Monday, August 28, 2023

Giving Up the iPad-Only Travel Dream

Jason Snell (Hacker News):

For many years, I tried very hard to travel with only an iPad. (Why bring two devices? And I’m not leaving my iPad at home.) Since the arrival of Apple silicon, however, I’ve gone back to traveling with both an iPad and a MacBook Air.


I’ve noticed that a lot of my colleagues who were previously working hard to integrate the iPad into their professional work have backed off, retreating to the more flexible and powerful Mac side of the house.


My productivity needs are clearly unlike those of most people, but the truth is that everyone’s got different productivity needs. The problem with the iPad continues to be that as it builds functionality, it has failed to build in flexibility—or at least the flexibility offered by a platform like macOS. If the iPad doesn’t support it, you’ve hit a brick wall. Your choices are to find a workaround or give up.


This is where the iPad is today. It’s good enough for what it does. If it doesn’t do it, it doesn’t do it. This is the fundamental difference between the Mac (a platform that basically lets developers and users do anything they want) and the iPad (where if Apple doesn’t specifically allow it, it can’t be done).

After years of finding that I rarely used my iPad while traveling, I now pack only my MacBook Pro and Kindle, unless I’ll be on a plane, in which case I sometimes want the iPad for watching videos. I usually don’t do much, if any, development while traveling, so it’s not that I couldn’t use the iPad, but I find the Mac so much more efficient for e-mail and general Web stuff.

John Gruber (Mastodon):

I’ve written at length, multiple times, about my decidedly mixed feelings regarding the iPad — most stridently in January 2020, in a piece titled “The iPad Awkwardly Turns 10”. Stage Manager is the biggest change to the iPad interface since I wrote that, and its existence certainly helps on that “power user” front. (And Stage Manager sees some nice improvements in this year’s iPadOS 17.) But for me personally, I continue to find that I’m most productive when I spend my working time in front of my Mac. Gobs of people thrive using their iPads for writing and other creative endeavors. But I know I’m best off, productivity-wise, using my iPad basically as a single-tasking consumption device for long-form reading and video watching.


The question is whether I even pack my iPad Pro at all, or just go it alone with iPhone and Mac. When I’m packing, I generally wind up tossing the iPad in my bag, thinking I’ll miss it if I don’t. But when I do just leave the iPad at home, I don’t miss it.

Matt Birchler:

“Well, your use case is specialized and 80% of people will never run into that.”

This is of course impossible to argue, of course the 100 things I do on a computer are a unique combination of things that no one else in the world has exactly. My counter to this argument is that everyone has things they do on a device that falls in the 20% (or lower) minority of users.

So yes, if you happen to fall into the exact set of use cases that work best on iPadOS, then absolutely you should be happy and enjoy it, but it’s worth understanding that as soon as you venture outside of what the iPad is built to do, you run into pain very quickly.

Steven Aquino:

During the pandemic’s apex, I did so much on my well-loved 2019 Retina 4K iMac, I just never bothered with iPadOS again. Then my partner got me an iPad mini and an M2 MacBook Air as gifts, and I love both. I could do all my work from iPadOS, but I don’t because inertia. (The iPad mini size is just delightful, honestly.)

Steve Troughton-Smith:

iPad’s been stuck in a rut for a decade. We’re still having the same conversations about it and what it can/can’t do, who it’s good for. Either it suffered from a tremendous lack of vision, or it was intentionally hobbled so as not to tread on Mac’s toes. I fear we’re about to go through the same cycle on visionOS. Can it replace the desktop in ten years? Is it the kind of project that will survive Apple’s next CEO transition?

Somehow, both Mac and iPad fans think that their favorite platform is being hobbled to prop up the other. I do wonder about this in some cases, for example the lack of Macs with cellular. But mostly, I think, Apple (surprisingly) doesn’t have the resources to develop each to its fullest self.


