Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Beyond the Tablet: Seven Years of iPad as My Main Computer

Federico Viticci (tweet):

My iPad journey began in 2012 when I was undergoing cancer treatments. In the first half of the year, right after my diagnosis, I was constantly moving between hospitals to talk to different doctors and understand the best strategies for my initial round of treatments. Those chemo treatments, it turned out, often made me too tired to get any work done. I wanted to continue working for MacStories because it was a healthy distraction that kept my brain busy, but my MacBook Air was uncomfortable to carry around and I couldn’t use it in my car as it lacked a cellular connection. By contrast, the iPad was light, it featured built-in 3G, and it allowed me to stay in touch with the MacStories team from anywhere, at any time with the comfort of a large, beautiful Retina display.

Today’s MacBook Air is easier to carry around than an iPad Pro with a keyboard, and it has an even larger Retina display. Inexplicably, Apple still hasn’t added a cellular option.

Today, the iPad Pro is my laptop, the iPhone is my pocket computer, and the Mac is the third device that's better at specific tasks.


At a fundamental level, after seven years of daily iPad usage, I believe in the idea of a computer that can transform into different form factors. The iPad is such a device: it gives me the freedom to use it as a tablet with 4G while getting some lightweight work done at the beach, but it becomes a laptop when paired with a keyboard, and it turns into a workstation when hooked up to an external display, a USB keyboard, and a good pair of headphones. For me, the iPad is the ultimate expression of the modern portable computer: a one-of-a-kind device that morphs and scales along with my habits, needs, and lifestyle choices.

It doesn’t seem like Mac hardware is on track to be able to do all the things iPads can do (cellular, transformable, pencil, fast displays), but neither does it seem like iPad software is on track to be as powerful and flexible as Mac software.


Update (2019-05-31): Niko Kitsakis (tweet):

Ask yourself: if the iPad really was that good, wouldn’t that be a rather self-evident fact then? Would you need an article (or several dozen actually, published over the course of nine years) that tried to convince you of the merits of such a device? Or change perspective and ask yourself another question: did you ever need convincing about how the iPhone (or any other post-iPhone smartphone) has advantages “in the real world”? Of course not.


Now, compare that [Mac] timeline of roughly seven years with what has happened since the introduction of the original iPad in 2010 – nine years ago.


It would all be well if it wasn’t for the stupid and paternalistic movement inside Apple to align their different computing platforms in terms of functionality and user experience. That basically means overcomplicating iOS to the point (already reached) where features are not easily discoverable anymore and, at the same time, dumbing things down on the Mac to a point (almost reached) where they become barely usable. The main motivation for doing this seems to come from the misguided notion that the iPad is somehow the sole future of computing.

Previously: Disk Utility in El Capitan.

Kitsakis makes a lot of good points, which unfortunately have been overshadowed by a controversy about whether one of his footnotes was accusing Viticci and other pro-iPad writers of being paid shills. Of course, I don’t believe that to be the case. All writers, even those not supported by advertising, have personal biases as well as conflicts of interest (e.g. access). It’s best to focus on the arguments in the writing itself.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

It’s always funny how upset certain computer users get when they see people enjoying something they don’t understand. Without a hint of self-realization, these Mac users look down on iPad users the exact same way Windows users did to them and the Mac back in the 90s. ‘Just a toy’

It also seems like certain iPad users look down on Mac users as being stuck in the past, like DOS fans in the 90s. Why can’t we all just get along?

It shouldn’t be hard to understand that the people who are super-enthusiastic about iPad are so because they genuinely feel it’s the best computer they’ve ever used, despite not doing everything a Mac does. There’s no agenda, no conspiracy. They’ve just moved on

Stefan Constantine:

this is such an astoundingly well written opinion piece on the iPad and the Mac and where they stand in relation to each other

(spoiler: the iPad is cool, but it’s not the future)

Dan Masters:

iPad’s future is looking much brighter than the Mac because Apple is purposefully and artificially eroding it to become just another iOS device – a less powerful, touchscreen-less one, at that.

They’re draining it of life before its time, and then hooking it up to life support.

 Observer:

One of the great post I read in a while regarding the iPad, Apple and... fanatism. From an iPad lover myself.

Matt Birchler:

This is a well-written post, but I would add that this sort of post is precisely why iPad fans feel compelled to remind folks that they do valuable work for them.

Steve Lubitz:

I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. On the one hand, it can be true that there are iPad enthusiasts for whom the device fits nearly perfectly into their workflow, and also that, for a lot of people, that paradigm just doesn’t work.

I think a lot of the friction comes from the implication from the iPadosphere that an iPad as a primary device is The Way of The Future, when to the rest of us that just sounds like the year of Linux on the desktop.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Funny when people laugh at the idea of ‘Post-PC’ whilst also decrying ‘dumbing down’ of macOS in favor of iOS concepts. The desktop computer no longer being the center of the computing world is what Post-PC is. It’s not some PC-less scifi fantasy 😂 This is what it looks like

Kyle Howells:

The problem is in your tweet though ‘dumbing down’ of Macs. iOS can get away with being so limited and restricted because the Mac exists to actually get work done on.

