December 16, 2018
So I’m staying on Portsmouth for the weekend with family, and our hotel is fantastic. Sonos sending music to the sitting room, five taps of coffee options, great snacks and atmosphere, but the kicker were the iPads left in every room as an guide to local restaurants and activities. Since I’ve had iPads on the brain ever since the new Pros came out last month I decided to have some fun and write a bit about going back to the original, 2010 iPad model after all this time.
This device was my first mobile college computer, paired with the iMac in my dorm room I was able to take care of lots of school work and lots of screwing around, so I’m very much enjoying this blast from the past. These iPads weren’t able to run anything past iOS 5.1.1, so that’s where we find this old model still sitting around. I fondly remember iOS 5 for two main features.
The first was iMessage, that first break in the standard paradigm that text messages were something tied to a phone number and could only be managed from that phone. It’s amazing to think how far iMessage has come, moving to the macOS with Mountain Lion, allowing you to use your phone number as your ‘Send From’ source on any device, the advances in keeping everything synced and up to date on every device, all going back to this iOS update in 2011. Meanwhile, Google has tried and tried again to bring a similar ease of communication to Android ever since and still haven’t settled on an approach. I looked deep in the settings and it doesn’t appear there’s any particular device management going on here, so I figured it would be safe to sign into iMessage on the room iPad so I could send some screenshots to myself (AirDrop didn’t come to iPad until 2013 with iOS 7). When I entered my iCloud password however I was reminded that this OS also didn’t support TFA for iCloud, but it appears they have a clever workaround. I got the security code on my other device, and was prompted to append the code to the end of the password field before I logged on. But iMessage in iOS 5 was tied not to your phone number, but rather your iCloud account. I remember distinctly being told by my friends to please stop texting them from my email address, because it was just weird. Very glad it didn’t take them long to fix that, although the flip side is that it’s been a pain for people to switch to Android ever since.
My other favorite thing about this update was iTunes WiFi sync. A few years earlier I had found someone on Reddit looking for beta testers for an app/plugin they were working on that would allow iTunes WiFi sync. The app worked well, but not unexpectedly Apple rejected the app and it only ever found life on the Cydia store. Well sure enough a couple years later we got that functionality anyway. It was slow, it was limited, but it was a big step in the move to making iOS devices more independent from iTunes, especially paired with Over-The-Air updates and fully local setup from iOS without having to go to iTunes, both features of iOS 5 as well.
The more I think of it, it was a really good year.
Taking a step back a bit, I wanna talk about the hardware. I can’t believe this speaker design was ever used for real content, it’s hilariously small even compared to the iPad 2-4’s speaker design. And the plastic buttons alongside the slick aluminum edges of the device just feel cheap, even back then. The non-retina screen makes looking at photos or modern web pages quite a pain. The other pain? 512mb of RAM. Every time I switch applications I have to see a splash screen and wait for the app to launch again, even when I just had to switch out for a few seconds. It’s amazing how we were able to get by on something so constrained for so many things, especially when I think back to papers I had to write on this device, jumping back and forth between Pages and iBooks or Safari to pull a quote or revisit a section of text. I guess it’s hard to go back to these constraints after being freed from them, and it gives me a little more appreciation for iOS 12’s multitasking and 4GB of RAM.
One last note about the hardware. Obviously the return to the 90 degree sides of the device was a return to the form of the original iPad. One thing I didn’t notice however was that the new iPad’s is almost exactly as thick as the straight edges of the first iPad. It’s almost as if they took a laser and cut off the bulge of the first iPad to end up with the new industrial design, like the iPad Air 2 ad. It’s really amazing to see how this device has grown and improved over the last 8 years, while still being true to it’s essence.
As for the software, it was really fun (and a bit challenging) to use this device over the weekend. The animations were limited, but fun. I forgot about the ‘shuffle’ animation when switching apps via the multi-tasking drawer for instance, and when I opened Game Center the top games from the App Store were ‘tossed’ onto the felt table like playing cards being dealt. Newsstand looks as beautiful as ever, because this iPad was loaded up with a couple dozen apps unlike most every other device that opened that special folder. There was no Podcasts app, so I had to search the iTunes store to add a Pod, and there didn’t appear to be a ‘subscribe’ option. Don’t remember how that worked back in the day, or if it was entirely managed by iTunes. And the skeuomorphic designs in Reminders and Calendar were just as silly and beautiful as ever.
I replaced my original iPad in my sophomore year with “The New iPad”, the 3rd gen with a retina display. I held onto the original for a couple of years, using it as a media remote in my off campus house and eventually passing it off to my parents, who hopefully still have it laying in a drawer somewhere. But this surprise blast from the past was quite fun to revisit and reexamine with a modern lens. Maybe next I’ll power up an iPhone 4 I have laying around and give that a look!