The Mother Eats Her Young: iPad vs. MacBook

| Hidden Dimensions

“If I were running Apple, I would milk the Macintosh for all it’s worth — and get busy on the next great thing. The PC wars are over. Done. Microsoft won a long time ago. ” — Steve Jobs (Feb 19, 1996)

Cannibal!Could the iPad really cannibalize the MacBook line into extinction? Could there be a resurgence of the desktops? Let’s see where it all goes.


Good ideas are seldom fully defined in a single article. There’s never enough room (or reader patience) to explore every aspect of an issue. It’s really a collective body of work that defines a technical phenomenon, and I’d like to explore one launched by Ben Bajarin. His thesis is: “Notebooks are the Past, Tablets are the Future.

Ben’s idea is that:

  • Notebooks are compromise computers, a place holder waiting for the tablet technology to arrive.
  • Touch is the new paradigm.
  • A powerful desktop is a better companion to a tablet than a technically compromised notebook.
  • A more practical mix for families is tablets for members and a single desktop for heavy lifting.

I could add that as the iPad matures, it will become a more capable content creation tool, especially when you think about convergence products.

Ah, convergence. The new buzzword.

It’s Tim Cook’s Fault

It all started at the April 24 Apple Financial Results Conference Call when Tim Cook pooh-poohed the idea of the physical convergence of the MacBook and iPad line. Here’s just one sequence to follow:

1. Apple’s CEO: No Convergence of iPad and MacBooks This is what started it all.

2. No FridgeToaster for You: Let the iPad Evolve Wherein I argue that any forced convergence would cripple the natural evolution of the iPad.

3. Video Spoofs Tim Cook’s Convergence Putdown: Froaster A company, Brydge, is building a convergence product, a handsome keyboard system for the iPad, posts a playful putdown of Apple’s reluctance to think about convergence.

4. Notebooks are the Past, Tablets are the Future.. Ben Bejarin argues that we’ll really have divergence. The notebook, in our case the MacBook line (MBP, MBA), will die off in time, and the desktop will re-emerge.

More Questions Than Answers

The problem, right now in 2012, is that this notion of the demise of the (compromise) notebook is just a glimmer in our eyes. It started for me when I realized that a 15-inch MacBook Pro (with a meager Core 2 Duo) was awkward and heavy to travel with plus it didn’t have the oomph I need to do my daily work at TMO, especially when I needed to run Parallels Desktop. So I sold it back through Apple’s recycle program and used the proceeds towards a 27-inch iMac with a quad core i7 and a 256 GB SSD. That Mac gets the job done for me. I know others who have gone that route.

In general, however, there’s still significant momentum for the MacBook. It amounts to over 70 percent of Apple’s Mac sales, and Apple is selling MacBook Airs at a brisk pace. There are businessmen, writers, and others who are on the move and can’t get their work done with an iPad with its current limitations, including the lack of a visible file system and massive local storage. It’s not hard to see why sales are great, and Tim Cook acknowledged as much in his comments to investors.

One could argue that we are in an era of transition. The MacBook is holding the fort until the iPad matures and flourishes. The legacy MacBook won’t go away completely until we can do almost everything we need to do on an iPad, whatever course, form and size it takes.

Part of that early transition process, even if Apple can’t play there, is a product like the Brydge iPad Laptop. Consider it a flirtation with the future.

Apple’s Vision

Like Stevie Nicks, I keep my visions to myself. But I do try to understand Apple’s vision. Lately, it seems that Apple has been all about the idea of mobility and the cloud. That’s created some vague heartburn for some of us professionals who know how important it is to maintain local control over one’s personal data. For example, our family has about 7 TB of rotating storage and another 384 GB of of SSD storage. It’s never going to be safely stored in any cloud. I use Apple’s iCloud for its intended purpose, syncing only, and I know that others feel this way. I like cloud services, but I steer away from cloud storage.

That’s why there’s been some angst about the idea of Apple terminating the Mac Pro and the desire to see Apple, if they do, continue with a no compromise home-server, a heavy lifting desktop without a built-in display. The Mac mini, of course, doesn’t cut it. (I’m not suggesting that Apple will kill the Mac Pro; I’m just saying that Apple has us worried. The last update was mid 2010.)

