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.
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.
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?
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.