At its core the iPad is bad at being a productivity tool outside a limited number of use cases. When the m1's came out, I went from “iPad is my mobile” to just living on a MacBook Air. Turns out what I wanted was relatively instant response time and for a device to let me work how -I- want to work. I went from “oh shit I need to send a zip file, what shortcut/app do I have to find” to “I’ll just right-click and I’m done.”

Where I worry about VisionOS is that it seems like there are a lot of things that Apple is similarly up its own ass about a la the recent discussion on @atpfm re:unauthorized trash cans. There are still things that I love and basically only do on my iPad, but it’s a fewer and further between. Just a real clipboard manager, for example, would change the game, but if you believed Apple you’d think no one ever copies/pastes.

Michael McGuire:

I think this is the strategy tax of wanting to collecting a portion of the revenue of software sold on the platform.

Rowan Johnson:

It’s long been clear that a real computer can’t exist within the walled garden of the App Store.

If VisionOS is as locked down as the iPad, it’s never going to be the future of computing.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

The real tragedy of iPad is the vast gulf between how much potential it had as a platform, and Apple’s disinterest in letting it live up to that. It is easy to imagine an alternate universe where iPad grew up to outright replace desktop computing, in all shapes and sizes, running powerful, complex software good enough to supplant everything we used a Mac for. A modern do-over of the entire personal computing industry. Nobody looks at iPhone and thinks ‘oh this could be so much more’, but iPad?

It’s also hard to talk about iPadOS today and not reference visionOS, because the two platforms are inextricably linked. They run effectively the same software, on top of the same OS — much more so than ‘iPhone OS’ was ever ‘Mac OS X’. These platforms are going to grow together, are going to share the best and the worst aspects of each other. They’re the same. With Apple talking about visionOS as the future of computing, it’s difficult not to be reminded about similar empty promises for iPad.

Rui Carmo:

I’ve been reading this bemusedly on my iPad mini (which I travel and work with since… forever), and although Jason’s use case (podcast creation) is indeed a hassle (as anyone who’s tried to use an iPad for music will attest to), writing and publishing has never been a real problem provided you were willing to jump through some minimal hoops (this post is being published semi-automatically via Shortcuts and Working Copy).


Right now I travel with a Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W, which I can talk to via Bluetooth PAN and use as a “sidecar” when I need something specific.

John Gordon:

I read people claiming that the iPad was a better work tool that an Air and it made no sense to me.

Colin Cornaby:

I think Apple Silicon killed the iPad dream. At this point there is no reason to force an iPad workflow if it’s inefficient. A MacBook Air is a pretty similar form factor with the same or better hardware. iPad’s domain is really just down to touch and pencil support.

Jonathan Hendry:

If you could flip a Macbook display around and close it to cover the keyboard while using it as a tablet, there goes any need for the iPad.

Hartley Charlton:

Along with the significant overhaul of the tablet itself, the updated version of the Magic Keyboard for iPad will offer a larger trackpad, addressing criticisms of the current model, and “makes the iPad Pro look even more like a laptop than the current setup.”


Update (2023-08-30): Jan:

It’s always been my impression that when the iPad was released, Apple shouted very loudly to the technical/web community that the iPad was a device for consumption, not creation, and that they would resist every change that made it easier to create anything on it that might challenge the way they decided to do things. Well over a decade later, none of my iPads can even keep an ssh connection alive while I’m reading docs in the browser -- even the most up-to-date.

I remember Apple emphasizing that iPad was not just for consumption and not just a big iPhone.


Not wanting two devices but valuing touchscreen and stylus, I eventually gave up and bought a Windows convertible.

These devices exist in a spectrum of use cases. It makes no sense to me to draw a line through the middle and say “tablet here”, “laptop there.”

Milen Dzhumerov:

[By] design, neither iPadOS nor visionOS would be the “future of computing” since they can’t even replace a basic general purpose computer, by definition. So it would be interesting to see how this will play out in long term.