Just as we’re on a possible path for the iPad to potentially replace the MacBooks and a focus on mobility with the iPhone, it would be ironic if Apple gave up on the idea of an affordable, desktop home server to tie it all together. This notion that the Mac is just one of several different but equal devices flies in the face of the laws of physics. An iPhone is never going to be your 21st century home’s ultimate memory alpha.

If we look at the cloud, instead, as a harmonizing force, something that allows us to sync important pieces of data rather than the entire archive, then the reliance on a conventional notebook is removed. Instead of “my MacBook goes everywhere,” we have, “My data is accessible everywhere.” In turn, the necessity to have a full blown portable system that can do everything, but is less capable than a desktop, goes away. In a sense, like the developer who factors code, we’re factoring our lives. Major processing power stays put, married to massive storage, but our data is available everywhere, thanks to Wi-Fi, 4G and broadband on a device that fits the occasion: iPhone or iPad.

Yet, if we look at the contribution of Macs to all of Apple’s sales (by revenue), it certainly seems that the entire family of Macs is being squeezed out. Is this because Macs last so long? Few people buy a new iMac every year, but a new iPad every April seems doable. There is distraction and illusion here. When we’re ready for a memory alpha upgrade, will Apple be ready too?

AAPL Revenue by segment

Image Credit: Silicon Alley Insider

Equally ironic is that Microsoft, left behind in the tablet market, may be feeling that Windows 8 on ARM tablets is the future. The notion of the Post-PC era probably has Microsoft in a tizzy. What if desktops get oh-so awesome thanks to new quantum technologies and there’s no Windows X product to exploit that. Fate can sometimes be cruel.

Apple’s Market

There’s no doubt that Apple has plunged headlong into the consumer market, refusing to be constrained by the enterprise world. In that consumer market, it’s practical to think about family members not being able to afford one of everything. A daughter in college needs a MacBook Pro with a SuperDrive, a son in grade school needs an iPad, one spouse may be happy with an iPhone. The other may want an iMac for video work on home movies. It’s good to deliver broad spectrum products. It’s good to let the market sort itself out and it’s good to let technology evolve, unconstrained. And it’s good to compete with yourself before someone else does. For now, nothing changes very much except the evolution of the iPad.

iPad LaptopVision of the future or stopgap for a few? (Image Credit: Brydge)

So where are we? I agree that the underlying signs suggest that the classic MacBook may be squeezed out as the iPad moves from infancy to its teenage years. The desktop could certainly make a comeback as we realize that we don’t have a notebook to carry the load, but just how Apple thinks about that and how the desktop will morph is anybody’s guess right now. Perhaps the home’s single server, also managing the functions of a mid 21st century home, will reside in a closet, faceless, managed with a 17-inch iPad. Perhaps it’ll take another Steve Jobs to envision the Next Step, a quantum leap, and then the desktop (an obsolete term now) plus iPad pairing will shake out in a way that will seem obvious — when it happens.

These are fun times and fun things to think about. However, as an aside, I should mention that I wrote this article with BBEdit and a MacBook Air. It was the right tool for the job in the spring of 2012.


Chicken Image Credit: Shutterstock.



Who knows what the future may hold - it’s all speculation.  For now, however, there are plenty of Mac users who still need the power of a full-fledged computer that can be stuck in a travel bag and easily carried where ever they need to be. The tablet does not (yet - see the 2025 models) have that capability.  Mere access to content, even if it is sitting at home on a 16-core Sandy-bridge souped-up yet-to-be-released Mac Pro, is not the same as CREATING content while on the move. Tablets are superb for accessing content where ever it may reside.  Creating it is another story. And when it comes to creating content, as far as I can see, there is little advantage to the Bridge iPad laptop concept, and simply going ahead with either a MacBook Air for low-end, basic text and graphics users, or the MacBook Pro for those needing more OOMPH while on the go.

As such, while the iPad is certainly a good device for many, many people, the need for a full-function laptop computer will be around for a long time - or at least until technology can bring the tablet’s abilities up to the point they directly challenge the capabilities of a MacBook, be it Air or Pro.


