Friday, April 23, 2021

Mac and iPad Aren’t Meeting in the Middle Yet

Watts Martin:

Since then, I’ve seen a chorus of pundits, both professional and armchair (hi), push two theories that are either at odds or entwined, depending on how you look at them:

  • Surely, a dystopian iOS-like future of only sanctioned App Store purchases lies ahead for the Mac. (Let’s call this the “Hacker News bait” narrative.)
  • Surely, the iPad is going to catch up or even surpass the Mac—it already does so many things so well, and it’s only held back from its potential by an OS with artificial limitations.


As long as this philosophy on Apple’s part holds—and there’s no evidence that it’s changing—macOS will never be locked down to the degree iOS is, i.e., unable to install non-App Store apps without jailbreaking.


But that brings us to the second point. Is this the year when the iPad does get to do everything, not just most things, the Mac does? Will we be able to run macOS apps on M1 iPad Pros the way we can run iOS apps on M1 Macs?

Juli Clover:

The maxed out 11-inch cellular model will run you $2,099, which is just about as expensive as the maxed out M1 MacBook Pro. Neither of those price points includes an Apple Pencil or a Magic Keyboard, both of which can be purchased separately.

Jason Snell:

And yet, in 2021, it feels like the same story: Apple killed it on the hardware side, and the software…well, the software lags behind, to put it nicely. Apple built a spectacular sports car, but where are the roads to drive it on?

Jack Wellborn:

Imagine working on an iPad. It works much like an iPad today. It’s running iPadOS, is optimized for touch and has apps in different screens. Now imagine connecting that iPad to a 6K display. Full screen apps are absurd on such a large screen. Instead, imagine apps running on the iPad are now mirrored in macOS as separate windows, which can still be optionally full screened. The screen on the iPad is still in iPadOS, and you can even use touch or the Apple Pencil. Input from either interface updates the other in real time.

Monica Chin:

I really would just like Apple’s next iPad Pro to be a laptop. Not a clamshell, but a Surface Pro type of deal: a tablet with laptop hardware and a laptop OS.


But now that the iPad Pro is an M1 system, I don’t see why it can’t run macOS apps. Because it has the same hardware as the MacBook Air (including the fanless form factor). So the iPad really should be able to run whatever the MacBook Air can run.


The result of all this is that we’re moving toward a weird point in the evolution of these two devices where the MacBook can do everything the iPad can do (but it doesn’t have the touchscreen hardware to take advantage of all of it), while the iPad can still only do iPad things (even though features of macOS would take good advantage of its touchscreen capability). It seems like a point where Apple’s goals of “creating a seamless ecosystem” and “selling you many different products” are starting to butt heads.

Christina Warren:

I don’t want a touch screen Mac, I just want to use Mac apps on my iPad.

John Gruber:

Most people clamoring to run Mac apps on their iPad Pro probably do not have a single Catalyst app on their wishlist, of course. But if you mean other Mac apps, real Cocoa Mac apps, then what you really mean is you want to run MacOS on iPad.

Jeff Johnson:

They think they want Mac apps, but what they really want is for iOS to not be locked down. Open up the file system, allow full background multiprocessing, interprocess communication, shell scripts, AppleScript, remove sandbox limitations, etc.

Juli Clover:

“There’s two conflicting stories people like to tell about the iPad and Mac,” says Joz, as he starts on a clarification that will lead him at one point to apologise for his passion. “On the one hand, people say that they are in conflict with each other. That somebody has to decide whether they want a Mac, or they want an iPad.

“Or people say that we’re merging them into one: that there’s really this grand conspiracy we have, to eliminate the two categories and make them one. And the reality is neither is true. We’re quite proud of the fact that we work really, really hard to create the best products in their respective category.”

Jeff Johnson:

A grand conspiracy? They already did it! Fait accompli. Big Sur is iOS, and iOS apps are running on M1 Macs now. The system is read-only, kernel extensions are banned, external booting is basically dead.

Nick Heer:

An iPad that runs MacOS would suck just as much — albeit for different reasons — as a Mac that ran iPadOS. But now that they are all on the same silicon, it makes the ways in which the iPad is limited by its software that much more noticeable. Griffin points out that Apple demoed Final Cut Pro on a Pro Display XDR to show how powerful the M1 is in a Mac, but could not do any of that with an iPad because the software does not exist. He even tries to coax Joz into admitting that Apple is working on professional apps for the iPad, with predictably little success.


