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Wed 11 Aug 2010

iPad & and how it's not like developing on the Mac

Category : Technology

We've been working on porting an insurance system that we wrote some time back using 4th Dimension, out of a Dell laptop that's on its last legs, and onto the iPad. The Dell is dying and I don't think I'll ever buy a PC again - I've said goodbye to all that. But the app we have there is possibly worth a lot. And I believe that's a worthwhile application to bring over to the iPad, and to test the iPad's credential as a business machine while we're doing that.

What's not to like on the iPad? Lots, if you're a developer used to the goodness of Cocoa on the Mac. Lots of things are still missing on the iPad - Cocoa bindings, multi-column table views, date and number formatters, access to the Unix layer, etc. People who say the Mac is dead, OS X is dead, etc - they don't know what they're talking about. But, understand, I'm not complaining. I think I can understand how hard it is for Apple to shoe-horn all of OS X onto a platform that is as small physically as an iPhone or an iPad. So, as these little machines get more powerful, more of OS X will appear on iOS and eventually we'll get a merged OS.

What's there to like, then? Hai Hwee just showed me a screen where we present to the customer a list of additional coverages he can tag on to his insurance policy, like desserts onto a main meal. Where once we would have popped up a dialog box to capture the size of his order, Hai Hwee now just flips over a small section of the screen. - so it feels like you're doing a back of the envelop calculation. The important thing is that it's very un-intrusive, the screen doesn't move around as jarringly as when having a dialog box pop up. To get back to the dining metaphor, it's like you don't lose sight of the main meal while you're thinking about the desserts and that's how we've always wanted our app to work.

So that sort of sums up what iPad development is like - the game's changed and we got to think differently. We can do some things on the iPad we couldn't do on the Mac. And hold it in ways we couldn't hold the Mac before. And that's what keeps us interested in spite of constraints from the limited toolbox - there's the opportunity to build better things than we ever could.

Posted at 10:41AM SGT | permalink


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