I’m in the market for a MacBook Pro, an iPad just won’t do what I need. I need a real keyboard. I need to run VirtualBox. I need a laptop. I won’t be buying a desktop computer because I am mobile. I work on the road. I work on the couch. I work upstairs. I work downstairs. I work on the deck. I even use the laptop when I’m on the treadmill.  I am mobile and no matter how good a desktop is it won’t work for me. VNC is also just not good enough for me to work from an iPad and remote in.

That said however, I could see a scenario where this might be my last Mac. I keep my laptops for 4-5 years. By 2016-2017 the iPad might have advanced to the point where I could do my writing and artwork on it. It might be able to run VirtualBox or another virtualization package. In a few years it might be enough.

But it’s not there yet and won’t be for a while.


I think the title is backwards.

The ‘The young eats its mother’ is more accurate…

John Martellaro

I thought about that.  It would be chronologically accurate, but not literary. I went with literary.


At present my wife has a 13” MacBook and an iPhone 4s. I have a 27” iMac (2008) and an iPhone 4. We got our first iPad (3rd version) just a month ago. The MacBook is getting used less and less.

My wife would be happy with her iPhone and this iPad I’m typing on now. I would be happy with my iMac, iPhone and an iPad. One thing I have yet to work out is a weekly need to have my notes and a presentation ready to go. Having both on an iPad screen in an easy to see and use manner is the challenge. Actually, the challenge is getting 30 something years of digital material formatted once more for a new system of doing things.

We expect to sell the laptop at some point and get that second iPad.


Power on the go also mattered for me in a few cases where I was building websites for clients.  I can do lots of work at home, but meeting with clients is at their home or a neutral location, and I need to be able to do useful work there too.  A 2007 black MacBook did the job just fine.  An iPad wouldn’t work at all.

iPad can’t play high-end games.  I have a new iMac for me, my wife gets the old one.  She plays Sims 3 while I program or play Minecraft or Portal 2 or something.  Sims on the iPad is not the same thing.  Minecraft has a version for iOS (never seen it, but I suspect it’s worse), but Portal 2 no way will run on an iPad.

Ergonomically, we should be looking at a screen in front of us, not craning our heads over a tablet.  The tablet form factor works better when you’re on the couch, or if you prop it up with a case/stand to view content.  But it’s still not as good for you long term as adjusting your monitor to the right height and putting your keyboard and mouse/trackpad at the right level for your arms.

I think the right solution is something like what John says.  Most people will have iPads on the go and desktops at home on the desk.  Mobile professionals will still need a MacBookPro (or a MacBookAir if you can compromise with a little less computing power in exchange for extra mobility).

Computing resources in the home should be sharable over the network.  So the tablet can access all your data on your huge hard drive as well as sync’d data on the cloud.  The tablet could also use the powerful CPU and GPU in that server in your closet too.  When you sit down at a desktop, it could be nothing more than a terminal talking to the server in the closet.  Of course, maybe we build CPUs, GPUs and storage into the monitors like an iMac so you get a client with computing resources, but it still talks to the cloud and the server in the closet to see your data.  In the end, you have the same data and same computing power (more or less) from any device in your house, you just pick the form factor that’s right for what you want to do, whether that be your TV while sitting on the couch, your tablet for reading something or checking email, or your desktop for playing a modern game or creating content.


I think the title is backwards.

The ?The young eats its mother? is more accurate?

Even then, they are more cousins rather than parent-child


The other thing that isn’t quite resolved with the iPad, as many have said, is multi-user support.  When I go to work I have no need to bring my iPad with me, so I might as well leave it at home for my wife to use.  But if I do that, I don’t want my email on there (especially company email), nor do I want iMessages signed in either.  Since it’s just my wife, it’s not a big deal, but if we had any kids I wouldn’t want them interfering in my iMessage conversations (which I do on my iPhone of course).  Buying two iPads is too much, since we wouldn’t generally be using them at the same time.  In a year or two we might have two anyway, though, since we’ll have 2012’s and then 2013’s model so one person can get the old model.

You know what else I wish?  Corporate provisioning profiles insist on a passcode lock in order to allow corporate VPN and email access.  Which means my wife has to know that passcode anyway in order to use my iOS devices.  I also had a friend who’s company profile sets the device to wipe after 5 failed attempts, and his kid got ahold of his phone and just played with the buttons until the phone wiped itself.  Really what should happen is that just the VPN and email accounts should be protected by the corporate-mandated passcode, not the whole phone.  Let someone play Angry Birds without knowing a password!

