The iPad is Our Vision of the Future - It’s Not Going Away - Ever

| Editorial

The iPad is a fine, precision instrument.

Many millions of people get good use from their iPad.

Thanks to Apple, the iPad continues to evolve technically.

My own tech life is better for having used iPads since 2010.

Does anything else need to be said?


The Future Isn't Going Away

The iPad will always be a part of our technical future. It's a product that's so compelling, so useful, and so ingrained in our technical psyche that I don't think it's reasonable to surmise that it's a dying breed.

Geordi La Forge shows Zefram Cochrane his warp calculations on his tablet.
Image credit: Paramount Pictures.

Today, you will read perhaps several articles about the sales slide of the iPad. Here's one from a very good reporter, Gregg Keizer, who simply lays out the facts. "Mac sales reach record high as unrelenting iPad slide continues." And yet, I believe there is a larger context.

The iPad, like the original 1984 Macintosh and 1993 Newton before it is, in reality, an unfulfilled vision. However, the relentless development of technology always comes along to breathe life into a vision that, in eagerness, arrives before its time.

A few weeks ago, I wrote "Apple and Microsoft Race to Rethink the Tablet."

On Apple's side of the fence, the company realized (I suspect) that iOS, supremely tuned to the iPhone, was holding back the iPad. After all, the home screen on an iPhone, which works so well, seems just silly these days on a 9.7 or 12.9-inch display. And so Apple realized that to support larger, more productive iPads, iOS would have to include new capabilities, Split View multitasking displays, picture-in-picture, Slide Over and better stylus support.

I believe that firmly. The iPad Pro is the beginning of a new way of thinking about a tablet and what role it should play in our lives. My opinion is that iOS is, in its current design, holding the iPad back. In other words, we all had to learn how to use a modern tablet like the iPad, and the iPhone OS, iOS, was the perfect OS to give us on the original, feeble iPad hardware.

The Hardware is Great. And It's Not There Yet

In a few years, it will become even more apparent that the way we want to use a tablet will be more fully supported by fabulously more powerful hardware. At that point, there will an inflection point. The classic iPad will have matured from being an over-sized iPhone into an essential element of our lives. The iPad Pro is that first tentative step into a new vision for how an iPad should function.

iPad sales are declining because, I think, it's the kind of product that doesn't need to be refreshed every year like an iPhone. But, more importantly, the limits of the hardware and iOS, good as they are, are keeping it from growing by leaps and bounds. And so, for now, an iPad 4 is "good enough" for many.

Once the technical ignition point happens, the iPad will take off again and truly replace what we've been using. After all is said and done, the future is the tablet, not the notebook. We're simply at the classic inflection point of any product that is grand in its vision but shackled by the current  limits of technology. To put a futuristic turn on it, don't look for notebooks to appear in our ideas for the future.

The iPad is our best vision, it isn't going away, and its future has not yet been written.

Captain Kirk works with his tablet and stylus. We're never going backwards on that vision. Ever.
Image credit: Paramount Pictures.

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Absolutely right, I could not agree more.
When I got my 2012 MacBook Pro I said that it was likely to be my last Mac. Even though I only had an iPad 2 at the time I could see the handwriting on the wall. The iPad Pro and iOS9 were huge steps in that direction. I now use Pages and Graphic on my two year old iPad Air to do most of my creative work and store the output in iCloud for access on my phone and Mac. As soon as I figure out what to do with my huge Photos library and wheather or not to upload my music to iCloud I won’t need a Mac with a 1 TB drive any more. Just a little more capability in the tablet world and I will be able to graduate from being a Mac User.

Eolake Stobblehouse

John, I’m happy that you’re supporting the iPad like this.
It’s a toss-up whether I was more excited about getting my very first Mac or my iPad 1. And so it is now with the iPad Pro. I have an Android 12-inch tablet, and it’s wonderful. Or rather it was until recently, it has now reverted to Android form and started being buggy to the point of near-uselessness. (I own a handful of Android devices, and with the exceptions of the Kindle Fires, they have all been, uh, “temperamental” is a polite term for it.)

So I have a *great* feeling about iPad Pro. Just like iPhone 6S+ *feels* better than anything I’ve used before.

I think the size alone will in many instances make many of us say: “Aha, so *that*‘s what a tablet is for!!” I think it will markedly change the joy of creating and working on the iPad, but also of watching movies and tV shows, of reading texts books and art books, any heavily illustrated books, graphic novels.


