Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Where iPad Fits In

Matt Birchler:

Well, nearly 2 months later and it turns out the Vision Pro replaced precisely zero of my iPad use cases, and every day I find myself thinking, “sure would be nice if I had an iPad right now.”


The iPad is not a good replacement for a Mac or an iPhone for me, but damn it all if I didn’t enjoy having it around for some situations where neither of those devices were perfect. It’s cliche, but the iPad was the G.O.A.T. for doing stuff on the couch.


A Mac that could run on iPad hardware would be a dream for me, but that product doesn’t exist today.

Rowan Johnson:

It’s on these occasions that — like Matt — I miss my iPad. In fact, I would be incredibly reluctant to live without one in my life. Yet, the iPad still feels like it’s finding a place as far as work and productivity goes. So which is it? Is it an indispensable tool or is it a toy?


In theory, everything I’ve described above is possible to accomplish on an iPad. But MacOS is simply more reliable and capable. From obvious things, like the variety of software available on the Mac, to less visible things like the way MacOS handles app multitasking, I know that if I take my Mac on a job it will handle whatever gets thrown at it. I simply can’t say that same about my iPad.

iPadOS has a “death by a thousand cuts” issue, where all of the little things it can’t do results in the iPad being unreliable for anything particularly mission critical. On my iPad, if I start uploading a big video file to WeTransfer or Frame.io in Safari, the system will almost certainly boot it from memory before it’s finished the upload unless I keep that Safari tab open in front of me the whole time.


But my iPad can be used as a teleprompter with the right accessory for my camera. It can be used for drawing sketches of my tech plans for live streams with an Apple Pencil. It can act as a monitor to allow a presenter to get Q&A questions from Slido, Zoom or Teams during a live stream; far more discretely than a laptop or computer monitor could.


In short, my iPad is a big iPhone, but with more room to breathe.

Via Eric Schwarz:

Despite my M2 MacBook Air being an excellent piece of hardware, I don’t love macOS in its current state as much as the earlier OS X days. It feels colder, unfriendlier, and in some ways like a bad iOS skin on top of older versions of Mac OS X—it does get used for all the heavy-lifting that is just too cumbersome on iPadOS.


16 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

I like my iPad as a couch browser, and a podcast player while cooking, exercising, and engaging in hobbies. I like the Mac for everything else, it's just so much more capable. A device that could do both would be really unique.

I've long wanted the device that Apple patented some time back in 2010: a Mac that runs MacOS in some configurations, but can be switched to iPadOS and "touch mode" when in particular configurations that are more suited to touch. The patent is for an iMac-like device that swivels down into touch configuration, but it also makes sense for a Mac laptop too - detach the screen and it becomes an iPad, attach the screen and it runs MacOS, which, coincidentally, Apple has another more recent patent for.

Aforementioned patents are here, for the curious:



And while we're dreaming... why not make an iPhone that turns into a full-fledged MacOS workstation when docked, or connected to a display? Dream portable workstation!

I think some users, especially those that are used to the Mac, make the mistake of assuming that because an iPad Pro does not work for their specific range of tasks that it cannot work for others with a different set of needs, including more advanced workflows and apps. Also, I seen many users simultaneously complaining that iPadOS does not multitask well while often saying that because the hardware is so powerful they've not bothered to upgrade their 2018 or 2020 iPad Pros which came with 4GB or 6GB of memory.

I've been using the 12.9" M1 as my daily work computer and find that the 8GB of memory is a huge upgrade in the multitasking experience over my 2018 iPad Pro. And it's worth mentioning that with iPadOS 16 Apple added virtual memory, a feature seemingly overlooked by many.

I regularly use Affinity Publisher to design annual reports, newsletters, etc. Along side of Publisher I'm using other apps like Word, Pages, Notes, Mail, Safari and Files to reference text, source content, files sent my clients for the project. On any given day I'm likely to bounce between Publisher and 7-10 other apps with no problem multitasking. Other days I'm doing website management/set-up bouncing between Textastic for code/file upload along with those same apps mentioned above, again, for hours and with no issue.

