The Unspoken Limits of Apple’s iPad Are Strangling its Evolution

4 minute read
| Editorial

Recently I watched Star Talk with Neil deGrasse Tyson. This was the episode with Jay Leno. Mr. Leno talked about how in the very early 20th century, steam, electric and gasoline powered cars each had about a third of the market. There were, in fact, electric charging station in New York.

Buried in that discussion was what I thought was a great observation. For an emerging technology to supplant the previous one, it can’t be merely equal. It must be dramatically superior.

Eventually, the convenience and energy density of gasoline won out. The internal combustion engine quickly evolved to be dramatically superior to the competition. This episode got me thinking about the future of Apple’s iPad. To do that, I need to go back and look at the first Macintosh, poised to supplant the Apple II in 1984.

Original Mac Add "hello"

The original Mac from 1984.

The Failed Original 128K Mac

The original Mac back in 1984 was not a long-term success product. It appealed to early adopters, and sales were decent for awhile. Then it began to tank. Why? Here were its features.

  1. A built-in 9-inch display.
  2. Black & white display only.
  3. A mere 128K bytes of RAM.
  4. No internal hard disk.
  5. Limited expansion: keyboard, mouse, printer
  6. Unlike Apple II, not possible to program out of the box.

As a result, soon the first Mac, an “appliance computer” began to fail. Quickly, Apple executives realized that the limits of this computer need to be lifted if it wanted to go against the vaunted IBM PC introduced a few years earlier. The IBM PC was eating Apple’s lunch.

Over time, the Mac gained more memory, a color display (even a user selectable display in the Mac II) an internal hard disk, SCSI expansion and user programming languages. These important changes led to a development mentality that allowed the Mac to evolve and become what it is today.

The iPad’s Limits

I see the modern iPad on the same evolutionary path. Early sales were good, then the sales peaked, and now they’re declining. That process took a little longer than the original Mac, but the sales curves are similar.

Like the original Mac, Steve Jobs conceived of the iPad as a closed, friendly, appliance. Easy to use, one just sits down and starts tapping. Notable in the introduction event, Mr. Jobs sat in an arm chair, legs crossed, and just tapped away.

Steve Jobs introduces the iPad

Steve Jobs introduces the iPad.

After seven years of sales and only minor conceptual evolution, Apple has unilaterally decided that modern iPad Pros with iOS 10 can now supplant Macs. As if claiming made it so. How can a device, so conceived by Mr. Jobs in the photo above, ever be the Mac replacement? It’s still silly in 2017.

Apple is trying, however, touting how, with a Pencil and keyboard, this may be the only computer we need. The general reaction, except for limited cases and sensationalistic articles, has been:

No, it’s not. Not yet.

And why is that? Going back to Mr. Leno’s observation, the iPad is not dramatically superior to the Mac. Let’s look. (Compare to above.)

  1. A built-in display. Maximum size: 12.9 inches.
  2. A single window for apps. (Recently, PIP plus two apps side by side for iPad Pro).
  3. No multi-user accounts.
  4. No visible file system.
  5. Limited expansion ports.
  6. Unlike Mac, not possible to program out of the box.
  7. Unable to run macOS apps (See below).

In my view, these are limits that are strangling the iPad’s evolution. They inhibit its future growth.

Next page: The dramatic vision of the Microsoft Surface Studio.

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Macsee
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Macsee

iOS and ARM are toys compared to Mac and x86 computers. And x86 is required for full and true compatibility with the rest of the world (read, 95% of Windows market share of true-full computers worldwide).

Bring a Mac tablet. Now it is possible with the new and future Intel microprocessors. Competitors like Microsoft have demonstrated it.

