iPad is not a MacBook replacement; iPadOS should not become macOS

Apple’s iPad is not a MacBook replacement, nor should iPadOS aspire to become macOS. In the face of news that Apple is bringing trackpads to the company’s detachable iPad Pro keyboards, it bears repeating that the iPad and the Mac are two distinct computing devices and they should remain as such.

iPad not a MacBook replacement
Apple’s 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models
Neil Cybart for Above Avalon:

There was no shortage of writers, pundits, and industry analysts using the iPad’s 10th anniversary to give eulogies for the product in terms of its inability to be revolutionary, grab momentum, or even just meet expectations… I hold a very different view of the iPad at 10 years old. In recapping the 2010s, I went so far as to position the iPad as one of two most important tech products of the decade (the iPhone being the other one). The iPad has become ubiquitous in various industries and sectors, and in the process, it has altered modern computing… The iPad is currently shaping industries far more than some people are giving the product credit for. There are at least 350 million people using an iPad in some capacity…

The iPad has become a line in the sand between those who grew up on laptops and desktops and those who never felt comfortable with such devices. Apple finds itself walking a thin line when it comes to adding functionality to the iPad for some users while keeping the device’s simplicity and intuitiveness front and center for other users… Going a week with no laptop or desktop usage will do interesting things to one’s perception about computing and intuitiveness. When returning to a laptop or desktop, the machines feel like taking a step back. Our brain has to be rewired to handle something that is inherently less intuitive.

MacDailyNews Take: Yes.

We find that there are many older users longing to make iPad work like a laptop, because that’s what they know. Take a look at a twelve-year-old who’s only really ever used an iPad for personal computing. It’s an eyeopener. It’s like looking into the future. The answer isn’t to try to make the iPad into a MacBook. The answer is to provide all the tools possible in iOS for developers to make robust apps that can take advantage of the multi-touch paradigm. — MacDailyNews, May 16, 2017

The iPad’s primary problem is that it is viewed by some as needing to be a laptop replacement in order to have any value. This unrealistic viewpoint has resulted in a type of expectational debt being placed on the device. The iPad is expected to become more like the Mac and macOS over time. This is problematic as the iPad is not a laptop replacement.

MacOS should not be positioned as inspiration for where to bring the iPad or iPadOS… The takeaway is that the iPad has become a different kind of product, and it should be allowed to stand apart from the iPhone without being forced to replace macOS.

MacDailyNews Take: As we wrote on the occasion of the iPad’s tenth birthday, the value of an iPad depends, as always, on what you do. If you write (blog), you need a good keyboard, you need precise cursor control, and you need to be able to cut/copy/paste accurately and quickly. As all written reviews are from writers, and the iPad is inferior to a MacBook for writing, what you’ll read is heavier on the criticism than from say, an artist. For an artist, an iPad is a total revolution. Ditto for musicians. But artists and musicians write far fewer reviews than writers (duh), so all we end up hearing about is an endless stream of how the iPad keyboard “sucks,” how iPad needs circa-1984 mouse support, and “where’s my trackpad?”

We use MacBook Pros to write. If iPad had a keyboard anywhere near as good as our 16-inch MacBook Pros and allowed us to quickly and accurately select and move text snippets, we’d use it more for writing. If iPad had coherent, intuitive multi-tasking and we could use it to quickly assemble images and insert them into our articles, we’d use it more. But, right now, it cannot come close to working as well and as quickly on both counts as our MacBook Pros.

If an artist or musician or someone from any number of other disciplines (almost every high-level exec we know today uses an iPad Pro far more than a laptop, if they still even have a laptop) were to write about the iPad, the story would be completely the opposite. iPad works far better for what they’re doing than a MacBook Pro. For many, Apple’s iPad transformed computing long ago.

Our main gripe about iPad is about iPadOS, not the brilliant hardware, and that we feel Apple should be further along that they are now because what they’re offering currently significantly lacks intuitiveness and discovery. This is because the company lost their sole judge of user-friendliness and have not yet been able to construct a reliable system of replacing that singular point of judgement. This is why nobody can just pick up an iPad and figure out how to multitask with it today. If you have to read the manual, that’s not the Apple way; Steve would have repeatedly sent them back to get it right and make it discoverable before he’d ship it.

