I’ve been thinking about the dynamics of the Apple enthusiast community in the narrative of the past 8 years evolution of the iPad and Mac as Apple platforms. In particular, the role of podcasters and publishers in the creation of the narrative and how it evolved and has been stuck in a rut for awhile. This isn’t a post about the hardware or iPadOS as it is about a community’s tension, excitement and concerns as it grappled with potential disruption. Warning! This post is very much of the inside baseball variety as it pertains to the Apple enthusiast user “community”. No, really, inside baseball here. But I think it’s interesting and I had some unexpected free time time today so, yeah.

In a recent post Jason Snell mentions the Monday’s episode of Upgrade he did with Federico Viticci:

I’ve been stunned to see some reactions to our criticism of iPadOS this past week suggest that, somehow, people like Federico and myself just don’t “get” the iPad. We’ve spent years using the iPad and pushing what it can do. We get it all too well.

I think this hints at an interesting dynamic in the Apple sphere of podcasters and the surrounding community of users in regards to the iPad and Mac. I’ll get to that in a moment.

I listened to the episode and one bit that stood out to me was Jason discussing the improvements made to iPadOS in the past few years. What I noted was that he almost seemed surprised:

I was struck by how the iPad really has gotten better over the last five years. I have not been pushing the iPad as hard the last few years since COVID really and Apple Silicon. So the MacBook Air came out, I got a MacBook Air, and I thought, well, I’ll just travel with this.

And so I haven’t had to push it in all of those other areas. But, you know, some of the apps have progressed, some of the OS has progressed…

This fits with my impression that the podcasters who’d been fairly vocal iPad users (Including both Jason and Federico) in years past seemed to reach a tipping point when the M1 Macs came along. Suddenly all of their Mac using podcasting friends were on the shiny new Macs and FOMO kicked in and in the process of jumping back to the Mac they seemed to have decided that they were done with the iPad. And as podcasters with particular needs, there’s no doubt that the Mac is the better tool for them for their workflow. Federico was especially vocal about his frustrations during the summer of 2021. Back to that in a minute.

Jason again:

“And it’s not that bad anymore, but one of the reasons I have to copy that file over is that I can’t record my microphone on iPadOS. So there’s still those walls there, but I was just reminded that with the Magic Keyboard and with the improvements that they made to Files and with, I used a lot of Stage Manager, that it really has come a long way in five years. I might argue that there’s huge pieces that are still kind of missing or broken, and we will do that after the next break. But I was flashing back to when it was way less capable than it is even today, and I was grateful that, oh yes, it behaves like a computer. If I attach a disk to it, I can look at the Files on the disk. That didn’t used to be possible. So better than it was, better than I remember when I was trying to do all of this in 2017.”

The progression of the iPad Pro really kicked up when Apple surprised everyone with the pre WWDC announcement of the Magic Keyboard iPad Pro and cursor support in the spring of 2020. They’d suddenly raised the bar and got a lot of people excited. iPad enthusiasts were excited as they saw big things happening for their chosen platform.Simultaneously, this was the peak of frustration for Mac users who’d felt their platform was being neglected.

Weeks later at WWDC Apple announced Apple Silicon for the Mac and that was to be another turning point, this time for the Mac. In the fall of 2020 the first M1 Macs were released.

Apple users could have celebrated that great things were happening for both platforms. That the Mac was getting better for those that loved the Mac and that the iPad was getting better for those that loved the iPad. And a win of course for those that loved both.

A year after surprise of cursor support and the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro, Apple released the first M1 iPad Pro and then, weeks later, at WWDC 2021 announced Stage Manager and various other notable improvements to iPadOS.

For anyone that is a part of the Apple enthusiast user community, 2020-21 was a strange flip flop as Mac users were suddenly very happy with the amazing new M1 Macs but for the iPad it proved to be a year of controversy. But why? What was the big failure?

It seems to me that there was none. There was no sudden failure of iPad hardware, iPadOS did not suddenly experience a great regression. This was and is the drama unintentionally created by a group of popular podcasters and YouTubers that were steadily repeating the same message over and over. Almost in the background of Apple tech culture, a narrative was unfolding.

The tension of the narrative began around 2016 and it was that Apple was abandoning the Mac to favor a less capable iPad platform. For four years tension, anxiety, frustration and resentment smoldered amongst Mac users. Week after week they listened to podcasts lamenting the neglect of their platform to the benefit of the iPad which showed no signs of being able to replace their Macs.

But then, suddenly, not only was their beloved platform saved, it appeared to be the winner in some unspoken, quiet conflict. And it seems, from an outsider perspective that with the release of the M1 not only had the Mac won but there had to be a loser and it would be the iPad, the former threat, the “baby computer” as one prominent Mac user insists on calling it.

I imagine it all seems a bit silly from an outsiders perspective but it says something about subcultures as well as the emotional, time and financial investments that some people make in their computing platforms. For many, it’s not just a tool any more.

There were quite a few Apple podcasters that had been vocal boosters of the iPad shifted back to the Mac. Some, perhaps, just reckoned with the reality that their audio workflows were better with the Mac. Others were just giving the new M1 hardware a test run and decided they were ready for a change back to the Mac. I think Jason Snell falls into this camp. A long-time Mac using journalist who enjoyed a switch to the iPad for a few years.

Federico Viticci is a special case as he’d spent much of his career building his podcaster/publisher identity, his “brand”, as the most vocal of all the iPad ethusiasts in that community. After years of iPad advocacy, suddenly his beloved platform seemed like it might be the one in danger of stagnation. I’m not going to dig any deeper or speculate further.

Whatever the personal and social dynamics for Federico or other iPad enthusiasts, it seems like unfortunate timing that as Apple has actually increased it’s efforts expanding the capabilities of iPadOS while building and then releasing Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro, they’ve been met with very little praise and increased criticism of those efforts.

To circle back to the first quote of this post, I suspect the feedback Jason and others have gotten in regards to their ongoing critique of iPadOS reflects the tension-filled dynamics of the Mac/iPad narrative of the past few years.

Speaking for myself as someone who remains a very enthusiastic iPad user, I find it frustrating to see the the humans that build iPadOS get so little credit for the work they are doing and the improvements they’ve made.

The discourse around tech is deeply cynical these days. I’m all for remembering that Apple is a multinational corporation with profit as the top priority. I’m under no illusions about capitalism as a system of short term profit seeking at the expense of our fellow humans and potentially the habitability of our planet. But at the end of the day, it’s also to remember that real humans go to work there every day, real humans build these tools for us. I see and appreciate the improvements they’ve made.

There’s nothing wrong with critique, it’s how we make progress. But there’s nothing wrong with offering praise for the progress made and at least as it concerns iPadOS these past two years I’ve seen little offered and that’s a shame.