I have lots of time for Jean-Louis Gassée, the former Apple Computer executive (1981 to 1990) who succeeded Steve Jobs as head of Macintosh development when the latter was dismissed in 1985. Mr. Gassée’s insightful commentaries on Apple and its products are usually well worth pondering.
So it is with Mr. Gassée’s “Monday Note” blog this week, titled “The iPad Is a Tease,” in which he elucidates the essential iPad paradox and offers his take on why iPad sales growth has slowed to a relative crawl from its phenomenal velocity over the past four years or so. “The iPad is a tease,” he maintains, because its meteoric sales performance raised expectations that it can’t currently meet.
And the iPad’s limitations go far beyond its notorious shortcomings as a productivity platform — even for non-business casual productivity when you need to do any sort of content creation on the iPad, especially if the task involves combining elements from multiple media.
Despite the rhapsodic TV ads, Gassée says Apple’s hype promoting the iPad has overshot what it can actually deliver, the limitations that render Apple’s tablet unable to substitute for a Mac or PC for non-masochistic users. Indeed, rather than simplifying our lives, the iPad has actually made things more complex for those of us who have become dual-use customers; for whom both tablets and conventional PCs are now part of daily life.
Mr. Gassée observes that it ranges from difficult to impossible to create a real-life composite documents that combine graphics, spreadsheet data, rich text from several sources and hyperlinks on the iPad, and that those of us who need support for executing such tasks are obliged to to go back to our PCs and Macs. Consequently, he sees the current lull in iPad sales as a necessary coming down to reality correction of unrealistic expectations, with realization dawning that iPads aren’t as ready to replace PCs as many had imagined or hoped.
He sensibly observes that the iPad actually is a computer with a file system, directories, and so forth, so why lock willing users out of them when lack of file level access is one of the biggest complaints we content creator users have about the iPad?
That certainly mirrors my take on the matter. I love my iPad, and am thoroughly addicted to the point where I would now be desolate without it. And while I routinely use it for certain rudiments of content creation, the iPad is either simply incapable of performing other necessary elements (eg: uploading images to WordPress), or so inefficient at executing them that my Macs remain indispensable as necessary work tools. And don’t get me going about the lack of support for real multi-windowed multitasking.
Mr. Gassée notes that where the iPad actually sits in the middle ground between iPhone and Mac remains elusive. He observes that Microsoft perceived the iPad’s many limitations as an opportunity, and tried to exploit them to its advantage with the Surface “tablet PC” machines. Look at how well that turned out.
Meanwhile, Apple’s strategy has doggedly remained keeping the iPad simple to the point of dumbed-downedness, thereby avoiding creation of a neither-nor product a la the Surface that is no longer charmingly simple, but still not powerful enough for real productivity tasking. However while that simplicity may initially seem like a blissful breath of fresh air, it remains so only up to the moment when the iOS’s limitations block you from doing things you need to do. Mr. Gassée maintains that if Apple wants the iPad to cannibalize more of the PC market, it will have ease up on the rigid simplicity ethos and remove some of the productivity hurdles and roadblocks that defeat the iPad as a content creation platform. Mr.Gassée also notes that for example you don’t have anything like OS X’s extremely handy “Print to PDF” function on the iPad.
There are indeed iPad users who nevertheless profess to be unhampered in productivity, but they usually acknowledge use of a desktop stand and external Bluetooth keyboard or a keyboard case that turn the ‘Pad into a much less satisfactory ersatz desktop or laptop setup respectively, negating several of the iPad’s characteristic advantages. Why not just use an actual desktop or laptop Mac?
That’s why I have to get cautiously excited about the prospect of a rumored professional grade iPad variant, whether it turns out to be the speculated 12 or 13-inch panel machine, or even “just” an Air-size 9.7-incher.
Unfortunately, changes and enhancements to the iOS 8 feature set are thus far described by the rumor mills as being mainly more consumer user oriented tweaks, with precious little of the would-be productivity user. Sorry Apple, but read-only iOS versions of OS X’s Preview and TextEdit applications designed to serve as front ends for viewing Preview and TextEdit files stored in iCloud by OS X just won’t cut it, and the prospect of using the App Store iBooks application for PDF management and editing and managing other documents using iWork Pages as an intermediary has about zero appeal to me. I don’t even use iCloud, much preferring Dropbox’s platform and app agnostic flexibility and transparent lack of hassle. I want access to my files at the document level, with the ability to open and edit them in apps of my choosing — in or out of anybody’s cloud. Real, fully-functional iOS versions of Text Edit and Preview would be great, though.
It remains to be seen if Apple will bend a bit to accommodate content creator tablet users needs, or whether what we have here is a case of stubbornness and/or irreconcilable philosophical dissonance.