[Humanist] 24.356 iPad apps by us

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Sep 23 22:12:52 CEST 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 356.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Timothy Hill <timothy.d.hill at gmail.com>                   (71)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.352 iPad apps by us

  [2]   From:    "Postles, David A. (Dr.)" <pot at leicester.ac.uk>            (2)
        Subject: Tablets

        Date: Wed, 22 Sep 2010 23:41:57 +0100
        From: Timothy Hill <timothy.d.hill at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.352 iPad apps by us
        In-Reply-To: <20100922201918.1206B8013E at woodward.joyent.us>

> I'm afraid I don't understand your argument. The iPad offers a consistent
> development platform that works on every iPad, and yet provides the
> application with access to the Internet. So it offers the user much the same
> kind of interaction as a traditional web application, with the removal of
> constraints on how I may layout out controls on the page, and what kind of
> controls - constraints inherent in the HTML web standard. It is also much
> more consistent, as you admit. Every version of every browser runs a
> different version of Javascript and interprets CSS differently. This makes
> development very difficult in a way that is simply absent on the iPad.
> Your example, though, fails. It is not practical to write a web application
> for one browser and one screen resolution. Such a tool would actually not be
> a web application, in the sense of a program accessible by all. In your
> example that would exclude not just a small percentage of users but nearly
> all of them. An ipad application on the other hand is not accessible by all,
> but it doesn't try to be.
> As several people have said in this thread already the iPad offers
> possibilities to developers and users that should be exploited by humanists.
> It's not just a shiny new toy. Since a large number of people are buying it,
> it becomes a new platform that we should explore and exploit to reach those
> users. I say that not because I have an ipad (I don't) or because I like
> Apple's products (I don't). The argument I believe transcends mere hype.

I think we're confounding two separate issues here - which might be
why our statements are seeming not quite to cross:.

 (1) The context in which 'platform consistency' is a meaningful phrase; and
 (2) The advantages of relatively recent advances in
touchscreen/haptic interaction

With regard to (1), I suppose I was puzzled by your contrast of the
advantages of iPad development *in particular* with the difficulties
of web-oriented dev. The browser is undoubtedly a hostile programming
environment, owing to the various factors you cite. Partly as a result
of this (the growing number of RIAs notwithstanding), applications
supporting sophisticated interactions and requiring a high degree of
consistency have typically targeted local platforms rather than the
browser, at which point it seems to me pretty much redundant to praise
the 'consistency' of any particular platform: there's just no point
singling out any one local platform for praise on the grounds that it
supports native applications so well.

So you're right to say that the analogy between my browser and a
native iPad application doesn't hold; my (rather over-tetchily-stated)
point was that *you* had made this comparison in your post; and that
it is, indeed, an absurd one.

With regard to (2) I agree that the new interactions touchscreens,
accelerometers, and all the rest of it allow are useful additions to
the developer's toolkit, and can imagine they might prove
transformative or crucial to some kinds of humanities application. But
'touchscreen' does not equal 'iPad'. As Constantinescu Nicolaie points
out, we can expect a rush of Android tablets in the near future - and
it's in *this* context that we should be considering the percentage of
users our development decisions are excluding. *If* we've decided
touch interactions are vital to our application (and have thus decided
to exclude users who don't own devices that support this) we then have
to decide which OS we wish to target, or whether we want to go to the
probably-considerable trouble of supporting both, and/or any
additional platforms that decide to enter the market. And it's at this
point, I would suggest, that the native platform's self-consistency
(and hence utter incompatibility with every other platform) will start
to feel less like an advantage, and more like a handicap. It'll be the
moment we'll start wishing we could port our app with a couple of lame
IE conditional comments rather than undertaking a wholesale ObjC to
Java conversion.

Of course, that moment is going to come. Touch interactions are
game-changers, the market is competitive -  and at some point we are
going to find ourselves needing to make a choice about the platform
into which to pour our energies. It's not immediately clear to my mind
where that choice should lie. Unless there are compelling reasons
otherwise, I believe open source should always be HE's first choice;
but Oracle and Google have been muddying the waters here.

But at least Android will handle my garbage collection for me ... ;-)

Timothy Hill
Centre for Computing in the Humanities
King's College London

        Date: Thu, 23 Sep 2010 01:09:23 +0100
        From: "Postles, David A. (Dr.)" <pot at leicester.ac.uk>
        Subject: Tablets
        In-Reply-To: <20100922201918.1206B8013E at woodward.joyent.us>

Re-Android, let's see what develops out of the $35-tablet in India and also whether Negroponte and the OLPC team will in fact be involved in its future too.  The only problem is Larry Ellison's action over Java.  What happens about Apple i products now that it has to allow flash technology?  Will it constantly crash because it has been unable to handle it, as alleged by Jobs?

Dave Postles

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