Where does the iPad fit?

Earlier this week I wondered what might be possible if Apple made an iPadOS. Based on the feedback I got, many people seemed to assume I was petitioning for "yet another operating system", different in kind from iOS. In other words, one more thing for Apple to have to manage or maintain. To be clear — I wasn't. What I was petitioning for was something akin to WatchOS — a variant of iOS optimized not for the smaller wearable but the larger tablet.

The iPad is already different from the iPhone is several ways. Just like Apple Watch has no Safari browser, the iPad has no phone app. Where the Apple Watch has a taptic engine and the iPhone has a vibration motor, the iPad has neither. Where the iPhone has no four-finger navigation gestures, the iPad does. Soon, the iPad might have multi-window apps, or pen input, or other distinctive features. My point is, it's already distinct, so perhaps thinking about it that way might help make it even more distinctive.

Being a big iPhone was brilliant when the iPad launched, but we have big iPhones now. Being a lighter, longer-lasting portable was amazing as well, but we have light, long-lasting Macs now too. It's not that iPad needs to be something more — it's that it can be. Whether it gets its own software label or not, in that sense, is symbolic. Yet symbols can be powerful.

Apple is emphasizing what the iPad can do with its Start Something New campaign, the follow on to last year's Your Verse. It's focusing on productivity and creativity, both of which can benefit from the iPad's larger screen and more powerful processor. It could likely also benefit from distinct features that let it take even more advantage of both those things.

Federico Viticci of MacStories recently wrote about how the iPad Air 2 has become his primary computer. He's all about productivity, which makes for an incredibly informed, incredibly interesting opinion.

My mom, an artist and teacher by trade, uses the iPad as her main computer as well. Actually, she uses two of them. She uses an iPad Air most of the time, but when she runs it down, she switches to her old iPad 2. She has an iMac in her office, but she only uses it now when she has to, and that's not very often.

Those are just two examples of people who've found where the iPad fits in for them. I wonder how many more there could be?

For those who don't want multiple Apple devices, I don't think it's a problem for anyone, including Apple. If all you have is $1000 dollars, I don't think Apple cares whether you spend it on an iPhone, iPad, or Mac, which is why the company has made sure it has all three options for us.

If you do want multiple Apple devices, however, I think things are becoming more interesting.

Personally, I've switched from using my iPad mini to using my iPad Air, but in a very different way. Because I have the bigger iPhone, I don't travel with the smaller iPad any more. But because the iPhone isn't that big, I now use my iPad Air more at home. Since I don't have to travel with it, the bigger size makes it no less convenient.

I imagine the Apple Watch will only enhance that shift. It'll do all the convenient things right on my wrist so I can leave my iPhone in my pocket or bag more often. That'll reduce the downside of having a bigger phone. Maybe it'll even help push me towards an even bigger iPad, if one ever becomes available. If I have a bigger iPad, maybe I won't need a MacBook as much, and the iMac will be even more attractive.

Right now it feels like the iPhone 6 Plus and the MacBook Air are compacting the iPad between them, but as the year progresses, and new products and new features roll out, I wonder if it won't feel like R2 has found a way to shut off that compactor and pop open the escape hatch? I wonder if we won't get a clearer idea of where the iPad fits?

In case you missed it:

  • Georgia Dow, our good friend and licensed therapist, kicked off our new "experts" column with a great piece on using the iPhone to kick procrastination to the cub. The column will run every Wednesday and accessibility writer Steve Aquino is on-deck next.
  • Jason Snell, a long-time inspiration of mine, kicked off our new "backpage" column with very personal piece on Apple as change agent. That column will run every Friday and next up we have games journalist Maddy Myers.
  • I'm thrilled and incredibly proud of both columns. We're fortunate to have built a really big stage with iMore and it feels like our responsibility to fill it with the best voices in the Apple community.
  • We spent most of the end of last week diving into Apple's Photos for Mac beta. We posted both a Photos for Mac FAQ, a Photos for Mac first impressions, and a Photos for Mac podcast. Needless to say, more to come!
  • Sadly, we ran out of time and weren't able to launch the new podcasts this week. Soon though! We did manage to debut the new album art for the iMore show and in my totally biased opinion, it looks hot. Huge thanks to Jose and the Mobile Nations graphics department for that!

I'm traveling this week, so I'll leave it at that. Suffice it to say, I'm not going to miss the carbonite that's currently covering most of my city...

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

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.

