There’s no place like Back

The other night, Mr. Snarky risked invoking my wrath by explaining to me, “You can train yourself…”

Before he got any farther, I demanded, “Did you just say, ‘that’s a training issue’?”

His immediate reply, “Of course not. I’m not stupid.”

All of this was in reference to the way I’ve been using my iPad, and the way I want to be using my iPad. Wait, let me back up a bit more. I admit it; I haven’t had my hands on a lot of tablets. But I can tell you that my iPad 2 has completely assimilated itself into my routine. I can no longer read my New Yorker or rich HTML promotional emails from DailyCandy, Groupon or browse LinkedIn groups without it. And don’t get me started on the Pulse app. I would need a whole ‘nother blog post to describe my love for Pulse. Beyond my iPad, I’ve seen a Kindle from a distance (which looked great). And I played very briefly with an HP TouchPad (which has a way cooler name). My immediate impression of the TouchPad was that the gestures and controls were better. Better in this case equals more intuitive and more in tune with my expectations. Specifically, it has something that feels like a Back button.

The iPad has nothing that feels like a Back button. This is a little confusing because my iPod has a back button. Of course, my iPod also has a dial on it. But my iPad does a whole lot more than my iPod. And it has just one button: one lonely button to control a mini super-computer. I completely understand that I (like most people) do just about all of my browsing—interacting, experiencing, iPading, stuff—inside an app. But I (like most people) have a pretty short attention span, lots of apps, and (most importantly) apps that interact with one another. For instance, I jump from my Mail to my Calendar pretty often. I sometimes go from Mail to Safari to YouTube. I’ve even been known to navigate from Pulse to Safari to YouTube to Twitter all in one go. Pulse to Safari is a path I travel frequently. Getting back is not so easy. There’s no breadcrumb trail, either real or virtual. I have to hit the Home button, remember where I started, and reopen that application. The speed of that journey does not get faster with repetition. Each time I do it, I pause for thought. The act of remembering where I came from slows me down every time.

I want to hit the Home button and go back to the previous application or see all the applications I’m running. I know. I know. If I hit it twice it will pop up that ribbon at the bottom. Why do I have to click twice to go back and once to go home? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Here’s the catch. I probably wouldn’t have a problem with any of this if I didn’t know the following (okay, I would because I am totally OCD about these things, but I might not be ranting about it if I didn’t know the following.) The Touchpad Home button will show me all the open applications with one click. That’s what I want; that makes sense to me.

It’s a very human impulse to want to go back. It’s also very natural to want to go home. Sometimes they are the same place and sometimes they are not. That’s why we have two different buttons for Home and Back in our browser windows. These are conventions so alive in our (real and) computing lives that it seems natural that they should be carried with us wherever we go. It’s baffling to me that we can’t have separate functions for Back and Home in the devices we carry. Apple understood this when they designed the iPod. So why didn’t I get both of these features intuitively integrated into my iPad?

I know this will annoy me to no end. It’s possible it will annoy me even more in a few weeks as I say the last rites for my Blackberry and switch to a new iPhone 4S. I would take my mobile phone and tablet purchasing power elsewhere, but I don’t have good options. Blackberry’s demise has been written by the Fates via the technology blogs. I could possibly consider one of the new Windows phones. But let’s face it; I probably won’t. No one is building apps for the Touchpad. And don’t even get me started on Android. I’m out of luck. It seems there’s nothing to be done except complain.

Don’t get me wrong; I love my iPad. But it’s an inanimate object. I’m not now, nor was I ever, blind to its faults. And it’s never going to reciprocate my feelings, which is a good thing in theory. That means I should never have to compromise with it. I’m the boss of my iPad. It should do what I want it to do, right? Apparently not. Apparently I need to train myself to do it The iPad Way. I suppose I can live with that. But the fact that I have to train myself means I will love it a little less and be more willing to replace it when something better—more intuitive and fully supported—comes along.

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