Member
Robert Latterman

NOT HAPPENING with TIM COOK at the helm………. Tim Cook as ZERO vision or tech smarts to make things happen……. he’s a bean counter that was a temporary stand in for Steve Jobs (who did not plan on kicking the bucket at the time) ……….. Apple is in trouble…….. big big trouble

PaulFranz
Member
PaulFranz

I think John has something right and something wrong. When it comes to built-in display being limiting. Isn’t that the same issue with a Mac Book Pro. You can use an external display with an iPad. You can not touch it. But that is not the point When it comes to single window for apps, that is only an issue for larger displays. How many people view multiple windows on a 13″ MacBook Pro? When it comes to multi-user accounts how many people have multiple user accounts for there MacBook Pros? iMacs, yes. Portable laptop less so. (Exception when you… Read more »

Member
shameermulji

geoduck: “What if Apple intends to evolve the iPad with a separate padOS with the capabilities you mentioned above. This would REPLACE the Mac and would BE ARM based.

That is an excellent point. That is exactly what I think Tim Cook means when he says he sees the iPad Pro as the clearest expression of their vision of the future of personal computing.

geoduck
Member
geoduck

Just had a thought.
Suppose the idea for an ARM Mac is totally off base. Assume Apple has no plans to move the Mac away from Intel.
What if Apple intends to evolve the iPad with a separate padOS with the capabilities you mentioned above. This would REPLACE the Mac and would BE ARM based.

tedlandau
Member
tedlandau

Yup. Tooting my own horn a bit here, I made pretty much the same comments back in 2013. http://www.macworld.com/article/2028968/why-the-ipad-still-cant-be-a-true-mac-replacement.html
And I recall discussing yet other points (like how you can’t develop iOS apps on iOS devices) during several podcasts with Chuck Joiner at the time.
Not much has changed since. My iPad Pro is a much better laptop replacement than my 2013 iPad ever was. But it is still nowhere close to being a complete Mac alternative. My iMac still rules.

geneking7320
Member
geneking7320

If the iPad is going to evolve in a way that will make eligible to replace the Mac maybe Apple should consider naming it a different species of apple.
With a new name fewer expectations and more possibilities.

tcrooks3843
Member
tcrooks3843

I really thought we had got beyond the ‘one type fits all’ approach by now but clearly, John, you don’t think so. Surely we have reached a stage of maturity that for some a smartphone suffices, where for others a PC is mandatory. My read of the Apple strategy isn’t one of wholesale replacement of the Mac market with iPads. Rather it is provision of a variety of devices to meet slices of the broad marketplace. For me I find that, after spending 50+ years in computing, what I’m most interested in are these; 1. A take it with me… Read more »

ChrisLaarman
Member
ChrisLaarman

I find it a bit unfair to measure the iPad by Mac standards and then find it falling short. Matter of opinion. Yes, they’re both computing devices. But they are aimed at performing different roles in Apple’s ecosystem. Like spoon and fork, or whatever the better comparison to matters outside that system. The selling points of any tablet are, according to me: – easy change of orientation (I tried reading a portrait-oriented document by rotating a netbook, next day bought my first tablet.) – featuring a suitable input device if needed (an on-screen text keyboard if you want to compose… Read more »

John Q
Member
John Q

One could argue that Apple has done a poor job of making iOS take full advantage of what iPads could do, especially under a “Pro” guise. It was encouraging to see iOS 9 finally pay some attention to making use of the extra screen space. iOS 10? Any progress was stopped dead in its tracks, and the biggest news are the new frills added to iMessage, which, incidentally, also made it harder to use for those who just want to send text messages. Look at the Springboard layout on an iPad Pro, and you gotta think, “really?” The same grid… Read more »

John Kheit
Member
John Kheit

Great article and analysis John. Now if Apple would just have the courage to keep evolving either or both by some leaps and bounds instead of micro baby steps, they might actually get it and get there.

geoduck
Member
geoduck

Well said. You nailed it. In 2012 when I got my MacBook Pro I stated publically, here and elsewhere, that it likely would be my last Mac. I EXPECTED the iPad to be far Far FAR more advanced by now than it is. So last November when it came time to replace The Beast what did I do? I got an iMac. The trouble is, as much as the iPad has evolved it is still crippled. The six items you listed are the core of the issue. You add those things and the ability to drive an external 28 inch… Read more »