36 Comments
  • Rene,
    I really enjoy your articles. Just a small suggestion. Please take the time to proof read your work.
    I was petition for "yet another --> petitioning
    uses the iPad as your main computer --> her
    I don't think it's be a problem --> it would be
    I know use my iPad Air more at home --> now
    if one every becomes available --> ever
    Keep up the good work
  • It's proof read multiple times, but stuff always gets in. Thanks for letting me know! Sent from the iMore App
  • Yes, I noticed that too. using the iPhone to kick procrastination to the cub. --> curb
  • My usage is 70% iPad 20% iPhone 6 Plus and 10% iMac/MacBook Pro. I never mind taking my heavy iPad 4 every where so iPad Air 2 is like any other phone to me. May not fit on the pocket but I got used to carrying it under my arm. I enjoy using it more than my cellphone.
  • I'm the exact opposite of that, iPad being the least used. I guess everyone has there preferences! Sent from the iMore App
  • And actually I'm done with desktops and I don't see my self buying another laptop in years to come. On the other hand I upgrade the iPad every years. I take my iPad to work every day, I take it on vacations, weekend trips, work trips and road trips. Basically is with me all the time. LTE always On.
  • I think they could add more to take advantage of the larger screen, just like they could do with the 6+, but have yet to do. There is a lot of potential, and I think maybe this year you will see a bigger difference in software between the plus and the regular iPhone.
  • My daughter and my parents swear by their iPads, but it fits not at all for me. iPhone when I am mobile, MBP when I need to do something heavier. If an iPad Air had deeper variances that let me do things with the larger screen better or more efficiently than with my phone, I might be curious enough to try another iPad, but for now, they are not for me. Sent from the iMore App
  • iPad Aid Plus cones out this year, 12 inch screen, four front facing sound. Sent from the iMore App
  • The more I think about it, the more it makes sense for the iPad to have its special optimized version of the OS. Apple is clearly touting the creative potential of the iPad, and for good reason. It is an amazingly powerful creative device. It could be even more powerful though if the software it ran really took advantage of the power under the hood of the iPad Air 2. Sent from the iMore App
  • The iPad sales are falling due to its software limitations. Apple has placed so many restrictions on app developers that the iPad simply cannot do the same things as a MacBook Air. A simple example: There is no XCode for the iPad. It is impossible to develop apps for an iPad on an iPad and Apple has gone out of its way to prevent third party apps from creating code that can be run on an iPad. This is done to protect the user but it is possible to protect a platform to death. Another example is the lack of a WiFi SDK on an iPad. Android has a full WiFi SDK. I suspect the new Windows 10 mobile OS will as well. If you don't have a WiFi SDK, you cannot do things like reconnect to a quadcopter automatically when it goes out of range. iOS users must switch back and forth to the Settings app in order to install a new Nest thermostat or smoke detector. This problem looms larger every day as more devices can be configured via WiFi but apps cannot talk to them directly. There is a wonderful Bluetooth SDK but Apple is now removing features from it in order to protect privacy. For example the Bluetooth spec provides for a unique device ID. So using Bluetooth you could, in the past, track devices by their ID. Apple removed this feature from their SDK and replaced it with something that randomizes the IDs every time it sees a new device. That's great until you get a device that wakes up every few seconds and pings like an iBeacon transponder. But here is the thing: Apple is masking part of the Bluetooth spec itself. The devices are still sending out their unique IDs but only iOS apps cannot see them. Android and Microsoft apps see them just fine so users can do a lot more with apps written for those operating systems. Don't get me wrong, I love how secure iOS makes me feel. I like the sandboxed environment but I think it is time to open it up a bit more to trusted developers. Apple can always block an app that is not following the rules (like one that collects device IDs for example). The problem now is the lack of functionality not the lack of security.
  • I disagree. I think iPad sales are contracting for the obvious reason that sales of any product sometimes do. Apple has failed to *clearly* lay out a professional use case for the device. People are instead, mostly using iPads for watching movies and playing games and those two activities are just as easily done, not only on a host of other devices, but on multiple platforms and (bad for Apple) at many different (read "cheap") price points. If you just want to sling some TV or play a game, it makes more sense to get a cheap $100 tablet, than it does to pay Apple's huge huge prices. Also, with the rapid iteration in the market, the market is practically flooded with devices right now. They need to expand and elucidate the use case for a professional computer user to use an iPad, instead of a laptop. If they can do that, they will crush the Android tablets. If they can't, they will still sell, but they will eventually drop to a niche, and be "the tablet for rich folks" instead of "the best tablet."
