After a decade, why hasn’t iPad become the computer for the rest of us?

iPad just turned ten years old. It’s come a long way over the past decade, but many feel it hasn’t come anywhere near far enough, especially versus its initial promise. After a decade, why hasn’t iPad become the computer for the rest of us?

Ben Thompson for Stratechery:

iPad computer
Apple’s iPad Pro with Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard Folio
In my opinion, multi-tasking on the iPad is an absolute mess, and it has ruined the entire interface; I actively dislike using the iPad now, and use it exclusively to watch video and make the drawings for Stratechery. Its saving grace is that it is hard to discover.

What is fascinating — and, in my opinion, tragic, in both the literal and literary sense — is how the iPad arrived in its current state. That initial announcement featured Jobs reclining on a couch — it wasn’t very difficult to come up with the “content consumption” angle! Still, you could see the potential for something more…

GarageBand, even more than iWork the year before, was the sort of app that was only possible on an iPad. Sure, it shared a name with its Mac counterpart, but the magic came from the fact that it had little else in common.

And then Jobs died, and I’ve never been able to shake the sense that this particular vision of the iPad died with him.

MacDailyNews Take: Thompson bemoans, and correctly so, the fact that Apple hamstrung iPad by pricing iPad apps like iPhone apps. $4.99 for the power of something like GarageBand for iPad worked just fine for Apple, but not for the type of third-party developers iPad needed to fulfill its vast promise. Even today, we’re still waiting for Adobe to get Photoshop for iPad to a place where users would choose it over a Mac.

John Gruber for Daring Fireball:

Ten years later, though, I don’t think the iPad has come close to living up to its potential. By the time the Mac turned 10, it had redefined multiple industries. In 1984 almost no graphic designers or illustrators were using computers for work. By 1994 almost all graphic designers and illustrators were using computers for work. The Mac was a revolution. The iPhone was a revolution. The iPad has been a spectacular success, and to tens of millions it is a beloved part of their daily lives, but it has, to date, fallen short of revolutionary.

iPad hardware is undeniably great. Lower-priced models are excellent consumer tablets, and are the cheapest personal computers Apple has ever made. They remain perfectly useful for many years. The iPads Pro outperform MacBooks computationally. They’re thin, light, reliable, gorgeous, and yet despite their impressive computational performance they need no fans.

Software is where the iPad has gotten lost. iPadOS’s “multitasking” model is far more capable than the iPhone’s, yes, but somehow Apple has painted it into a corner in which it is far less consistent and coherent than the Mac’s, while also being far less capable. iPad multitasking: more complex, less powerful. That’s quite a combination.

MacDailyNews Take: iPad’s multitasking certainly screams for a rethink. But it, along with add-on keyboards and rudimentary mouse support, signals Apple’s confusion as to what to do with iPad, what iPad is for, how iPad is supposed to work, and what iPad’s supposed to be. Steve Jobs had an idea of what iPad was meant to become, we’re fairly certain, but it seems to have gotten muddled since he passed too soon after iPad’s birth.

If we could boil down iPad’s problem, it comes down to an overall problem Apple has had seemingly since Steve Jobs’ death: Discoverability. Used to be, you could grab an Apple product and intuitively figure it out. Then interesting, but half-baked ideas like 3D Touch and Touch Bars and iPad split-view multitasking whatever somehow made it to the public (we all know why: the final arbiter, the guy who’d send his engineers and designers back to their drawing boards the minute something wasn’t user-friendly enough was gone). These things, especially iPad multitasking, are simply not discoverable or intuitive or consistent and it’s in those very things where Apple misses Steve Jobs the most today.

A team of people – talented people who actually get it and who are all on the same page – is an absolute necessity for Apple’s success, but it creates a problem: Jobs was a single filter. A unified mind. The founder. A group of people simply cannot replicate that. This is not to say that they cannot do great work (we believe Apple does, and will continue, to do great work) just that Apple is fundamentally affected by the loss of Steve Jobs and has to figure out a new way to work. — MacDailyNews, April 8, 2014

The absence of Steve Jobs grows ever more apparent with the introduction of each new Apple product, service, and app. At today’s Apple, the lack of an omnipotent arbiter of taste glares like a klieg light.MacDailyNews, October 1, 2017

66 Comments

    1. I personally think that Chromebooks, and eventually Windows 10X, are netbook operating systems done right. For the average mainstream user, all they really need are web apps.

      1. The average consumer has poor internet service at home and outside his home. This might come as a shock to Apple employees who live and work within a few km of the donut ediface. This makes web apps a very poor choice for non-urbanos.

