Once a year Jason Snell puts out a survey to a group of prominent Apple pundits and they grade Apple in a variety of areas. The Apple Report Card is generally a summary of the hot-takes that have been shared on podcasts and in articles for the past year. The 2022 report comes days after Apple released it’s quarterly results and the consensus that the iPad is floundering seems at odds with the ongoing popularity of the device.
While the report card was generally negative or “meh” in their view of the iPad, Apple’s quarterly results show that the iPad continues to sell very well. Apparently the general public is unaware that they are buying a failing product. In the most recent quarter the iPad had its highest revenue in nine years. But the point is the iPad has been very popular with the general public since its release. And not just the basic iPads. The iPad Pro also continues to sell well and get excellent reviews.
Out of curiosity it occurred to me to check reviews of the iPad on various online retailers. My guess is that the majority of buyers at Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, Target, etc are likely to be a somewhat accurate representation of the general public’s view of the device. These are people that probably don’t spend their free time focused on the latest Apple rumors, news, betas, etc. I’d guess that most don’t listen to Apple or tech related podcasts. Reading through the reviews it’s hard to know if many of these folks ever dig in very deep. Some state their use cases, many don’t. Many state that it’s their first iPad, some note that they’ve had several and keep coming back. I’m not going to suggest that such reviews, possibly based on just the first few days or weeks of use have much depth to them. But as I’ve often mentioned in other posts here, the iPad has served as an important computer in my extended family, the kinds of users I’d guess are fairly typical. And yes, it’s often casual use. No one in my family have any idea of what “power users” think of the iPad or what the latest features are. Stage Manager what? What’s this Split View thing?
But, I hear you saying, the critique coming from the Apple pundits is more thoughtful, considered and informed. These are people who spend a lot of time thinking and talking about Apple tech and they are better positioned to offer a more in-depth analysis.
Well. Not so fast. I’m going to pick on Marco Arment to make a point. In episode 520 of the Accidental Tech Podcast in a discussion about trying to find a place for the iPad in his life he makes a point of pointing how difficult or impossible it is to do a simple multitasking type task on the iPad that is easy to do on the Mac. The task he was trying to do was refer to an email and/or attachment in his inbox while composing an email at the same time. He also mentions being able to refer to an Apple Note while doing this. Listening to the podcast one would think yeah, that’s something that should be doable on a computer, why can’t it be done on an iPad?
It can. Very easily and using a feature that’s been around for 2 years. In fact, it’s a feature that was prominently noted by Apple and yet this “well informed” Apple commentator doesn’t know how to do it. He makes his living criticizing Apple and yet when Apple introduces features to do exactly the sorts of things he wants to do he is unaware of them 2 years later. The feature is enabled by a simple tap on the 3 dots widget in the center of a mail window, in his case, an email he was composing. All he had to do was tap or click the 3 dots and choose Split View. This would have placed his compose window into a split leaving his list of emails accessible for browsing and reading as he composed. Then he could easily bring the Notes app up into Slideover to reference a note. Or, if using Stage Manager in iPad OS 16, replying to an email creates a new window by default. In this case no added step would be necessary.
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard an Apple pundit make an uninformed statement about something the iPad couldn’t do because of a missing feature. It happens often enough that I’ve noticed it on a fairly regular basis when these kinds of conversations are happening. In agitated hot takes they proclaim that they want to use the iPad but they can’t because it simply cannot do what they want it to do.
But the truth is that it’s often the case that the iPad actually does far more than many users know is possible simply because they have not taken the time to use it. Easier to assume and complain rather than take the time to actually learn the features that available. As I’m writing this I took a break and I kid you not, up pops this question from another Apple/tech journalist I follow on Mastodon:
It's simple to convert images to different formats in macOS, you can do it literally using a couple of taps from the desktop. Why is it such a pain in the ass on iOS?
To which I responded with the below text and 2 screenshots to illustrate:
It's literally built into the Files app and accessible in a couple taps. You don't even need to use a shortcut. Tap and hold an image to get the context menu then go to Quick Actions then choose convert image. It can also be done from the column view in the Files app. See second image with arrows. Just as simple. So, not a pain in the ass?
After posting I checked on my Mac to confirm and yes, it is exactly the same action done in exactly the same way on the Files app as it is on the Finder app. It perfectly illustrates the point that many Mac users just assume features are not available when, in fact, they are. Given that the method here is exactly the same across all devices I can only guess that zero effort was made to look.
Perhaps the most well known iPad user is Federico Viticci who has made his living as a podcaster and tech writer for several years. For most of that time he’s been a passionate advocate of the iPad as a real computer for getting work done. It’s kind of his thing, a part of his online identity. But in recent years he’s become increasingly frustrated with iPadOS and dissatisfied with what he perceives to be a lack of progress by Apple. In his own contribution to the 2022 report card he rates Apple’s performance on the iPad in 2022 a 1/5 and introduces his comments thusly:
Speaking of dropping the ball: I’m sorry to say this, but that’s exactly what the company is doing with iPad and the iPadOS platform. Unless the company course-corrects its decisions with Stage Manager in the near future, shows they can still innovate in terms of hardware, and, more importantly, starts listening to the concerns of power users, I’m afraid even the most die-hard iPad users like myself will have to accept reality and consider other options.