  • And if people are (mostly) strictly using ipads for that purpose then there's no reason for them to upgrade to new, more powerful iPads every year, two, three, or even four years for some people.
  • Indeed. This is Apple's problem.
  • Yeah disagreed with the entire comment.
  • I use the iPad for learning and recording guitar mostly these days. It's more comfortable propping it up against the sofa when I'm playing than using a laptop. I use my iPhone 6 for pretty much everything else. Sent from the iMore App
  • Sorry to be that 0.01% statistical dude... I enjoy using iPad more than iPhone because nothing beats the feeling of being in the flow, like being in a playground but actually doing work (productive, meaningful and healthy creativity). Here's to the iPad Plus becoming a reality soon this year!
  • I have to say that I will never understand people who imply that because big phones exist, small tablets like the mini are "not needed now." This is a big meme going around and it makes no sense at all. The iPhone was made big so that for SOME people, it can cover all the bases and be the only device they need. Excuse the caps but this is NEVER going to be the case for everyone, and NEVER going to be the case especially for those of us that switched all of our work to iPads early on. I use the iPad mini as my main device and I use it primarily for writing, and for reading. Try opening up Pages, even on an iPhone 6, and make a new document and you will immediately see the problem. You have a choice between text so tiny that you cannot read it, or zooming in on the page and scrolling around your document through a little window, the same way we all used to browse the web on a Palm. It's a non starter. The iPad mini screen is literally the smallest size of screen that one can begin to effectively work with actual documents. This is one of the main reasons the iPad exists and the main "feature" of an iPad over any other iOS device. The iPad is about DOCUMENTS. That's where it sits IMO. I would prefer that Apple focus on hardware differentiation on the iPad and not necessarily software but whether it's one, or the other, or both together, the differentiation should be based on the fact that iPads are actually for documents first, and movies and games second.
  • +1 all the way! I wish you'd get hired by Mobile Nations and work for iMore. We need more clear and thorough reasoning of this kind. I despise the idea that the 6 Plus replaces any iPad; that's sadly mentioned a lot in diverse podcasts. Pre-March 2012 I was clueless about productive creativity on Windows PCs. Enter iPad 3. WorldWideParcel has bebe ver since a playground, zero dread. Sent from the iMore App
  • Thanks! I'm not sure how one submits articles to iMore though. I sent an email off one time asking about whether I could write an article for them, and I never got a reply. In truth I don't think my opinions are very popular, but they can be inflammatory, so in terms of selling clicks, it could be almost the same thing.
  • "I would prefer that Apple focus on hardware differentiation on the iPad and not necessarily software..."
    Do you mean aesthetics and looks or chipsets, RAM, etc? "...the differentiation should be based on the fact that iPads are actually for documents first, and movies and games second." I understand that this is what you want, but do you feel that's best for the device and going make it find its place overall? Just wanted an expansion of your thoughts here.
  • I'm confused. I just got an iPad Air 2 from verizon on Saturday. It actually rang and told me someone was calling me, and my 6 Plus was ringing as well. What is that? I answered on my phone of course.
  • That is "handoff."
    see here: http://www.theverge.com/2014/6/2/5765528/apple-airdrop-now-shares-betwee... Apologies for linking to the Verge, it was all I could find. I'm certain there are better articles on it.
  • Technically "call relay" which uses something akin to FaceTime to shift calls from iPhone to iPad. http://www.imore.com/how-to-call-relay-make-take-calls-iphone-on-ipad Sent from the iMore App
  • Sorry, I stand corrected.
  • It's called continuity. You can use either device to answer to the phone. You can turn this option off in settings.
  • Thanks for the info!
  • I wish the iPad has an “Microsoft office clipboard.” Where I can copy a bunch of text and I can paste it all of them conveniently using the keyboard. I know the app called clips does this already, but it takes too many taps just to copy an item. For example, I first have to copy text, then swipe down on the Notification Center, and then tap on the widget. This is just too much work. Using the app’s extension also requires this much work. The iPad has been my main computer since the iPad 2. Only when I need to work with a lot of text I use a PC. Other than that, it's great for my needs as my main computer. I am a student, so I work with a lot of text. Also, selecting multiple sentences, just like a PC, would be extremely helpful.
  • Why doesn't Macstories.com allow comments?