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. That 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.MacDailyNews, January 28, 2020

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

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

Interns, beloved interns, Tap That Keg™, please! Prost and good health, everyone!

46 Comments

  1. Apple is transitioning to an iPad future with respect to “laptops”. It’s clear that the iPad (as in the entire line) is what Apple wants people to use as an everyday PC. It can accomplish about 95% of tasks for vast majority of people. For those that can get by with an iPad, it’s a great device. A keyboard and trackpad, along with proper OS support for a cursor (not the accessible version they have now), would help bridge the gap further. There will still always be people that have their niche uses who want something like a MacBook Pro, Windows Workstation, gaming desktop, etc.

    Apple has been pushing for the iPad to replace their consumer-level notebooks for a while now and their hardware is getting to a point where it can. The OS just needs to back it up by adding more traditional options like better support for external displays, better mouse support, and a few other usability aspects that would put an iPad more on-par with a notebook. I have no doubt that Apple’s consumers PCs will be replaced by iPads. It won’t happen now or in the next couple of years but it will eventually happen. I could get behind having one consumer-level device with all the intuitiveness of an iPad and practicality of a notebook.

    1. The iPhone is what accomplishes 95% of tasks for most people. The iPad creates the illusion of being a small laptop with its size but its functionality is inferior to both the iPhone (better mobility in size and connectivity), and a laptop (better tool for precise work and writing anything, not just reviews but emails, the iPhone is good for this too). The oft-cited 12-year-olds don’t use iPads for adult work, a more useful descriptor than the self-anointed “pros”. Not to say professional work can’t be done on an iPad, but its been a supplementary device for a decade, popular in niche fields, but most useful as a big iPhone for industry-specific apps or media consumption.

      For iPads to ever truly become competetive substitutes, they will need to behave more like the highly-evolved laptops of today that have been refined over the past 39 years, trackpad and cursor support is a step in the right direction, hopefully a better file system will come soon. The pinnacle will probably be something like what MDN has suggested numerous times, an iPad or iPhone that runs iOS in “headless” mode and when plugged into a monitor/base runs Mac OS.

      1. I don’t see many people doing spreadsheets, word processing, image editing, and so on, on an iPhone. Most iPhones are phones/social-media devices. No one manages files on an iPhone. The iPhone is a very powerful tool, to be sure, but it’s no iPad.

        This is not to say that you can’t do those things on an iPhone, it’s just that screen is way beyond too small to be effective at it.

    2. Always levelheaded and cautiously reserved. I on the other hand, am cynical.
      This is client/server with very thin clients. It’s mainframe, along with the cloud.

      Those tools have their place, but it’s the PC that was liberating.

        1. Only, let me repeat ONLY, as a peripheral to the PC.
          Actually, not even that. A drive I don’t control is enslaving.
          A drive with cloud reliability is enslaving.
          A drive with cloud throughput is enslaving.

          I’ll give you syncing and that’s it.

    3. “Apple is transitioning to an iPad future with respect to “laptops”.

      Apple pushed by Tim Cook who does not know how to use a Mac and does not have one on his office desk. So in that regard, you are correct.

      “It’s clear that the iPad (as in the entire line) is what Apple wants people to use as an everyday PC.”

      WRONG. Apple should RESPECT and does not DICTATE what I need as a USER.

      “It can accomplish about 95% of tasks for vast majority of people.”

      And where did you come up with 95%? Opinion, got it. I would say the majority, over 50% of users would do very well with an iPad. But not everyone.

      I read every comment here and vote with the majority opinion an iPad will NOT replace a Mac for serious computing needs.

      The iPad is a near enough computing toy to satisfy the masses. Fine. All well and good.

      I have ZERO use for an iPad. My iPhone fills the gap between a consumption device and a PRO computer. No need to waste money on an iPad…

  2. They are a terrible choice for serious artists, too. I can’t use an iPad for anything but a supplemental tool. Your needs have to be pretty dang simple to make it work and if they are, that’s fine, but the iPad us insufficient for most professions.

