Giving iPad fire to mere mortals: On myopia and elitism in computing

MacBook Pro vs iPad Pro
MacBook Pro vs iPad Pro (Image credit: iMore)

A couple of days ago my iPhone rang. It was 2015 and it wanted it's debate about iPad being a "real" computer back. (Seriously, I could hear Adele in the background, wondering if, after all these years, iPad Pro would like to meet…) At least it felt that way when a few tweets by Joshua Topolsky re-ignited the old is-it/isn't-it debate.

See more

Josh is a legend in this industry but Twitter is a platform that lends itself to in-the-heat-of-the-moment (or beverage) hot takes often absent the care and consideration they'd be given in a less real-time medium. It also lends itself to immediate hot take reinforcement and retaliation all over the internet, web and social.

See more

I dislike contributing to that kind of noise, all evidence to the contrary not withstanding, but there are a couple things I dislike more: myopia and elitism.

Being self-centric is natural and perspective taking is hard. I get that. For people who grew up on mainframes, the PC was a joke. For those who lived in the command line, the graphical user interface was a toy. For those who've spent the last couple of decades on Mac or Windows, the iPad is a playground.

Yet the PC untethered computing from universities and enterprises and put it in every home. The GUI opened it up to the arts and education. And multitouch has finally made it approachable to the mainstream.

For a long time computing only addressed the needs of a very few. Now, thanks to iPad and products that have followed its lead, computing is open to almost everyone with almost any need. It's nothing short of a revolution.

People who were, for their whole lives, made to feel stupid and excluded by older computing technology and some of its advocates now have something that's approachable, accessible, and empowering. From toddlers to nonagenarians to every age in between, and for every profession imaginable.

What Apple and iPad have done to bring computing to the mainstream is not only laudable, it's critical. And it's nothing short of amazing.

If I love the traditional computing environment, I can grab a PC and all the traditional computer apps I can handle. If I love the new computing normal, I can grab an iPad and dive into the App Store.

Both are valid. Both are real. Both are better based only and entirely on the needs of the person using them at the time.

It's human nature to think anyone with more computing needs is a nerd or a niche and anyone with less, a luddite or a poser, but that's our problem to solve. Not theirs. It has to do entirely with our inability to perspective-take, our lack of empathy, and our rush to judgement. It's our inability to truly understand that most primary of lessons — it's not all about us.

And that's where elitism rears it's ugly head as well. As much as some simply don't understand that a person can be empowered by an iPad more than they are a PC, others seem to resent it.

That's where "not a real computer" for the technology — and worse, "not a real pro" for the person using it, comes in.

Serenity Caldwell typing on a MacBook Pro

Serenity Caldwell typing on a MacBook Pro (Image credit: Rene Ritchie / iMore)

It happened when the PC threatened the mainframe elite, the bean-counters, and the filing clerks. It happened when the GUI threatened not just the command liners but the typesetters and film-cutters. And it's happening now, again, with iPad.

It's taken people whose self-identity and sense of importance were tied to and built over years of work and study, over masting obscurity and taming complexity, and flattened them right down.

It's taken the fire of computing and given it freely to mere mortals.

And that stings. That irks.

But here's the simple truth: No one cares.

No one who is happy engaging the world more fully with iPad gives a hot damn if anyone else has their nose turned up or bent out of shape about it. And no one who still loves and cherishes everything about a PC should waste a a moment pontificating about what someone else is or isn't doing on a iPad.

Whether or not iPad is a "real" computer was a ridiculous, self-absorbed, contrived discussion back in 2015. In 2017, it's just embarrassing.

The news is, we don't have to care either. We can let go. You compute you. I'll compute me. If that's every intricacy of Unix, awesome. If that's all the interactivity of iPad, brilliant. And if it's either or, depending on the task, hallelujah. You've achieved zen in our time and all our feeds will be cooler and more peaceful for it.

