A Baby Computer, or a Computer for Babies?

When you know a lot about a subject, but you still get it wrong because your view is too focused on yourself.

I’ve now spent far more time than I wanted to, or should have, thinking about these three posts (one, two, three) from Denny Henke on Beardy Guy Musings (I can blame Zsolt Benke’s site for bringing this all to my attention). Henke outlines a weird narrative from a crowd he refers to as “Apple Pundits” where they think the iPad Pro (and generally iPad) is not really a full computer. It is a really odd narrative for this crowd to have, but it’s also not that new.

Anyways, I keep thinking about this as I think the iPad is among the most underrated computers on the market today. Perhaps I am thinking about this so much because Henke has really sparked my interest, or perhaps because he left the job unfinished. But there’s two threads here I keep coming back to.

The first is the use of the term ‘Apple Pundit’; and the second is this notion that the iPhone is a phone not a computer, and the Mac is a real computer, thus this means the iPad is a “baby computer”? So fucking odd, y’all — so odd.

Apple Pundit is a really odd term, because while it is an apt description, it’s not necessarily a good term. AI tells me it can go either way: positive or negative. But AI is mostly full of shit, so I think it’s a negative here. My justification: I don’t think people would willingly list, or refer to themselves, as a ‘pundit’. I, with this blog, fit the pundit definition — and if you must I prefer to be called “Gear Pundit” so that I have more flexibility and range. But, no one really calls themselves a pundit right? It’s like you don’t say your job is to pick up dog shit for money, you say “dog walker”.

You don’t say pundit. You say “political commentator”, or “blogger” in this case. Anyways I think this is important here as the distinction between whether pundit is positive or negative, comes down to expertise. Well actually, I think calling someone a pundit means one of two things:

  1. That persons acts as though they have expertise, but in fact they do not.
  2. That person does have expertise, but you very much think they are wrong.

So then the question is: are these Apple Pundits lacking expertise, or wrong? Or perhaps, neither…?

Over on Mastodon (which as an aside, X has to be really bad if people are still using the hell which is Mastodon), user Nickler writes:

Calling the iPad a “toy” because it isn’t your preferred platform for getting work done is a disservice to technology commentary. In a time where discourse seems relegated to ‘I’m pro this you’re pro that’ I just hate seeing thoughtful people be so flippant.

I personally agree with this, and think this is really well phrased. Much better than I could have said it, and in fewer words. John Gruber, the most pundit of Apple Pundits (right?) responds:

You’re making excuses for a platform that has baby computer limits. It’s a 14-year-old platform and you still can’t make iPad apps on an iPad.

This is such a great comment from Gruber, because it not only doges (or misses) the entire point of the complaint, but then is also kind of wrong, while additionally tipping the fuck out of his hand. So this is the comment I want to talk about.

In his response Gruber is making three pretty clear statements:

  1. The iPad has what he calls “baby computer limits” which seemingly means it cannot be used for ‘real work’.
  2. It cannot make iPad apps on the device, and that is the litmus test for ‘real work’.
  3. I assume those two things are his refutation of the original comment, that it is not that Gruber doesn’t prefer the platform, but that he cannot use the platform because he needs to make iPad apps.

So in other words: Gruber has no issue with the iPad if it can make iPad apps on it, and that the limit of the iPad is the inability to make iPad apps on the device. Which is blatantly wrong.

Per Apple (also mentioned the responses from Benke):

Swift Playgrounds is the best and easiest way to learn how to code. And with Swift Playgrounds 4, you have the tools to build iPhone and iPad apps right on iPad and submit them directly to App Store Connect, providing a new way for you to easily create apps and share them with the world.

That’s from December of Twenty fucking Twenty-One, by the way.

Now hold on to your Send buttons for just one minute. There’s a couple of things we need to point out here:

  1. The iPhone cannot do this, no one complains about it, because why would they — it would be a silly complaint as most people don’t build apps to begin with and certainly wouldn’t want to do so on an iPhone. (Oh weird, basically applies to the iPad too, except it can build apps.)
  2. Swift Playgrounds is very much not Xcode, and developers very much do not want to build professional grade apps in Swift Playgrounds. It doesn’t mean they cannot do it — they can and do — but it’s very much not the same (for lack of a better term here) as Xcode.

There’s this really odd mindset that you will see with people who write about Apple products, where they all eventually converge to some realm of ‘developer’. A lot of writers in the Apple world started off as either a developer for Apple platforms, or a script happy OS 9 / OS X tinkerer. Meaning these are very technically savvy people. And those who didn’t start from that angle, seem to eventually converge back to that spot where they start writing more advanced scripts and dabble in app development in some way.

That’s a decently standard progression in this ‘Apple Pundit’ realm. A lot of sports commentators are people who used to play the sport professionally, or at least play the sport recreationally — it leads to better commentary generally speaking. Expertise and all.

But it oddly doesn’t work with the iPad at all. Because the iPad very weirdly doesn’t fit that mold. To understand what I mean here, we need to go back to the original iPad — back in ancient 2010 times.

The iPad was designed with an entirely different set of priorities than Macs or PCs. Someone may well produce a worthy iPad rival in the next year, but it’s not going to be something like HP’s Slate that runs Windows 7, an operating system that epitomizes the traditional set of computer design priorities.

