about ‘regular people’, and don’t realise just how much their perspective is altered by tunnel vision. Some of them don’t seem to get the simple fact that just because they achieved the ‘freedom’ of being able to do everything with just an iPad or an iPhone 6s Plus, it doesn’t mean everybody else can do the same (or feels the need to). Some of them don’t seem to get that not everybody is as enamored of technology as they are, that there are people out there who don’t spend hours rearranging the apps on their iPhones, because they don’t care and also because — as I’ve found out — some of them don’t know how to do that.

When you write entire paragraphs nitpicking certain UI choices of an iOS app, or discussing how some colour hues are less distracting and contribute to a more ‘delightful experience’, remember that there are people who miss certain fundamentals because of poor discoverability of certain features at the system level. Just this morning, while running an errand, I caught a conversation between university students on the bus: believe it or not, there was a girl who didn’t know what 3D Touch could do — and she had an iPhone 6s! Her friends were evidently showing her how to ‘pop’ and ‘peek’, because she kept saying something like It would have never occurred to me to try such a thing!

I thank George for sharing his thoughts with me, and letting me share them with you. It’s always refreshing to read feedback like his, to be reminded that before the same devices and user interfaces, there is a wider gamut of reactions and approaches than tech geeks and power users anticipate. Last December my dad, at the young age of 72, bought himself his first smartphone (some big-screen Huawei — he needed a big display to read things more comfortably, and needed a dual-SIM device) and in the past months I’ve listened to his observations as he was learning to use the smartphone. So many things you and me take for granted were a bit of a struggle for him, and it wasn’t really a matter of old age or inexperience. Some of his remarks were thoughtful and well articulated. For instance, one of the first things he told me was that when he explored new apps: I don’t understand what half of the pictograms do. I have to find out by trial and error, and I’m not always sure how to ‘undo’ a mistake. Speaking of Android’s Back button: Are you just going back with it, or can you also use it to ‘undo’? Another criticism he still has (and it’s not Android-specific) is that many apps’ UIs tend to feel ‘crowded’ even on a 5.5-inch phone.

These are just little examples, but I think are fairly indicative of the gap between tech people and regular people’s habits, needs, problems and viewpoints — and also of the gap between what tech people believe regular people do with their devices or need from their devices, and what regular people actually do with their devices and expect from their devices. No judgment here, just food for thought.

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About Riccardo Mori

Writer. Translator. Mac consultant. Enthusiast photographer. • If you like what I write, please consider supporting my writing by purchasing my short stories, Minigrooves or by making a donation. Thank you!