iPad Pro 11: Not For Portrait-Mode Thumb Typers

The new iPad Pro has been out for a little over two months right now.

I’ve bought three of them 😦

And they’ve all been returned at this point, and I’m using my trusty old iPad Mini 4 instead. Why? Well, I can tell you at least it’s NOT due to “bendgate” or anything; all three were straight as arrows on all sides.

But I still think there’s a manufacturing defect or design bug that affects iPads reliably, but only in a pretty rare use case that I unfortunately happen to be very prone to.

You see, I use my iPads in portrait mode 95% of the time. Yes, even the 10.5 and now 11 inch bigger ones (I have pretty gigantic gorilla hands). I’m often holding it up in bed or while sitting somewhere, and I thumb-type the shit out of that screen in portrait. This has worked just fine with every iPad I’ve had up to the new Pros. My primary uses with the iPad are reading books and articles, and reading/responding to social media shit, all of which I do mostly in portrait while thumb-typing. I don’t like having the screen far away from me on a desk or surface when I’m using a tablet; they’re personal devices to me, and I hold them up pretty close. My eyes are old to the point where I need a bigger screen than any iPad gives to be comfortable using it at laptop distance for any length of time.

The problem is noticeable right out of the box; when holding it in portrait mode and typing on the onscreen keyboard with my thumbs, the t, g, b, h and y keys (and sometimes the ones around those, but less so) will often make the keyboard click sound and depress on the keyboard (the two signs iOS gives the user to say “I acknowledge that you are pressing this key and want me to actuate it), but they will NOT enter into whichever text field I’m actually trying to enter into. Since I type fast with my thumbs, this quickly becomes a big problem. Every third “the” renders as “he”, “that” is usually “hat”… just an infuriating mess of easy to miss typos.

Since I’m one of those dinosaurs who hates to make typos, and likes correct spelling and grammar, this is obviously crazy-making to me. I write a ton on these things, and having to spend twice as much time laboriously using iOS’s editing features to correct typos than I did typing it out in the first place quickly became untenable.

I’ve since been to two different Apple Stores with three different iPad Pro 11’s that all exhibit the issue. One of the techs insisted on testing it with the iPad lying down on the table and couldn’t get it to replicate; they eventually gave me a senior tech who followed my instructions and held it the way I do when the problem actually occurs and it reliably triggered.

I suspect, but obviously can’t prove, that the little bit of extra thinness and the little bit of extra width on the 11 over, say, the 10.5, leads to just enough torque being applied when trying to portrait-grip this thing and stretch thumbs over to the middle of the keyboard to cause the digitizer to flex out of true just enough to break the finger-glass-digitizer-OS chain of events that leads to a character input actually being fully acknowledged.

The fruit stand techs probably get horse-whipped by the ghost of Steve Jobs if they give even a passing nod to a possible physical defect in a new product that hasn’t been acknowledged by corporate yet (see: the fucking MBP keyboards for first two years of this generation until, voila, Apple acknowledged that they just might have a shitload of issues), so he doubled-down on “it’s probably a software bug, keep an eye out for iOS updates that might address that and buy another one if you’d like at that time”, which is fine advice, but this really feels like a physical issue to me. There’s a slight chance I guess that the gyroscope is being knocked out of true in that orientation and pressure and that could be fixed by a software change to calibration, but I won’t be holding my breath.

I posted to Reddit and some other forums about this issue in early January after more Googling still didn’t bring up anyone else having this issue; my posts however, did bring at least a few people out of the woodwork to state that they were having similar issues. The gist seems to be, though, that portrait-typers are an increasingly dying breed and that, even if this issue is as widespread as me getting three iPads in a row with the problem seems to indicate, so few people actually use iPads in this precise way to trigger it. I blame my humongous neanderthal paws for even making it possible.

So, I’m bummed. I can either continue to use my ancient Mini 4 (which, to be fair and to Apple’s credit, works ridiculously well still, even if the battery life is pretty degraded; iOS 12 really rejuvenated older iOS devices to a crazy degree), or buy a previous gen 10.5 again, which, to a die-hard Apple PayPig such as myself, is humiliating*. I’m leaning towards the latter, as I really loved that device, it doesn’t have this issue, and even a refurb bought today will probably be good for 3-4 more years.

My main question now is wondering if this will slowly creep up enough across the userbase to actually become an issue Apple has to acknowledge and work towards correcting, or if this entire generation of iPad Pros is just going to be dead to me (which would crazy suck).

At the end of the day, it’s a super First World Problem, and Apple’s support and store staff were uniformly excellent throughout, giving me no hassle at all, even as I wanted to immediately open, try and return thousands of dollars worth of shit in their store. So that’s good at least. I’m imagining going through this with like a Samsung Tab S4 or something bought from Best Buy and just lol.

Anyways, please don’t Old Tech Shame Me if you see me out and about with my Mini or 10.5, I’d crumple up and cry if you did.

*might as well just drive a 1989 Chevy Citation while I’m at it

Apple’s Smartphone Dominance Explained In One Feature

I’m not partisan about mobile ecosystems; I’ve spent thousands of dollars on iOS shit over the years, and thousands on Android stuff, too. I like features from both and think that choosing between a goodAndroid phone (Google’s Pixel line, essentially) and an iPhone is something that comes down entirely to personal preference.

That said, I spend MOST of my time in iOS land. Why? There’s a million little quality of life things I think iOS does slightlybetter than Android, but I’ll talk about just one in particular that stands out as it’s a very good example of what Apple gets right that Android still misses the mark on:

Adjusting the brightness of the screen.

You know often I have to do this manually on my iOS devices?

Never. I literally cannot remember the last time I had to manually dim or brighten the screen on a device. They’re just ALWAYS at the right brightness level for whatever lighting conditions I’m in.

Out on my balcony on a sunny day? It goes full max brightness without me even noticing.

Lights out in bed at night when wife is already asleep? It dims itself to almost the lowest setting.

It just figures out what is the best setting for the moment.

In contrast, the last two Android devices I used (Pixel 2 XL by Google, and Samsung’s Note 9) ranged from “needed slight, but regular manual adjustment to the auto-settings” (the Note) to “this is just broken entirely” (the Pixel).

I had a couple of Pixel 2 XLs due to Google’s iffy QA and screen manufacturing woes this generation (another thing Apple gets better; the next bum-out-of-the-box iOS device I buy will be the first). Every one of them, I quickly ended up turning off Android’s Adaptive Brightness almost immediately because I can’t stand watching a screen change its own brightness constantly while I’m looking at it while stationary in an evenly-lit room.

I never notice my iOS screens adjusting themselves; they’re just always at the right brightness.

Again, this is the whitest of whines, the First World-iest of problems, but it’s something Apple a) realized was a low-intensity but widespread quality of life issue and b) iterated until it was fixed.

Like, I vaguely remember, many iPhones ago, manually setting a brightness slider because I read somewhere that iDevices like you to do that once or twice so it can set a baseline of what brightness level each person likes in a given ambient light scenario, and then it adjusts brightness against that from there. I feel like this is data it passes along with your iCloud profiles so it carries over from device to device, because I’ve never had to fuck with it again.

These kinds of things exist throughout the Apple ecosystem, and is the thing that keeps me coming back to them even when I’m seduced away momentarily every year by the latest Pixel phone.