The iPad discussion is all about moving goal posts and hand wavy things. In other words, it’s about framing and context. But it’s also about fluff. Let’s start with the fluff. It’s kinda like cotton candy. Sweet and interesting at first but not a lot there when you really bite into it.

A few days ago Jason Snell, wrote his latest on how the iPad has been failing him. And, predictably, a host of prominent pundits chimed in. Yesterday another notable iPad user, Harry McCracken also commented. He’s not planning to leave the iPad but shared some observations.

The company’s legendary dedication to making what Steve Jobs called “the whole widget” usually results in deeply integrated experiences; the iPad, however, has gotten that benefit only in fits and starts. And lately, it’s felt like the platform is stuck somewhere between its past and its future.

I’m noticing a theme with these posts which is a lot of hand waving about the “problem of iPadOS” but rarely anything specific. In general the sentiment is that Apple is moving too slowly in making the iPad into a Mac. After some very general statements McCracken finally points to a specific example, support for external webcams coming with iPadOS 17 as a feature he’ll be happy to have. But also points out that it took too long as evidence that Apple is too “lackadaisical” in its progress. He mentions a long list of other things but doesn’t provide the list.

The only other specific he gives is Stage Manager which he doesn’t like so continues to use the old Split Screen-based multitasking. But in general he continues to love his iPad and will continue using it. The point of the post seems to be: 1. Mac hardware got better with Apple Silicon 2. iPadOS is still not macOS.

In other words, his story really feels like a fluff piece during a slow news cycle. Gotta write a column this week so take an easy ride on the current pundit meme. But no real substance.

In all of the articles taking that ride this week none provided much actual specific evidence of any significant problem. Each might provide one example of something very specific that may be a miss in iPadOS or limitations of third party apps. Matt Birchler had a post about how the edge cases add up to something significant. As examples he cites several third party apps that are possible on the Mac but not available on the iPad or limited on the iPad: Spotlight alternatives, third party password manager limitations and alternative screenshot tools. Echoing Snell’s original article he writes:

I guess my feeling is that the iPad is great to a point, and as soon as you stop out of bounds a little bit, it becomes quite challenging to deal with, as your options to override system behavior are basically zero.

He follows up with an example of where the iPad failed him on a recent trip:

I took only my iPad on a trip recently and I was editing photos. Lightroom is my editing app of choice, and Adobe does a really nice job of keeping features in sync between the Mac and iPad versions of their app. However, I took some really high ISO shots on the trip and wanted to denoise them using Lightroom’s relatively new AI denosing feature. That’s on the Mac but it’s not on the iPad version, so some of my photos weren’t able to be edited until I got home.

Okay, but, wait. Let’s talk about picking nits a bit. The reason the iPad is not a capable computer is the lack of 3rd party screenshot or Spotlight apps? Limitations to 3rd party password managers? Or a missing feature in one of Adobe’s apps that has nothing to do with iPadOS but rather is a choice made by Adobe?

My point here is that this story about the iPad as a computer really has entered a new stage as the goal posts are constantly being moved. In 2018 the discussion had far more substance and we could point to important, core functionality and features were still missing. For example, file management with the new Files app was still a very basic. Multiple app instances didn’t appear until 2019. Before 2020 the iPad was a touch only computer with zero support for mouse or trackpad.

In other words, it’s all relative. Year to year, improvements are made to iPadOS. And let’s not pretend that the same cannot also be said of macOS. Somehow Mac users in 1992 were getting things done with their Macs running System 7.1. In 1999 they were able to do even more running System 8.6. Sure there were limitations in the system and third party apps but somehow we got by. I loved my Mac and used it daily.

Not long after we had the big transition to OS X. It was rough at times, slow going but things gradually improved and stabilized with OS X and third party apps for the new platform gradually appeared allowing users to get more done. I can tell you that in 2002 I was happily using my iMac to build and maintain websites and create documents of various kinds, email, use the web, edit photos and video.

See? Same thing. The evolution of computing is an ongoing process. This iPad conversation, if given context, is kinda silly. All operating systems and app ecosystems are always in a state of becoming better. Computers as tools are always contextual. The users, tasks, environment, hardware, OS, apps are all fluid.

And the framing of the discussion as “Can I get by with an iPad as my only computer” is also past it’s usefulness if it was ever useful at all. Do we similarly ask, can I get by without my iPhone (or any phone at all) and just carry a Mac? Of course not. For all its openness and extendability, if you need to make a phone call or easily take photos while on the go, you likely don’t want to rely on your Mac.

Speaking of the iPhone, for the cost of such a little device and all the attention paid to it, one would think that people had abandoned their Macs and were “iPhone only”. But of course, that’s ridiculous. Surely not. But it’s not ridiculous, is it? For some users the iPhone is exactly the computer they need and nothing more. In fact there are some people that have both a Mac and iPhone but find more convenience and utility with the iPhone, leaving the Mac sitting idle most of the time. Again, like all tools, computers are contextual and relative.