  1. For me, it’s my most used computer. So iPad has succeeded. I think the problem for some people is that they want iPad to replace the Mac for everything. It may someday, but what’s the rush. I use my iPad most of the time (and I don’t really need to “multi-task” except for things that happen automatically), and I use my MacBook Air for the things it does better. I’d be sad if I never needed my Mac. The interaction between all of my Apple devices is amazing. I like the current balance… 😌

    1. Per the two linked articles, the argument isn’t about whether the iPad can replace a Mac or do real work / content creation. It’s that the iPad hasn’t lived up to its potential due to two reasons:

      The UI becoming unintuitive over time due to tacking on features that are difficult to discover
      The app store being unsustainable for developers that are trying to build a long-term business off of it due to Apple setting the bar low (ie: $4.99) for content creation apps and relying on subscription-based pricing as opposed to upgrade pricing.

      1. Stating something doesn’t make it true. The UI is quite intuitive for me. I have discovered and use the features that I need. And “the bar” for app pricing of iOS apps was already set by iPhone apps, before iPad even existed. App prices being higher is not better just because you say it is…

        iPad has become an ideal computer for most of my needs. But I want my Mac too, because I’m more comfortable using a keyboard/mouse interface for some things. Maybe I can do them now on my iPad, but I enjoy using my Mac.

        I think Apple has created an ideal balance between iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

  2. It IS the computer for the rest of us… in a HUGE way. There are more iPads being sold than ALL the laptops made by all the major vendors combined.

    The problem is that people have found themselves outside of “the rest of ya” and it makes them uncomfortable. OOOOH these iPads are TOOOO hard to use I mean gestures all over the place!!

    Meanwhile, a 9 year old has absolutely no problems navigating the interface. The same way kids awhile ago really took to the mouse. There are some folks that can’t follow the context, there will ALWAYS be folks that cant follow the context. “The rest of us” will be enjoying our devices 🙂

    1. In related news, disposable leaky plastic cheap promotional ink pens have outsold all the precision writing implements from Watermans to Fisher Space Pens to relatively affordable Parkers combined. By Wrong As Always logic, this means the dramatically better performance of a precision pen must not be “for the rest of us”, since ad-supported landfill fodder is good enough for so many plebians. Should everyone limit their writing experience to the cheap, constrained device?

      I contend that 9 year olds can manage a Mac as well if not better than iOS. At least with a Mac there is some semblance of the superb old Apple Design Guide and GUI consistency. With iOS, in sharp contrast, every app is a trial-and-error proposition. The few crude controls that are given are usually hidden behind hamburger menus, but it is surprising how many of those menus result in the classic question, “Where’s the Beef?”. iOS is designed to be a thin client that requires media subscriptions for consumption, cloud subscriptions for content creation, cloud subscriptions or expensive dongles for file sharing. It is enormously profitable because the app store, unlike on a Mac or Windows personal computer, maintains a monopoly on app distribution. There is no trialware, no permanent app ownership. You’re a marketing data point the moment you turn on an iOS device. Far from being private, unknown amounts of data are sent to the mothership and app developers at all times. To top it all off, the user has poor choices in input/output and file sharing so collaborative efforts are ALWAYS slower than full-function computers.

      A computer for the rest of us, I contend, would have a much more mature and capable operating system than the neutered iOS, and it would give the user total control over his computing experience. Long live the Mac, without watering it down to be as pathetically limiting as iOS.

      1. A Ferrari is not “for the rest of us”.
        A Rolex is not “for the rest of us”.
        A Fancy Schmantzy pen is not “for the rest of us”.

        You’re old, confused by new tech, and change scares you, that’s fine! You won’t stop progress any more than the old folks that just couldn’t figure out how to do that whole “mouse” thing the Mac had going on 🙂

        1. “You’re old, confused by new tech, and change scares you, that’s fine!”

          No, we may disagree viscerally on politics, but Mike is spot on and has nothing to do with your false depiction.

          No iPad in the world can best a Mac and it’s superior OS and processing power, Wrong AGAIN.

          Your pipe dream wish is simply NOT reality…

            1. Oh my God! We’re totally devastated! /s

              Pay close attention CLUELESS – the Mac is THE flagship product that FOUNDED Apple along with other computers, NOT iPad, 34 years ago.

              Don’t appreciate your many FALSE claims how we feel. That’s disrespectful, WE can speak for ourselves. Got it?

              The Mac division just made over a BILLION DOLLARS MORE than the sale of neutered computers called iPads.

              Quite the contrary, I feel GREAT!!!… 🤠👍🏻

      2. I also agree. I am on my 60th Mac since 1985 and have had most iPhones and many iPads. I find iOS to be a “treasure hunt” interface to poke, to make something happen.

        I find limited but loving use for my iPads. Usually to control all the Hue lights in my office. Sometimes to work with my teleprompter in the studio.

