Dev hell in a blue dress
The retina display is great, but that's the only new feature. And let me tell you, it's a feature that is turning out to be a nightmare for developers, much more so than when retina displays were introduced with the iPhone 4.
I declare self-interest here: I do a lot of production work on tablet-based magazines and books. The problem is that vast quantities of iPad content is rasterised and paged rather than the kind of C and HTML-component content that dominates the iTunes App Store. On the iPad, it's all pinch-and-zoom photos, HD videos, melting slideshows, 3D retail spinners and animations.
Overnight, my 1024 x 768 app graphics became obsolete with the iPad 3's 2048 x 1536 screen. A full-screen picture page at native resolution on the iPad 1 and 2 might be around 1.5MB but now ends up having to be around 6MB natively on the iPad 3. Everything, from book to games, is going to balloon in size. I suspect your future copies of Wired magazine are going to become epic multi-gig downloads.
Will tomorrow's iMags fit?
Perhaps now you can see why Apple's decision to keep iPad 3 prices at previous iPad 2 levels at their same memory capacities is looking like a very poor deal after all. The iPad 3 effectively offers you less storage because iPad 3-optimised content is going to take up so much more of it.
"So don't develop your books and magazines for iPad 3," I hear you holler. "Surely your existing iPad 2 content still runs on the iPad 3."
Yes it does and it looks pants. Unless text is rendered as HTML, the iPad 3 makes a pig's testicle of up-sampling rasterised typography. It would be bad enough if text looked fuzzy but it looks jagged.
In other words, the super-duper new retina screen makes my existing content look worse than it does on an original iPad. Brilliant, that's 18 months of my work sitting on the App Store that I'm going to have to hide from prospective clients until I can make hi-res versions at my own expense and give them away free to existing purchasers.
"Hang on," I hear you say. "You're an iPad developer whinging about a gorgeous screen that users adore just because it's difficult to develop for."
Shiny... but sucky
That's right. Developers are important, as I believe even Microsoft's chimp-in-chief Steve Ballmer once confided to chosen employees in the candid privacy of his own stadium.
Developers are especially important to the iPad because the iOS App Store lies the heart of the whole iPad experience and its commercial success. Just as I once bought a Nintendo 64 simply to play 1080 Snowboarding, people have been known to buy an iPad purely for GarageBand. People do not part with 400 quid plus for an email-checking device that shows you the weather.
So what we've got in the iPad 3 is a product that is fatter and heavier, offers less battery life between recharges, risks running out of storage space four times more quickly, and makes some of your existing apps look worse. Bargain!
Nice screen, though. Want to bet I'll buy one before the summer? ®
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. Like many of his generation – Alistair is a 1960s child – his love for hand-held devices was inspired by Star Trek communicators and those seemingly impossible flat TVs in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Blame your tools. not your ipad
"I do a lot of production work on tablet-based magazines and books. The problem is that vast quantities of iPad content is rasterised and paged."
Yup, that's the problem all right: your production method sucks. Sending magazines in the form of giant, dumb bitmaps was a stupid strategy from the start--your text is fuzzy, it isn't selectable, page turns are sluggish, and worst of all, the downloads are humongous. Who wants to download a half gigabyte issue of every magazine they subscribe to, every month?
But you took the easy, lazy way out, figuring that you could get away with selling your subscribers a series of big screenshots of text, that somehow they wouldn't notice. Well, you were wrong, and now the suckiness of your production method (all hail Adobe!) has become blatantly obvious. Your reaction? "Boo hoo, it's all Apple's fault!" Yeah, right. Get a life, mister.
Now, to be fair...
...distributing magazine content on digital devices in the form of a bunch of raster images is a stupid, misguided, and profoundly sucky thing to do.
What good is a bunch of effin' PICTURES of magazine pages, fercrissake? The text isn't text, which means it isn't searchable, it can't be indexed, it can't be annotated, you can't copy-paste it into another app. Seriously, when it comes to ways to distribute information in the Information Age, this is imbecilic.
There are all sorts of file formats which are designed to preserve the look of a printed page in a digital file while keeping the text as text instead of pixels, so that, you know, it can be SEARCHED since it's on a bloody COMPUTER and that's one of the things we use computers FOR.
If it were possible to attach two icons to a post here at El Reg, I'd make them both "fail" for this.
A nice screen, a keyboard, a drive, an SD Card and a couple of USB slots ... this concept might catch on. I wonder how nobody thought of it before.
And it could fold, and people could hold it on the top of their lap while using them. Quite intriguing.
Re: Blame your tools. not your ipad
There was an article about it somewhere, I forget, that explains it.
Down to two things:
Hardware limitations - at least in the first iPad, the performance of rendering text was actually slower than for graphics, so people just converted text to graphics.
Secondly, it is easier for designers to guarantee a fixed layout when they just effectively scan each page, rather than to get competent with using HTML5.
Re: Blame your tools. not your ipad
"So you still have to rasterise some of each page...So why bother?"
Because the PDFs are far smaller; only the raster content is delivered as raster.
Because the text remains text, meaning it can be searched and annotated and manipulated like...err, text.
Because the text renders cleanly on any kind of display, regardless of resolution or pixel density.
Because PDF is a universal format, so the same file will work on desktop machines or wherever else you want to take it to.
Because the reader has more control; the PDF can be rendered exactly as the designer intended, or for folks who have vision problems, the text can be enlarged.
Because the text is available to assistive devices like text-to-speech programs for the blind.
Shall I keep going? I have more!