Another God Damned iPad Post

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 3 min read

If you’ve gone a few days without hearing someone say the iPad “just isn’t there yet” to be a real computer, just wait a second, someone’s sure to say it anytime now.

I write this, of course, from my iPad Pro. I bought this computer at the end of 2018 and have been using it as my primary home computing device since then. I say this not to show how committed I am to the “iPad-only lifestyle,” but to give some context to where I’m coming from.

My day job is a mix of designer and product owner, and I would not be able to do that job from an iPad. I rely on design apps like Figma, Sketch, and Photoshop, and none of those are practical to use on the iPad. I also have used tools like Keyboard Maestro, Alfred, and Pastebot to automate a lot of the menial tasks in my workflow in ways that the iPad simply can not do. I could not do my day job from my iPad (which is fine, because work provides the laptop).

I also run a YouTube channel on the side, and while I can do most of it on my iPad with amazing apps like LumaFusion, I find myself gravitating to my old Mac mini (2012) to work in ScreenFlow or Final Cut Pro. So while I could do my work from the iPad, I still choose to work from a much slower Mac.

That all sounds pretty damning, but here’s the thing: outside of those two worlds, I don’t enjoy using a Mac nearly as much as my iPad. Literally everything else I do, which admittedly is less intense “work”, happens on my iPad. Writing this post, reading the news, doing my email, doing freelance writing work, editing my photos in Lightroom, recording and editing audio, creating my newsletter, managing the tasks for my YouTube projects, watching YouTube videos, talking with friends, task management, and even coding changes to this very website all happen on the iPad.

I think that some people get caught up in their specific needs, or some made up requirement that every computing device be able to do every single thing they could ever want to do with a computer (this complaints also tend to come from developers, it’s worth noting), but fail to consider that there is a market for a product that does a smaller set of things better than the traditional PC.

Hey email is a great example of a similar thing with software. Hey is more limited than something like Gmail or Outlook in many ways, but there’s a market for that service because people don’t like those other, more robust email services as much. Much like I think there’s room in the world for software that does less, but does it better, I think there’s room for an operating system that does less, but does it better.

While some of us (lots of us, including me) thought the iPad was going to replace the Mac in time, that seems less likely today. But why is that a problem as long as the iPad stays strong on its merits and continues to grow?

To me, a developer saying the iPad doesn’t work from them is similar to a data scientist or video game streamer saying a MacBook Pro (or any laptop) doesn’t work from them. In both cases, the user needs more power to do very specific tasks. And while they technically could do some of their work on the iPad/MBP, they very much would prefer to do it on a computer more suited to that work.

I think we need to change up the conversation about the iPad. Apple sold $8.4 million worth of iPads last quarter, almost the exact same as Mac revenue. With a lower average selling price, one could safely assume more iPads were sold than Macs last quarter, so clearly people are buying these things. Do developers think most of them are going “aw man, I can’t develop iOS apps on this thing!” when they get home?

Personally, I’m hoping this next round of iPad Pro reviews avoid the “is this finally a computer?” thread that is currently present in every…single…review. Can the iPad be a “real computer”? Obviously, yes, but that’s not the question. We should be considering how new iPad hardware and software improves what the iPad already does, and expands it into new use cases.

We live in a world where we’re surrounded by computers. People have a home computer, a work computer, a phone, a watch, a smart TV, and smart speakers. Hell, even the iPad’s harshest critics often have one that they use for watching video and playing games. The iPad is the only device in that list that some people mandate has feature parity with another item on that list.