Can Everything Be Discoverable?

There are good arguments to be made that Apple hasn’t always helped the iPad live up to its promise. Certainly John Gruber thinks so, as evidenced by both the title and body of his recent post, The iPad Awkwardly Turns 10.

My issue with what he wrote is not his claim that iPad multitasking is fiddly and unintuitive and a bit incoherent and inconsistent. It is. And it’s not his assertion that iPad multitasking is non-discoverable:

How would anyone ever figure out how to split-screen multitask on the iPad if they didn’t already know how to do it?

I can’t really disagree with that. It’s just that I don’t know how much that does or should matter.

Not everything in technology can be intuitive. Sometimes things have to be learned. And some of the people complaining about the fact that all iPadOS features don’t present themselves as fully-formed concepts directly into the user’s brain upon iPad unlock are people who created Markdown, or who are iOS programmers, or who use Photoshop, or who have elaborate writing workflows.

None of those things are intuitive or free from the requirement of intellectual application to learn. Why is it ok that some things have to be learned and not ok that others do too?

It may sound like I’m an old Emacs fanatic shaking my fist at the younger generation and raging that if it isn’t confusing, it’s not powerful and it can’t possibly be any good.


I do think as much about iOS and iPadOS as possible should be intuitive. I just genuinely question how much multitasking can or will fit that description to the point where someone can pick up an iPad, discover multitasking without even knowing it exists, and master all its nuances.

But it doesn’t work that way on the Mac either. And the Mac has the terminal and a whole host of other powerful features that John and all the others echoing his complaints on Twitter use on a daily basis, and they’re fine that those features require a power user mind or at least a very inquisitive one. They’ve just forgotten that they had to learn those things, and that they just accepted it because it was a computer and not an iPad.

I’m ok with the iPad being a mix of simple and intuitive, and powerful and less discoverable. It does boggle the mind a bit that some of these guys claim they still don’t know how multitasking works. I didn’t really know either when I got my 2019 iPad Air, and now it’s muscle memory. I sought out what I needed to know, and I used it daily, and I learned it.

Absolutely, there are valid complaints about iPadOS, not least among them being the question of why it took Apple 10 years to get it to the point it is at today. For almost 9 years, the lack of certain iPadOS features really made it hard to do certain complex tasks with the iPad. And yet now I edit and publish podcasts, blog, program, edit graphics and photos, create extremely complex shortcuts, and much much more, all on my iPad.

The iPad most definitely can be used for the kind of work that seems to baffle the same people who’ve completely mastered their Macs.

I think maybe people who are used to one platform pick up an iPad, and its apparent black box nature stops them in their tracks because they forget that all the curiosity and experimentation that they applied to the Mac still works for learning everything else in the universe.

Pick it up. Read. Research. Tap. Touch. Do. Go. Get it done. Complain about its shortcomings or areas for improvement (and they very much exist). But quit pretending it’s more obtuse and confusing than all those other tech tools you’ve already mastered.