It's late August 2023 and during this slow time for Apple-related news the pundits have all found time to circle back around to the age old problem of the iPad. The most recent round seemed to start with Jason Snell's post Giving up the iPad-only travel dream.
I’ve noticed that a lot of my colleagues who were previously working hard to integrate the iPad into their professional work have backed off, retreating to the more flexible and powerful Mac side of the house.
The iPad is a tool meant to help you. If you're working hard to make it work it's possible that you may have chosen the wrong tool. Of course, it's also true that a powerful tool like a computer and the associated app ecosystem might take some time to learn and explore. Depending on one's workflow and needs, willingness to learn and explore, it may not be an obvious mis-fit.
But he goes on:
I’m not at all ready to declare the “use iPad to get work done” experiment dead. With the forthcoming release of iPadOS 17, Stage Manager has thrown in a bunch of improvements that suggest the iPad’s progression to more functional status continues, albeit at a pace that’s a bit too slow for my liking.
He then discusses the ways that the iPad doesn't fit as well as the Mac for his specific needs. The stand-out shortcoming is, not surprising for a podcaster, the limitations of the iPadOS audio system which has never been up to the needs of podcasters. This has been a well known issues for years and yet, they keep trying, failing and complaining.
The real problem seems to be knowingly using the wrong tool for a very specific job. And in the case of this select group of independent Apple "content creators", there is the added element of drama, brand identity and the ever persistent need for new content fodder. It's especially gross on tech/Apple You Tube.
But, for the moment, let's assume it's not about content fodder. What is it? There is this strange fascination some have with the iPad. It's the computer they use but shouldn't. Or don't use but want to. Folks, just walk away.
Back to JS:
My productivity needs are clearly unlike those of most people, but the truth is that everyone’s got different productivity needs. The problem with the iPad continues to be that as it builds functionality, it has failed to build in flexibility—or at least the flexibility offered by a platform like macOS.
Yes, true, we all have different needs and the iPad will work for some, not others. But the discussion of flexibility is not so clear-cut. In terms of OS, yes, macOS is more open and more flexible. We'll come back to that in a moment. But in terms of hardware, I've found the iPad form factor to be the one that is the most flexible. In fact, the modularity of the iPad is one of its strong points.
As I type this I've got the iPad in a stand raised up 6 inches for better posture. I'm using an external Bluetooth keyboard and a mouse. I could be doing this at my desk but at the moment I'm reclining on my futon with a little lap desk. It's fantastic. I'm not using the touchscreen much so it's sort of in traditional computer mode. I can do all sorts of things in this physical arrangement.
But if I need to adjust or change modes I can set the lap desk, stand keyboard and mouse aside and use the iPad as a tablet. No keyboard stuck to it, just my hands for scrolling, swiping, tapping. You know, a tablet. And in a few weeks as the weather cools I can attach the keyboard to the case and step outside to a table on the porch. If I need the keyboard/trackpad, cool, it's there. If not, no problem, I can detach it and get it out of my way. Thanks to the flexibility of the iPad I can do all sorts of things with just my fingers on the screen or the Pencil. And in a pinch, if I don't want to bother reaching for the keyboard dictation has gotten good enough that it's easy to dictate text.
My point is that any discussion of flexibility in regards to computers should take into account the physical form factor or it is an incomplete discussion.
Jason goes on to talk about a the Stream Deck, a device he finds useful but which won't work with the iPad. He goes on:
This is where the iPad is today. It’s good enough for what it does. If it doesn’t do it, it doesn’t do it. This is the fundamental difference between the Mac (a platform that basically lets developers and users do anything they want) and the iPad (where if Apple doesn’t specifically allow it, it can’t be done).
But, you know, not really. Yes, it's true that the iPad is locked down in a way that the Mac isn't. That's due to its origins in iOS and the initial intended niche as a super easy to use and safe computer for anyone. Its initial positioning in 2010 was indeed as a tablet computing device meant for consumption but with acknowledgement that it could be used for more computery tasks like creating documents in Pages.
But yes, 13 years in and Apple continues to balance between ease of use, safety/security and the low maintenance simplicity of a computing device with full-on, do anything computer. A variable to remember in this scenario is that the largest portion of the iPad user base is likely to be less sophisticated users. Certainly this is the case in my own extended family where most iPads are used daily as primary computers for basic tasks. I'm the only one using the iPad in its more advanced modes.
In any case, when discussing any computer platform or OS, much of this seems relative. Talk to a Linux or Windows user and they'll have their opinions of the limitations of macOS and/or Mac hardware.
