Pro Apps and User Input

I spent some time over the last couple of weeks playing with Logic Pro X and Final Cut Pro X.  These are Apple’s Pro apps.  They’re a good place to look if you’re trying to figure out what a “Pro” iPad might be, because to me, something worthy of the Pro name would be a device that one might consider as equivalent, or better, to run apps like these.

Productivity with these apps isn’t so much about how easy they are to learn, as it is about how efficient you can be once you’ve learned them. 

I was watching some tutorials on Final Cut Pro X on, and it struck me how rich the user interface was.  Rich not just in the amount of widgets, but in the richness of the interface as a whole.  Almost everything you see is interactive, and even more becomes interactive as you hover the mouse over, or near, various elements. 

Many of the interactions with the timeline can be affected by both modifiers, and by tool selection, which you can make with the keyboard.  There are probably 50 different ways a click on a spot in a video clip can be interpreted, depending on various things, and yes, this is confusing for new users.  But once you know your way around, watching someone proficient with these tools is an impressive display of input efficiency.

I said “about 50” but there are actually 4 modifiers on the Mac keyboard.  Command, Control, Shift, and Option.  Four bits, as it were, allowing for 16 combinations of keys that you can hold down.  It just feels like 50 because it’s hard to remember all the combinations.  But if there’s one that you use regularly, it’s worth learning and remembering.  Cmd-Option-Shift-Paste, to paste text into an email without pasting the style, is one that I remember because it’s such a useful feature.

When I try to work on an iPad, I feel hobbled. The debate about whether an iPad is a creation or a consumption machine is silly.  Of course you can create on it. But if you’re creating words, or code, or an edit of an video, chances are you can do the same creation more efficiently on device with a keyboard. It’s a bandwidth issue; the keyboard and mouse offer greater text input bandwidth than a touchscreen keyboard, and the addition of modifiers really helps streamline the user interface since not every option needs to be visible.

This doesn’t mean a keyboard is the best solution.  When working with images in Photoshop, you hold down the shift key to constrain when dragging.  When editing a mask, holding Option means subtract from the mask, and Shift means add to the mask. These don’t make a lot of inherent sense.

The biggest advancement for a “Pro” iPad would be bridging this input bandwidth gap between the desktop and the touchscreen.