Editorial: Musings of a Returning iOS User
Like many others on this site, I like to critique and note every shortcoming of every tech product possible. It’s fun. I figured this might be a good place to start sharing some of my thoughts after spending some time away from Apple’s famed iOS mobile operating system, and returning to it in a surprise turn of events.
I was an iOS (or iPhone OS as it used to be called in my day) user starting back when I got my first iPhone, the 3GS, shortly after it was announced in 2009. I was still a starving student in college, and this new gadget was like Christmas in August. Although I loved my little Blackberry Pearl, seeing those colorful glass screens, with the green text bubbles and fullscreen touch dialpads, I had fallen victim to Apple’s newest bright and shiny. The next two years were full of love, hate, jailbreaking, glassbreaking, and finally being outshined by the new and improved iPhone 4. I decided to finally jump ship to the Samsung Galaxy II when it was released on At&t in Fall 2011. Since then it has been a whole different experience: tweaking, customizing, rooting, flashing, kernels, roms, you know the drill. In that time I started following the tech scene a lot more as well, and liked to analyze what trends, pitfalls and shortcomings were occurring in every mobile ecosystem as if I knew anything about anything. You know, like everyone else here.
Last week my girlfriend gave me my Christmas present a little early: the iPad mini. This changed everything.
This was not to my dissent, however, not at all. After a year away from iOS and being solely on Android, I once again looked around and saw the colorful iOS screens - but this time much bigger, packing more pixels, much harder to ignore. People were buying iPads all around me, and I understood why, but at the same time I could not justify the 5-9 hundred dollar price tag for such a play toy, a big and clunky one too. I had a MacBook, I didn’t need another screen to browse the web… or so I thought. The iPad mini was announced: smaller, more portable, and of course, cheaper. Here was the ability to plug into iOS’s famed tablet ecosystem, and so I put it on my wishlist and here we are today.
This is not a review of the iPad or iPad mini, nor is this some bash of how much better or worse Android is, this is just a tech enthusiast noting those small things that just drive you nuts when you are driving something daily, especially when what you are using is supposed to be the best.
Part 1. Store Defragmentation
Now this one took me by surprise, and later, by frustration. Upon usage of my new toy, one thing I found myself wanting to do was use my iPad mini as an eReader. I’m not big on reading to be honest, but as I layed in bed that first night I went, "Huh, I can read on this without having to turn on or off my light, and the girlfriend can even sleep without me disturbing her." Awesome. So I clicked on App store, which to me, always meant the store where "all the crap was." I quickly learned that I had to download iBooks, which essentially is a PDF (and all other eBook formats) reader and file manager. First of all, I thought it was strange that I even had to download this program. I remember watching one of the iPad keynotes years ago and recalling Steve touting this thing as perfect tool for reading eBooks. Why was Apple’s eBook reading application not preloaded on their device marketed as an ebook reading device? Whatever.
After loading the new app, I clicked on the "store" button within iBooks and continued to browse all my options. It wasn’t long (after I realized that eBooks are still expensive) before I tried getting a little smart. I opened up Chrome, and looked up a combination of "free books on iPad", "best free books on iPad" or something of the sort. I found some stuff, nothing of which interested me. I was already getting kind of frustrated, mostly by the layout of the store, which I know recently went under a redesign. So I closed Chrome and instead of opening iBooks and clicking the Store button, I figured I would be efficient and go straight to the store, so I clicked App store - the store I thought was the one "with all the crap."
Wrong. But I had to learn this the hard way. Upon opening the App Store, on the front page there was a fancy button/banner that said Books. "Cool there it is" I said and tapped on it (Yes, I know, this wasn’t any more efficient than opening iBooks). As I started browsing another cramped looking storefront screen, I realized that this wasn’t the same book screen I was looking at before. These are Book apps. Because it’s the app store… Go figure. But wait, there are comics in here? Aren’t comics basically the same? Why aren’t they in iBooks’ store? Oh these are comic book apps, where you buy the issues, like mini stores. Fair enough. Wait, where is the iBook store? The one with all the real (e)books?
Back to the home screen. Is this iBook store separate, and not available or accessible without the iBook app? Wait, iTunes. Next to the App Store icon. ITunes was what the app store was, you know, before the app store existed. I’m pretty sure I never clicked on that icon in my 2 years with my 3gs. Maybe that’s where the books are. Why don’t they just have a ‘Store’, you know, with everything? Not two and half stores or three stores.
ITunes looks a lot like the App Store, just with music. Once again…go figure. Except it’s not ITunes store, just 'iTunes.' Don’t even get me started. Anyways, wait! There’s an audiobooks category on the bottom. That’s close to books, maybe it’s in there? Nope, just audio books. Ok fine there are no books in here. Let’s go back to iBooks. Maybe they have 3 stores after all.
So last night I had to drive an hour out to my parent's place. I had my ipad in my center console, upside down, charging and playing music via Bluetooth. It looked a little ridiculous, but I was satisfied that it worked. I was playing Pandora and I wanted to listen to a particular song. Crap, I don’t have Spotify installed. Lets download Spotify real quick. Now I don’t know about this 100%, and it could be possibly be my user error, but the end result yields it irrelevant – ever since I opened up iTunes for the first time, I’ve seen it automatically switch from iTunes to App Store and visa versa. Finicky bug, or end user error I do not know. It seems related to that stupid "search store" bar. It doesn’t really specify which store it is searching, since you know, there’s three of them. It also seems to execute the search by just tapping on the general area of the search bar. In any case, while driving I typed in Spotify to the search bar and after a couple attempts I hit enter and try to keep my eyes on the road. I look down, and it has once again switched to the iTunes store from the App Store. As I felt my blood starting boil a bit, something caught my eye. On the top of the search results, there were categories, and there it was: the fabled Books category. "It is in ITunes?!" I screamed at myself. How did I miss it? Has it always been there? Upon further review later on, I can so far tell that books are sold in iTunes, but only accessible in iTunes through searching. There is no browsing books function in ITunes, that function is an iBooks exclusive. So in recap, you can browse "book apps" in the App Store, browse AudioBooks in the iTunes store…because it is a ‘Tune’ after all I guess, and you can browse books in the iBooks store... Can I not read the names of these applications?
So why do these stores exist? Why isn’t there just an "iOS store" where I can just buy, browse and search crap. Like all of the crap. I don’t care if it’s a song, podcast, App, Game, Book or OS update. It’s annoying, and I feel like somewhere on Apple’s fancy server farm in some spaceship on Planet X, it is all in one store. But then again, what do I know?
In short - You want to read books on your iPad? Download the iBooks application. Then click store. Don’t ever try to question it otherwise. That’s the motto, and that’s how it’s always been with Apple. Thinking for yourself sometimes just does you no good.
But really, I think the moral of the story is actually just get a Kindle. Or the Kindle app for iPad. And then the Amazon app to buy the books for Kindle for iPad. Wait. Oh no, here we go again. Is anybody actually still reading this?