Back to JS, he states that with the Mac "Apple doesn't have to think of every use case" and that it "empowers developers and users to build what they need" thereby extending it's functionality which he pits against the iPad as being limited by Apple and it's operating system cycle which is too slow.
Okay but again, the Mac has been around longer and you know, from Apple to third party developers, everything (waves hands in the air wildly) takes time. There are other considerations with the iPad. If you are tired of waiting as you say you are then it sounds like it's time you moved on. That's okay. The iPad is not the tool you need. I mean, I don't try to make toast with my blender. And if I did I don't think I'd offer it up as a critique of the blender.
I want to do it all on my iPad. I hope that one day I’ll be able to.
But why? If the iPad is not the right tool for the job just accept that and move on to the tool that works for you. It just seems like a strange fixation at this point.
Speaking of moving on, John Gruber, linking to Snell, also chimes in:
But I know I’m best off, productivity-wise, using my iPad basically as a single-tasking consumption device for long-form reading and video watching.
The reason this topic remains evergreen is that I want to use my iPad more. There’s something ineffable about it. It’s a thrill when I use my iPad to do something that an iPad is actually best at. I honestly think I’d be more productive if I owned no iPad at all, yet I keep trying to find ways to use it more.
Not much to say regarding Gruber other than he uses BBEdit for all of his writing. He's mentioned it many times over the years. And while there are many excellent text editors on the iPad BBEdit is not. So I'd guess that's a limiting factor?
While it's pretty clear that JS really has used the iPad and Gruber has tried it over the years, the next example is off the hook goofy. Truly uninformed Apple podcasters willing to discuss the iPad that borders on the embarrassing. In the August 25 episode of The Context Machine Jeff Gamet and Bryan Chaffin take on the iPad and though they don't mention it I'm guessing the Snell article is what prompted this conversation. Just a guess but it seems pretty common for these folks to echo one another with the same topics and opinions. I've listened to this podcast off and on and Bryan especially seems to be one of the most uninformed Apple podcasters I've heard. Early in the conversation he complains that the iPad does not do Command-Tab app switching as well as the Mac. When pressed by his co-host who correctly states that it works exactly the same with any keyboard as it does on the Mac Bryan admits that he hasn't actually used a keyboard with his iPad.
Ummmmm. Okay. Cringeworthy.
But he keeps digging his hole. He then says "I feel like the lack of a mouse on an iPad is going to also make this more complicated."
This is some high quality, knowledgeable punditry. It's clear that Bryan has no clue what he's talking about. Of course the iPad can be paired with any Bluetooth mouse or the Apple Trackpad and has had this feature since the spring of 2020. I'll file this into the folder of examples of Apple podcasters feeling free to discuss features of a device which they have not made a good faith effort to actually use at all or regularly enough to learn how to use.
At this point in the podcast Jeff diplomatically skirts the issue and simply says that he has no problem using the trackpad or a mouse with the iPad and he indicates that he does it regularly. In fact, he makes the case for the iPad being capable of almost anything a Mac can do. But then does a turn about and falls back to the current pundit/podcaster narrative: He can't do his podcasting. When pressed for other examples he finally comes up with the inability to plug in multiple drives which of course, isn't a problem. Plug in a hub and then plug in as many drives as you have ports for.
Honestly, the whole conversation is so sloppy. He finally brings up multiple apps and windows on the iPad saying it's clumsy. Then he brings up multiple drives again. To be clear, plug in a hub and then drives to that hub and Files app shows every attached drive in the sidebar. Then drag and drop between them with no problem, exactly like the Finder.
It's almost as if old-timey Mac users want to dwell on short comings in iPadOS that no longer exist simply because that's the easy thing to do for them as Mac users. They simply don't want to be bothered to learn or be informed. It's a strange, confused conversation. More than anything it demonstrates that some podcasters don't feel an obligation to be informed on the topics they cover.
Perhaps the real story here is that there are far too many indy content creators in the Apple/Tech bubble and as a mini cottage industry they're all just stepping on one another, repeating the same casual rumor talk.
I'll have to keep looking for more informed, thoughtful nerdery that makes the effort to explore the actual, helpful on-the-ground use cases of the existing tech.
Pundits, podcasters, it's okay to just move on, use the Mac and be happy. Remember, not every tool is made for you or will be useful to you. You can trust that there are those of us out here that find the iPad to be the perfect computer for us and what we need to do with our a computer. We'll leave you to your Macs and hope that one day you'll be able to turn your gaze away from the iPad and learn to be happy with your Mac.