And on other days I'm doing spreadsheet management for a client. We use a combination of Google forms and Numbers to track registrations/invoices at his retreat as well as contact management for his various email lists. In this case I'm bouncing between Safari and several spreadsheets, each with thousands of rows with no problems. Over the course of 4-6 hours I'm likely to bounce between those apps as well as all of my usual daily apps (Music, Mail, Messages, Files, Reeder, Obsidian, etc) with no concern for apps reloading data due to poor multitasking.

So in my case the iPad Pro has been the ideal computer and there's no way I'd want to go back to a Mac. Not only have I come to prefer iPadOS but the modular form factor of the iPad has many benefits I can't get from any Mac. Given the time, attention and resources that Apple has continued to invest into iPadOS and recent apps like FCP one Logic, I think it's fair to say they agree that there is a group of users that are actually taking advantage of what the iPad can do.

There's no doubt that there are many Mac users that are truly best served by macOS and the more powerful Mac hardware options. But there are many Mac users that might be better or equally served by an up-to-date M2 iPad Pro. No doubt, there are some differences between the two but the gaps in function have been closed a great deal in the past few years. iPadOS has come a long way, especially apps like Files which is far more capable than it was just 3 or 4 years ago. It often seems to me that in these kinds of comparisons Mac-oriented users have not stayed up with all of the latest features of iPadOS and are relying on dated experiences with older hardware or older versions of the OS.

"A Mac that could run on iPad hardware would be a dream for me, but that product doesn’t exist today."

The M1 series Macs were literally iPad Pro hardware, without a touchscreen. In fact it's arguable that all M* Macs are just beefed up iPads, running an iPad port of macOS. What an iPad running macOS would likely do, is just kill the biggest Mac market - low end Macbooks, while not being substantially additive, because folks who want the iPad for its touchscreen (Pencil support, specifically), wouldn't have to buy two devices.

The iPad is a good (and destructive) babysitter.

And that's it. The rest is people desperately making excuses.

Retail sales funnel points of view expressed here so often depict the expectation the next iPad gen should deliver “better” experiences. Whatever that means from the couch.

In the meantime airline pilots, medical doctors, field engineers, restaurant managers, ship masters, production plant workers, university professors, iron ore mine supervisors, visual merchandisers and about any kind of business professionals are just happy. To have it available as it is.

With the understanding it may become faster and more energy efficient. But otherwise and essentially designed and produced with premium quality, fast, privacy and security as central features and stable. A monumental achievement already.

> In the meantime airline pilots […] But otherwise and essentially designed and produced with premium quality, fast, privacy and security as central features and stable. A monumental achievement already.

Don't forget to bill Apple for this hagiography.

> M* Macs are just beefed up iPads, running an iPad port of macOS

Don't forget to bill Microsoft for this misinformation.

Both of my daughters use their iPads for literally everything. Once the old people are phased out, the iPads will take over ;-)

IMO the iPads would be applicable for a lot more business applications if it wouldn't be tied to the App Store.

> In fact it's arguable that all M* Macs are just beefed up iPads, running an iPad port of macOS.

Sure, in the same way that Steve Jobs could argue that "iPhone runs OS X".

Macs and iPads (and iPhones) share a lot of software and hardware architecture. I'd say that's a feature more than a bug.


> Once the old people are phased out, the iPads will take over ;-)

Not so sure. Because the iPad (and tablets in general) are somehow targeted to elderlies. The iPad will take over during the Linux on Desktop year or when Swift is able to achieve its first initial goals.

> IMO the iPads would be applicable for a lot more business applications if it wouldn't be tied to the App Store.

There's nothing that prevents from using more business applications that are not available on the App Store:

Not sure there's really a point in developing applications specifically for the iPad as a web application can work in 90% of cases.