If you toggle between a few resource-hungry apps on a Mac and then go back to Safari, it picks up where you left off; if you open the camera and a few other apps on an iPad and then switch back to Safari, your open tabs might reload. If you pause the music you are listening to so you can watch something in your browser, then try to resume playback, it is a crapshoot whether it resumes correctly, starts the song again, or entirely forgets that you were listening to music — and it is worse with AirPlay.


Update (2021-05-03): scott:

It took me half the morning to figure out how to bring up the taskbar on iPad OS using a trackpad, because nothing happens by moving your cursor to the bottom at anything resembling a normal pace, instead you must fling the cursor towards the bottom of the screen like a lunatic.

Matthew Panzarino:

One of the stronger answers on the ‘why the aggressive spec bump’ question comes later in our discussion but is worth mentioning in this context. The point, Joswiak says, is to offer headroom. Headroom for users and headroom for developers.

“One of the things that iPad Pro has done as John [Ternus] has talked about is push the envelope. And by pushing the envelope that has created this space for developers to come in and fill it. When we created the very first iPad Pro, there was no Photoshop,” Joswiak notes. “There was no creative apps that could immediately use it. But now there’s so many you can’t count. Because we created that capability, we created that performance — and, by the way sold a fairly massive number of them — which is a pretty good combination for developers to then come in and say, I can take advantage of that. There’s enough customers here and there’s enough performance. I know how to use that. And that’s the same thing we do with each generation. We create more headroom to performance that developers will figure out how to use.

“The customer is in a great spot because they know they’re buying something that’s got some headroom and developers love it.”

Nick Heer:

I buy this argument, particularly as the iPad is the kind of product that should last years. Since the first-generation iPad Pro, iPads have seemed to be built for software and workflows that are two or three years down the road. But the question about the iPad for about that same length of time is less can you? and more would you want to?, and I hope the answer to that comes sooner than a few years out.

Riccardo Mori:

I kind of buy that argument too, in the sense that it’s the only possible argument Apple can elaborate at this point. But this headroom Joswiak and Ternus are talking about is getting so ridiculously high that I truly wonder whether the whole thing is starting to lose sense.


Apologies if I’m getting unbearably pedantic here, but I do think that Apple’s narrative here is like You know, the chicken did indeed come before the egg, while I’m rather certain the opposite is true. Creative apps and iOS developers never really waited for Apple; I’ve purchased creative apps for iOS since 2008, and what I’ve noticed is that developers in general, and especially developers of creative apps, have always tried to stay ahead of the curve. And all the iPads I’ve handled in the past ten years have never really struggled when running such creative apps.


Hardware-wise, an M1 iPad Pro is essentially a Mac with a touch interface. Software-wise, this incredibly powerful iPad is as capable as a 2014 iPad Air 2 (the oldest iPad model that can run iPadOS 14). There is still, in my opinion, a substantial software design gap preventing iPads from being as flexible as they are powerful. Software-wise, iPadOS still lacks flow.

7 Comments RSS · Twitter

It'd be a trip if Apple released an update for macOS which enabled touch and Pencil support on the M1 iMac.

The more Apple says they won't do something, the more likely it is that they will do that thing.

I just want to not have to bring both my iPad and laptop with me on trips.

I’d like a single device that can it express itself as an iOS or macOS device depending on context. When docked to a keyboard and trackpad, it’s a Mac. When torn away from the Smart Keyboard, on the fly, it becomes an iOS device.

If I were working on a Keynote document on macOS and then tore it away from the keyboard, it’d just be the same Keynote document but in Keynote for iOS.

Apple should make a Mac tablet. Not for heavy work, but the ultimate Keynote and PowerPoint presentation tool.

All these narrative coming from decades of old Apple Fans just baffles me.

It is not the software not getting there. Nor the Hardware is great etc. It is the whole product strategy and placement being unclear. This is what vision is about. And without Steve everything Apple is murky.

I dunno man. These M1 chips are killer. Someone’s delivering like the big man was still prowling the halls… let alone the elevators.

The original choice to deliver an upscale iPhone as the iPad was obviously Steve’s decision. He signs its conceptual praises in the original iPad keynote in 2010. Great presentation, and very arguably the right choice at the time. But platforms have a way of compounding their founding technical debt. The Mac needed a full reset with OS X and it’s just as arguable the iPad Pro should have had as big a conceptual interface shift when it launched in 2015.

That debt is compounding. We will see.

Now my MacBook Air outlasts my iPad, the poor tablet is stuck reading news over coffee. The Mac is just stellar right now. All thanks to iPhone volume and all that superb work on its chips. The iPad? Well. Uh. Maybe it’ll grow up someday. Maybe not.

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