How VLC on the iPad Illustrates iOS’ Major Weakness

As I was casually browsing around today, I came across this blog post. It’s about the recently released VLC media player for the iPad, which you can use to play just about any video under the sun on your iPad. The blog post is a complaint about a bit of help text that’s not properly rendered inside the application – annoying, but no dealbreaker. Until I actually read the text – this is how you’re supposed to get content on your iPad?

A few days ago, the iPad version of the excellent VLC music player was released into Apple’s App Store, expanding the rather bleak set of codecs supported by the iOS to something quite substantial. This isn’t really an iOS-only issue, though – many operating systems (mobile or desktop) support only slightly more codecs out of the box than an Etch A Sketch.

So, Paul Kafasis, CEO of Rogue Amoeba Software, tried it out, and discovered an issue with the text displayed when you first launch the VLC application on your iPad. As you can see in the screenshot, part of the text is missing in portrait mode (it does show up properly in landscape mode). A kind of annoying oversight, but nothing to get your knickers in a twist over.

“Of course, one might expect this sort of thing from an app whose desktop version has a toggle between ‘Basic’ and ‘All’ in its Preferences,” he adds. He has a point – VLC isn’t always as welcoming as it could be to some types of computer users. Then again, you’re better off just apt-getting the codecs (Linux) or installing K-Lite (Windows) for those types of users anyway, but alas.

That was that, you might think – but it really isn’t. Instead of getting up in arms over the botched text rendering, I actually read what it says, and after a few seconds of disbelief, it hit me. Forget the botched text – look at what it actually says.

You currently don’t have any video in your VLC library. To add some videos for playback:

  • Connect your iPad to your computer.
  • In iTunes, select your iPad, and then click the Apps tab.
  • Below File Sharing, select “VLC” from the list, and then click Add.
  • In the window that appears, select a file to transer, and then click choose.

You’re reading that right. This is the incredibly complicated set of steps you need to perform in order to get a video from your computer onto your iPad. What is this, 1998? Are we back to cradles? Proprietary cables? Sync buttons? Buggy software that crashes mid-sync so you have to start all over again?

Contrary to popular belief around here, I actually really like Apple’s products (read any review I’ve written and you’ll see), and I tend to think that Apple has a slightly better grasp on how to make mundane tasks in computing easier to accomplish than most other software licensors. As an iPhone owner, I obviously know how much of a pain it is to get content on your iPhone, but with it being a phone, it never really bothered me all that much.

However, the iPad is not a phone. They keep telling us it’s “the best way to experience the web, email, photos, and video. Hands down.”, but with such a complicated set of steps to actually get to your photos and videos, is that really the case? It’s clear Apple wants you to buy stuff through iTunes, but even then you need to sync up using an old-world cable.

You may think – this is just the iOS, there are other mobile operating systems out there. Sure, Android works like a mobile device should – it’s recognised as a bog-standard USB storage device. But, with Google working on a music service, and carriers trying to lock down devices, how long is this freedom going to last? Will they start making it harder for you to get your own content on your devices the moment they start selling you the same content through their own services?

So, sure, you can look at the VLC iPad application and complain about how part of the text is missing. Maybe, however, you need to look to Cupertino and wonder why in god’s name does VLC need that much text to explain something in the first place. Keep complaining about that mouse in your yard while that herd of buffaloes is stampeding through your living room.

125 Comments

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