One OS always has a solution. The other makes you write WWDC wishlists and pray.

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 3 min read

There are a bunch of things that are different about macOS and iPadOS, but the thing that separates these platforms the most for me is how each one works when you run into a limitation. What can you do if a feature you need doesn’t exist? What can you do if a feature does exist, but it doesn’t work how you want?

With macOS, there is more likely to be a built-in setting you can change to tweak the behavior, or there will be a third party app that you can easily install to get the feature or behavior that you need. With iPadOS, typically the answer is, “hope Apple adds it at WWDC next year.”

Here’s an example for my use case: screenshots. There is a built-in screenshot and screen recording tool in iPadOS, and it’s pretty good. Now I would like to be able to take a screenshot of a portion of my screen with fewer steps, or to save my images outside my iCloud Photo Library, or to fine tune my settings when doing screen recordings, or to be able to save recordings as GIFs, or to have more tools for marking up those screenshots…but there’s not a ton I can do about any of those things. iPadOS works how it works and if I want more powerful tools, I need to pray that Apple adds them the next big version of iPadOS. And due to the restrictions on apps on the platform, there’s no way for a third party developer to build the tool for me.

macOS has a similar screenshotting and screen recording tool, and it’s more powerful than iPadOS’s, but I don’t even use it myself. That’s because there is a rich collection of apps that I can use on my Mac to handle my screenshot and recording needs. I personally use CleanShot, but Xnapper and Snagit are solid options as well. For my more demanding needs for making tutorial videos, I use ScreenFlow and Screen Studio, both of which can do things like track my mouse and keystrokes while recording (if I allow it, of course) so that it can better show to my viewers what I’m doing on screen. All of these apps have years of being reputable tools that make their customers happy. If macOS doesn’t do what I want, I can choose from a selection of tools to find what works best for me.

Screenshots are a good example, but I want to be clear that it’s not just screenshots that I’m talking about here. This is one of my niches, but there are a ton of things that people need that iPadOS just can’t do, and no one can build tools to add those features.

Another example is something everyone at my work does, whether they’re a highly technical developer or someone with a non-technical job: screen sharing during video calls. Yes, iPadOS can do a very basic version of this, but it’s very limited. As an example, no one wants to share their entire screen during a meeting. It reveals other things on your computer that might be distracting and it’s just messy. Instead, people share a single app window or even a single tab from their browser. This is user and privacy friendly, as it ensures you’re only seeing what I want you to see. However, if I’m working from an iPad, I can only share my entire screen. Again, this isn’t because these app developers are lazy, they literally can’t do what they can on the Mac and Windows, so they can’t do what our users would want.

Yet another example is window management. I’ve gotten so many people to install Rectangle, which is a free app that adds some basic window management tools to macOS that improve things in ways people like. Is it annoying that macOS’s built-in window management is pretty basic? Yes. Is it great that apps can enhance users’ experience with ease? Also yes. Don’t like how iPadOS does window management? Write up your wishlist for WWDC and pray.

Some will say that the fundamental difference between iPadOS and macOS is what input method they were originally built for. That’s definitely a notable difference, but to me the more fundamental difference is in what users can do when they run into limitations. The solution may end up being more complicated or it may involve trusting a company other than Apple to do something, but there is almost always a way forward. This is what I love about the Mac, and this is why I want Apple to bring their best hardware and screen technology into the Mac product line. A tablet-style, touch-capable Mac doesn’t remove the need for the iPad to exist, the iPad still has plenty of differentiation to live alongside the Mac line.