The iPad is for Everyone

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 2 min read

Numeric Citizen: Where Should The iPad Go From Here?

The iPad form factor dictates the rest of the story: the iPad cannot meet everybody’s needs with the same ease as a traditional portable because of its form factor AND the design decisions Apple made about its interaction models; iPadOS isn’t macOS.

I agree with the point earlier in this piece about the iPad switching its functionality based on whether you’re using touch, Pencil, or keyboard being bad, but I actually disagree on this bit. There are two points I’d like to make here.

First, whenever someone says, “thew iPad should be more powerful,” there will always be someone who replies, “it’s an iPad, not a Mac, stop asking for Mac-like features,” and then Apple adds those features (file system, cursor, etc.) without making the iPad losing its soul. Yes, some people want to run macOS on their iPads, but let’s not bundle in all “the iPad should have more power” requests into “people want the iPad to be the Mac.”

And second, I think we generally give traditional PCs too much credit for being able to appeal to everyone. My mom literally never uses a PC or Mac because she hates them. They didn’t work well for her and for 60 years she never owned one, never really used the one in our house growing up, and had no interest in learning. She now uses an iPad for way more than she ever did on a normal PC.

I think we consider Macs to “appeal to everyone” because they were the only type of computer available for decades, so people either adapted to them or some, like my mom, just opted out entirely.

Also, and I’ll beat this drum until I’m blue in the face, but the iPad is special specifically because it appeals to such a diverse set of people and needs. They’re godsends for contractors working in the field. They’re amazing in medical and retail environments, or as Apple loves to point out, in the cockpit for pilots. They’re great for writers and photographers and general information workers on the go. They’re great for people who have accessibility needs that a Mac doesn’t suit well.

And by expanding the interaction options for the iPad over the years, they’ve made it appeal to more and more people over time. I personally don’t use my iPad for everything, but I use it for writing, reading, chatting, scheduling, and more. Sometimes I’m using the iPad as a tablet, other times it’s on the Magic Keyboard, and still others I’m working exclusively with the Apple Pencil. Only one of those input methods was supported when the iPad launched in 2010, and each one has only made it more useful, more accessible, and more widely-appealing than before.

As I wrote last week, I don’t think that full on mode switches are the way to go for the iPad; Windows does this and it’s not great. Instead, I really think Apple can advance the iPad more than it has in years by supporting external displays for real. No mirroring, just second monitor support with more windowing options. You can already do everything in iPadOS with a mouse and keyboard, so keep going with that and let people use iPadOS on a non-touch screen with those inputs.