OK, that’s kinda on-topic, since it relates to the future of computing grin  Feel free to ignore me if you’ve heard rants like this too much.


I have already made that transition.

I don’t have issues with serious content creation outside my home, so the iPad is enough for me. I do use the iWork for iOS a lot. My in-home needs are met by a MacMini.

I do have a 13” MBA, which I’m planning to give to my daughter to replace her 5-year old MB. Since the iPad, I’ve been using my MBA very, very infrequently.


The synergy between the iPad and a more powerful desktop via a cloud server is about to be tested by Adobe when their new Creative Cloud services go live in a few weeks.
They have developed a set of iPad apps that supposedly interface seamlessly with their powerful graphics apps such as Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.
If this all works as advertised we could see a major shift in how creative people conceptualize and finalize their designs.

Lee Dronick

The ?The young eats its mother? is more accurate


Lee Dronick

I use my iPad a lot, now that I have pried back from my wife, mostly for email, web, Facebook (via the app) and other content consumption. However, I have used it for to write some copy though editing is certainly easier on a Mac. I wish that Pages on the Mac would access and save to iCloud easier.

I think that the next time around that I will get a MacBook Pro and an Apple Display.


The graphic for this article is going to keep me up at night.

Lee Dronick

The graphic for this article is going to keep me up at night.

The bad choice of wine pairing?



Without attempting to weigh in here on tools pairing for the future, I’ll simply make two observations, with opinions attached.

First, as you’ve just pointed out, Apple’s focus is on the consumer. Because of Apple’s dominant position, and the trend of the industry to follow that model, at least in the mobile space due to its success, we have witnessed a paradigm transition from the consumer following enterprise adoption patterns to one of enterprise following the personal consumer, and not just in mobile devices. The halo effect of the iPhone and iPad has fuelled adoption of Macs in the enterprise, with a substantive upsurge in their adoption by senior personnel. I just attended an executive committee meeting for an international collaborative scientific endeavour, and nearly every senior scientists and most of the support staff had Macs (80% of which were MBAs at this meeting). Everyone used Parallels for Windows interfacing as needed, which while still essential, was a minor part of their computing profile. The point is, key decision makers, who also are the key drivers for funding for many organisations, switching to Apple for computing solutions. BTW, the one scientist not using a Mac, sported an iPad and asked me how he could transition fully to the Mac.

Second, as a function of Apple’s consumer-centric focus, it will be we, the consumers, who will be the primary drivers of the ‘optimal mix’ of platforms and devices, and their derivative, device capacity, and not Apple per se. Apple is actively and avidly gathering data on how we use these devices, and while they are unlikely to adopt a model of simply giving consumers what they demand as the primary means of product development, they have been, and in this emerging market, will no doubt continue to be responsive to consumer behaviour. The enterprise, I believe, will take a back seat to the personal consumer, and simply adapt accordingly. As personal use patterns evolve, they will influence work patterns. As these progressively diverge from our current model, however defined, enterprise will be compelled to do so in order for their productive personnel to be maximally competitive. The enterprise will follow the consumer, just as it has done with mobile devices and social media.

What does all this mean? Personally, I think we stand too close to the dawn of this transition to say with certainty, but I am confident of two things.

One, that in terms of the mix of devices and tools, it will remain diverse, adaptable and flexible for the foreseeable future. Professions are too different for a ‘one size fits all’ solution. In my line of work alone, even my ‘workhorse’ has to mobile, while someone with with a discrete physical office in the same profession might prefer a different configuration and mix (some in fact do). I believe that Apple will continue to provide a range of options.

Second, I think we underestimate the role of the cloud in all this, which will increasingly diminish the relative contribution of specific hardware, and provide greater flexibility in hardware choice, and therefore mix. Not only iPads but the cloud itself will become progressively more capable and provide more computing options in near term, both from Apple and from third party vendors. And this doesn’t even address the issue of how more capable CPUs and GPUs will affect the future form factor of traditional computers.

Apple will continue to need close competitors to drive it to the heights of innovation of which it is capable. I hope that happens. I also pay close attention to how my kids’ generation is using these devices, as an indicator of future trends.

Altogether, I think we have the makings of one wild ride into the future. As Kirk would say, ‘Buckle up!’.

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