For the past four years I’ve kept a foot in both the Mac and iPad camps respectively. my daily computing hours divided about 50/50 between the two devices with remarkable consistency. However, there’s no way at the current state of the art that I could entertain the idea that one platfor could completely replace the other.
Strictly speaking, the Mac is the machine to have if you are productivity oriented and determined to get along with just one workhorse device, since it can do all the have-tos, and there is a dismayingly long list of tasks the iPad either simply can’t perform, or is so awkward and clumsy at that it sends one scurrying back to the Mac to get some efficiency and power relief. Essentially, the iPad is a superb piece of hardware being held back by the iOS’s limitations and deficiencies.
However. That said, I would be loathe to give up my iPad and go back to using Macs exclusively, even though the idea of being able to standardize on one hardware platform again has appeal. The ideal would be for Apple to pro-actively address the iPad’s iOS-based shortcomings to a degree that using the tablet as an all-round workhorse would be conceivable.
Happily there are some signs that we may be headed in that direction at long last. 9To5Mac’s Mark Gurman reported last week that Apple is currently at work on some serious productivity upgrades to the iPad/iOS, with a dual-windowing mode to be added with iOS 9, and two 12-inch iPad models codenamed “J98” and “J99” rumored to be in the works for release later this year or early next. Moreover, Gurman’s sources tell him support for multi-user logins — a feature that would have seemed a natural for a family-friendly machine from the get-go — will finally arrive. The cynic in me speculates that Apple, preferred a dynamic in which every family member got their own iPad as long as sales growth was robust. Multi-user accounts are not a productivity upgrade per se, but still a very welcome enhancement.
Back to the the split-screen feature, Gurman says scuttlebutt is saying it could be previewed as early as the June Worldwide Developers Conference.
Apple’s finally turning its attention to a feature that would-be iPad power users have been clamoring for for five years is probably in part testament to Microsoft’s Surface tablet/PC hybrid machines recently gaining greater sales traction with release of the competitively priced Surface 3 model that runs a full-featured desktop version of Windows and has a standard USB port plus a SD Card slot. A couple of months back, market analysts at IDC noted that Surface has finally achieved market traction after three years of wheel-spinning, and projected that Windows mobile devices will be the stars of the sector growth-wise over the course of the forecast period, almost tripling it’s share from 5.1 percent of the market in 2014 to an anticipated 14.1 percent in 2019.
A lot of that will be attributable to Microsoft’s attentiveness to giving serious business, institutional, and content creator professional users the features and functionality they need and want. The Surface 3 supports the full desktop version of Windows, and can run standard Windows productivity applications. It also consequently supports real, multiwindow multitasking, mouse and other external pointing device input, a user accessible file level directory, and has connectivity and expansion features iPad users have been able to only wistfully dream of.
It can’t have escaped Apple’s notice that Surface sales are growing while iPad sales continue to slump significantly — making Apple’s one-time fastest-selling hardware device ever into the sick man among the company’s various hardware families.
Bringing windowing to the iOS will be a giant step in productivity enhancement, but just one of several that are needed for the iPad to compete with the Surface 3 as a workhorse device.
Others include some sort of support for file level directory access for those of us who, for instance, need to post images to WordPress, a universal Spotlight that can search words and phrases in documents, and support for Bluetooth or other external mouse input scrolling through and selecting text in documents on the iPad can be nightmarish — especially large blocks of text. Even my wife, who is definitely not a power user, hates being stuck with the imprecision and clumsiness of working with text using only touchscreen input. Navigation keys (eg: Home, End) for express scrolling are needed, as is a universal “select all” command, and while we’re at it — a text cleaning utility. And that’s just a few off the top of my head.
Realistically, however, I figure windowing is the best we can realistically hope for in iOS 9, and seeing will be believing. If it is included, hopefully it won’t be reserved exclusively for a new, 12-inch iPad Pro as has been suggested by some prognosticators. Whatever, the iPad will still be a much less comprehensive productivity device than the Surface 3 for the same money.
There are many aspects of the iPad that I love, and I really don’t mind using mine in tandem with a Mac, but for those who would prefer a single device solution, the Surface can do the job and the iPad as currently supported by the iOS really can’t unless your requirements are very modest and you’re willing to put up with a lot of inconvenience.
The ideal for me, I guess would be a touch-enabled hybrid machine with full desktop OS power — something like like Lenovo’s Yoga, which can be used as a conventional laptop, but whose touchscreen display panel can flip back and facilitate the machine’s use as a tablet thanks to Windows support for touch input. Even better, perhaps, would be a clamshell laptop form factor with a fully detachable display/tablet module. In an Apple context, either would obligate a touch-enabled variant of OS X — something Apple seems to have about zero enthusiasm for. And of course the Surface 3 is another approach to hybridization.
Tim Bajarin, in a recent PC Mag commentary, suggests that a type of hybrid with an ultra thin clamshell form factor and a special hinge that can be flipped back like a Lenovo Yoga, but is also detachable, that he refers to as “a 3-in-1 concept,” could be the “Holy Grail of laptops”.
Bajarin says he’s been testing the new ultra-thin 12-inch MacBook and the Dell XPS 13-inch ultrathin, and says that in both cases He would like the screen to fold back Yoga-style, but also with the option to detach the screen entirely — a mode he would prefer to his Surface Pro in which he finds either keyboard option too cumbersome and awkward, but is also not a fan I am also not a fan of having the keyboard as the back of the tablet a la the Yoga. He observes that given the light weight of the MacBook, the idea of a detachable touch screen is especially tantalizing to him as a serious road warrior.
Bajarin’s take on the iPad sales slump is that after the initial burst of enthusiasm by 2014, the market had realized that tablets — at least as we know them — can not really replace laptops, especially for serious business productivity. He notes that “While some tablets were great for use in vertical markets, most business folks went back to laptops as their core personal computing devices and tablet sales have declined.”
Bajarin doesn’t think tablets are going to disappear, and that they will most likely be tasked in the future with augmenting a business user’s personal computing experience, and continue to be a superb platform for non power user consumers, but he observes that in the world of business productivity, portable computing design is being re-thought.
I agree with Tim Bajarin that a fully capable three-in-one Apple machine would be about as good as it gets for users like me. Unhappily, I’m also obliged to agree with him that it’s difficult to see Apple moving in that direction, The company’s current management seems very firm in its conviction that MacBooks should not be touch enabled and should operate as true clamshell laptops at all times. They might take a second look at those IDC sales projections and relative growth rates for Windows mobile devices.
In the meantime, that leaves those of us contrary-minded the choice of continuing to use two or three Apple devices in tandem, or making the switch to one of several do-all PC hybrid concepts available and Windows 10 when it arrives.