After pitching the iPad Pro last year as a laptop replacement device and Apple marqueeing it as a “Super Computer” in a web page blurb, last week Apple CEO Tim Cook finally conceded that the professional iPad is not quite there yet as full powered and featured production workflow tool.
In his comments at the last shareholder meeting the company will host at its old Cupertino campus, Cook assured investors that Apple is still very much focused on the needs of its professional customers, and has plans for its pro category products, quoted saying: “The creative community is very important to us…. Expect us to do more and more where people will view it as a laptop replacement, but not a Mac replacement – the Mac does so much more.”
I’m mildly encouraged by that affirmation, but my enthusiasm is dampened by the sort of things Apple did to the MacBook Pro last fall, very few of which I don’t consider retrogressive, such as a noisy, uncomfortable and easily fouled by dirt butterfly mechanism keyboard, shorter battery charge life, and the Touch Bar — an answer to a question nobody asked. Genuine advances would have been longer battery life (even if it meant a somewhat bulkier and thicker form factor), a robust and comfortable keyboard, and a real touchscreen instead of the gimmicky Touch Bar.
Unhappily, Mr. Cook explicitly poured cold water on prospects for touchscreen MacBooks, strongly implying that in an Apple context, touchscreens will remain the preserve of iOS devices and macOS notebooks reliant on trackpads, mice, physical keyboards, and the Touch Bar on models so equipped for user input and control, maintaining that: “To merge these worlds, you would lose the simplicity of one and the power of the other.”
I beg to differ. A panoply of Windows PC touchscreen laptops are plenty powerful (indeed in some instances more powerful than the current MacBook Pros), and the ability of Microsoft’s Surface and other PC tablets to run Windows 10 makes them at least in that respect, superior to iPads as professional work tools.
Having a touchscreen in a MacBook would not compromise other input modes. Users of touchscreen Windows UltraBooks are not obliged to use the touchscreen feature if they don’t choose to. Nor would adding an accessible file directory, multiwindowing, drag-and-drop text editing, and mouse input support have to compromise the iPad’s vaunted simplicity, as all could be made optional Settings preferences.
Personally, I would be a light user of Mac touchscreen features, but having them available would be no hardship, and after five years of spending a lot of time on my iPads, I sometimes find myself absent-mindedly pawing at the screens of my MacBooks to no avail.
I suspect that one reason for Apple’s continuing negativity about touchscreen notebooks is that they are unenchanted by the prospect of having to significantly re-engineer the macOS for touch support.
As for the iPad, while the iOS’s simplicity of use is an advantage for light-duty consumer use, the lack of support for more complex capabilities is a substantial impediment to serious users adopting the iPad as a professional grade production tool, and Apple’s dogged refusal to add features like a Bluetooth mouse driver and a USB-C port seems like just plain pigheaded stubbornness. Wired’s David Pierce noted in his review of the iPad Pro:
“For those of us who still cling to laptops and desktops, the iPad Pro just doesn’t feel like a serious machine for serious work. We need our keyboard shortcuts and our mice, our apps that work just how we like them. We need our accessories. A touch-first interface just doesn’t feel right, and the iPad Pro can’t overthrow our existing workflows and tools. Maybe we’ll catch up to Tim Cook’s vision of work someday. Maybe. But for right now, we have work to do, and no time to reinvent how we do it.”
Forbes’ Ben Sin agreed, observing:
“…for me, and probably most people whose work requires a computer — that’s a heck of lot of jobs — the iPad Pro in its current form simply comes nowhere close to replacing an actual computer, be it powerful desktop or even budget laptops.”
And it never will IMHO unless Apple blinks on adding significant productivity capabilities to the iOS as user selectable options, which should be doable without compromising the simplicity of the default user interface…or… building macOS powered tablet devices.
Even MacWorld rated the Intel Core i5 powered, Windows 10 supporting, Samsung Galaxy Book a likely better choice for a laptop replacement than the iPad Pro in a direct head-to-head comparison, reviewer Cam Mitchell concluding:
“I think Samsung has really tried to target the working professional with the Galaxy Book, not only as a tablet but as a direct replacement for a laptop, especially with its inclusion of Windows 10 OS and the keyboard and stylus as a bundle. Overall it gives more of a desktop feel to the tablet, than that of the iPad which still seems more like a high-powered and slightly overpriced tablet than a laptop alternative.”
On the other hand, this week Jamf, which provides Apple device management support for Macs, iPads and iPhones to more than 10,000 small businesses, education institutions, and the enterprise, released its third annual global survey of IT professionals, finding that Apple products are gaining ground in the enterprise, with 91 percent of companies surveyed having employees using Macs and 99 percent using iPhone, iPad or both, with Mac and iOS device usage increased over the previous year. Encouraging news, but it does not explain why that implied robust level of uptake doesn’t seem to be boosting Apple’s product sales volume metrics substantially.
The Jamf report is primarily focused on how Apple devices are easier to manage than the competition, which few would dispute. For example, Mac’s were rated is as easy or easier to manage than Windows PCs on five critical tasks: deployment (62 percent), security (66 percent), device configuration (58 percent), software and app deployment (57 percent), and support (63 percent), and the iOS as easy or easier to manage than other mobile devices when doing the following: deployment (93 percent), security (90 percent), device configuration (91 percent), software and app deployment (90 percent), and support (89 percent).
I was cautiously optimistic when Apple and IBM jointly announced in July 2014 that the two companies were entering into a collaborative alliance to sell mobile devices to and develop more than 100 new software apps for software apps for the enterprise market, that one of the partnership’s benefits would be enhanced productivity support in the IOS and Apple’s mobile devices. That didn’t happen, and we haven’t heard much about how Mobile First is working out for the alliance overall. IBM announces a new Mobile First app from time to time, but the continual drop in iPad sales since 2005 doesn’t imply a wholesale embrace of Apple’s tablets by the target market. The iOS’s productivity shortcomings might have something to do with that.
Certainly iPads would be more appealing to enterprise users if they supported real multitasking, drag-and drip between open windows and apps, had an accessible file directory, a driver for external pointing devices, and a standardized connectivity interface (USB-C being the obvious no-brainer choice) to go with. However, according to the latest tranche of rumors out of China, what the iPad Pro 2 will get are A10X SoC power, a MacBook Pro style Touch Bar, and better cameras, but nothing about addressing the productivity issues cited above.
Meanwhile, Android is now nipping at Windows’ heels for most popular operating system bragging rights, while macOS and iOS remain show flat growth curves and shares in the eight to twelve percent range. Microsoft’s and Google’s attentiveness to what their OS customers need and want has to have something to do with that.