> In fact it's arguable that all M* Macs are just beefed up iPads, running an iPad port of macOS.


My one true love is still Mac, but honestly among the reasons it feels like such an increasingly strained relationship is that macOS clearly has a bad case of iPad envy. In which case, it should just get on with the transmogrification to iOS, and reap the genuine benefits of doing so.

And who knows? Maybe dual-booting an iPad wouldn't be out of the question either, and Apple are still pretty motivated to make iPadOS a usable "pro" environment, if they can just get over some of their sillier dogmas. macOS still makes work for them, so as soon as they realise that they can canibalise low end Macs with iPad to lock in that glorious App Store revenue, the better, surely?

The iPad would need at least 3 things for me to seriously consider it as a successor to the Mac:

1) Running apps from outside the App Store

2) Background processes

3) Accessibility permissions like macOS for automation and assistive tools

In the meantime, I use it for reading and anything I need a stylus for.

Kristoffer Fredriksson

Has it solved file handling yet? using iPadOS is such a massively frustrating experience for me that I alays end up in a bad mood. It leans heavily on the kind of ux that relies on the user having deep knowledge of what to do.

I have a hard time believing that iOS / iPadOS still doesn't unload browser tabs. That to me is the biggest WTF. Even regular computers 20 years ago wouldn't ever unload a browser tab. It may not be an issue if you're just consuming content, and it reloads the tab in an instant... but if you're filling out a form or interacting with the page in any meaningful way, reloading the tab can screw up your entire workflow and erase minutes or hours of productivity.

Heck, even now if I start composing an iMessage to someone outside of the Messages app, e.g. via the Share sheet, and switch to another app, then back, the message draft is just *poof* gone. There should be no reason for this to happen, ever. And it's compounded by the fact that there's no "drafts" folder in Messages.

A lot of apps suffer from this kind of "pseudo multitasking" amnesia. Don't switch away if you're on the "wrong" screen, or anything that you entered and/or your place in the app is erased.

Given the raw power under the hood of iPads, these kind of productivity killers should just not happen. It makes me wonder if execs at Apple even use iPads.

Kristoffer Fredriksson, yes, much improved. Personally I think The Files app is now much closer to the Mac Finder. It's not identical to using the Finder but it's close enough that I never have a problem. Far, improved from the Files app of 3-4 years ago. Visually it's very similar with the icon view, columns or lists.

Ben G, I think a key improvement is the M1 with 8GB of memory in conjunction with iPadOS adding virtual memory 2 years ago. The only time I see Safari reload a tab is if I'm going back to a tab I've not used in a day or two. In the course of daily browsing I regularly leave Safari to use other apps and when I get back to Safari my tabs are still waiting. I'd guess iPads with less memory still reload tabs more often. In general the M1 multitasking has been excellent as I wrote in my comment above.

Background processes: yes, like IMAP IDLE, which needs a persistent connection. Still uses APNS for mail, i.e. iCloud or Fastmail. Or Exchange ActiveSync, which comes with its own downsides. I'd never replace a desktop/laptop without that.

Files: yes, but apps need to be able to manipulate files and directories under their own control, or with the permission of the user, anywhere else; right now it's still limited to a single folder purposed for the app, and single files you pick. Again, if there's any hope at all of taking on general-purpose OSs, that would have to change.

Automation: I really quite like Shortcuts, actually. It is well thought out and surprisingly powerful. However the library of integrations and actions would have to massively improve, and there should be a more generalised approach for apps to expose their data models and capabilities.

I don't mind sandboxing, the update mechanism, a lot of the good that comes from unifying the experience. But it simply doesn't have the heritage that Mac does. Even simple things like keyboard shortcuts make a massive difference. Hence, I reach always for the Mac, and resent Apple's choice not to give more powers to my iPhone, even compared to iPad.

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