I recently wrote a couple posts about CloudOn, a new app that brings full Microsoft office applications to the iPad via a virtual workspace. Since that time, a similar app, OnLive, launched (to less than stellar reviews and comments) bringing a full Windows 7 virtual workspace (including Office applications) to the iPad. While I find these apps technologically interesting and of importance to our profession, I think they are far from the best of tablet computing.
Rather than capitalizing on the strengths of the iPad, these services bring the worst bits of desktop applications to our tablets: overpowered software, cluttered, unintuitive interfaces and uninspired design. I’ve always believed that the best apps are the ones that make deliberate choices about what features to include (and exclude) and how best make those features available to the user. These virtualization apps have done the user no such favor. The result are tools ill suited for the device and a chore to use. These apps require that the user bend to work as demanded by the tool rather than the other way around.
Even with those criticisms, I think these are important tools, especially for lawyers so I’ll continue to cover them (at least CloudOn) at TabletLegal. Without a doubt, when you need to regenerate table of contents, create tracked changes in a document or properly format a brief for filing, there is no tool other than a full version of Microsoft Word that will help you do that. Also, from writing this blog I know that many attorneys are reluctant to try non-Word based workflows. For these people, these apps provide a familiar writing environment and require little change in one’s workflow in order to use.
So what do you think? Are apps like these a step back for iPad users? Would all that venture capital money been better spent on developing a native touch-based Word clone?