The iPad

It’s little surprise to hear me talk on and on about how great the iPad is. It’s little surprise to my coworkers to hear me talk about it either, but in a normal day, when I interact with humans, I actively avoid talking about this. I avoid this because people in general are hostile towards the idea, and there are many other things I would rather be doing than argue with people where they can argue right back. Especially, when I watch them use an iPhone as their primary computer, despite not wanting to admit it or entertain the notion that this means the iPad too could be a good primary computer for them.

Typically, I save these posts for members, but I want to share this with you because there’s an important shift to note, a shift which is going to take place over the next few years on a larger scale, and more immediately this fall.

The conversations amongst most people who have never heard of WWDC are likely to shift from being hostile towards the notion that they should be made to work on an iPad, to asking me, asking you, if that’s something you are going to be doing. Not because they care if you are doing it, but because they want affirmation they are not crazy for thinking about doing this. To understand why we are at this inflection point now, let’s turn to this excellent post from Matt Gemmell, particularly this passage, which explains why people are currently reluctant to being open to “iPad only” as it were:

There’s a whole lot of stuff you want to do on an iPad that Apple have previously technically allowed you to, while simultaneously hobbling the process with ridiculous barriers. Tiny, weird popovers on huge screens. Nested dialogs within dialogs. Having to expand and scroll and pick, when there’s plenty of space to just show everything. A crippled app-multitasking interface that pays lip service to what full-time iPad users want, whilst introducing further annoyances like a nigh-unusable app-picker for split view.

His entire post is worth a read if you truly want to understand why people freak the fuck out when you talk about working from only an iPad. It’s completely an Apple driven, supported, and manifested issue.

And yet we know this isn’t true. Gemmell writes novels on iPads, Federico Viticci runs a media fiefdom from an iPad, and of course I help run a company (and this site) from an iPad. Many people do many things on iPads to make good money every day. And, even more people do a metric shit ton of work on their iPhones, often spending more time on those small screens than on the computers collecting dust in the corners of their homes.

Anyways…

There’s two parables which better illustrate why now is the time for the iPad.

1.

The first is Linux.

There’s a running joke among us nerds you may know: X year is the year of Linux on the desktop. To make this more fun, choose a random year after say 2000 (maybe before) and type that phrase into Google, e.g. “2003 is the year of Linux…” — you’ll likely see many articles. Perhaps like this one.

I say this as someone who lived with Linux as his OS for a year: Linux is very much what Gemmell described iOS on iPad as, death by a thousand cuts. Can you do everything on it? Sure. Is it going to be “fun”? Fuck no. And yet, like the iPad this year is the year for it. Always. In perpetuity.

Linux has always been software which can run well on just about any machine you put it on, but is constantly getting in its own way. This is what we had for a very long time with the iPad. Fundamentally amazing hardware, with software that is pretty good for something things, manageable for others, and downright tedious for the rest of the tasks.1

Linux has yet to get over the hurdle, but this fall iOS on iPad leaps beyond it. iOS 11, even from just what Apple showed, but certainly also from my experiences with the betas, removes those fundamentally tedious tasks, and make them not only easier for you to do, but far more enjoyable.

If iPad has always been held back by software which never quite grew into the iPad, then this fall with iOS 11, it’s going to be the first time we might see the hardware begin to constrain the software. iOS 11 is that good, and that big of a deal for the iPad.

The common refrain is the iPad is just a big iPhone. iOS 11 is shifting that message to: iPad is everything you like about the iPhone, meticulously rethought for a larger canvas.

2017 is the year of iPad as a replacement for Macs, in other words.

2.

The second parable is the MacBook Air.

When the MacBook Air first launched it was a magical and small device which was also crippling in how under powered it was. Then, Apple relaunched the device in 2010 with improved internals and performance. When that happened, John Gruber wrote:

Here’s the way I see it: the Air is a secondary Mac; MacBook Pros are for use as a primary computer. I.e., if you want your MacBook to be your one and only Mac, you should get a MacBook Pro. You’ll need the additional storage, and you’ll be thankful for the additional RAM and expansion ports.

