We're starting to think Steve Jobs doesn't want you watching your Apple iPad in bed. In typically concise emails to a fan, reported by 9to5Mac, Apple's polo-necked panjandrum confirmed the firmware update to iOS 4.2 changes the handy orientation lock switch into a mute button -- whether you like it or not.
The switch on the side locks the screen in place so when you turn the iPad on its side, what's on screen doesn't flip sideways too. It's handy for when you're lying down and you want to keep your fruit-flavoured slate in portrait or landscape mode. iOS 4.2, the new version of the iPad's operating system software, will see the switch silencing any sound emanating from the device, as on the iPhone.
Although it's a minor software tweak, it's kind of a big deal for many iPad users. The orientation lock was originally hailed as a great example of Apple's eye for detail, and flair for simple usability. Tablet PCs are inherently meant for use away from desks and flat surfaces, whether that means curled up on the sofa, lying in bed or passing around a group of friends, family or other worker drones. The lock is a quick and easy method of ensuring such unconventional usage doesn't see the screen crazily leaping about like the bridge of the Enterprise going through a spatial anomaly.
The iPad doesn't even need a mute button -- it's not a phone, and won't ever ring at an inopportune moment like when in the middle of the library, tiptoeing out of a stranger's house the morning after, or hiding behind a crate as terrorists plot and scheme just feet away. If you really need your iPad to hush for a moment, that's what volume keys, pause buttons and headphones were invented for.
The orientation lock still appears in the forthcoming firmware update to iOS 4.2, and will be accessed from the multitasking bar onscreen. That means if you're watching a film and decide to lie down, or you're passing an iPad around a group, you'll have to jump out of the app for a moment to lock the screen instead of thumbing a handy button.
On a passing note, this Craver has long pined for the iPhone's mute switch to control Wi-Fi. The iPhone's battery life is so shoddy we find ourselves turning Wi-Fi on and off regularly in a desperate attempt to eke out the last batteryjoules of batteryjuice, which requires frootling about in the settings. The ideal situation would be the option to choose the function we want the switch to fulfill, whether it's muting, locking the screen, toggling Wi-Fi, or something else.
It's a small thing, but the devil is in the details, and it doesn't help that this is another edict handed down by Apple and applied to your kit whether you like it or not. iOS 4.2 will be available in November and, on a brighter note, also brings multitasking, folders and a unified mail inbox to the iPad.
Are you tired of being bossed about by Apple? Which do you find more useful -- the orientation lock or the mute button? And if you had a choice, what would you want the switch to do?