And:

The iPad is meant for anything that can be represented on a 10-inch color touchscreen. Back in January when we were playing the “What’s Apple going to name the tablet?” game, my favorite, by far, was “Canvas”. I’m not saying here that Canvas would have been a better name than iPad, but the word conveys perfectly what the iPad is.

Lastly:

The iPad hardware and OS are profoundly humble — they put all the focus on whatever app it is that is open.

That is me quoting John Gruber of course, from his original iPad review. Those statements were spot on back then, and they are still spot on today. No single other tablet has ever caught up to the iPad, in a way that is actually fucking insane if you stop to think about it. Go shop for a new Android tablet, they are few and far between and (spoiler) they are awful to use. Only Amazon with the Fire Tablet series have come close, and that’s mostly because they are absurdly cheap (and I mean cheap, not inexpensive, but they are also inexpensive).

Now, people in glass houses such as mine, should not throw stones. I wrote about the iPad first back in May of 2010, in which I concluded:

I really am looking forward to the future of the iPad, more so than I am with the iPhone. I think OS 4.0 is going to give quite an amazing boost to the iPad. I think that future hardware updates are only going to make an already fast iPad into an instant iPad.

I normally hate going back and re-reading my own writing, and totally forgot about this post and that conclusion — but yeah suffice to say I stand by that one.

But I also think that post isn’t the one to key in on when it comes to old iPad writing on this site, I think it’s this post where I wrote in 2011:

If you (you as is anyone) continue to think about tablets in comparison to laptops then you will never understand the value that tablets hold. In the same way that someone that compares car travel to airplane travel will never understand the value of the road trip.

I don’t know that I would have selected that same analogy. But the essence here is: both do the same end goal, but they go about it differently to the point where you intentionally choose one over the other. Few people decide to drive across country rather than fly, becuase “eh, it’s about the same”.

The takeaway here is that Gruber now thinks the iPad should be able to do all the things the Mac does. That’s a fine personal criteria for liking the iPad or not. However, it’s not what he say as the vision for the iPad 14 years ago — and it’s not that it would have been that hard to have the same vision now or then — which ever direction you want here.

Now, people change, and needs change. Which brings us all the way back the the initial comment from Nickler above, specifically this:

Calling the iPad a “toy” because it isn’t your preferred platform for getting work done is a disservice to technology commentary.

I agree, and I think the narrative with Apple Pundits that the iPad is somehow not a real computer, or somehow has ‘baby computer limits’ is completely and utterly bullshit, trot out by people disconnected from what the general public loves about the iPad.

Apple Pundits are now (more than ever) convinced the iPad cannot be used as a ‘real’ computer — at the same time the general consumer market is using the iPad as their ‘real computer’ now more than ever also.

I don’t think these Apple Pundits lack expertise, I think they lack perspective. They are bubbled inside a world where they are only talking to nerds about nerd things — and of course nerds are going to struggle with the iPad, they are not the target market. They are going to complain about the lack of professional quality apps and the lack of Xcode. They are going to makes apps for SSH with a yearly subscription. It’s not that any of this is bad, it’s that all of that is why the Mac is still there. (That’s not to shade the Mac, but that is why the Mac is there.)

But normal people, they love the iPad just as it is. It’s like a little portable TV they can take everywhere. Almost like, say, a blank canvas which morphs into whatever app is on the screen at that moment — one could say.

You don’t have to wander far to see this, head outside your home, and you encounter many people using the iPad for just about anything. It’s their computer. Maybe it’s their mobile computer so they don’t tote a laptop. Maybe they take notes in meetings on it. Present from it. Maybe the do email and Teams/Slack — they are very much using it as a real computer without really any limitations. Old or young, I’ve seen no distinct pattern here. If one has an iPad (especially if they have a keyboard cover setup for it) they are using the fuck out of it when they are moving around. And they are absolutely using the shit out of it to watch videos of many kinds, and scrolling around dozens of websites aimlessly — as most people do on all computing devices.

What’s being missed in all this commentary is instead of the iPad replacing items (i.e. ‘Computers’), the iPad has become a device people use to get away from the overly small iPhone screen. And also being the device used to get away from the overwhelming MacOS/Windows machines.

The iPad, in a way, is one of the top luxury computing devices out there — largely seen as unnecessary by even those who love it, and yet something most people would love to own if they have the means to do so. And those who do have the means, they own an iPad, and likely use it — if for nothing else than as a really portable large screen for doing whatever the hell they want to do.

People like me who actively use it as their only computer don’t matter. Because there’s actually a large number of people out there unconsciously choosing the iPad as their primary personal ‘bigger screen’ computing platform, without even realizing that’s a choice they are making. And that’s because, for most people, ‘real computing’ is sending emails, having video calls, and editing Office files, and using a web browser — all of which the iPad makes pretty fucking easy. And in 2024, it’s easier than ever to do those things on an iPad — it was a royal pain in the ass back in 2010.

So yeah, after analyzing all of that, I think Apple Pundit is correctly applied in this case, because while they have expertise, they are dead wrong.

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