More Questions Than Answers on The Future of The Mac

iMac Pro and iPad Pro

Apple has been systematically making the iPad Pro more and more capable. How will we know when it can finally do all the things everyone needs? And replace the Mac.

Apple's Mac family with macOS Mojave
This family is still strong.

The first thing to ask is whether I’ve even posed a sensible question. We tend to see technical progress as relentless: out with the old and in with the new. The mainframe was supplanted by the minicomputer. The minicomputers gave way to DOS-based PCs. The GUI-based Mac supplanted the command line PCs. Now the iPad is being viewed as the successor to the Mac. Apple’s Tim Cook has said as much.

The iPad is the clearest expression of our vision of the future of personal computing.

And yet. And yet. That was three years ago. iPad sales have struggled to grow dramatically, even though they are far superior, technically, to the competition. Moreover, the iPad has certain built-in limitations that may never be overcome by comparison to the Mac. Finally, Apple has been introducing new Mac models in 2018 and promises us a new Mac Pro in 2019. The Mac family is strong. And so, there are more questions than answers.

iPad Future: Questions

First, as Apple makes the iPad more and more capable, there will be those who claim doom and doom for the Mac. Is that just click-bait at best, uninformed opinion at worst?

Second, it’s possible to make a list of specific tasks that can be accomplished on and iPad Pro that obviate the need for a Mac. See, for example, “Yes, iPad Pro CAN Replace A Computer.” But how expansive is that list? Will it grow to subsume the entire breadth of the Mac spectrum of capabilities? Or will there always be edge cases? For example, Java language-based software development. MySQL databases. Python-based big data simulations and analysis.

Everyone Can Create educational program on iPad
Apple’s Everyone Can Create educational program. But not a million lines of enterprise C++ code.

Certainly Photoshop for iOS reduces by one, one of those edge cases. But that’s just a one-off. How long before all the cases are dealt with? If ever?

As Steve Jobs once said, the Mac is a like a truck. Trucks have specific capabilities. Regular cars don’t make trucks obsolete; they complement them even as truck numbers are smaller.

Next, is it even theoretically possible, given the iPad’s design, to allow it to evolve into a Mac replacement? One limitation has been the display size limitation. We, from time to time, have pondered a big screen iPad in the style of the Microsoft Surface Studio. Instead, Apple has addressed that issue by moving from the Lightning port to USB-C. This allows a 4K or 5K display to be attached. But then, you can’t interact with that large display via touch. So it’s an unsettling compromise. Solution or limiting factor?

iMac Pro and iPad Pro

Is The iPad Dream Even Possible?

I wonder if it’s possible to construct a diagram of those specific, ergonomic tasks that will always be better accomplished by a high-resolution mouse, given the architecture of macOS. Or, perhaps, is there a secret roadmap somewhere at Apple Park on a whiteboard that identifies a date when iOS, with a 5K display attached, keyboard and Apple Pencil completely and fully duplicates any and all macOS capabilities?

And then the challenge is to get developers on board to make the wholesale migration, even as many may see greater financial rewards in the PC/Linux world. That will be tough.

Finally, what about storage? I’ve always had the feeling that Apple treats its ecosystem as that of a 24 year-old who just bought an iPhone and has a few hundred photos. But for many other users, there may be terabytes of family, legacy data that’s only accessible with legacy macOS apps. Forsaking the family NAS and numerous iMacs in bedrooms and dens isn’t an option.

And so, in the final analysis, there are more questions than answers. Two things are for sure. Lot’s of people will be happy with just an iPad. And the Mac is far from dead.

3 thoughts on “More Questions Than Answers on The Future of The Mac

  • My problem is Apple lost the plot when they became a toy store. Phones and pads and tabs are toys. Just because they make a boatload of money and now can crunch like a mainframe doesn’t mean they aren’t still toys compared to a desktop. I think desktop I think HUGE – not small. I think 4 – 60″ monitors or one full 160″ wall unit with Pro Tools windows all split up handily; or if in graphics mode – each big screen with a separate Adobe CS job, or toolbox etc. I think 8k with 3D. Stuff that’s already old hat. And of course it runs graphics cards and SSDs like no Apple toy could ever soo.. really it’s sites like this where the plot got lost and the lemmings just followed along WILLINGLY to join the public idiot lowest common database where everything you do with the ‘toy’ tracks your dumb ass and you are just meat in the Apple sandbox. No thanks. I remember and cherish the Macs that did Pro work. That fuckhead Ive and the trashcan Pro proves he’s an idiot stuck in some Sci-Fi B&O reject design center in the 80’s and for once Apple didn’t mind – that’s when a lot of us in Hollywood said Nope….

  • I have an old Mac Pro. I used to use it all the time now it’s rarely turned on. All my current computing needs are fulfilled by my iPad and iPhone. Of course people will still need macs but more and more of us don’t.
    I’ve no intention of buying a new Mac because I don’t really need one.

  • Awhile back, Phil Schiller gave an interview to Steven Levy when Apple introduced new iMacs. In that interview, he went into his grand philosophy regarding Apple’s product line and that philosophy is as true today as it was back. It’s amazing many tech bloggers, especially ones focused on Apple, have seemed to forgotten it. To me, this was his most important interview specifically because of this:

    “Schiller, in fact, has a grand philosophical theory of the Apple product line that puts all products on a continuum. Ideally, you should be using the smallest possible gadget to do as much as possible before going to the next largest gizmo in line.

    “They are all computers,” he says. “Each one is offering computers something unique and each is made with a simple form that is pretty eternal. The job of the watch is to do more and more things on your wrist so that you don’t need to pick up your phone as often. The job of the phone is to do more and more things such that maybe you don’t need your iPad, and it should be always trying and striving to do that. The job of the iPad should be to be so powerful and capable that you never need a notebook. Like, Why do I need a notebook? I can add a keyboard! I can do all these things! The job of the notebook is to make it so you never need a desktop, right? It’s been doing this for a decade. So that leaves the poor desktop at the end of the line, What’s its job?”

    Good question. And the answer?

    “Its job is to challenge what we think a computer can do and do things that no computer has ever done before, be more and more powerful and capable so that we need a desktop because of its capabilities,” says Schiller. “Because if all it’s doing is competing with the notebook and being thinner and lighter, then it doesn’t need to be.”

    When looking at whether an iPad replaces a Mac (or not), one should always reference this theory.

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