My problem with his statement is that I think he’s assuming too much authority. He’s one user. No doubt that with his website and large social media following, he touches base with a pool of users many of which might agree with him. But there are “power users” that are actually very satisfied with the iPad as it is today. It’s great that he’s passionate but he’s one user with a particular set of needs and desires.
He concludes his thoughts on the iPad:
I want to continue loving the iPad, but, at the end of the day, I also need to get my work done and I’m tired of having to rely on separate machines (an iPad Pro and Mac mini) to do all the things I need to do. At the moment, the iPad seems to be stuck in this limbo of “more than a tablet but not quite a desktop-class computer”, and I think it’s time for Apple to do some soul-searching and make up its mind. The device is called “iPad Pro”, but this gray area surely doesn’t help pro users at all.
It seems likely to me that Federico is just better served with a Mac if he’s going to stipulate that he wants to work with only one computer. Much of his work is podcasting and at the moment the iPad does not have all of the audio capabilities he needs. Until it does he’ll need the Mac, it’s that simple. But again, his constraints are his, not mine. I’d guess that the vast majority of iPad Pro users are not podcasters with his specific needs. I’d also guess that most iPad Pro users are not professional YouTubers/video creators that need Final Cut Pro. I’d further guess that most iPad Pro users are not app developers that need XCode. These are work flows and Pro apps that are often brought up as barriers to adoption and they likely are a barrier to a very small subset of users.
I’ve read and listened to Federico since the beginning of his publishing of MacStories and always enjoyed him. But in the past couple of years I’ve observed that his tone and approach have shifted. Even as iOS on the iPad was forked into it’s own iPadOS variant and continued improvement year to year, Viticci has become more critical. This has coincided with other prominent iPad content creators doing the same. It’s also coincided with Apple’s transition away from Intel processors, bringing a new era to the Mac with it’s own homegrown Apple silicone starting with the M1 Macs and now the M2 Macs. It could be a coincidence but with that transition and excitement many Mac enthusiasts who had been complaining about the stagnation of the Mac were buoyed by the giant leap forward. Suddenly their beloved Macs had the fast Apple-designed processors that the iPad Pros had been featuring as well as the fantastic battery life that came with them. It seemed to trigger a flood iPad enthusiasts who quickly jumped back on the Mac bandwagon each offering long lists of reasons for their move back to the Mac. This does seem to be a part of the larger group behavior.
But really, it’s not my intent to fall into a rabbit hole about the dynamics of the “Apple Community”, which is itself an interesting, strange sort of thing. But rather to point out that over the past 3 years Apple has steadily if slowly improved the iPad experience by deepening iPadOS with a host of new features year by year. But the prominent content creators seem determined to maintain a willful ignorance (see the examples several paragraphs back). Another example, three years ago one of the big iPad problems being discussed repeatedly was the Files app. “Just bring the Mac Finder to the iPad!” While the name has remained Files, the app now much more closely resembles the Mac’s Finder. It’s not identical but it’s very close now. Open up Files and take a close look, compare it to the Mac and it’s obvious Apple put a lot of effort into making this app work better. And it does. In my experience I would say it’s very close to being on par with the Mac Finder. The complaints stopped but were replaced by other complaints. The goal posts are always moving. The last two years has seen a shift towards “we need free form windowing” and “better multitasking” and “pro apps”.
The problem here though is that aside from the repeated calls for Apple to release its pro apps, the other requests are fairly open ended. Windowing and multitasking can take many forms. Stage Manager is the current form of that windowing and addition to multitasking but it’s Federico’s opinion that it’s broken. Many might agree. But there are some users who like it and I’m one of them. Is it perfect? No. But I find it useful and enjoyable to use. Federico states that “this gray area surely doesn’t help pro users at all” but he’s wrong. It just doesn’t help him.
I would urge the Apple podcasters that have such strong feelings to remember that they are not everyone. Their needs are not everyone’s needs. It is possible that there are users beyond their personal experience or imagination who are finding the changes brought to iPadOS each year to be improvements. If your needs are not met by the iPad there’s good news, you can use a Mac or any number of other computers. That’s fantastic. Pick the right tool for the jobs you need to do.
And let me be honest, I’m just a goofball in the woods that can be pretty energetic in my own opinions. In recent years I’ve written quite a bit about how much I enjoy using an iPad. In the years before that the Mac was my favorite computer and I often wrote about that too. But my blog is tiny and I’d guess my readers total less than 10. I blog for fun about the stuff I enjoy and love. More than anything I want to celebrate the cool things we can do with our tech.
So much of the Apple community seems to have taken on a persistent negative tone, a constant stream of hot takes and gotchas about the thing that’s just not good enough. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that critique has it’s place. It’s how progress is made. From what I’ve read Steve Jobs was often intense, demanding in the creative and design process and as the story would seem to demonstrate, it led to same pretty great things. But perhaps we could do with some humility and empathy too?