  3. Here’s Apple’s developing approach (I think), given what’s happened recently and two significant rumors. This keyboard attachment with trackpad AND the ARM-based Mac. iPadOS will become the OS for ARM-based Macs, but NOT as a convergence of the user interfaces.

    When used as an iPad (no keyboard), future iPad’s UI works as it does now (plus any new enhancements). When this keyboard/trackpad accessory is connected, iPad’s UI automatically goes into ”Mac-mode.” The combo of iPad/keyboard/trackpad now acts like any normal Mac (and user has option to pair a mouse or other Bluetooth device). The screen is no longer for touching, except maybe in specific ways Apple defines. User has option to stay in (or switch to) iPad-mode if desired with user experience like using current keyboard accessories. Conversely, user can manually switch to Mac-mode and use iPad with separate Bluetooth keyboard and mouse/trackpad.

    When the ARM-based Macs arrive, it simply uses this same iPadOS, but it’s always in Mac-mode because Macs don’t have touch screen. Solves inefficiency of maintaining a separate MacOS for ARM-based Mac. Intel-based Mac will continue too. It won’t be like the PowerPC-Intel transition.

    Further down the line, Apple releases a future iPhone accessory with large screen, keyboard, and trackpad. It looks like MacBook, just lighter and thinner (because no computing parts and smaller battery). The powerful iPhone is the brains. iOS gets Mac-mode from iPadOS. When connected to (any) combination of compatible external screen, keyboard, and mouse, iPhone goes into Mac-mode and now acts like any normal Mac.

      1. Thanks, I just skimmed it. It sorta does, when viewed from the software side. Same OS and app working in different iPhone, iPad, and Mac modes. Develop software once, let the tools adjust for various devices automatically. What I wrote speculates more about future hardware…

        I think iPhone (and what it evolves into) will become the hub of computing and connectivity. It will have a built-in screen. But it will be designed to connected effortlessly with a variety of interfaces near the iPhone, some of them wearable like Apple Watch is now. So, the need for separate computing devices slowly goes away, because iPhone becomes the “brains” for everything, and it’s with you most of the time. You don’t need a Mac, just an iPhone interface that looks and acts like a Mac. You don’t need an iPad, just a larger slim screen that looks and acts like an iPad. iPhone interface for future AR glasses. Some sci-fi ”holographic” interface with all the arm-waving, if that’s what people want. Special interfaces for users with disability. Each user can choose their way to interact with iPhone, based on their preferences and needs.

        It’s a convergence of user’s computing power and connectivity to one point, and a divergence of user interaction with that one point.

        1. “Develop software once, let the tools adjust for various devices automatically. ”

          That’s what PCs , including the Mac (much less so these days), have been doing for decades.

            1. And if you actually read it, you’d see that my point is about hardware implementation for the software. What you’re quoting is my response to a reply, not from you, that is “sorta” related, but not really the same as my post.

    1. You may be right, hopefully it will take 2 more decades before Cook forces this.

      Sadly, that sounds an awful lot like an MS Surface running Windows 8, perhaps worse. Most people learned that attempting to run a full desktop OS on a “Metro” mobile device and vice versa were disasters, which is why most people who need to use Windows to access the best programs do so overwhelmingly in desktop mode, not with a kludged compromised Surface running neutered mobile apps. Apple doesn’t appear to have learned this lesson. The rumor mill keeps churning out the same stupid story that the iPad is all the hardware you need. Sorry, but hardware capability hasn’t progressed enough to change that reality either. ARM will always force degradation in software capability compared to full-on CISC OSes running on AMD/Intel/etc processors. That point is indisputable. ARM as implemented by Apple also suffers dramatically in regard to I/O, GPUs, file management and sharing, and dozens of other things that real personal computers do with ease. With a PERSONAL computer, the end user has final control over his computing experience. No so with cloud-connected lightweight appliances.

      The ARM fanboy club’s only argument is that the performance is “good enough”. Where have we heard that before? Maybe when referring to usable RAM limit: “640K ought to be enough for anybody.” ?