        The only place I find it better than my Mac is to read something. Then there is a natural feeling to lean back and relax in the chair as Steve Jobs did in the demo and consume. Then device disappears and it’s magical. And it’s also way cool because I feel like I am in the Star Trek universe. 😉

    2. “There are more iPads being sold than ALL the laptops made by all the major vendors combined.”

      Is that suppose to mean something?

      Hot dogs outsell steak.

      Hamburgers outsell filet mignon.

      Fish sandwiches outsell lobster.

      Ford outsells Ferrari.

      BIC outsells Parker.

      Get a grip… 🙄

  3. As I wrote on the other iPad story, the issue with the iPad, for me, is that it is still not ready to be used without a MacBook – because of the software.

    Using MS Word for the iPad remains frustrating – changing a table cell or even paragraph numbering or indents is very fiddly and complicated and sometimes not possible at all. Outlook for the iPad is near impossible to use for serious work – changing fonts is not possible and the search function can feel worse than (and as slow as) a manual search of a paper filing cabinet. Apple Pages and Mail are also inadequate but in different ways. None of this software has adequate undo. There is also nothing close to the power of Adobe Acrobat DC – I use PDF Expert but it has no OCR function and (even on the Mac) is basic and stripped-down.

    Text selection remains a lottery – sometimes it works, sometimes is does not, sometimes text can be selected, sometimes only the entirety of whole chunk can be copied. When I am forced to use my iPad for tasks, trying to select and copy text can be intensely frustrating, counter intuitive and slow. The Smart Keyboard is very good – but the lack of a forwards delete (forward arrow and delete is not easy and one has to press both buttons each time rather than just keeping the arrow button depressed) and my continually hitting the ‘world’ key in the left hand corner is aggravating.

    Those are two of the most important functions that people use on their computers – word processing and email. And yet the iPad still is a poor device for those functions – save for personal, undemanding, personal tasks. It is disappointing that Apple has not built its own word processing, email and PDF applications that can fulfil the iPad’s full potential. The iPad has sufficient power to handle applications that are as powerful as those on a MacBook – but this promise has yet to be realised.

    1. The list of things that the touch interface cannot do is 10 times longer than what it can do, and its a function of how the workflows of the apps have multiple layered functions the available options, by necessity are much less.

      If I had to use a touch interface for the complex operations and multi layer menus that I use for html5 animations with 53 separate timelines in a 15 second animation that they might use, my tablet would have to be 4×8 feet.

      And a half hour a day to clean the screen of skin oils.

      And that’s without even talking about the pure graphics apps like Affinity and Pixelmator, audio and video apps with yet more timelines.

      You tablet people are in just a different world, no offense intended.

      1. No, tablet people are in the “current” world and moving forward.

        People that NEED a mouse to get “serious work” are set firmly in the past… that’s why they think everything NOT a mouse is “from out of this world”. I hope they don’t completely lose their minds when someone shows them a push button phone!

        NO ROTARY?? HOW KIN YA TELL WHAT YER DIALIN’ ON THIS DEVILISH CONTRAPTION!!??

        1. “No, tablet people are in the “current” world and moving forward.”

          No, bragging fashionista tablet people like you are CLUELESS regarding MAC POWER! You seriously believe your false belief that an iPad can match a mouse and Mac for any type of computing power, pity.

          You argued for six years Apple did not need to upgrade the Mac PRO because the future was already alternatively here with the iPad replacing Macs, yeah right. Guess you were Wrong AGAIN.

          BTW, the record quarter of Apple earning results released today the numbers clearly show Apple sold over a BILLION more dollars of Macs than iPads. So much for wishful new age computing domination.

          iPad turned 10 years old on Jan. 27. The Mac turned 36 on Jan. 24. Ignore the classics at your own peril, the reality is fads and fashion don’t LAST…

          1. “You argued for six years Apple did not need to upgrade the Mac PRO”
            Nope, I said there’s no money in it. And, if they ever DID upgrade the Mac PRO, they’d charge enough to make it worth their effort to make it. And they did exactly that.

            “BTW, the record quarter of Apple earning results released today the numbers clearly show Apple sold over a BILLION more dollars of Macs than iPads.”
            Those are revenue numbers, NOT unit sales. The iPad outsells the Mac by a HUGE margin. Make no mistake that Apple’s future focus will be on where the number of customers is GROWING fastest.

            1. “Nope, I said there’s no money in it.”
              • Mac: $7.160 billion
              • iPad: $5.977 billion
              Apple first quarter results, released on Tuesday.🤣

              “Those are revenue numbers, NOT unit sales. The iPad outsells the Mac by a HUGE margin.”

              No sh*t 💩 Sherlock, what’s your point? Like I said, hot dogs outsell steak, etc.?

              “Make no mistake that Apple’s future focus will be on where the number of customers is GROWING fastest.”

