Gear Chat: Rotation LockGate. Seriously??

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The other morning I read a post by Warner Crocker about his being upset over the change in the iPad’s screen rotation control between the original version of iOS on the device and the new version 4.2.1. Warner referred to it as a “boneheaded move”, and he went on to write this:

Where Apple got stupid is in changing the screen rotation control from the hardware switch on the device’s side to one that is now only accessible from the multi-tasking dock. I use my iPad mostly in portrait mode but there are some Apps that work better in landscape mode. To keep the iPad from rotating unexpectedly or to allow it to rotate used to be a simple flick of a switch. Now it is a more cumbersome process that involves a double button press, a slide to the right, and a button press. It doesn’t sound like much, but it turns out it is. At least for me.

Now I have been reading Warner for years and love his insights and tips. I usually agree with his take on devices and their use, but on this one we part company. You see, Judie and I have been using iOS 4.2 for weeks while it was in beta, and after an initial adjustment, I had no issue with the change. So on  this day before Thanksgiving, I asked my fellow Gear Diary editors their thoughts…

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Dan

Can someone please explain all the bitching and moaning over the rotation lock on the iPad becoming a mute switch? Apple wanted to unify the OS across devices and did just that. It bugged me for maybe two or three days and is not second nature to double tap the home button to change the rotation. Seriously… the amount of whining in the blogosphere over this is such a waste of energy…

Michael

The problem is that it is an established feature that worked extremely well, and was justified due to the quick-mute of the rocker and the difference in use-cases between the iPhone/Touch and the iPad. Had they never put it in place, or had just made it configurable, that would have been fine. Perhaps for you who have had an iPhone it is no big deal, but for me it is a fairly big deal because for 6 months I had an established way of doing things and now that is gone and for no really good reason.

Judie

Wuss! Whiner! get with the program! 😆

Now I need to go cook. Wah!!!

Dan

No really good reason Michael? How about this reason… Unifying the OS across all devices.

Android should try that some time…

Judie

You aren’t even kidding about the unity thing and android. That OS is so fragmented now … I just shake my head at it. 😛

Carly

It makes me sad…I really do love Android, but my fear is that it is heading for a big collapse. And I think Google made a huge, nasty, disastrous mistake by allowing the market to be flooded with shitty tablets. Most people don’t realize they don’t come with Marketplace, GMail, etc, and it turns them off the entire android experience.

Michael

I am writing a post on fragmentation of Android … from a PC gamer perspective … because the parallels are all there …

In terms of the iPad lock, I can see the desire for unity of OS platforms, and that as they move forward they want to avoid further distinctions as it will only be confusing.  BUT … then why set it up that way in the first place, why allow iPad owners 7 months or so to get very comfortable with a system that worked well and served a very useful purpose, why not kill it in a small patch along the way?

A mute switch on a phone is one thing … but there isn’t one on the iPod Touch, and the overall functionality of the iPad is closer in nature to the Touch than to the iPhone.  Thinking of the elegance of functionality, why have a switch on the side?  The iPad is useful in both portrait and landscape … but isn’t really a ‘one hand’ device.  Therefore you end up with a device that can often waffle between orientations, and therefore an orientation lock is a functionally useful feature.

With OS 4.2, Apple has regressed this functionality, which means that it sees it as being OK to take several actions to accomplish a task specifically useful on the iPad that could formerly be done in a single motion.  That means Apple is either arrogant or clueless about the uses of their devices or simply doesn’t care about their users.

Judie

I vote for arrogant. and don’t misunderstand me — I do miss the orientation lock, and it missing is one of several reasons I will NOT be upgrading my mom’s iPad any time soon. I can already imagine how pissed she would be if it were gone, since she keeps her iPad in landscape exclusively.

BUT.

I also understand uniformity, even if the iPad is not an iPhone. 😛

Michael

Well, can we agree that having it to start with was yet another iDesign flub of 2010?

Dan

I’m not sure I agree with you, Michael… “Apple is either arrogant or clueless about the uses of their devices or simply doesn’t care about their users”. I honestly like the change and having the slider being a mute switch, and I have no issue double tapping and changing the rotation lock on the screen. One of my issues with the MacBook Air is that the mini-display port is on the opposite side from where it is on all the MacBooks now. That is a minor change, but it continually throws me off. I want to do things the same way across all my iOS devices. That way the experience across any and all iOS devices is the same without my having to think about it too much.

I do get people saying they miss the rotation lock and having a hard time making the change but seriously, there’s even a petition floating around somewhere demanding that Apple make the change back to the switch being a rotation lock. Personally I can see making it a user’s choice, but to get this bent out of shape about something like this… seriously??

Judie

I can agree that the rotation lock being there to start with and then being taken away was a flub; not necessarily one worth starting petitions for or truly getting bent out of shape over, but a flub, nonetheless.

Michael

I have to agree that this is nothing worthy of pitchforks and torches, but as someone who doesn’t have an iPhone I have to say that I would call this a sign of one of things that Apple does terribly wrong. They touted the screen orientation lock, there is documentation directly showing the functionality … in other words, everything a normal consumer might encounter would tell them the purpose of that switch is to lock orientation.

When you install iOS 4.2, WHERE is it that I am told and explained that the switch has changed purpose? Where is it that I am told HOW to access the new functionality? Nowhere – you sync your iPad and are told to update, and when you are done you get no notice at all except that your system is now up to date. It is actually possible to continue using the iPad just like iOS 3.2 … unless you want to lock orientation. Then it simply mutes, and you have to try to discern what to do next to access the removed functionality.

As for the difference in action, there are *FOUR* extra steps now: before you slid a switch and were done. Now: double tap home, slide at least one time to the left, tap the unlabeled orientation icon, and then click home again to get back to what you were doing. I don’t think it is possible for any reasonable person to argue that the change isn’t terribly inefficient.

So the change is based on unity of action for the iOS. That I can certainly understand, but for the majority of users the result is something that is unmarked, no release notes, no warning, and 500% more actions to make happen. I would love for an option to restore the original functionality, but know that won’t happen – Apple is 100% right, always … until they change it in the next version without calling the old one a mistake. I would personally like them to admit that they screwed up the design and screwed over customers who had months of functionality that has evaporated without any consumer-oriented notice. But that wouldn’t be the Apple way.

Dan

I’ll give you that Michael… the OPTION to choose would be great. But as you noted… that would not be the Apple way…

So what do you think? Are you missing the physical rotation lock? Did Apple really mess this up by making the change? Or was their mistake actually in their making the last-minute decision to switch what was INITIALLY a mute switch to a rotation lock last spring before the iPad was first released. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…

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About the Author

Dan Cohen
Having a father who was heavily involved in early laser and fiber-optical research, Dan grew up surrounded by technology and gadgets. Dan’s father brought home one of the very first video games when he was young and Dan remembers seeing a “pre-release” touchtone phone. (When he asked his father what the “#” and “*” buttons were his dad said, “Some day, far in the future, we’ll have some use for them.”) Technology seemed to be in Dan’s blood but at some point he took a different path and ended up in the clergy. His passion for technology and gadgets never left him. Dan is married to Raina Goldberg who is also an avid user of Apple products. They live in New Jersey with their golden doodle Nava.