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The iPad can be used in either portrait or landscape orientations. Different iPad interactions have different natural orientations: if the interaction involves video or (usually) images, then the natural orientation is landscape, because you want to fill up most of your field of vision. (So TVs are wider than they are tall.) But if it involves text, then the natural landscape is portrait, because that lets you focus on as much text as possible without requiring your eyes to scroll horizontally too much. (So books are taller than they are wide; and particularly wide text formats, like magazines and (especially) newspapers, frequently use multiple columns.)

That means that you might want to switch orientations depending on what you’re doing; Apple had the device switch orientations if you turned it on the side, but the initial iPad models also included a rotation lock switch for people who wanted a fixed orientation. As somebody who is interacting with text on my iPad the vast majority of times that I use it, I leave the rotation lock switch on (unless I’m watching a video): having the device switch to the wrong orientation when you hold it close to horizontal is REALLY FREAKING ANNOYING. Every once in a while, I try it with rotation unlocked; I usually last for about two days before giving up and going back.

Apple, however, decided that the switch wasn’t pulling its weight, so they got rid of it in recent iPad models. (There was also one period when they decided the rotation switch should act like a mute switch; that was just weird.) I assume this was at about the same time they added a control center with relatively easy access; and I agree, using the control center to turn off rotation lock isn’t horrible. But it’s more work than flipping a switch; also, I’m usually doing this when I start watching a movie, and that’s exactly when I don’t want something extraneous appearing on the screen. (Which Apple apparently doesn’t care about too much, as evidenced by the positioning and opacity of the iOS 7+ volume indicator.)

Nothing I can’t live with, but honestly: I think that, if the new iPad Pro models had added a rotation lock switch, that would have pushed me over the fence to buy one, I care about the rotation lock switch at least as much as most of the new features that they did in fact introduce.


More recently, Apple’s been improving its multitasking support for the iPad; and many multitasking features only work in landscape mode. And, with the iPad Pro models, they added a new keyboard connector; it’s on the long side of the device, which means that it only works with keyboards in landscape mode.

I can see why Apple made these choices: if you want to run two apps side-by-side, then you need horizontal room, and I can imagine people using the iPad for more serious work do need to do that. When I look at iPad-in-a-horizontal-case configurations, though, it just looks to me like a laptop; I’ve got a laptop, though, and that similarity just pulls me towards using a laptop. Whereas the iPad when held in my hand still feels different and magical to me: it’s a piece of paper that can turn into anything.

Which is fine, I guess? I still get lots of use out of my iPad as-is; and I imagine that, if I took up drawing, it would feel pretty magical doing that, too. So why worry about the fact that, when I’m typing, I’m drawn to a more traditional computer? And maybe that’s the answer.

But I’ve switched to a simpler text editor when writing blog posts; and that is a situation where the “magic sheet of paper” analogy feels to me like it would work well. And it’s a situation where I want to work in portrait mode: I want to see more rows of text in a narrower column rather than few rows of text in a wider column. (I don’t need side-by-side multitasking there, either; I occasionally switch to Safari to find a link, but I wouldn’t need Safari visible at the same time as a text editor.) I can even imagine that it would be useful to take the iPad off of the keyboard and hold it in my hand when editing, to have a physical shift that models the desired conceptual shift.

When writing blog posts, I am usually sitting in a chair, with the laptop on my lap; that could be an issue, in the past iPad keyboards that I’ve used haven’t really felt stable in that configuration. Maybe keyboard technology has improved since the last time I looked; but maybe that’s another sign that I should just stick with a laptop.


Or maybe I’m looking for a solution to something that’s not a problem: laptops work great for me for writing, iPads work great for me for reading. I just hope that Apple doesn’t keep on going farther in a direction that emphasizes landscape over portrait: Apple Maps has one design decision in particular that makes very little sense in portrait mode, which makes me worry that they just don’t care about portrait mode iPads these days, especially iPads that are locked in portrait mode instead of flipping orientation as you rotate them.

Then again, people like to worry about Apple not caring about this or that any more; most of those worries end up not happening, and most of the time, when they do come to pass, the outcome turns out to be better anyways. So I shouldn’t spend too much time worrying about it…

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