Apple: Under Pressure To Innovate iOS

Photos of iPad 2

Last week we all got to see the unveiling of the iPad 2, demonstrated by none other than Steve Jobs himself. Compared to the iPad 1, it’s thinner, lighter, and faster. In addition, it’s got rear and front-facing cameras. What remains the same is the same great battery life and price points.

All of that should be welcome news to anyone thinking of buying an iPad this year. But is the iPad 2 enough of a refresh for iPad 1 owners to feel compelled to upgrade, or to stave off competition from the likes of RIM, Motorola, Samsung, and HP-Palm?

Simply put, yes, but also no.

The Yes

One complaint about the iPad 1 has been its weight: it’s a tad heavy. Those who’ve taken issue with its weight will be happy to know that Apple has shaved off some mass from the iPad 2.

Since it’s 33% thinner and up to 15% lighter, it’s going to make handling it for extended periods of time better. More on this in a second. These thickness and weight reductions are a large part of the iPad 2’s edge over its competition, being the lightest and thinnest in its class. Compare its thickness of 8.8 mm and weight of 601 g (Wifi-only model) to such devices as the HP-TouchPad (13.7 mm/740 g) and the Motorola XOOM (12.7mm/725 g). It’s clear that Apple’s got a big jump on the competition here.

Why is weight so important on a tablet? Unlike laptops or desktops that don’t require the user hold them in a static position across several usage scenarios, tablets do. Let’s look at the difference between the iPad 1 and the iPad 2 in terms of the amount of force applied to the biceps in a probable usage scenario.

We’ll use reading on an aeroplane in economy as an example.

It’s not always optimal to rest the iPad on an aeroplane seat tray because it sits too far away from the eyes. This may cause the reader to have to hunch over, even if a stand is used. Holding it more like a book with two hands seems more natural. Take a breath, recline your chair, and have a read.

In cases like this, the biceps shoulder much of the weight of the device. For this example, we’ll just assume that the user won’t be resting the device, their arms, or their elbows on anything while they’re reading.

Simple physics: the weight of the tablet pulls down on the elbows (the fulcrums), where the biceps carry much of the load. The forearms can be considered the resistance arms.


Before we can determine the amount of force applied to the biceps in our usage scenario, we still have some things we need to know. One of those things is the mass of the object at the end of the forearms. That’s easy. The Wifi-only iPad 1 weighs 1.5 lb., where the iPad 2 weighs 1.3 lb. We also need to know the length of the forearms themselves. According to Statistics Canada, the average forearm and hand length is about 18″, adjusted for both genders. We’ll reduce this to 16″ to account for where the iPad’s centre of mass is located.

Aside from the force required by the biceps just to hold up the forearm and hand free of any other mass, the amount of force applied to the biceps in order to hold up the iPad 1 is 20 lb. With the iPad 2, it’s reduced to 17.3 lb. Meanwhile, through weight distribution, the delicate wrists are shouldering some of the weight of the iPad as well.

While the reduction of force applied to the biceps with the lighter iPad 2 is not dramatic, it’s still substantial: 2.7 lb. less. So it ends up being 13.5% less force on the biceps from a reduction of just 0.2 lb. of device weight. Not bad.

According to Adam Brown, the owner of Cornerstone Physiotherapy in downtown Toronto, small changes in weight can help alleviate the stress and tension on the wrists and elbows. “I’d say a small change in weight can make a significant difference if the device is being used for extended periods.” As a Physiotherapist, Adam is not only familiar with stress and tension injuries, but is also the owner of an iPad 1.

Adam was particularly interested in the weight reduction as it relates to one-handed holding. That’s where he thinks some of the strain that can cause excessive wrist fatigue will be reduced.

“I have seen people who type on their cell phones a lot with repetitive strain injuries. Using something like a bigger and heavier tablet exacerbates problems with posture. Because people hold these devices for extended periods of time, they often adopt problematic postures which can lead to injury.”

The implication is that even with marginal reductions in weight, there could be noticeably less strain under prolonged use scenarios, particularly with the more cumbersome tablet form factor. For iPad 2 owners, it’ll be 13.5% less force applied to the biceps to be exact.

Since it’s also 33% thinner, the iPad 2 will be easier to grip as well. This should reduce the tension on the hands and wrists, adding further to the benefits of the lighter weight.

Aside from the welcomed weight and thickness reductions, Apple claims the iPad 2 is twice as fast with nine times the graphic performance as compared to the iPad 1. However, on CNET’s initial tests using Apple’s latest iOS 4.3 on both the iPad 1 and the iPad 2, it wasn’t quite as dramatic. It’s roughly 1.5 times faster than the iPad 1. Still a nice performance boost though.

All of this is great for the hard-core tablet user. But that’s where it stops.

The No

Apple’s still stuck with a multi-tasking deficient operating system. This deficiency particularly rears its head on the iPad, rather than on the smaller iPhone or iPod Touch. iOS is simply a blown up phone operating system as it is on the iPad.

I was speaking with an associate the other day who was astonished by Android 3.0 Gingerbread. He got to try it on a friend’s smartphone and loves how responsive and customisable it is, in addition to how it can multi-task. I’ve been saying the same thing about webOS for quite some time. I then found myself mentally comparing iOS 1.x (2007) to iOS 4.3 (latest). While Apple’s hardware has evolved, the software is virtually the same. There have been no major advances with iOS since it debuted in 2007. Sure, it got spotlight search, copy and paste, the iTunes and App Stores, and what some call multi-tasking, among other things. Most of these features are nice additions. But overall, it’s the same thing.

As HP stated in their Think Beyond Event, multi-tasking wasn’t an afterthought with webOS. Even a cursory view of webOS shows this to be true. And Gingerbread has also made substantial inroads when it comes to its ability to multi-task. With iOS, multi-tasking was indeed an afterthought. It’s overly clumsy and limited.

As a result, webOS and Gingerbread make iOS look somewhat dated, because iOS can’t multi-task like these others, in addition to them scaling much better on tablets. And the hardware that supports webOS and Gingerbread is neck-and-neck with Apple. Dual-core processors, powerful mobile GPUs, solid battery life, etc. Because of this, webOS and Gingerbread are fast and fluid on the respective devices.

For these reasons, Apple’s given the competition a fighting chance by not releasing the ‘assumed to be a giant leap’ iOS 5 with the iPad 2’s initial roll out this month.

But all this begs the question as to whether multi-tasking in the mobile space will be a deciding factor moving forward. The answer is that it will, especially when it comes to tablets. That’s because people will likely continue to turn, more and more, to tablets for production-based work, supplanting their desktops and laptops even more than they seem to already be doing. From video and photo editing, to music creation with GarageBand, to working with presentations and spreadsheets, consumers will demand multi-tasking because it’ll make them more productive, just like it’s done in the desktop space.

But Apple’s still got the edge in the tablet space with its engineering and industrial design. To be sure, the iPad 2 is the thinnest, lightest, and cheapest tablet in its class, not to mention the fact that it has the longest battery life. But it loses on the software side, save for its thriving App Store. And with products like the HP-Palm TouchPad and the upcoming 10″ Samsung Galaxy Tab looking promising, Apple could finally have some competition in the tablet market.

Pundits assume iOS 5 will be Apple’s answer to the competition. But until then, Apple has thrown a bone to its competitors. We’re all anxiously awaiting iOS 5.


Thanks to Raymond Penner, Physics Professor at Vancouver Island University, for his guidance.

Fallentin N, Jørgensen K, Simonsen EB. Motor unit recruitment during prolonged isometric contractions. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1993;67(4):335-41.

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