The iPad: the Computer for the Rest of Us
It’s been an interesting decade of the iPad. I’ve been using it since day one and remember having to figure out hacks to get my papers I wrote on it off the iPad to printing for my undergraduate classes involving connecting to Dropbox via a WebDav service that was probably not as secure as it should have been, but a younger, more idealist Hobie didn’t think too much about cybersecurity in college. The iPad 1 definitely started off as a consumption device with iBooks, Youtube, iTunes Video, games and a little bit of iWork sprinkled in. The iPad 2 was a big deal with iPhoto and Garage Band and really pushed the idea that the iPad could be a device for creativity. As the years went on though the iPad languished behind the more popular sibling, the iPhone and then when Apple refocused on the Mac it finally got some love last year in the form of iPadOS being a separate operating system, along with a lot of much-needed software changes to take advantage of stuff like USB devices, multi-tasking, and external pointing device support (Sort-of). The Apple Pencil was also a huge revolution in what you could do with the iPad Pro, which was the higher-level iPad that was introduced with a keyboard and a stylus (I know, people thought Steve Jobs would have rolled over in his grave, but I think those people are wrong and he would have loved what you could do with the Apple Pencil). The iPad in 2020 is a weird beast. If you look at it at the top level, its the computer for everyone, a simple uni-tasking computer that starts at $330, but can go as high as $1500 with the iPad Pro LTE model and can have multi-window, multiple applications, and then a hidden side over sidebar. The multitasking gestures are a complicated, but I feel like it would be a disservice to iPadOS and the future of computing to push it back into solely being a unitasking device like the iPads of the past used to be. I think it’s going to be hard, but the multitasking needs to be more discoverable with icons on screens and gestures being like they are on the Mac and probably disabled by default for power users to go in and turn on themselves. There are many people like myself that want to use the iPad Pro as more of a computing device. I never see iPadOS replacing a multi-window, multi-window system for me like MacOS or Windows, but I do use it as more of a hybrid device, the Imperial Shuttle to my Star Destroyer (My 15 MacBook Pro).
The iPad, first and foremost is a consumption computing device for most people, but being a computer for everyone, I think that’s largely OK. Most things that consumers do at home are consumption based and there is nothing wrong with that. When I mean consumption, I define it as
• Paying bills
• Video Streaming
• Video chat
• Video games
• Web browsing
• Online Shopping
• Social Media
• Basic Photo/Video Sharing and Editing, namely to social media
• Reading eBooks and News
Being a computer for everyone its important to focus on consumption computing, people work 8+ hours a day and normally have 6–8+ hours off work. For consumption-based tasks, I would argue that the iPhone and iPad are much better platforms than a Mac or Windows machine. The touchscreen allow for direct user manipulation, the simpler interfaces allow for faster interactions, the simpler OS does not require much or any maintenance like a traditional personal computer (Mac or PC), the devices typically have much longer battery life, and the hardware lasts for years at a time with the average iPad being replaced more like a laptop. The Mac in particular is not a good gaming experience, nor is a $300–500 PC typically. Reading books and news on a laptop is not comfortable and while you can pay bills on a computer, there are tons of apps these days that allow for faster and more secure bill payment.
I think what we have to do is get away from the idea that people’s computers are Macs or PCs, but rather their most personal computer is their smartphone, their data lives in the cloud is their user account/identity, and a tablet like an iPad is a better form factor for a lot of “consumption” comporting that people do at home. For entire segments of the population who are not information workers, engineers, or creatives that is their primary and only computing they do on a daily basis. To a driver, construction worker, or front-line worker, a computer is effectively an appliance to get their jobs done, not something to manipulate files or information. I think we need to get back to the idea that its OK for the iPad to be a third category of device and it doesn’t have to replace traditional computers. There are some people who will be able to be like me and use an iPad as a productivity machine at work, but largely most of my primary job functions are still done on MacOS, a classic computer. At this point, as an IT professional, I recommend people buy the best phone they can buy and get a nice tablet (iPad or Surface) or Chromebook as their home computing device. Even a baseline MacBook Air is overkill for a lot of people do at home. From my experience, people use the laptop that work provides them and then whatever technology they can afford or whatever makes sense for them. I think as a technology community we need to get over the idea that in order for the iPad to succeed, it has to kill the traditional computer or in order for the traditional computer to thrive again (I don’t think that’s ever going to happen with our plethora of specialty computing devices now) that the iPad needs to go back to its corner. I think it’s okay to reflect on the original pitch of the iPad as being that third category of device in people’s lives and that’s OK. If you don’t use a tablet, that’s fine, but for a lot of people it’s a wonderful form factor for a great many things that people need to do and enjoy doing.