Jean-Louis Gassée: Apple’s iPadOS suffers discoverability woes

“Apple keeps saying that the iPad is the best incarnation of its vision for the future of personal computing. With iPadOS, we come close to a muscular alternative to conventional personal computers — but an important feature is missing: Discoverability,” Jean-Louis Gassée writes for Monday Note:

The original Macintosh is a good example of great product. The mouse pointing device took seconds to understand and just few more as it grew buttons and a wheel… Twenty-seven years later, in January 2010, Steve Jobs introduced the first successful tablet computer, the iPad. Ignoring the naysayers, a new Rest of Us population took to the device. The iPad answered the prayers of many: A fun, self-contained computer you could drive with your index finger.

In theory, iPadOS fixes the many shortcomings of previous iOS versions that tried to serve two masters, the iPad and the iPhone. Apple’s iPadOS page is adamant that a world of possibilities is now “ours”… Without getting into the embarrassing details about the klutziness that makes me a good product tester because I tend to do things that knowledgeable users already know how to do, I’m confused and frustrated by all of these “possibilities”…

I compared notes with a learned friend, a persistent fellow who forced himself to learn touch typing by erasing the letters on his keyboard. He, too, finds iPadOS discoverability to be severely lacking. There are lot of new and possibly helpful features but, unlike the 1984 Mac, not enough in the way of the hints that menu bars and pull-down menus provide. It all feels unfinished, a long, long list of potentially winning features that are out of the reach of this mere mortal and that I assume will remain undiscovered by many others.

MacDailyNews Take: iPad can do amazing things, but the way to do many of these things are completely hidden. Apple is certainly trying, but How-To videos are no replacement for thoughtful, intuitive UX design. Regardless, Apple’s How-To videos for iPadOS are useful. Anyone who watches them will likely learn quite a bit:


  1. iPad discoverability is very important. People grab it, try to use it like a conventional computer, get angry and toss it aside. It then becomes an extremely expensive movie viewer for the kids in the back seat of the car.

    This is why I tell people that in oder to use the iPad properly, you have to WANT to use it properly and set off on an iPad discovery safari. You have to teach yourself to use it Don’t wait for the moment that you need to connect to the office VPN, find a file on the server, open it in Word, edit it, save it, and email it to the client.

    Sit down with a cup of coffee and the iPad and a couple of hours, and your laptop open to YouTube and there are hundreds of in depth iPad tutorials from countless people.

    As you gain experience, you will develop intuition about using it and things will get easier. With practice, you’ll start zipping through many tasks faster than you do with your laptop. The iPad is definitely the future of computer, not just from Apple but from other tablet makers as well. Apple has competition coming from all kinds of people making folding devices, etc. Samsung’s new tablet with their DEX capability running Windows 10 is a very close experience to the iPad, but nothing close to Apple’s ecosystem.

    With Siri Shortcuts… we’re brushing against the vision… from 33 years ago.

  2. As I said elsewhere, can you imagine if today you bought your first Mac, iPhone or iPad? Have you read any of Apple’s Help topics lately on a Mac? It has all gotten very, very complicated! Although they are well written, the Help files have become so terribly convoluted that I hate to open them anymore. If I do, I make sure to have lots of time and quietness because I’ll probably be reading for hours as I click on link after link within the Help files. Now, what was it that I intended to study?!?!

  3. The laptop still lives, then. No matter how much they try to make the iPad act like a Surface.

    Don’t hate – everything they’ve added in each iPad OS update and keyboard cases just brings it closer to a detachable laptop, same as the Surface has been since launch. I’m not a Windows fan, would never use it, but just pointing out the obvious – A detachable-screened MacBook had more functionality than a keyboard-attached iPad. But the iPad still wins in size, weight, and convenience. Of course, as the MacBook keeps losing ports, they are coming closer in overall parity.

  4. Can see their point. I would never have discovered the track pad feature if MDN hadn’t persisted in promoting it. It’s a Real boon when trying to put the cursor almost impossibly otherwise precisely between letters.

  5. I’ve never needed to learn anything, because I was born with a type of osmosis-enhanced brain. Like the guy on “The Pretender” TV Show (which I inspired thanks to my ability), I just know how to use anything and everything.

    This has made me wildly prosperous, and gives me the time I need to share my great and unmatched wisdom with all MDN readers on a regular basis.

    I’m also remarkably humble and enjoy not needing to boast about my towering intellect or encyclopaedic-level connections with some of the world’s most famous and important people, as I was mentioning to Barack the other day.

  6. Go find an Apple II manual or a Mac 512 manual. They need to get back to writing like that. They were the gold standard of writing good, easy to follow manuals.
    On the iPad, maybe they need to bring back the old Mac help system that would do actual red circles and lines in the actual menus and dialogues that walked you through something.

  7. There are two lots of iPad users. The majority only know a fraction of what it can do and they are the ones that say it is a large iPhone and mainly consumption device. My perception is only a very small percentage really learn all the capabilities and become power users. I think Apple should give more on-screen help to people learning the iPad. I only know all I do by obsessively watching every ‘how to’ video about the iPad I come across and doing web searches to learn if I want to do something and don’t know how.

  8. Um, no offence to the great Jean-Louis but there wasn’t that much to discover on a 1980s Mac.

    Also, people have been crying out for Apple to make the iPad Mac-like. Now that is, people are wanting it to be more iPad-like.

    It seems you just can’t please some…

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