      It also begs the question: How many different OSes does Apple expect to maintain going forward? That would be the end of personal computing. There will never be GOOD applications that work one everything from earbuds and watches to phones and tablets and laptops and desktop workstations. Nor does everyone want to buy the same compromised app 5 times over. How thin does Apple plan to spread itself? The public might be able to take 3 dialed-in OSes that are optimized for screenless/ultraportable/workstation users. That’s doable. Having more just looks ridiculous.

      But the goal of the Cupertino marketing schmucks is clear. It looks like Apple is trying to push Mac users into a monopoly Apple-controlled software retail store like every other OS they currently offer. Everyone cheer, Big Brother Apple will force you to buy new software subscriptions because they and they alone will be able to prevent any legacy Mac software from working with the new hybrid iPad-MacOS.

      The first step toward anti-user Mac behavior already happened. Cookie bricked all new Macs from natively running 32 bit software with Catalina. It’s not a hardware limitation, it was an intentional choice by Apple to kill off legacy Mac applications. All the widgets that the Mac could run and iOS hardware can’t — yeah, Apple kicked that to the kerb too. Support for NVIDIA GPUs? Forget it, Apple seems to have decided that they will never do that on any device anymore. With each new MacOS, Cookie has taken away more than he’s improved things. Sad. You may be right that he’s already decided that supporting legacy Mac users isn’t worth it to him anymore. He’d rather sell disposable earbuds and ultramobile stuff. Well, it was a nice ride, but Apple will find out who its true friends are eventually.

      1. What you wrote is mostly the OPPOSITE of my speculation. Windows 8 WAS a huge kludge, because MS merge two distinct interfaces for desktop computing and tablets into ONE interface. And it sucked.

        I’m saying that Apple will deliberately keep the interfaces separate and distinct, each interface optimized for the mode of interaction with user’s computing device. So, in my example with iPad, when it’s used as an iPad, interface is 100% iPad. When an accessory with keyboard and trackpad is connected to same iPad, iPad automatically switches its (complete) interface to one that is optimized for keyboard/trackpad, the Mac interface. It looks and feels like using a Mac. There is ZERO kludge, because interfaces remain separate and distinct.

        It would not have worked when the A-chips were less capable. But now, iPhone 11 Pro is more powerful than my older-gen MacBook Air, and my MacBook Air runs current MacOS and the software I use 100% fine. Future iPhones and iPads will narrow the gap more. BUT I said Intel Macs will continue to exist, because MacBook Pro, iMac Pro, and Mac Pro are much better-suited and flexible for their specialized uses.

        It has happened before (twice) with the Mac. More recently when PowerPC Macs transitioned to Intel Macs. Did the Mac suddenly become like a Windows PC, just because of “Intel Inside”? No, because Apple was smart and diligent. For a typical Mac OS X Leopard user, the experience was essentially the same on Intel Mac or PowerPC Mac.

        It’s the interface that is important, NOT the hardware that runs the interface. There is no reason the latest iPhone (or iPad) cannot run an interface that looks and feels like a Mac, when appropriate interface hardware is connected. I bought a Bluetooth keyboard to use with my iPad. But I hardly ever use it, because the way it works NOW is kinda kludgy; I’d rather just use onscreen keyboard. But I’d love it, if my future iPad worked exactly like my MacBook, wherever I connected a keyboard and trackpad, showing a Mac Desktop with pointy arrow cursor.

      2. “That would be the end of personal computing.”
        Oh, so Windows PC’s would disappear. Well, that’s an absolutely level headed line of thinking.

    2. Microsoft has tried this approach since Windows 8. MS had a “tablet UI” and a “desktop UI”. I’m not entirely convinced that both UIs for one device really improves productivity.

      1. MS approach was to merge the two distinct interfaces into one. Apple’s approach will be to keep the interfaces separate, but make them both available (separately) based on the current mode of interaction between user and computing device. So, it’s an iPad when used by itself, but it’s a Mac when connected to a keyboard/trackpad. And it’s never both at the same time.

  4. Never understood the “one tool for everything” meme.

    My take is that golfers get it: Use the right club for lie and distance.

