The iPad is still being held back by its operating system and Apple isn't being straightforward about the why

My colleague and friend Mike sent me a link to an interview with Phil Schiller on c|net conducted by Roger Cheng. The core part of the interview concerns the new 16" MacBook Pro and the redesign of the keyboard away from Apple’s butterfly mechanism to an improved scissor mechanism. Later in the discussion, they talk about how iPads and Macs coexist and the purpose of each device. Schiller’s answer to a question about whether Apple can see the iPad and Mac merging like this:

No, that’s not our view. Because then you get this in-between thing, and in-between things are never as good as the individual things themselves. We believe the best personal computer is a Mac, and we want to keep going down that path. And we think the best tablet computing device is an iPad, and we’ll go down that path.

iPad benefits because we assume that you need to be able to do most everything with touch, and we don’t have to trade off on that experience. Mac assumes you want to do most everything with a keyboard and mouse input. We don’t have to trade off on that path. You can look at some of the other products that will try to go halfway between the two. They end up just compromising experiences. That’s not good.

I have a 12.9" 3rd generation iPad Pro. It’s a device that’s as close to my teenage self’s Star Trek P.A.D.D. dream as I could hope for. But what drove me to stop using iPads for a couple of years after the iPad Air 2 and what still bugs me, even in iPadOS, are the limitations Apple places on the software of the device and on the capabilities of third party software. The way Schiller frames the separation between iPads and Macs is based on the type of input and that, to me, misses the point.

Let me put it this way. When I was shopping for a new tablet at the beginning of the year, the decision to go for the top-of-the-line iPad Pro instead of an infinitely more capable Surface Pro 6 came down to two things:

  1. I put a gigantic amount of faith and € 2,000+ in Apple, hoping they would come through and at least add support for external storage with the next major release, as had been speculated. Thankfully, iPadOS delivered.
  2. The quality of third party software on iOS (and macOS), particularly from indie developers and once you venture outside of the big name applications, is still completely unmatched on Windows and in all areas: touch-friendliness, UX and UI design, etc.

On this I agree with Schiller: it’s important to have proper support for touch and proper support for mouse + keyboard in the devices you offer.
The best example sits in front of me daily; my lovely Surface Pro 2. This is a full-fledged Windows PC with all of the potential you expect it to have but using the operating system and third party applications in touch mode is a compromise at best and impossible at worst (and don’t even get me started on the schizophrenic nature of Windows 10 itself with a Settings app and the Control Panel app).
But the above also goes to show that it’s not a matter of the devices' form factor or input methods but a matter of having the operating system expose as much potential to the software running on it and enforcing a high standard of optimisation for the form factor and input methods.

Comparing a modern Surface Pro 7 to a current iPad Pro leaves me with this conclusion:

Windows 10 limits how comfortably I can accomplish my tasks but iPadOS still limits what tasks I can accomplish.

And this is what I continue to have issues with, this is the thing that drives me to pick up my MacBook Pro or my Surface Pro 2 for tasks as trivial as using some necessary extension in a browser like Brave 1, or quickly converting a video file I created on my camera into a different format, or adding new music to the Music app on my iPad, or inspecting the code of my website right in the browser I’m using. Tasks that the iPad, as a device, is absolutely capable of but that iPadOS keeps me from doing.

  1. I am fully aware of the fact that allowing extensions and other features common on Windows and macOS needs to be done carefully because of the security and privacy implications. That still doesn’t excuse, in my opinion, why Apple hasn’t made any visible efforts to solve these problems on a platform that’s been around for over 12 years. ↩︎

Alex Hoffmann @mangochutney