Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Creation and Consumption

Benedict Evans:

There’s a pretty common argument in tech that though of course there are billions more smartphones than PCs, and will be many more still, smartphones are not really the next computing platform, just a computing platform, because smartphones (and the tablets that derive from them) are only used for consumption where PCs are used for creation. You might look at your smartphone a lot, but once you need to create, you’ll go back to a PC.

There are two pretty basic problems with this line of thinking. First, the idea that you cannot create on a smartphone or tablet assumes both that the software on the new device doesn’t change and that the nature of the work won’t change. Neither are good assumptions. You begin by making the new tool fit the old way of working, but then the tool changes how you work. More importantly though, I think the whole idea that people create on PCs today, with today’s tools and tasks, is flawed, and, so, I think, is the idea that people aren’t already creating on mobile. It’s the other way around. People don’t create on PCs – they create on mobile.

Evans is obviously exaggerating when he says that people don’t create on PCs; he acknowledges that high performance requirements limit some functions — app development, 3D movie making, etc. — to traditional PCs. But most people are using mobile devices to create more stuff, generally speaking. This is a line of thought that I was trying to articulate in my review of the base-spec iPad, and I think Evans does a much better job of it. I encourage you to read his whole piece, as I think it pairs well with my iPad piece.

One thing I’d like to point out specifically is related to the above quote, and expands on something I wrote near the end of my review:

That question is something I’ve thought about a fair bit with this iPad — not in the context of how I use it, but more in the sense of why, specifically, someone would choose an iPad over an iPad Pro, or vice-versa. With the exception of drawing software that supports the Apple Pencil, you can run a lot of the same kind of software on this iPad as you can on the latest iPad Pro. My best guess is that new software built specifically for the iPad Pro’s high-performance processors and capabilities will help materialize a lot of the advantages of choosing one over the other. But, while there are plenty of Mac apps that would be amazing on the iPad, developers have repeatedly pointed out that the economics of building an iPad app just aren’t favourable.

There’s an interplay between how customers actually use these devices and the capabilities Apple can give the devices through hardware, the operating system, and third-party apps. The side effects of the simplification of the iPad — compared to, say, a PC — are making some things1 far nicer to do, but also making other tasks2 more cumbersome. I think that became very obvious over the past few years, as people began using iPads in higher-performance environments — governments and businesses went crazy for the thing.

So I repeat this from Evans:

First, the idea that you cannot create on a smartphone or tablet assumes both that the software on the new device doesn’t change and that the nature of the work won’t change. Neither are good assumptions. You begin by making the new tool fit the old way of working, but then the tool changes how you work

He’s right, but this really only works if there‘s significant encouragement and commitment to a new device. The frustrations many critics — myself included — have expressed with the iPad3 is not that you couldn’t create anything on it; it’s that it didn’t feel like you could create enough on it — or, if you could, that it wasn’t easy enough.4 iOS 11 is the beginning of what I hope is a series of releases that will reinforce Apple’s position that the iPad really is the next generation of computing platforms. The irony is that, to make some complex things simpler, more complexity will be added throughout the system — just in a simplified way.


  1. Web browsing, emails, basic image editing, watching movies, simple games, and the like. ↩︎

  2. Juggling between a few different apps to compile a research paper, for instance. ↩︎

  3. I didn’t mean to transform the framing of Evans’ piece into a rebuttal of the tired the iPad is just for consumption argument, but — in many ways — it serves that purpose well. ↩︎

  4. I admire that Federico Viticci is able to do so much stuff with his iPad, but it will never be truly easy to use URL schemes and scripts to bridge functional gaps. ↩︎