FWIW, I do think these platforms (iOS, iPadOS, visionOS) can be successful as consumer-focused OSes with a focus which caters to popular use cases.

But iPhones, iPads, Vision Pros are not general purpose computers, as long as they run locked down platforms.

8 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

I found the iPad Mini to be the perfect vacation system. I make a point of not doing any serious work on vacation. I'll keep up with email, archive and upload photos and use the web and various apps for information, entertainment and reservations. Now and then I need to do something more, and it sometimes gets a little awkward.

I can see how a journalist, author, programmer or system admin might find an iPad too limiting. I can't imagine anyone doing serious video editing or rendering on it. I'll put in a vote for bringing back an 11" Macbook Air. That was a sweet little machine.

The full size iPad is way too big for casual use. The iPad mini works better. It's the size of a Kindle and can even be used as a Kindle with the app. There are usually two of us on the road, so we have a Macbook Air, an iPad Mini and a Kindle which lets us cover all the bases. I think I use the Macbook Air once or twice per trip. It's my girlfriend's machine.


For me, there are two main uses. One is simply being a larger iPhone, aside from instant media consumption there are plenty of apps that have very targeted purposes that are easier than dealing with desktop suites (e.g., adobe). The other is the pencil, which is extremely valuable in some use cases, for me it is zoom and powerpoint.

In the M1 era, we know that an iPad is powerful enough to run macOS. There doesn't seem to be a reason that iOS can't run as a program on macOS, I am reminiscent of the Apple TV program on the mini. But seeing what actually happened to the Apple TV I guess it makes sense why we shouldn't expect this to happen.

The iPad is a jailed boxed toy in comparison with the free flexible a and powerful Mac. Apple should make a Mac tablet.

The basics for anyone choosing a device are size, weight and shape.

iPad ~ 1/2 kg (most)
Mac > 1 kg

iPad ~ 11” (most)
Mac > 12”

iPad tablet
Mac hinged tablets

macOS on the iPad would require keyboard and touchpad. At that point the typical workplace fitting limit would be crossed. iPad is better as it is.

The failure of the iPad is both a failure of iPadOS and the failure of vendors like Alphabet to take the iPad seriously enough to make their apps better. To this day, one cannot split screen two sheets files. It's just not supported, even for an M1 iPad. Docs can't do it either. Even using these apps is so ridiculous for anything other than a quick edit, that I wait until I return to my desk to do it on a Mac. For me, the iPad and its pencil have been essential and indispensable since the first pink pro model shipped circa 2016. I use my iPad more for work than for leisure, but I'm taking notes, tweaking cloud files, chatting, doing research, writing stuff, drawing, taking pictures, writing notes on pictures, etc.—the iPad and iPadOS excel at all of these things, just as long as you do them one at a time in most cases (back to 3rd party vendor limitations ... or perhaps laziness to maximize the potential of their app). This means the iPad can be singular in use, which is great for production (I never say play games in meetings because it would be obvious with frantic swipes and iPadOS just won't do it).

Given all this, I think there are lots of people like me and that the future is very bright for folding iPads with the same cameras as iPhones. Between a Mac, a laptop, an iPad, an iPhone, and a watch ... the one I could do without is the phone. iOS has the same ridiculous OS restrictions as iPadOS—sometimes worse, sometimes better—the chip is powerful, the RAM is lacking, the storage is too small, etc., etc. What stops the iPad from replacing the iPhone is its bulkiness and lesser cameras. Once Apple overcomes these things, the phone will go because the iPad or the watch could handle the core functions of the phone easily.

Across the websites where I have access to analytics hardly anyone use an iPad.

They're primarily for watching videos and babysitting. Their sole Raison d'être was to provide a large screen when iPhones wouldn't.

Imagine the amount of innovation we could have seen on the iPad during the last decade if Apple hadn't locked it down and essentially turned it into an expensive toy.

"I think Apple Silicon killed the iPad dream"

Nope. Bringing SSDs to the Mac did, a long time ago.

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