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.
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.
- A built-in 9-inch display.
- Black & white display only.
- A mere 128K bytes of RAM.
- No internal hard disk.
- Limited expansion: keyboard, mouse, printer
- 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.
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.)
- A built-in display. Maximum size: 12.9 inches.
- A single window for apps. (Recently, PIP plus two apps side by side for iPad Pro).
- No multi-user accounts.
- No visible file system.
- Limited expansion ports.
- Unlike Mac, not possible to program out of the box.
- 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.