I love my iPad Air 2. So much that I’m grudgingly willing to put up with its compromises and limitations as a production tool in order to take advantage of its virtues. However, since a computer for me is essentially a work tool, communication platform, and information access device, the necessity of said putting up with is an ongoing source of frustration, especially the several key tasks in my workflow that the iPad simply can’t perform, keeping me on my Macs for about half of my screentime.
I love my Macs too, and I’m in no hurry to abandon the power and slickness of OS X, which is good because Apple is so far showing no indication of being ready to bend on its stubborn refusal to make a few relatively simple changes that would give production oriented iPad users the functionality and capability we’ve been calling for since 2010.
Apple’s choices are especially evident in the iPad Pro, which despite its being touted (and priced) as professional grade hardware, is still cumbered with pretty much the same productivity deficiencies as my iPad Air 2, most of which are software issues.
However, not entirely. In my estimation, the iPad has three major hardware shortcomings:
1) Limited connectivity — i.e.: no MicroUSB support. I hoped that prerelease rumors that the iPad Pro would have a USB-C port would prove true, but they didn’t, alas.
2) No expansion options. A microSD card slot would be so great. Last week Forbes contributor Ewan Spence noted the irony that with the beta of Apple Music for Android, Apple is finally supporting microSD on a smartphone, but it’s not the iPhone. Spence characterizes MicroSD expandability as being one of the biggest unique selling points of the Android platform compared iOS devices, and says he expects there’s going to be a lot of iPhone fans looking at Apple’s utilization of microSD on Android hardware and wondering why they won’t consider offering storage expansion for its own smartphones. I’m inclined to agree, and even more so when it comes to tablets.
3) No mouse support. Actually, this one is more software than hardware, since I’m not asking for wired mouse connectivity, and the iOS already supports Bluetooth keyboards. It’s just another testament to Apple’s choices that they’ve refused to write a Bluetooth mouse driver for iOS devices. How hard could that be? And no, the Apple Pencil stylus thingie is not an adequate surrogate for a good old mouse. Pencil has its virtues for heavily graphics oriented users, but not for the stuff I do.
However the iPad’s most egregious productivity-buster is the iOS’s lack of a user accessible, document level, file system directory, and a global word and phrase level search engine to find stuff in it. My workflow is document rather than app centric, and the need to retrieve something using real OS X Spotlight is one of the most common reasons for my switching switch back to the Mac when working on a project that I initiated on the iPad.
Last week, 9To5Mac’s Ben Lovejoy posted an Op-Ed contending that a visible filesystem for the iOS is key if the iPad Pro is to ever be a true laptop replacement, observing that the notion that iPads are for content consumption while Macs are for creation is passé, and there are a lot of us who use iPads for creating content.
As I noted above, I start a lot of projects on the iPad, but there there are very few that I don’t find myself obliged to finish up on the Mac. For example, a lot of my output is posted to WordPress, and while there’s an iOS WordPress app, it’s pretty limited compared to using a browser in OS X, and there’s no really practical way to upload and insert pictures for illustration using the iOS app. Resizing and optimization of images is cumbersome on the iPad, making it a poor choice as a production tool if you do that sort of stuff frequently.
As Forbes’ Brooke Crothers observes, “iOS can stop your workflow. Cold…. I can’t count the times that I would get stuck on something that was easily doable on the MacBook. There are just too many instances to recount here. Suffice to say, iOS is not OS X.” AppAdvice’s Bryan M. Wolfe, who owns an iPad Pro, contends that the solution would be for Apple to release an iPad that runs some form of OS X to make it truly be worthy to carry the iPad Pro name.
However, in my estimation it doesn’t have to be OS X. The iOS should be fixable, and just needs some more flexibility and features capability that would enable productivity users to get past those workflow roadblocks without having to switch to an OS X device in order to finish a task.
I agree with Ben Lovejoy that if Apple really wants to credibly market the iPad as a satisfactory alternative to a PC, it needs to finally give the iOS a proper file system. He hastens to add that it wouldn’t necessitate making the default iOS user interface any more complex, and he’d be completely fine with Apple tucking a visible folder structure away inside an iOS Finder app. Me too.
I know. From its original announcement in 2010, Apple has doggedly insisted that the iPad remain “simple,” thus arbitrarily limiting its considerable potential as a content creation and production tool. Adding functionality like multi-windowing (finally supported a little bit, sort of, with Split View in iOS9), real multitasking, visible file level directory access,global word and phrase search, microSD expansion, mouse support, and standard USB connectivity, have all been stubbornly resisted, even after Apple started pitching the iPad as a tool for enterprise and institutional users with the Mobile First business application development deal with IBM a couple of years ago.
The irony is that it’s been in no small part due to that dedication to simplicity that the typical iPad replacement cycle turned out to be much less frequent than Apple probably ever imagined back in 2010. Because the sort of stuff a large proportion of users do with their iPads is not terribly demanding in terms of computing power, a large proportion of iPads in use are first and second generation iPads still adequately or at least tolerably powerful for that sort of tasking.
I used my first iPad — an iPad 2 — for three and a half years before replacing it with the iPad Air 2 in late 2014. Toward the end, I was getting a bit frustrated with the iPad 2’s performance, but I’m an iPad power-user. My wife, who inherited the old iPad, finds it more than adequate for her needs. A lot of iPad 2s, as well as original iPad minis which are also powered by A5 systems-on-chip are still in active duty. My brother-in-law recently picked up a used iPad 2 for his first tablet, and says he’s satisfied with its performance. He uses his iMac for heavy lifting.
It seems clear that a large element of the iPad sales slowdown is attributable to there being much weaker incentive for most users to upgrade than is the case with iPhones or even Macs. Consequently, I’m finding Apple’s continued stonewalling of productivity-oriented iPad users’ longtime feature request list difficult to fathom. There’s no way I would consider laying out upwards of a thousand bucks for an iPad Pro until it’s productivity shortcomings are pro-actively addressed. If they were, there’s a good chance I would buy one. I expect there are many others making the same evaluation. Something Apple should think about if it really wants to reinvigorate iPad sales.