Orientation Lock on iPad- soft or hard?

Orientation Lock on iPad now mute…

After iOS 4.2 for the iPad, the orientation switch next to the volume control is now no longer used to lock the iPad in a portrait or landscape mode. This is now a mute switch, instead. The orientation control has now been shifted to a soft lock next to the iPod controls (double click home button and swipe left).

This change has not been welcomed by users at large, who loved the ease of locking without digging into a UI panel. It has not affected me much at all, as this feature is most useful when reading while lying down, when the iPad may be more horizontal than vertical, but you might still be reading in portrait mode since your head is reclining as well. The lock prevents rotation of contents, as the accelerometer based detection will tilt it for the wrong orientation. I have been reading extensively on the iPad but usually in a sitting posture while coding. My pragprog.com epubs, reference PDFs, (on iBooks) and other Kindle books have been a constant companion.

But the reasons Apple has altered this, are based on many factors, and not a ad-hoc decision.

  • Frequent switching of apps, after multitasking- we normally lock orientation based on what we see on the screen. Now with many apps open, and each app is designed to work better in a given mode, the meaning of the hardware switch is bound to be undermined- as what we see on screen changes a bit more frequently- and locking will get in the way a lot more often than desired.

  • By moving it away, Apple is discouraging users from frequent locking, as one of the best aspects of iPad apps is how different functions work in either mode, enhancing productivity, almost instantly. This is one important area where tablets are not the same as desktops.

  • Soft locking, in my view will eventually make it possible for app specific locking, something which is not meaningful with a global hardware switch. At the moment it is system wide. But apps such as Keynote or other video based apps, even now work only in landscape mode, no matter what the lock indicates. But an app such as Flipboard supports both modes. I prefer to use Flipboard in landscape, and had there been an app specific lock, I would have done that.

  • Locking is best used when you will surely be using an iPad for quite some time in a given orientation, and that too if held in those ‘in between’ orientations. For that you will need a lock. The overhead for that is a double-click and swipe left (about the same as app switching). Now that is not that big a burden if you will be dedicating a lot of time in one app, and holding the iPad at an angle which is not well defined.

Obviously, the hardware lock was conceived when the iPad was launched and that time the big thing was it’s role as an ebook reader. Now multimedia and lot of work happens here, each within it’s own view of things.. Plus multi-tasking will soon progress with widgets etc. Then many apps will do their bit in different modes. Making it soft will make it flexible.


Mumbai, 9 Dec 2010

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