Apple’s locking down the Mac without opening up iOS.

But my requirements haven’t ‘dumbed down’ and still aren’t possible on iOS.

Jeff Johnson:

IMO the @nubero article makes a nice distinction between iPad as in the future of computing vs iPad as the sole future of computing.

Mac lovers have no problem with the existence of the iPad. As long as it’s coexistence.

The problem with iPad rhetoric is eliminativism.


Mac, iPad, and iPhone can all happily coexist and thrive together. There’s no inherent reason why this can’t happen. It’s really the best of all possible worlds.

“The future of computing” is a terrible notion. There ought to be many futures of computing.

Ben Szymanski:

If you’re hoping to convert me from the #Mac to the #iPad, you’re too late as I already have a #Surface. It can actually do things. You don’t care, I know I know, but #seeyanever!

Update (2019-06-03): Jim Rea:

Based on the replies this blog post has really touched a nerve, both pro and con. Mark me down in the “pro” column, I couldn’t have said this better myself. I’ve got nothing against the iPad, I’m writing this on one, but I don’t think it’s my future primary device unless I retire.

Kyle Howells:

I’d be less upset if the Post-PC era was actually more capable than the PC.

Instead it turned out everyone decided we were ‘post-PC’ and wanted to deprecate the PC to achieve it, instead of actually improving the post-PC devices enough to kill the PC naturally.

Update (2019-06-12): Collin Allen:

I can’t even open a text file on iOS if it doesn’t have a .txt extension. I can’t fathom how “iOS productivity” people get real work done without a computer. Mobile still feels like it has twice as many hoops to jump through.

Update (2019-06-13): Martin Kopischke:

All these “the iPad is not the future of computing” quotes remind me of nothing as much as Lisp machine fans defending their superior platform against those pesky upstart Unix boxes. Maybe check how that went.

Riccardo Mori:

So we have a Mac platform that was doing fine until it was basically put on hold because the iPad had to grow, evolve, be revolutionary. iPad was course-corrected to become more pro. Meanwhile the Mac was neglected and iPad has been too slow to catch up than planned.

Think about the time that has been wasted for this and because of this. It hasn’t been good for either the Mac or the iPad. Yeah, maybe all is well now, yet I can’t help thinking it could have been different — and better.

6 Comments RSS · Twitter

I think you hit on one of the main problems with taking the iPad on the road - once you add a keyboard it becomes less portable than a MacBook Air with a power brick. I'd say even more so if you count the discontinued MacBook Air 11" or the MacBook.

Unless you have a special work context that is better served by stylus input or perhaps you don't work seated, I just don't get it.

I think it's all about mobile data for some people. Since I already carry a phone, just seems easier to connect my phone when necessary, so that's not a huge sticking point.

I tried to switch to iPad only around the same time, mid 2012 if memory serves, but I gave up pretty quickly, about six months in. I still sometimes only take phone or only phone and tablet, but if I need to do anything big, it's got to be the laptop. Honestly, I find it easier working in Android vs iOS because the tools are more flexible for when I'm computer free, but it's still not quite there for me to make the switch permanently.

In regards to the controversy, hindsight is always helpful of course. I didn’t trust the motivations of the bloggers as a whole and I still don’t. I was, however, much more thinking along the lines of vested interest than direct bribery for a specific purpose and should have probably made that more clear, especially in the footnote. That being said, that the editor of MacStories is blocking me on twitter without having contacted me in the first place, while at the same time talking about integrity, is something that everyone can think about for themselves. I haven’t blocked anyone in the ordeal, not even the guy who called me names around a dozen times. As a matter of fact we are, somewhat, on speaking terms or at least left it at a better place than it started out with.
In the end, maybe it’s my own fault for expecting journalistic standards from outlets with such a specific target audience – when they almost by definition can be expected to have vested interests. Would it be a solution for outlets like that to only show ads from companies that have no connection to what they are reporting? Would that be even feasible? I don’t know… I’m open for (civil) discussion.

Bryan Pietrzak

One thing I never see any of these discussions cover is the "who".

Worldwide how many people use a computer regularly? 1B maybe? Maybe less? How many use a smartphone? The next generation is growing up with none of the baggage we have around "computers" (I've been an Apple guy since the Apple IIe)

I work in K-12. computers are simply *hard* for the vast majority of people. These are teachers that aren't "idiots" but computers "scare" them. They don't *like* using the computer, it's a necessary evil for them. The put up with it, but don't love it.

I truly think the future is going to be more iPad-like than Mac-like but that's really because of the software and UX more than the hardware. Might the future be hardware that combines the two? Sure, absolutely, and that might be fantastic.

Both macOS and Windows both have decades of UX baggage that just frustrates the hell out of average people. And teens? They couldn't care less about Mac and Windows. iPadOS is the future, that seems so obvious to me.

So while the Mac faithful are going to be the Mac faithful (which really should be self-evident), it's hard to see how the future isn't going to be something else: IPadOS-like, ChromeOS-like, *something* else. And this future will be much more acceptable to a much larger part of the world that has never even touched a computer.

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