iPadOS and Your next computer is not a computer

The iPad Pro in the Magic Keyboard case

So, this week was WWDC and there seem to be a LOT of angry people about iPadOS in my circles and I don’t really get it. I mean, I get what a vocal minority of people want: MacOS on the iPad Pro and/or floating windows as a way to “solve” multitasking. Once again Apple snubbed these people for the ….5th year in a row? The release of the Magic Keyboard in 2020 make that crowd of people get excited and point to it as the moment that the iPad was going to become a “real computer”. I’ve been with the iPad since the beginning and have used the smart folio, Smart Keyboard folio, and the Magic Keyboard with various versions of the iPad Pro over the years so I feel like I can speak to as a member of the iPad Pro power user’s club. I have zero desire for the iPad to become a Mac.

Apple further aggregated this vocal crowd by publishing the new ad based as a parody of the Little Mermaid’s song “Part of Your World” and I absolutely love it because it pokes fun at traditional computing devices and highlights the strengths of the hybrid form factor of the iPad.

I see the iPad as Steve Job’s vision for the personal computer. The device starts off simple with just being able to be used by literal toddlers with just the instruments that their creators gave them: their fingers, but at the same time its a device that you can attach a keyboard and mouse to and make it do more traditional computing things. People can the Apple Pencil with it to take notes, edit photos, or draw in ways that are simply impossible on a traditional clamshell laptop. The biggest strength of the iPad is how flexible it is, it can scale up and down in complexity to meet the end-use’s debates, unlike a static laptop, the most popular form factor for Macs. I think a small amount of people still don’t get that. I use a Mac at work and I see it as my “Truck” to get work done, but I’m more than happy with my iPad Pro that I see as my “Crossover SUV” type vehicle to extend the analogy a bit further.

As Apple has become a larger company, they have greatly expanded their product offerings. The famous story of Steve Jobs coming back to a beleaguered Apple in the late 90s was him killing the Mac clones and cutting down the product line to a magical quadrant of 4x computers, a desktop and laptop line with one line each for home users and professionals. The Apple of 2021 is much, much different. They’re not a small company hovering on the edge of bankruptcy, they make a huge variety of products including, but not limited to: laptops, desktops, tablets, smart watches, smart speakers, headphones, and a small army of accessories to support them. I think a lot of people still have this old mentality that Apple makes products specifically for them or products have to be for the entire Apple market…that’s simply impossible given Apple’s current market share and that’s OK. Its the sign of a healthy company. I cannot make the MacBook Air work for me. I find the screen too cramped to be truly productive on it, its RAM + power ceiling is too low for what I do, and they will never have enough ports for me. That’s OK though. Lots of people get an immense amount of work done with the MacBook Air and with the M1 powerhouse its more powerful than ever before, which will make the machine last for years and years to go. I don’t see a lot of people complaining about that bit.

Some people also think that the existence of a $2,000 iPad Pro with an M1 means that it should be running MacOS. That is a mistake. There are entire classes of people who can and are using iPads as their primary portable computers. Verticals like hospital employees, pilots, or frontline employees use them as their primary computing devices every day as the superior computer because of its form factor, battery life, and operating system stability. More and more creatives are using the iPad Pro as their field machines, namely photographers like Austin Mann are big fans of them. Having more storage and more RAM is important for these people and future proofs the machines. Apple always likes to give their machines plenty of headroom for the future because they are aware that these machines are premium machines that people want and expect them to last for a long time. The M1 in the consumer make the current line of Mac Mini, consumer MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air ridiculously overpowered for what those end users typically do right now, but I see that as strength and something to be celebrated rather than getting frustrated about. Just because you cannot take full advantage of a machine doesn’t mean that it should not exist. I’m a pretty high end 16” MacBook Pro user, but I know that I simply do not need a Mac Pro and probably will never need that much machine. That’s OK though and doesn’t make me mad, rather I celebrate that for me the Mac has no ceiling for anything that I want it to do now, not like a few years ago that I could have very realistically been given a project that taps out my MacBook Pro or the cylinder Mac Pro and me have to throw up my hands and end up using a Linux or Windows machine. We should do the same with the M1 iPad Pro instead of getting frustrated with it because the software experience isn’t targeted towards our particular workflow.

I’m currently in the market for a new car and I’m between a sedan and a crossover SUV. I know enough about my habits that I know a truck isn’t for me so I’ve been focusing on the Toyota Camry vs. Toyota RAV4 (And Nissan Rogue). Stretching this analogy as far as I can go, I see the iPad and iPad Air as the Toyota Camry/RAV4 of the computing market. Simple, reliable, and enough computer for most consumers (Most people do have work provide them a work machine after all). The iPad Air straddles that line between a sedan and SUV by using the iPhone’s processor, but being compatible with the Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil 2. Not having any numbers, my guess is most people still just use an iPad with touch, even on the iPad Air, but like the RAV4 not really being designed to tow things like a truck, you can get attachments for the RAV4 to carry bikes, boats, and even small trailers and just make it work despite the RAV4 series fundamentally being a “Car platform” and sharing DNA with the company’s Camry sedan. The iPad Pro is like the Toyota 4Runner SUVs. Its not quite a truck in the same way that people will work out of it, but its part of the truck platform, running the M1 processor and can do more truck-like things, namely being featured prominently with accessories like the Magic Keyboard, Apple Pencil 2, and Thunderbolt 4 accessories, being a capable option for many. Nobody would mistake an SUV for a truck even though an SUV can do truck-like things. Lots of Americans use SUVs every year at different levels, but one of America’s best selling automobiles is still the Ford F-150…a truck. The iPad in very much the same way is a computer. No, its not the same as Mac, but I think that’s a strength and the platform from a price, ease-of-use, stability, and security standpoint makes it a solid computer for a wide swathe of people.

IT Support Specialist V and Spring Hill College graduate who loves all things tech. If it has a flashing LED it has my immediate attention.