Note: The last paragraph in his post doesn’t seem to have aged well either, so it’s a fun read. (Of course I wrote a popular, at the time, counter to Gruber you can read here.)

At the outset the MacBook Airs were derided as tools where your money was better spent elsewhere — too slow, too limiting, etc. Sound familiar? This sounds like that argument against the iPad as a “real computer” to me.

“Why get iPad instead of X, or Y? Either X or Y is way better for many reasons which don’t actually pencil out.”

For the longest time Apple’s iPad lineup has been a hot mess. Good devices sold alongside confused and old devices. This year, 2017, Apple cleaned that up.

They reinvented the devices like Apple reinvented the Mac lineup with the MacBook Air in 2010.

Four models:

  • iPad Mini
  • iPad
  • iPad Pro 10.5
  • iPad Pro 12.9

The iPad Mini is the “this is niche, don’t buy this” model of the group, aka it’s the Mac mini of the group. The iPad is itself the device Apple sees as the gateway drug, it’s the plastic MacBook if you will, cheap enough to get the foot in the door, and damned addictive once you start using it.2 Just a couple weeks ago, the lineup didn’t make sense, because the 9.7” iPad Pro didn’t make sense in it when you looked at the matrix.

Now, like with those 2010 MacBook Airs, Apple has given you every reason to buy an iPad Pro — because like with the 2010 MacBook Airs, no matter which model iPad Pro you buy, you’ll find few things to hate about it. The MacBook Airs were not the hobbled machines everyone thought they might be, they turned out to perhaps be one of the most popular Macs — so popular it looks as though Apple is having a hard time dropping them from the lineup now. This is what the 10.5” iPad Pro is, it’s the “smart choice” the do anything and everything machine.

But Apple didn’t stop there with iPad Pros: the keyboards are great on every model. The screens are downright amazing — kind of like how the form factor of the MacBook Air was amazing at the time — but taken to the next level with ProMotion.

Apple perfected iPad hardware at about the same time as they perfected the software for it, and they kind of fucking know it. They are being a tad pompous about it. And they acted the same way with the MacBook Air — “if you think this is a Netbook, oh boy, are you in for a treat.”

It’s Not a Small Step

When the iPhone launched, Apple proclaimed they were 5 years ahead of the competition. The iPad plainly has no competition now. It sits alone.

Apple could have stopped there and said “we sell a ton, make money, it’s good enough” — this is what every person who loves an iPad feared happening. It’s what I feared.

Instead Apple said: “check this out, it leapfrog’s what we already have, and there’s nothing that can touch it”.

This summer isn’t the time to move to an iPad, but this fall, when iOS 11 comes out — that’s the time.

Here’s Steven Sinofsky on the improvements:

The advances in launching, switching, and working in general geared towards the iPad user are significant — so significant that there’s a good chance we are at a turning point where many more people will use (or just admit to using) their iPads for core productivity work.

He says that as he watches the Surface RT as a brand be buried so deep you’ll never find it. And I can tell you that it doesn’t matter which model iPad Pro you buy. Both are great. Both are amazing. Both will have tradeoffs, but use your laptop screen size, or budget, as the guiding voice. Small laptop, get the small iPad Pro. It really has never been more clear.

I’ve only been using iOS 11 on last year’s iPad Pro hardware for a week, but already I can tell you it feels effortless. Almost everything which was tedious before has disappeared.

And I suspect that people won’t only be moving to iPad from Macs, but people who have long used only their iPhones (though they likely have a laptop somewhere) will look at these changes and decide there’s now a compelling reason to grab an iPad. To talk about using iPads.

It’s going to be a hell of a holiday iPad season.


  1. To clarify: most things an average person needs to do, can be done with little tedium on an iPad. It’s just that those people are not the people writing websites, and making podcasts, about iPads and Macs, and such things like Coffee. 

  2. If you haven’t used a model of iPad newer than the iPad Air 2, then you really should. Much different machines. 

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tl;dr

This is a critical point for iPad, where we are about to turn the corner in a very big way.