Written on an iPad Pro. Edited on a MacBook.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Couldn't agree more. I use my iPad Pro 12.9" for work every day, almost exclusively. The only thing I don't/can't use it for is coding. Haven't found a good way to do that. Right now I would say I do about 90% of my daily activities on it, and I love it.
  • Indeed! Regarding coding, have you examined Coda? (Having stated that, I primarily use my Retina MacBook Pro.) However, certain tasks must be performed on my Mac: I develop risk models for clients on my Mac, using Windows 10 Pro within Parallels Desktop (The tool is Analystic Solver Platform loaded into Excel.). I am rewriting my website using Dreamweaver.
  • It can replace a laptop for most things, but it isn't better at them than a laptop for anything (other than drawing, which laptops now support such as surface products).
  • Sitting at my laptop with my iPad connected as an additional screen, one way that it I find the iPad superior to the laptop is that using the apps for at least some financial institutions is a superior experience to using their website. For some of them, it's a simple as being able to login via TouchID rather than userid and password (albeit greatly mitigated by a password manager). For many, the app is a streamlined interface for the most common use cases. When a use case that isn't handled by the app comes up, the web interface is still available on the iPad. The reverse isn't true on the laptop.
  • But it is better at lots of things. I’m a teacher and there are lots of jobs my iPad is better at than my Mac. For instance reading an ebook, document scanning and markup, hand note taking, and messaging. I would go so far as to say any job which is primarily analog but supplemented by a pc, especially if it isn’t done at a desk and doesn’t have really idiosyncratic software.
  • @ ajorourke, You may actually be in the majority. 80 % of 9to5Mac users polled recently would like to have mouse / trackpad support. However, on this board it seems anything you say even remotely suggesting an OPTIONAL support for mouse when the keyboard is turned on, and which would not interfere at all with any of these users' workflows will still get dissed on even though they could just turn off the mouse support if they don't need it. And Rene seems to think the problem is with Joshua and the 80% that want to see mouse support added. Lol!
  • Sidenote - I really like the new home page categorizations. It makes it so much easier to avoid the "fluff" articles and see what we want. Or if you want the fluff articles, it makes it easier to find them in one or two places. "Fluff" isn't a great term... but I just mean the articles that have more of an SEO focus (which is fine to have), or basic how-to stuff that some readers don't need, while others do...
  • Rene, for Apple, it's not just about personal preferences, it's also about market share and profits. iPad has been in declining sales mode for a number of years. Apple needs to add mouse support and start to grow sales. The touch market has been maximized and Apple needs to enter the much wider space of low end PC's where even more users are interested in productivity type work using mouse / keyboard. Not just media consumption, drawing, and low end productivity using finger gymnastics. Microsoft has around a billion low / medium tier PC users around the world. Apple needs to add mouse support and take the iPad to the next level of market penetration. Touch users can still use touch if they feel like it. Adding mouse support does not interfere with their options but simply adds to them.
  • Using mice on iPads misses the point of the interface. Get a MacBook, or use the Pencil, which is like a mouse, only vastly better. I've used Photoshop every day since 1992. A mouse for me with Photoshop is like doing needlepoint wearing hockey gloves. Precision is not there. (Even using a high resolution gaming mouse). Use the cursor control built into the iPad's built-in keyboard and see if you ever need a mouse for anything. It becomes wasted baggage.
  • Time to start thinking beyond the mouse. With iOS 11, drag and drop mouse-free will be way better. However, I could see using the iPhone or a magic pad to move the keyboard cursor. Grubber had something interesting to say on this:
  • Those that are happy with reaching across the keyboard to a touch screen can still continue to do so if they wish. However, a recent survey at 9to5mac showed that around 80 percent of their readers (mostly Apple users) feel mouse / trackpad should be supported: If you like your touch centric workflow then that's great. However, adding mouse support for other types of workers (possibly the majority of iPad users according to the above survey) would not interfere with your own routines since mouse support can be designed to be turned off under Settings pretty easily. Five years of declining iPad sales may be reversed by addressing this non-Touch centric market. Not all folks can afford both, a Macbook and an iPad. Having duel interface capability and ability to adapt to user needs expands the reach of the iPad without compromising it's current usage in tablet mode when the keyboard is turned off. For those that find it wasted baggage, they can just turn it off. Meanwhile, others can elect to turn on mouse / trackpad support when the keyboard is powered on.
  • Then get a surface pro or studio and use the pen. You aren't limited to mobile OSes in this format factor. You have choices, so your competitors plaints about the mouse is largely invalid.
  • And I suppose you would also advise the 80% of Apple users on the 9to5Mac survey cited above who would like to have mouse / trackpad support should also dump their iPads and get a Surface pro? ... All just because the 20% of you, the tail that wants to wag the dog, could not be bothered with turning off of trackpad support in Settings? Talk about elitism.! It's people like you and Rene that are the elitists, not Joshua and the 80%.