I reckon iPad sales have slowed as folks have realised that they don’t need to replace their current iPad every year.

I just upgraded from a 1st gen iPad to an iPad Mini 4, and wow, was it worth it! My 1st gen iPad was 4 or 5 major OS releases behind, and that was starting to grind my gears cause so many iOS developers were leaving iOS 5 support behind. The number of websites that caused Safari to bork was increasing, and the lack of speed (as compared to current iPad\iPad Mini) was starting to bug me. And the weight of the 1st gen as compared to current model iPad\iPad Mini was quite noticeable.
(I’ve been doing the “fondle” of newer release iPad\iPad Mini for a while)

Now, I reckon my iPad Mini 4 will suffice for a few years until it is either no longer getting iOS updates that matter, or a newer iPad has such a speed bump, or a new feature that makes it worth the update.

I reckon it’d be a more interesting metric to see:
a) how many distinct iTunes accounts have there ever been, and how many are still active ?
b) how many iTunes account users have stayed active, but haven’t bought an iOS app for a while ? (perhaps because their iOS device no longer supports the more recent iOS releases ?)


John, I think you’re wrong-headed thinking that iOS is holding the iPad BACK. I’ve heard you say that the OS should work more like OS X and that sounds like Microsoft’s thinking.

My iPad mini 2 is ideal for my use as a media and reading material server. I’m starting to do more writing on it as well, but from my point of view it is the apps that need to step up their game. Apps like Procreate, Pixelmator and Paper have really shown what can be done on the iPad. The writing apps seem to me to be little more than note-taking apps.
Improved dictation and handwriting might be a move in the right direction.

Word on the iPad is good, but I don’t think they have the paradigm right.
I would like all the formatting and search/replace functionality, improved layout and indexing, but it should feel natural on a touch interface, not like something ported from a desktop app.

I appreciate the similar functionality between my iPad and iPhone and am quite sore that Apple pulled the two-finger keyboard cursor control from the iPhone in the later betas.

OS X and iOS (keyboard/mouse and touch) are very different operating environments and it is nonsense to act as if they can be treated the same.

The iPad Pro looks like a wonderful next step, but I don’t believe an OS overhaul is required. The apps just need to step up their game. Considerably, and now they have the hardware to do it on…

No, I don’t think the Smart Keyboard or Pencil are necessary accessories.


John, Thank You for bringing attention to this topic.  When I purchased the first iPad the hardware was not capable of a complete version of OSX.  Now,  use cases and hardware advances scream the need for a complete implementation of OSX on the iPad.  Let’s hope Apple sees this as well.

Shameer Mulji 1

“The iPad is Our Vision of the Future”

That’s true if you’re coming from the perspective of an Apple fan. If you’re coming from the perspective of a MS fan, that vision of the future is the Surface Book. Time will tell whose vision of the future will take hold.


Shameer,  With all respect, this is not about allegiance to the ideology that Apple started with iOS on the original iPad.  This is about where the hockey puck is going in the future.  If MS was a bit ahead of the curve on this one, so be it.

Shameer Mulji 1


“This is about where the hockey puck is going in the future. “

With all due respect, which is where exactly? Having one device with an OS that handles full desktop and sandboxed touch UI apps? Given the interviews that Apple execs have been giving recently, I’m not convinced Apple will put a complete implementation of OSX. That’s not to say it won’t borrow features from OSX but I’m willing to bet you won’t be running full desktop apps on an iPad Pro.

The whole experience of the iPad revolves around Touch First, with a keyboard / Pencil if, or when, you need it.

But my intent wasn’t to imply there was any allegience to Apple’s original vision for iPad.  Apple has their vision of the future with iPad Pro. MS with Surface Book. Now, we’ll just have to wait & see whose vision resonates the most with the market.

