The three computers I am talking about are: iPad Pro, Surface Pro 4 / Surface Book, and MacBook (12” retina model). You probably suspected the first two given what I have been focused on of late, but that last one you might be questioning. Allow me some context before you label me as having lost my mind for claiming the MacBook is a part of the future of computing.
“You can’t do real work on that.”
“It’s great for people who only do email and use Facebook, or web browsers.”
“Underpowered for the price.”
“Way too expensive for what you get.”
Any of the above statements have been, and will continue to be, said about any of these three devices. And that’s important because it shows a complete misunderstanding of what these devices represent, and what they are to be used for. Those statements also show a complete inability from reviewers to grasp that there are people who use computers in different ways than they do, but that’s an entirely different topic all together.
What these three computers represent, in varying ways, is what someone would think a computer should be for today’s computer user. An iMac, or MacBook Pro, are fantastic machines with all the power in the world, but they are a relic of what we wanted and needed in the late 90s and into the early 00s.
It used to be, in order to get work done on a computer you had to do it in apps, called programs back then, and in order to have more apps open, you needed ever faster machines. You also had to read the requirements for each piece of software to determine if your machine would run it, and even then, you wanted to be in the “best performance” realm of those specs, and not in the “minimum requirements” realm unless of course you hated your sanity. Buying a faster computer was the difference between running 2-3 apps on your computer or 4-5 — it made a huge difference when you could get a faster machine. It often was also the difference between running the latest version of the app or not — yes machines were bought in part just to use the newer software.
When’s the last time you worred about that though?
When’s the last time your machine felt slower because you had too many apps open?
It used to be that when an app updated it was to add tons of features and up hardware requirements in order to support those new features. Now app updates typically make the app faster on the same hardware, while still adding in features.
We are simply at a different point in computing. With how we use computers, how we make software for computers, and how we make computing hardware.
And it’s in large part because of the web browser.
We can use a web browser for almost all our work, and web browsers are fast and resource efficient (except Google Chrome, that’s a shit show). But more than the web browser world, most apps on iOS are faster and more efficient than the browsers, and greatly expand what we can do on a service. And yet many of those “apps” are simply just a fancy way of presenting that service in a dedicated web browser (Facebook).
We don’t worry about whether the app will run, because if we can install It, we can use it and with some minor exceptions, we can use it reasonably well.
Computing as a general user is fundamentally different today, than it was a decade ago. That’s easy to say, but you might not realize just how different it is until you really think back to what, and how, you used to compute ten years ago. The biggest difference was using computers to get stuff back out of the computer. Versus our modern usage is figuring out how to get stuff into a computer, and then sending that input everywhere. Printing versus web publishing for example. Or, perhaps more apt, printing versus sharing.
And these three devices represent this shift in three very different ways, but each moves the needle closer to the future we need, and not the past we have been clinging to.
I made a little visual to represent this:
On the very left we have the type of computers we are used to: MacBook Pros, iMacs. On the right we have the devices that we should be using given how we actually use computers today — the computers we have yet to create. (Of course this isn’t for the power user, none of this ever is.)
So we have the MacBook on that chart sitting just past what we are comfortable with, just past the old paradigm of computing. It looks, feels, and acts like a computer we know. Except it has been reshaped to better fit what we need from a computer. Less focus on the specs and more focus on portability, great display, great internet speed, and great battery life (though other machines get more battery life, that’s a trade off with size of the machine).
It’s not a revolutionary leap with the MacBook, but a large evolutionary leap for sure — it’s as extreme as one can go while still being comfortable that the MacBook is still a real computer. It is made to capture people who will be wholly uncomfortable with a different form factor for their “computer”. But who still want to keep moving forward with computing. I’d guess it is the type of computer most people are going to be using in the next 2-3 years.
Next is the Surface line from Microsoft. It is yet another step along this march, but more drastic than the MacBook, while still retaining a lot of comfort for users. Sure, it can be a tablet, but really it is a new take on a laptop — still running Windows 10 for the comfort of most users.
The Surface does add touch, and a few other things which might make people leery if they weren’t otherwise assured that they can still use it to do “work”, the real kind of “work” too — the kind people say can only be done on a proper computer.1 The Surface Pro 4 is more compromised than the MacBook (bad battery life, awkward fit between laptop and tablet), but it pushes people further out of their comfort zone of “what we have” and likely is the next stage, or perhaps the stage we leap over, in the march towards the types of computers that actually fit what we need and do with computers today.
And then you have the iPad, specifically the iPad Pro. It’s far closer, but not quite at, what we really need from a computer these days. It’s also really different from what people are used to. The very idea of using an iPad as a full time computer makes some people outright angry.
Intellectually most people seem to be able to accept that the iPad Pro is a capable work machine. However, most people seem to not be able to emotionally accept this as the truth — because with exception to a very few professions, there’s no good reason most people can’t use an iPad as a primary computer and most people intrinsically know this. That’s the amazing part, that once you get over the mental hurdle of a tablet running iOS being your main computer, you might find that it is perfectly suited as a main computer. The part you have to get over is the idea that a computer is driven by a mouse a keyboard and the apps you’ve known for a really long time.
Because, and this is important, for the average user the best apps they can use exist on iOS and not on Mac or Windows based machines.
This shift is just starting too, and it is really exciting to watch and experience first hand.
Looking at my desk right now, with the Surface Pro 4, the MacBook, and the iPad Pro sitting on it — I am able to see a glimpse into the next five years. I can see the younger generation gravitating towards the iPad Pro style devices, and the more reluctant among use settling around the MacBook or Surface devices. In ten years I don’t think the MacBook style device will exist — it won’t be needed and it will be seen as archaic.
We will have beefy computers like MacBook Pros for those who truly need them, and the rest of us will be using touch based devices — hopefully something I can’t even imagine right now.
I can get everything I need to do, done on any of these three devices. I can do almost all of it without ever connecting a wire to the devices during the day. I can do most of it without worrying about power for large chunks of the day (or all day if I am using one of the Apple devices).
As iOS matures, and Microsoft stabilizes on the OS powering the Surface line, we are going to see more and more people slowly eased into the future of computing.2 As more people buy and use MacBooks, and see that their concerns over CPU power were all for naught, they will begin to wonder what an iPad could do for them.
The Surface will lead people down the same path: seeing that the tablet aspects of the device are compelling, but not well done on the Surface and they will start to look around at other options. Right now, sadly, the only real option for tablet work is iPad, but here’s hoping for increasing competition in that space.
These three devices are getting us ready, holding our hands, as we make a shift. We needed this same level of hand holding as software moved from our desktop machines to the web, but now we don’t hold it against an app if it is web based. In fact, many see being web-based as a bonus.
Soon too we won’t hold it against a computing device if it is more in the vein of the iPad than the MacBook — and soon there after (as is happening with software now) we will hold it against computers for not acting more like an iPad.
If you can’t fathom how something like an iPad could ever be your main computer, then you might need to step back and think about what the real hurdles are. Often the biggest hurdle is simply doing something on a system you are not used to.
I assume this work is Excel, but honestly ask someone what they mean when they say “real work” and then watch them stumble over themselves as they realize they don’t have an actual answer for it. ↩
I do hope that Android improves its tablet offerings, but they have been so poor thus far that I am skeptical. ↩