              All your posts on this topic are defensive of the iPad, false claims and nothing, but MISTAKES and CLUELESS promises… 👎🏻🙄

  4. “If we could boil down iPad’s problem, it comes down to an overall problem Apple has had seemingly since Steve Jobs’ death:”

    I think it comes to vision and strategy. Even the original software designer and program lead for iPad had an idea of what it should become

    https://www.inputmag.com/tech/the-ipads-original-software-designer-and-program-lead-look-back-on-the-devices-first-10-years

    “We all know with 20/20 hindsight what the history of the iPad is 10 years later. But if you were to take a guess at 10 years in the future, do you see the iPad evolving to replace the Mac? Do you see it being a portal to cloud or streaming services? What do you think is the next big step for that platform?

    Imran: I think it’ll be interesting for all of us to watch and see how Apple evolves the iPad. But, you know, I think one of the struggles that customers have with the iPad right now is really trying to figure out what role it plays in terms of a portable class computer. You have a traditional desktop computer or a traditional laptop computer — and where does the iPad fit in? You know, I would hope and I think they would continue to evolve it to a point where the iPad does end up doing a lot more that the Mac [currently] does and that the Mac redefines itself as more of a professional tool and the iPad defines itself as more of a mass consumer computing platform. I think that would be almost like a natural progression. But we’ll see where they go. I mean, there’s some great people there that are really passionate about refinement and, you know, I think they’re doing a decent job with that.”

  5. It suits my needs. I keep one in my library, another in the family room and a third on the charger. They work hand-in-glove with each other and my iPhone. I travel a lot and this is all the fire power I require.

  6. I love how the generic “serious work” is thrown out as something you can’t do on an iPad. And you know, that may be right. Folks that want to furrow their brow and grimace as they go about using their traditional desktop and laptop to get SERIOUS WORK DONE are probably better off using something less delightful than an iPad.

    1. Being able to produce basic word processing documents with custom numbering and emails with different fonts, sizes or colours should be within the capabilities of the iPad.

      1. “basic word processing documents”
        It can produce basic documents. The basic documents the vast majority create.

        Regarding emails of different fonts, sizes or colors… you can do that now. Though, have to say, even though I JUST found the feature, I doubt I’d ever use it. 🙂 I’ve never received an email (that wasn’t junk mail) that used different fonts, sizes, colors, either.

        1. While it may be true that the ‘vast’ majority can create basic documents on the iPad, in most professionals’ use cases it is the rough to intermediate drafts that are done on the iPad and finished up on a Mac. If the intermediate result is good enough (for most it is) then using the iPad for your productivity use cases is all you need. If you actually work as someone trying to ‘sell’ someone on an idea or do any processor intensive work the iPad is far from being the exclusive tool of choice.

    2. @ Wrong As Always: Simple text editing on iOS devices is a major exercise in frustration. For precision of cursor placement alone, the Mac is vastly superior.

      Next you can tell us how the Sistine Chapel could have been painted just as well with spray paint, the newer cheaper painting method…

      1. “Simple text editing on iOS devices is a major exercise in frustration.”
        If you’re old and your fingers REALLY too shaky to deal with a touch screen.

        Finished that for you 🙂

        1. That is just not true. Careful text selection is difficult, hit-and-miss, irregular depending on the website or the app. One cannot select individual words in text messages, sometimes tweets, sometimes newspaper headlines. One cannot select a word for copying if it is, itself, a link – or rather it is necessary to select something else (if that is possible) and then drag the ‘handles’ to the linked text.

          Please also explain how to change fonts and sizes in Outlook for iPad, given that was what I had mentioned above when describing the limitations of iPad software.

          1. You’re right, Wrong is just being a dbag. Text selection has gotten even WORSE in iOS13 than before. While it was always imperfect, you could usually select in between letters of a word, now it either shoves the cursor to the beginning or end of a word or selects the entire thing. Using the spacebar trackpad instead acknowledges the limitations of a touch interface for precise text manipulation. I would tear my eyes out if I had to finish my doctorate on an iPad, anytime I have to write more than a quick email or text message its severe limitations are painfully obvious. Great for reading though.

    3. Yeah delightful for quantum electrodynamics simulations. Too high brow? How about Maple and Mathematica, now with stylus that would be pretty cool.

      But most people don’t do that, so let’s frown on the computers that are able.

  7. Apple is very (more) profitable selling every iPad they can make, the same cannot be said of those Microsoft PC laptop makers. If you are sitting on the fence about the iPad or Apple 10 years in you don’t get it and never will, if you do and you put your money in 2001 on you are now rich.

  8. Because in every way imaginable, it is a piss poor substitute for a real work station. That is just a fact, sorry. And it is absolutely terrible for kids. Apple got this about as backward as would be humanly possible. Thanks, Tim. Typical 21st century Valley BS, though.

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