iPadOS limits the potential of the iPad, there is little point in a separate OS for tablets

In 2010, speaking at the D8 conference, Steve Jobs proclaimed that the “post-PC era” was upon us. He was referring to the transition from traditional PCs and laptops to a new format of computers such as the iPad. This statement was no accident, as 2010 was the year of the release of the first generation iPad, Apple’s 9.7-inch tablet for $499.

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Steve had far-reaching plans for the iPad. “When we were an agrarian country, all cars were trucks, because that’s what was needed on farms. Computers will be like trucks,” Jobs said at the time, “They will still exist, but only one in X people will need them.”

According to the plan, the iPad was supposed to gradually replace other Apple computers, leaving a small line of Pro models for those who need legacy software or perform specific tasks. As we know, no tablets have ever replaced laptops and computers due to slow hardware, a smaller selection of programs, and a lack of comfortable keyboards. For some time, it was believed that tablets were not suitable for content creation, and Apple had to spend quite a bit of time disproving this.

In 2007, when presenting the first iPhone, Steve Jobs ironically said, “Who wants a stylus. You have to get em and put em away, and you lose em. Yuck. Nobody wants a stylus.” Now, after every presentation of the new Apple Pencil, companies recall these words of Jobs.

However, Steve was simply wrong then, styluses are still needed, and they make the iPad a much more interesting working tool for artists and illustrators than any Mac. The Apple Pencil was just one of the ways to disprove the idea that a tablet is only needed to watch YouTube or read the news.

Gradually, Apple removed preconceptions about the iPad’s capabilities as a computer, increasing the system’s power, screen diagonals, and adding the ability to connect a keyboard with a touchpad. And here we are in 2024, when the company releases new iPad Pro, which for the first time gets the latest M4 processors, which are not available in other computers, OLED displays, and a fully “laptop” diagonal of 13 inches, as well as new Magic Keyboard with a trackpad.

In terms of performance, screens, and text input capabilities, the iPad Pro is already on par with most Apple laptops. And even at the price. If you take a 13-inch iPad Pro with 512 GB of storage and a keyboard, its price in the US will be $1848, while a 14-inch MacBook Pro with the same 512 GB SSD will cost $1799, which is even cheaper.

This is essentially direct competition, and it’s easy to imagine that some potential buyers of such a MacBook Pro could easily choose the iPad Pro as an alternative. A powerful but lighter computer with a touchscreen that can be detached from the keyboard if necessary. Given that 90% of the time my laptop is connected to a monitor, external keyboard, and mouse, I would consider replacing it with a tablet myself.

But I don’t even think about it, and not only because of the cost of such a solution. But even more so because iPadOS has remained the bottleneck of Apple’s tablets for all these years. The windowless interface simply doesn’t work for true multitasking. Apple is trying to cover this shortcoming with various innovations, but these are only half-measures that do not allow you to unleash the full potential of the iPad.

Apple also encourages developers to create more functional apps for iPadOS, but for many of them, the “tablet” platform is a lower priority than iOS and macOS. iPads are selling better than Macs and laptops, but only because of the availability of cheaper offerings, such as the basic 10th-generation iPad, which now starts at $349 in the US. Not all developers see the iPad audience as potential paying customers.

Therefore, even though the iPad may have the same powerful platform as a Mac and the same keyboard and touchpad, Apple does not allow its tablets to compete directly with laptops. This makes sense from a shareholder perspective, as it allows them to sell both a tablet and a laptop to the same customer, but from a user experience perspective, it looks like an artificial, strained solution. Especially given the emergence of tablets for $1,000 and above.

There’s a whole bunch of reddit threads where users are detailing their expectations for iPadOS 18, and many of them are repeating what’s already in macOS. That is, users expect that someday Apple will give them something similar to a desktop operating system, perhaps a hybrid of iPadOS and macOS. But this “someday” is already frankly overdue. Apple has every opportunity to bring the interface of its tablets up to the usability of laptops without sacrificing the usability of touch screens. Microsoft and Windows have already made enough money on this, so they can confidently capitalize on their competitor’s failures.

Moreover, with the transition of Macs, iPad Pro, and iPad Air tablets to Apple’s ARM M processors, the company has created a universal platform and made it easier for developers to transfer apps between them. Mac computers can now run iPad apps, but it doesn’t quite work the other way around, as the interface needs to be adapted a lot. This problem shouldn’t exist, because in general, two operating systems that often perform the same function are not needed. Apple should have abandoned iPadOS long ago, creating a single solution for tablets and laptops.

The “tablet” OS was relevant when the iPad was just a larger copy of the iPhone with a mobile processor and a 9.7-inch screen. Today, the iPad Pro has no less powerful chips than the MacBook Pro. And the gap with the top configurations of Apple laptops in terms of tablet performance will gradually narrow. Perhaps until the moment when laptops really become, as Steve said, like “trucks,” and for most users it will be easier and cheaper to use a large tablet with a keyboard.

This will definitely not be a “post-PC era,” because the iPad Pro with a macOS operating system will not change the way people use computers, it will not even be some kind of new or unusual form factor. Still, a tablet with a keyboard and touchpad is essentially the same as a laptop. Perhaps the “post-PC era” dreamed of by Steve Jobs will come with the development of mixed reality headsets like Vision Pro, when a computer can be built into glasses. But this is still a distant prospect. In the meantime, Apple could start by stopping artificially limiting its tablets and unleashing their full potential.

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