  • Spittt - Apple does care about profits, but not market share. As long as a product is still profitable, it's all good. If they cared about market share they would have given up long ago.
  • Apple still have a considerable amount of market share with their portable products. There’s a reason why people say “iPads and other tablets”
  • So that means they should ignore trying to turn around five years of declining iPad sales including a 20 percent drop yoy in the Jan Q?
  • Just took my first trip in years w/o a laptop. Just my iPad pro. Did everything I needed to do. Blogged, uploaded pics. Email, web browsing. One or two things were rough. But everything worked out perfectly in the end. @spittt Apple does not NEED to do anything. They don't worship in the Church of Market Share. They just make products millions of people love.
  • Sure, Apple may not NEED anything but five years of declining iPad sales suggests the Touch centric market is now plateaued. Adding mouse support would just make it even more useful and allow it to tap into a slightly different (and likely much larger) market as suggested by 1 billion low / medium end Windows users. How exactly does adding mouse support to make users like Joshua and possibly tens of millions more users interfere with your current iPad usage stye? It simply adds to the possibilities, does not take away anything. Mouse support would only be activated when a keyboard is turned on, the ipad would stay the same when used in tablet mode.
  • Sure, Apple may not NEED anything but five years of declining iPad sales suggests the Touch centric market is now plateaued. Adding mouse support would just make it even more useful and allow it to tap into a slightly different (and likely much larger) market as suggested by 1 billion low / medium end Windows users. How exactly does adding mouse support to make users like Joshua and possibly tens of millions of others interfere with your current iPad usage stye? It simply adds to the possibilities, does not take away anything. Mouse support would only be activated when a keyboard is turned on, the ipad would stay the same when used in tablet mode.
  • As you mentioned market share...I think to myself, market share may not matter much to Apple concerning the Mac. If there are any devices that I suspect that Apple makes, that market share is important to them, I think it would be the iPhone and iPad. Originally the market share may not have meant as much concerning the iPad and iPhone, but...The market, in my observation, has moved the iPad into the 'Pro' world. People would love to have an iPad type of device that has more Pro features & computing power...That's why it's here today. I don't recall ever originally seeing the iPad have any serious focus on being your main computer. Now, we've got Tim at Apple saying I didn't even need my Mac for my business trip, I just took my iPad Pro & that's all I needed. He's essentially saying, this could practically be your only computer or your main computer. The market has moved it this way...And people love it, including myself. I'm tending to think that people may not actually want separate OS 'modes', but rather an alternate method to interact with certain apps. But the main way of interacting with the OS (And most apps) would still be touch driven. It'll be interesting to see what the future will be. I wonder if iPad sales (As well as many similar tablets) have plateaued because of market saturation of those types of devices. "Those types of devices" would be more consumer used consumption devices (Even though the iPad can do much more, that's still how many view it) Windows is still built on a foundation of keyboard/mouse interaction first. iOS is built on a foundation of touch interaction first. The iPad is keeping touch at the core & then adding more PC features. MS is doing the opposite...Same core, but adding some touch features. It's almost like Apple is actually shooting for a share of the hybrid market now. It replaced my hybrid (Surface Pro 3) quite well. I never really thought that would ever happen. They just have their eyes on a different market now.
  • How many years have PC sales been in decline? Doesn't that suggest that the mouse centric market has plateaued?
  • The Windows PC market seemed to hit a plateau at around 1 billion installed devices. If the iPad ever reaches those types of numbers which it may be fully capable of with mouse support, then that would be just fine and dandy by most AAPL shareholders. Apple would no longer be labled a one-trick pony by Wall St and the p/e would rise accordingly ... not to mention services rev's, and halo effect on other Apple products. Aside/ I find it interesting that the iPhone and Windows PC seemed to hit a plateau at around 1 billion installed devices.
  • Who calls Apple a "one trick pony"? They have had many, many tricks. BTW, exactly how many tricks has Microsoft had? Since Windows and iPhones both peaked at around 1 billion devices, that pretty much eliminates the idea that it is due to the interface. Plus, how many can be sold? If you sell a billion of ANYTHING, isn't that enough? We should all be so lucky to invent a product that peaks at 1 billion installed base.
  • Microsoft has had many tricks. They have Windows, Office, Visual Studio, Azure, SQL Server, SharePoint. Surface Pro, Laptop, Book, Studio. An entire line of PC Accessories. Xbox. Are you really that clueless? Microsoft survival has never really depended on the success of one product. You can. All it that company into 4-5 entities and they all be independently successful. And I see nothing wrong with them trying things and failing. Google does it all the time. I think Aplle doesn't do enough of that, which is probably why they are comparatively stagnant for innovation.