Russ Hilton

As I read one of numerous bios about the life of Steve Jobs, I learned that in 1985 he envisioned a computer that could be held in one hand while entering data into it with the other hand. We have seen that vision come to life in the iPad and the iPhone. As usual, Steve Jobs led the technology industry in innovation and forced the rest of the industry to play catchup. I am not surprised to read that there are some who look to the iPad to reinvent and move technology into a new era of computing as it has done in the past, which would lead me to believe it will do the same in the future. I read in an article in the last few days that some feel the new Apple accessories such as the Magic Trackpad 2 that some feel that this could be the wave of computing. They see the possibility that if Apple upgrades the Magic Trackpad 2 with the capability of having an OS, which in their mind, could become the next laptop. Of course this is all conjecture, but we can never be sure the direction Apple chooses until it is done. Such as when Apple removed the optical drive from its laptops, which initially resulted in a lot of complaints about what were we to do now. But what we see today is that a great many download their music and movies from the internet and now very few see the need for the optical drive. In the end we will have to wait and see the direction Apple chooses to pursue.


“That’s true if you’re coming from the perspective of an Apple fan. If you’re coming from the perspective of a MS fan, that vision of the future is the Surface Book.”

He wasn’t being that myopic when talking about “our vision” of the future. (And I’m not meaning that as an insult to your reply, so please don’t take it that way.)

Our vision is based on the sci-fi of the past and present, and how we will interact with our computers. Nowhere in these places do you see people typing furiously away on keyboards, they interact with tablet type computers (by hand or by voice). The laptop is an intermediate step towards that future.

The Surface Book is not really a step towards that future, it is another of the same sort of intermediate step. It is a laptop which can be used as a tablet for short amounts of time. The Surface is more like the future than the Book.

With your comments about “full desktop apps” and the like, I don’t believe you are looking far enough forward to get past the current job of each sort of device.

For instance:
“In a few years, it will become even more apparent that the way we want to use a tablet will be more fully supported by fabulously more powerful hardware. At that point, there will an inflection point. “

This is beyond what we see happening today with the current iterations of either companies’ devices. John tends to look much further down the road than the next couple of years, and I fully agree with his assessment.


Shameer and mrboba1,
Thanks for your thoughtful and polite replies.  I just want to clarify that I probably shouldn’t have used the word “ideology”.  What I meant to say is that Apple had good reason to start iOS with limited functionality (or, if you prefer, different interface) due to hardware limitations at the time.  Times have changed, and so have my needs.  I’m not planning to switch to Surface or Android (announced today that Google plans to take a unified OS approach to all devices).  But my needs on iPad have changed.  The iPad is no longer just a “content consumption” device.  I need an iPad that has “Back to my Mac” capability, a real filesystem where I can organize and transfer files outside of apps, to name just a few.  The current hardware is more than capable and I hope Apple is listening.  Who knows, might just revive iPad sales…

Terry Maraccini

Absolutely correct.


I hate to say it, but I’m all over the map on this issue. I see so many sides, and flip around among them, that I must be living in a Picasso painting (like Calvin).

I think, though, that when my head is truly clear, what I see is that tablets keep falling between the cracks. Phones are big enough now (5.5”-7”) that a they are capable of fulfilling most of what people use a tablet for, and laptops have become light and thin with long-enough battery life, that they eat out the rest of a tablet’s functionality. Every tablet I’ve used and played with, has felt full of compromises. I have a 7” Nexus, and it is great in portrait mode, but terrible in landscape. I don’t like my wife and daughter’s iPad minis, because they are terrible in portrait mode (while they are technically lighter than my Nexus, they feel heavier when held with one hand, because of their width), they are much nicer in landscape mode. My Nexus can be amazing for productivity when I pair my mouse and keyboard to it, but it is severely limited when compared to my ancient MBP 13”. My wife’s MBAir, on the other hand, is an amazing compromise, as it’s fast and light, and can do everything my Mac can with comparable or greater resolution on its 11” screen. And both of those, IMO, are better on my lap than a larger tablet in my hand. A tablet _must_ be held in the hand in order to be truly useful, and it must be used with fingers (or a stylus) also. Propping it up, and using a keyboard, in the long run, is problematic, as it is full of compromises. And this is true for the Surface and Surface Pro. Everything I’ve read is that if one really needs to bang out the text (even for something like this comment), the Surface keyboard is a compromise.

This leaves the Surface Book. It’s a great laptop, but a rather poor tablet. Most of the oomph that belongs to the Book is in the keyboard half. And then the elephant in the room. In order to get a Surface Book that is truly worthy of using—one that takes full advantage of what the line has to offer, you have to spend an arm and a leg. Way out of most peoples’ range…

And that is the state of things today, and, I fear, for a while to come. There is not only no single solution, but it seems that there are aspects at every level that are mutually exclusive. I think that, in the end, this is what keeps people from buying or using tablets. A phone—everybody has with them, and everybody needs. Everybody also needs a laptop or full-blown computer as well. Tablets tend to fill niche needs or wants—their purpose is and will always be limited, due to compromises that the format engenders.

