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’m so tired of these so called pundits and tech columnist making broad assumptions about how the rest of us use iPad. They seem to forget that for the vast major of iPad owners, it has been the ‘computer’ for the rest of us….there is a reason why it outsells I work for a Fortune 500 education company, and have been using the iPad for everything from remote mainframe access via vpn to incident tracking for global applications. It’s been my sole computing device for the past 4 years with its only real limitations being archaic corporate security on policies added to the device. How are you going to look at the numbers and in the same breath blab out that it’s somehow NOT the choice computing device for most people?

    From it’s introduction until 2018, it had already sold 425 million devices globally, that’s one product, by one company. Obviously, these so-called experts opinions should be taken with a grain of salt.

    1. But you are dealing with particular workflows that have been created maybe before you were even in your company. In other words, you are just running an app, like a roadmap for a paved set of roads and nothing else. But can you drive off the roads and into the trees if there were no paved roads?

      That is what some of us do! We make new roads

    2. If I was a business owner, I think I would prefer to hand my ‘rank and file’ workers iPad over Macs simply because they are more affordable and and have more control of how badly they can screw it up. So yes, I can believe a Fortune 500 education company would try to use the iPad to get as much of the ‘work’ done as it could get away with.

  2. A few areas where iPadOS falls short big time: inconsistent open/save UI and conceptual model; some apps make a copy of files they’re opening in their own sandbox (causing a proliferation of file versions), instead of allowing, by default, editing the file in-place; privacy issues when opening multiple documents in an app (e.g., private Safari windows). Utterly undiscoverable (and complicated) split-screen windowing, only works for supporting aaps; utterly undiscoverable face recognition UI in Photos…
    This is why so many people are still driving trucks. (On a computer one can easily use the results from one app as input to the next app, not just those apps that the iOS design team made provisions for — maybe I’m exaggerating somewhat, but you get the idea… .)

    1. Some people will ALWAYS drive automatic cars because manual transmissions are WAY to complex for them. Seems like the iPad interface is just too complex for a few folks.

      1. I bought my first car with automatic transmission after 46 years of owning cars with manual transmission. I regret the purchase. Manual transmission is much easier for me.

    2. Some people need trucks. Other people need cars. Still other people need motorcycles. Lots of people only need the bus. The kid down the block only needs a skateboard. Just like Steve Jobs said. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for automotive or computer needs.

    1. I have an iPad, but often have to remember where I stored it. I use an iMac, Macbook, Macbook Pro and an iPhone. Oh…also a cheesegrater 2009 MacPro, just as a data backup. So I guess I have what I need.

  3. It’s the computer for the rest of us because “the rest of us” only need internet, social media, messaging and video streaming.

    For productivity stick with a fully fledged PC, for now.

  4. “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.“

    That is a perplexing statement. Apple revenue is 2.5X what it was when Steve Jobs died .. and Apple stock price is more than 6X. Surely, Apple’s vision has evolved and may be different than Steve Jobs vision; but the consumer and stock markets appear to be at odds with your pronouncement.

    1. Most of AAPL’s growth has been based on the foundations Steve built, notably the iPhone. Sure, Apple Watch, AirPods and services are important and growing, but Apple is playing catch-up in other areas.

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