  • Since the iPhone's rise, around 70% of Apple's rev's come from the iPhone. As far as Wall St. is concerned, it's still a one trick pony. If the iPhone was able to reach a billion users then what happened to the iPad? Perhaps it's not offering something that some people need as their work flow (mouse / trackpad) may be different from yours?
  • So Apple will "only" sell 50 to 60 million or so iPads this year. The iPad is by far the largest part of the tablet market, approximately 85% of anything over $200. People talk as though though Apple needs to do something bold to sell even more or they are in trouble. Sure, any company would always love to sell more, but this notion that it is not a smashing success is just silly. Apple is making an insanely great tablet that provides a delightful experience to its users, and in the end, that's the ethos of the company Jobs built.
  • I think IOS 11 will be that 'bold' move. I was a very longtime Win person, from the earliest version. From Ipod to Ipad and Iphone to Mac was my gradual evolution. BUT--though I have a Macbook Pro 15" my Ipad Pro 12.9 does the yeoman's share of work, personal. IOS 11 is what will bring it all together for me. My major bond to a laptop now is for access to 18 years of photo files. And to above about mouse---I used a big Wacom graphics tablet for years, actually went through 2, and found myself continuing into other apps with the stylus--because I hate picking up that mouse LOL. So, the Pencil, and esp. for what it looks like its possibilities in 11, will fit my work habits well.
  • No one could argue that the iPad was not a success. However, declining sales for past five years including a 20% yoy drop in Jan Q suggest that it's not the post-PC era product that everyone thought it was going to be when it launched. If the iPhone was able to reach a billion users then what happened to the iPad? No one is saying it's not a success for the touch centric market but it was hailed by many as the post-PC revolution. And yet it plateaued out so quickly? Perhaps it's not offering something that some people need as their work flow (mouse / trackpad) may be different from it's current feature set. Just because it's current users are happy with the product the way it is does not mean that they can't continue to improve the feature set to grow into other markets as well and reverse the sales decline. It can be the post PC product with the right adjustments. It's just not there yet. Five years of data show this to be a fact, not Joshua's or my opinion.
  • It definitely replaced my mobile solution, which was a Surface Pro 3. Now I use it in conjunction with my Mac Mini and an ultra widescreen LG monitor. One example was last night. Looking for plane tickets. could do it on my iPad Pro, but it was cumbersome, but it was possible. I thought, hey lets fire up the Surface Pro 3. Larger screen, track pad, etc, but still same problem, just cumbersome on a screen that big, and using a trackpad. Finally moved over to my Mac Mini. Was comfortable and pleasant. Thing is I had both the same experience using my SP3 and iPad Pro, full OS vs "mobile" OS.
  • The best way to look for plane tickets on an iPad is to use an app, websites aren’t always optimised and this is the fault of web developers, not Apple
  • I think a good way to look at it is to flip the perspective. Of course an iPad can't replace a laptop. Its not a laptop. But can a laptop replace your iPad? Going from an iPad to a latop you sacrifice a lot: battery life, weight, portability, a GUI built from the ground up to be touch based, security of sandboxed apps... Can you sacrifice all that to get the power of a laptop? Sometimes you need to but if you don't, then stick to the iPad :)
  • Rene to the rescue, how dare one talk rubbish about Apple. We always get an article after a famous tech person critiques Apple.
  • And we always get a troll who has to post a comment like this
  • I used to look at the iPad as mostly consumption & not really a 'full computer', if you will. I think there was good reason for many people to think that way. The idea of it being a 'big' iPhone was common & once again, that was mostly how it was presented, people had good reason to see it that way. You would get one & it would connect to your existing 'real computer' (As some would say, including myself) Apple created great hardware, but honestly what has mostly made the iPad more powerful are the app developers. The hardware was able to perform some pretty good graphic design tasks, good gaming, & office software, but until the OS empowered developers more & until developers started utilizing the abilities more, things wouldn't change. The iPad wouldn't be looked at as a productivity device nor much more than some real basic games, videos, & emails. Software --- Apps, apps, apps is the key to the story. I recently entered the Mac world & enjoy using it, but I'm concerned it's going to stay in an excellent & like new condition for years. It doesn't get nearly as much attention as it would've in the past because I've transitioned over to making my iPad Pro my main device. Although Windows and Mac are capable of very powerful uses that the iPad couldn't be useful for...What really are your needs? Also, what are you most comfortable with? A lot goes back to simply personal preference. Apple does have a power to move the market. I want to be able to sync my iPhone with my main computer. I can't, because my main computer is iPad. I don't want to have to use iCloud or any other cloud storage to back up my devices. I guess that would be another major paradigm shift for the masses as well. Completely wireless is Apples vision I think. Apple is on the bri