  • 15% IPhone 5
    10% iMac
    75% IPad (2 then Air 2 now)
  • I started rarely using my iPad Air when I got my iPhone 6 Plus, I just didn't see the use case. The 6+ has a big brilliant 1080p display with higher pixel density, it's lighter and easier to hold where I don't feel the desire for a bigger portable screen that my iPhone 5S left me with, and I was left a little frustrated because my iPad felt like something just bigger that didn't offer me a whole lot more functionality or satisfaction which led me to buying a Macbook Pro Retina which I absolutely love, it's my first Mac. I can do soo much more with it than I was capable of with my iPad alone and for the things I wanted my iPad to do my 6+ does just great with no complaints. I've lent my iPad to my mom and let her use it. If Apple took out a MacBooks display and made a larger iPad dockable into (roughly speaking) the base of a Macbook that would combine the horsepower of a Mac and the iPad to run a software UI mostly made of OS X with some iOS quirks, that is something I'd definitely pay large sums of money for.
  • to me the iPad, even in the face of lower sales at this point, still has huge untapped potential and I don't see how anyone could argue it no longer has the right to exist. I also fully understand where Tim Cook's optimism comes from. Yes the sales have dwindled a little as of late, but then again we all know that the upgrade cycle is way longer (I can only speak for myself, I've probably had 5 iPhones now and during that time switched the iPads once) and iPad's have become less flashy and marketing focus has been taken of them to an extent. Why am I positive about iPads? First, they're the undisputed number one tablet (even die hard android fans I know have an iPad and acknowledge that they're 'simply the best tablets'), they're top notch quality and aren't ill-famed as 'toys' in the business world, unlike arguably (at least in a few corners of this world) iPhones used to be/still are perhaps. Even bigger than that, I remember how everyone back in the early days of iPad genuinely believed this was gonna lead us to a "post pc era". I still think that's a reasonable claim. iPads now are very capable machines and there's just SO many areas where you can use an iPad, it's almost ridiculous (I use my iPad mainly as a second screen for my Mac for example, which def steps up my productivity, but also read newspapers on it, watch TV and so on). Eventually, we'll move past paper, cable tv and the old ways, and devices such as iPads will become the norm (also in education, as we can see already slowly progressing). Pretty confident its inevitable, and the iPad will capitalise on that. Apple won't panic and shut down the iPad line, they're in a position way too good in the market (in people's perception of the device) to give up that head start. Instead I see them proliferate the iPad brand (see the iPad Pro, iPad Mini) to make sure they can step by step cover all segments and long term become indispensable.
  • I have a pretty complete Apple ecosystem: iMac, MBA, iPad Mini, iPhone 6, Apple TVs. For me, the power of Apple products is in the ecosystem foundation, yet each device has it's primary use. iMac (+ 2 monitors): Primary: Work. Code editors, debuggers, multiple web windows open, Skype, Accounting, etc.. I need power and screen real estate that is not available on other devices. MBA: Primary: Work on-the-go. Travel for work. Starbucks work sessions. Presentations. iPad Mini: Primary: Two-handed mobility. Reading and flagging emails, iMessage, document and book reader, video consumption, twitter, Facebook, news. Second screen when watching TV. iPhone: Primary: One-handed mobility. Phone, txt/iMessage, camera, email reading, weather, directions, IM, Google, ... Apple TV: Primary: iTunes Movies (Blockbuster replacement), Netflix, Podcasts. That's about it, but we use the Apple TVs a lot. I understand very well how the iPad fits into my ecosystem, and neither a laptop or an iPhone could fill the roll without significant compromises versus my iPad experience. I've tried to substitute an Android tablet for an iPad with mixed results. The Nexus tablet I used was great, but the apps were lousy in comparison and I felt cutoff from my ecosystem. No thanks.
  • Personally I can't see myself using exclusively an iPad for my computing needs because the lack of a physical keyboard like on a laptop. That being said, I think the iPad is a great complimentary computer that can be used when you don't want to lug around a macbook. I'm fully aware that different people have different needs and uses. Maybe one day I'l be the one ditching my Macbook pro retina for an iPad pro...
  • I will say this, ever since i got my iPhone 6 Plus, i have used my iPad a little less. I dont use it as much to read books, surf the way, social media. I primarily do that on my iPhone. However, i still use my iPad to take notes when I'm in class, i use it for my digital textbooks. Considering my line of work, i find that iPad extremely useful when i need to look up electrical schematics, or additional torque specs.
    In my opinion, the iPad has a lot of untapped potential. Im very curious to see what they could do in terms of software.
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