The iPad originated as a touch-first computer and remains touch-first 13 years later
An interesting aspect of the ongoing discussion about the iPad is that it's primarily from the perspective of Mac "power" users. Which is to say, long-time users that have been using the Mac and are most comfortable with its feature set and interface. These are users that have and want access to the most open-ended computing experience possible. They're very efficient with their Macs and have time-tested workflows with apps they know well.
In terms of understanding the iPad as a broadly used computing platform, it's important to remember the bias of the most heard on-line voices which are, predominantly, the voices of content creators and tech enthusiasts that publish podcasts, videos on YouTube, and websites.
But what about the touch-first users? I've often referred to my extended family when I've written about the iPad. They seem to be what I assume is close to the average. They're not tech-oriented, they don't read tech blogs or keep up with the latest hardware. The iPad users in this group have never heard of Stage Manager or even Split Screen.
Their most used apps, including those that use Macs: Safari, Messages, Photos, Mail, Notes. Other apps most used: Netflix, Facebook, and a few games. No one in the sample develops applications or publishes videos or podcasts.
They are almost all touch-first users, relying on their iPhone for at least 50% of their "computing". Those that use an iPad use it about 50% of the time to compliment the iPhone. Most of them are using these two devices. There are 3 Mac users compared to 6 iPad users and 2 PC/Chromebook users.
If my family is even close to average then it would be accurate to say that there are more touch-first, casual users than there are "power users" that use a mouse/trackpad/keyboard.
Of the 3 that use a Mac, 1 is a college student, 1 recently graduated from college, 1 retired. All 3 use their iPhone far more than their Mac. The two who use computers full time at work are using work issued Windows/Chromebooks. When not at work their computer is the iPhone.
So, in my family at least, casual, touch-first users dominate first with iPhone, then iPad. Their usage patterns seem to reflect the larger picture of Apple's sales for the past 13 years and it explains why Apple has prioritized iOS and touch-based computing for the past decade.
The iPad started as a touch-first tablet computing device and it remains as a primarily touch-first tablet computing device. Admittedly this is my best guess based on anecdotal observation and a general sense of Apple sales numbers, but if true then it would be accurate to say the iPad, in use, remains closer to the iPhone than the Mac.
2015: iPad Pro
All that said, Apple opened up a whole new set of expectations when they released the much larger screen 12.9" iPad Pro in 2015. It instantly created a whole new idea of what the iPad could be and speculation about where Apple would take the platform.
The 2015 iPad Pro brought with it the Pencil and the return of an iPad specific keyboard offering from Apple. It's been 8 years and I was curious about the initial reviews of this first iPad Pro.
From the Tech Radar review of the 2015 iPad Pro:
The iPad Pro could be a lot of things to many people - including professional users, considering the amount of business apps in the App Store. To some, a great sofa pal. To others, a brilliant hybrid device that enables them to flip effortlessly from sketching to movies to typing reports on the go.
Is it good enough to usurp the need for a MacBook Air? Could you ever get by just using this tablet and the optional accessories around it, or does it need to be part of a larger family – a device that's perfect for certain situations but gets relegated when it's time for proper work?
There was only one way to find out – force myself to ditch the laptop and try to write this review on the Pro (and you can see the results below). While that wasn't as easy as I'd hoped, I've found a lot of use for the iPad Pro 12.9 in day to day life.
He goes on later to [describe the process of writing the review](https://www.techradar.com/reviews/pc-mac/tablets/ipad-pro-12-9-1269255/review/5). His conclusion on writing, editing images and posting the story:
But I learned a lot about the iPad Pro's capabilities in that time. This thing is definitely capable, and the amount of workarounds are large - you can get things done, just not as easily, and since then I've used it on the train to do loads of different bits and pieces and really enjoyed the portability.
iOS isn't a desktop experience, and I can't see it ever being. As such it's hard to call the iPad Pro 12.9 a definite laptop replacement. For some, it will be more than enough, but workers might struggle with the limitations iOS brings through its silo app methodology.
And Macworld also wondered about the intended use and audience for the iPad Pro:
One mild concern that is currently troubling us is the issue of who exactly is expected to buy it, and how it will affect (and potentially confuse) the buying decision...
Five years after its launch, questions still remain over the iPad’s ability to operate as a primary work tool – because its screen is smaller than almost all laptops, because iOS is limited in many areas, and because the iPad can’t multitask. Some or all of these shortcomings can be addressed in a 12-inch iPad Pro,
They go on to mention possible use-cases such as office productivity and creative as well as the available software and the lack of multitasking.
Though much has changed with the various iterations of the iPad OS and available apps over the past 8 years, many of the questions raised in those first reviews persist today. From pundits to article comments, many Apple nerds are still confused and frustrated by the iPad.
But I do think some clarity can be found in two simple bullet points:
- The Mac is a keyboard/mouse/trackpad driven computer with a more mature, more open desktop OS.
- The iPad is a touch-first mobile computer that has additional "power user" features when connected to a keyboard and mouse.
For those that want the full-on power user experience with fewer OS limitations, the Mac is the choice.
For those that want touch-based computing that can be extended with the addition of a keyboard/trackpad/mouse there is the iPad.