I suspect that one reason that phones have gotten so large (6” is no longer an anomaly, but approaching the norm, and 5.5” and larger is definitely the norm) is because they are where the “tablet” is moving. Blu Studio is a 7” phone! This sort of thing makes me wonder if Microsoft’s Continuum feature is going to be a thing… But I honestly don’t know. I do remember reading about Ubuntu’s phone, and it doing this, and being fascinated. I’m still fascinated with a handheld that scales to the desktop, depending on how and what it’s connected to… IMO, that is still a future… Maybe the hardware just isn’t ready for it yet…



I agree; the iPad, or its descendant, is our future, and it’s not going away. At the same, as you infer, neither is it entirely here. Not yet.

JonGI’s comment speaks to this very well. The internal conflict he outlines speaks not to his being muddled but rather the use case of the iPad, and other tablet offerings, itself being unclear. Indeed, it’s as clear as mud for most people.

All one need do is read the articles by any tech pundits on the subject, as you’ve no doubt done, to observe their verdicts span the gamut of ‘useless’ to ‘so good I’m about to jettison my PC’. The reason for such diversity of not only opinion but real life experience, and therefore verdict, is inherent in the use cases you’ve illustrated with Star Trek.

Think about how STNG illustrates Commander Geordi La Forge using his iPad (it’s definitely a 7” iPad - he’s just covered the logo with a slim case - besides, Android tablets couldn’t pass StarFleet’s security requirements). He’s not only entering data, reading data, and both uploading and downloading data via the ship’s WiFi, he’s doing something else that we’re still not doing, at least not with any ease, and that is using it in realtime within a wider digital ecosystem, itself centrally controlled by the ship’s computer. This means that, whatever he is doing with his iPad, he is not reliant solely on it’s abilities and limitations, but rather it becomes the tangible working piece at his fingertips from that wider ecosystem in real time, as needed. That is not how we’re using our iPads or other tablets today.

Our current behaviour with nearly all of our tech kit, a legacy of our still infant tech culture born out of PC’s operating in isolation, is constrained by our imagination, specifically that a device must be a complete solution for at least a defined range of activities. We only look at our kit that way because that wider ecosystem is today incomplete.

Without doubt, Geordi can download all of the ship’s specs, complete with whatever supportive diagrams he requires into his iPad. But once he’s figured out what a problem is, the ship’s computer, which has been following everything he’s doing on the handheld, can pick up from there, follow a voice command or tactile input at his workstation, and seamlessly transfer that work and its follow on tasks to the next device that is most capable of executing that next step. In other words, as demonstrated on Star Trek, the tablet is not a stand alone device, but an integral part of a dynamic ecosystem that functions, fully integrated and in realtime, within that system. That’s why Geordi doesn’t use a keyboard and can get away with that dinky 7” screen. He doesn’t need anything more for carrying bits of task from point to point. When he needs to use a tactile keyboard, his task is already ported to the nearest touchscreen panel (sorry Surface, but no, keyboards on tablets is not the future), or the computer is ready for voice input.

While life does imitate art at least as much as art imitates life, this new tech entrant, the iPad, is in its infancy and growing rapidly, not simply is size or more functions in its current form, but to organically evolve in structure and capability in much the same way that an adult is not built simply like a larger infant. The form and the capability of the adult are distinct from those of infancy.

There are two key areas of growth that need to occur, in parallel with our evolving uses of the iPad. The first in its raw processing power, and ability to handle more complex tasks. As this occurs, the evolution of its OS should and will evolve, hopefully commensurate with that power, to enable us to do more in productivity.

The second is in the supportive ecosystem of services that support the iPad, specifically those involving voice, in addition to the tactile interface. Specifically, services like hand-off, not only need to become more capable, but we need that larger, aware, system that we see on Next Gen to oversee and coordinate our workflow, and, like the ship’s computer, anticipate where we’re going with this, literally to put our dynamic workflow into that next physical medium where it belongs. I would argue that Siri, and its backend support systems, is going to play an essential role in the development of this superstructure.

Thus, the iPad, in my opinion, although our future, is not destined to be a complete solution unto itself.

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