This post came to mind as I listened to the current episode of the Rebound podcast this morning. The fellas spent the first thirty minutes discussing a variety of bugs and problems that they've been having with their Macs recently. It's something I've often thought of when Mac users critique the iPad but I've never written it down.

They don't just discuss their recent problems but ruminate a bit about the bugginess of macOS in general contrasting OS X with the Classic Mac OS pre 2000s. The specifically call out the fact that they're advanced users and the occasional difficulty of troubleshooting and the process of fixing problems that arise not from user errors but bugs. They discuss rooting around various directories normally invisible to users for cache files, etc.

I started using a Mac in 1993 with System 7.6 on a Color Classic. Though it could be buggy and often required restarts, Mac OS was a pleasure to use. I remember excitedly installing the OS X public beta and though it had its bugs and was not as snappy as Mac OS I loved it from the start. It got better. It was rock solid in terms of system uptime. A huge improvement. And it didn't take long to see the snappiness return.

22 years later users will still encounter bugs because computers are computers. Every year we get a new version of the OS, and in between, updates are released all the time to fix bugs, introduce features, and optimize. It never ends. And the OS of today is far more capable and complex than those of 22 years ago.

This brings me to iOS and iPadOS. Bugs? Yes. They are computers after all. But generally speaking, the experience of using an iPhone or iPad is far easier and safer than a Mac.

A screenshot of a finder window on a Mac showing a list view of the User Library folder

And while “power users” and pundits that prefer the Mac continue to deride iPadOS and the iPad as a “baby computer” it’s also true that iPad users do not have to waste hours upon hours digging through User>Library>Caches or User>Library>Application Support or some other directory to track down and delete files hoping to fix the problem.

My elderly parents have been using iPads for 13 years with none of the problems that come with the Mac. Same for aunts and uncles. My granny, in the last 10 years of her life was able to use her iPad to stay connected to family and reconnect with old friends thanks to the iPad. On a daily basis she emailed, checked Facebook and used Apple Messages to check in with everyone. She was able to create and manage a photo library and download games. The iPad was her first computer and she did it all with practically zero need for support.

And at the opposite age spectrum the iPad is often the first computer for many kids. The point is that the iPad is a generally safe and stable computer that requires near-zero maintenance.

And, I will add here that through slow and careful iteration, Apple has gradually built a far more capable iPadOS. The iPad Pro running iPadOS 17 is far closer to the Mac experience than any iPad before it. With a far more robust Files app, windowing, external display support and cursor, I have no problem with more complex workflows. More powerful but without the need for troubleshooting problems found on a Mac.

  • With Textastic and the Files app I manage thousands of files in client websites.
  • As of 2023 fully featured "desktop" class apps like the Affinity suite from Serif are the tools I need to produce annual reports, newsletters and brochures for clients.
  • I use Safari and Numbers to help a client manage thousands of records in his email lists as well as class/workshop enrollments at his retreat.
  • I use Ferrite, Safari, iA Writer, Textastic and the Files app to produce and publish a series of oral histories for the local library.
  • I used Numbers and Procreate for my amateur astronomy recording of observations and occasional sketching/painting of astronomical objects.
A painting of the Horsehead Nebula. The nebula is a cloudy mass of white and pinkish gas and dust in the shape of a horse head set against a starfield

A photo realistic painting of the Horsehead Nebula made with Procreate on the iPad

That's a sampling of a larger list of things I do with the iPad. For my work, hobbies and general needs I've found that the iPad is the computer I need and want. I can enjoy doing the work without the time spent trouble-shooting problems and bugs I didn't ask for.

I'm happy we have choices. I've happily made mine and am content. I expect in the coming year with new iPad hardware on the way we'll continue to hear from frustrated pundits about how iPadOS is still too limited to get anything done. No, it's not open the way a Mac is. Yes, it's still missing some features and apps have to be installed via the App Store. But nor does it have the headache inducing, time-suck problems that the Mac often brings with it. No doubt, there are users that will still need one of the more open operating systems but they'll also need to spend more time doing maintenance. Some even enjoy that stuff. I certainly did. Past tense.

My unsolicited advice:

  • If you truly feel drawn to the iPad then learn how to use it. Really learn how to use it. It's not that different from the Mac. But be patient, spend time with it and understand it feels different from the Mac. Similar, but not the same.
  • Going to say that again: Similar, but not the same. Don't expect it to be exactly the same. That leads to frustration.
  • Get a keyboard, mouse, trackpad.
  • You'll want the big screen if you want to use this like a full-on computer.
  • Before you jump in make a list of the things you need to do with a computer and compare to the things that can't be done on an iPad.

If the iPad can do all the things you need to do, I'll reiterate, accept that it is similar but different and will require that you spend time getting comfortable with the differences. In most ways, it is very near to a Mac experience. The Files app is a good example. Very similar but not exact.

If you're coming from a Mac you're used to a big screen so, GET THE BIG SCREEN if you want to do computery things. Also, consider connecting to an external display.

Last, if this is just a performative stunt to re-write the same story already written a thousand times, just spare us the click-bait waste of time and stick with your Mac. Thanks in advance!