    I keep three iPads in my house (different rooms) and they are sufficient for my needs. I travel a lot, both domestic and foreign, and iPad, along with my iPhone, create a satisfying whole.

    Just my $0.02…

  5. Methinks many folks who never get used to the iPad way of doing thing will,quite fortunately find themselves with far fewer purchases festooned with Apple logos.

    And we’ll hear about it every day for the rest of their lives. 🙂

    1. I spent 4 years attempting to use an iPad to replace a MacBook Pro. It was a waste of time and energy. There is absolutely nothing that would prompt me to replace ANY Mac laptop with ANY iPad or iOS device today. Nor will i buy 3 iPads in a vain attempt to get them to do what one Mac does without breaking a sweat.

      It wasn’t due to my abilities either. The hardware and software on Apple’s latest ultraportables simply isn’t up to par. Your needs might be more modest, but that doesn’t make you correct. If Apple abandons us Mac users, then the rest of its OSes will suffer as well.

      Without a fully capable Intel-powered Mac, you may be very surprised how many people will have no choice but to move to Windows boxes to do what they do today.

        1. Rather obtuse, aren’t we?

          Like Mike I tried an iPad. I think I even owned it longer than Mike did. But he is absolutely correct. The apps never got good enough to replace a MacBook. Apple strings you along, promising next year the OS is really going to be great. Sorry but it’s not a hobby I enjoy. Either something works or it doesn’t, and for me, it doesn’t. Doing all but the most simple tasks on a tablet is a chore, iPadOS just plain sucks in too many ways to list here. The default iPadOS apps are stripped of important features, and as a one port machine, the dongle hell never ends. I truly gave it a fair shot but let’s recognize that phones and tablets, by design, are thin clients. They will always be second rate performers compared to a Mac or PC that is designed to let the owner have control of everything.

          Eventually my iPad 2 became a coffee table dust collector, occasionally used by guests for web browsing. Gave it away eventually. I will never buy another.

          I still use Macs every day. I don’t have a single compelling reason to buy an iPad — if you already know how to manage a personal computer, you would not downgrade.

  6. When Apple moved to Catalina and 64 bit applications that was it for me. I’m not jumping over to Windows I’m just not buying new Macs any more. Their decision was just too damn expensive for me to update applications.

    At the end of this year I’ll be internally upgrading my 2015 iMac and I may hit the second hand market in the future for pre Catalina iMacs. Thanks Apple and thanks Tim Cook. And let’s be honest, for the last few years you guys never really liked Macs and we were just an irritating addendum or a legacy that you just hoped would go away…like a Mac Pro. Oh and for the record my wife just bought a new iMac with Catalina installed and she can’t stand how buggy it is.

    I guess your current motto is “same old, same old” and people will just accept things the way they are. Well guess what, not everyone out there is a mug we just get treated that way by Apple.

      1. Catalina is not all that stable. I’ve been using Macs since 1992 and trust me it’s not as stable as Mojave. I loaded the the OS and did it by the book. Any possible conflicts with third party software were completely deleted using App Cleaner.

        I suggest you have a look at some of the complaints (on the net) about the OS. If I could’ve loaded Mojave on her computer I would have done so but alas Apple doesn’t allow that so we were stuck with Catalina. If Apple slowed down their OS releases and did more testing then I suspect the OS releases would be more stable but that’s not part of their business model anymore.

  7. Two different worlds. The list of things that the touch interface can’t do is FAR longer than what it can do. Just preprogrammed functions. It’s like a paved road, you can only go where the paved road exists, The Mac is like a vehicle that can do both on and offroad really well.

    Another anology: I work in a high school, and the students can make you think that they are flaming geniuses on their iPhones. But that is only because there are only “paved road” apps like games, and snapchat, ad nauseum.

    When it comes to creating something completely new………NO…….web pages, you say? No in the education world, thats just a template thing, no real creativity there, just pop in existing images, etc.

    When it comes to things like “SAVE” your work, NO, they require everything to be entertaining and easy, they assume that there is Autosave for everything.

    So, yes, touch interface is ok for them, and for some kinds of pre-programmed jobs, but……

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