Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

‘Your Move, iPad’

Becky Hansmeyer:

[…] So if raw power isn’t enough, and new display tech isn’t enough, where does the iPad go from here? Will it be abandoned once more, lagging behind the Mac in terms of innovation, or will Apple continue to debut its latest tech in this form factor? Is it headed toward functional parity with the Mac or will it always be hamstrung by Apple’s strict App Store policies and seemingly inconsistent investment in iPadOS?

It’s clear that Apple wants the iPad Pro to be a device that a wide variety of professionals can use to get work done. And since so many people use web apps for their work, the introduction of “desktop” Safari for iPad was an important step toward that goal. The Magic Keyboard and trackpad was another step.

Here are ten more steps I believe Apple could and should take to help nudge the iPad into this exciting next era of computing.

Many of the frustrations of Mac users with the iPad — and I count myself among those frustrated users — have nothing to do with power, display quality, battery life, size, or portability. The iPad has trounced the Mac in nearly all of those categories since it was launched, with power and display improvements coming more recently.

The iPad has long been hampered, from the perspective of a frustrated Mac user, by its software model. If you try using an iPad like a Mac, you will have a rough time. On my Mac, for example, I have universal keyboard shortcuts to convert the selected text to a few different capitalization options, all of which rely on scripts running in the background and interaction between apps. On my iPad, I use the wonderful Text Case app that offers an even wider range of text conversion options. But there is no way for me to set a universal keyboard shortcut and, as far as I know, there is no way for the developer to be able to replace text in place. To make a title cased headline, I must select the headline text, tap the Share button, tap the Text Case button, tap the Title Case option to copy it to my clipboard and dismiss Text Case, tap the selected text again to pull up the clipboard menu,1 and then tap Paste to replace the original string with the title cased version. This is only slightly less frustrating if I have a hardware keyboard connected.

So, while I generally agree with Hansmeyer’s suggestions for changes, I have to wonder if these limitations are somehow deliberate, rather than something Apple has yet to change. The touchscreen-oriented interaction model of the iPad necessarily limits its software in some ways, but that does not excuse users’ more egregious workarounds. I find myself reading about the way Federico Viticci makes his iPad work for him, or the way that Jack Wellborn assembled a shortcut for rating songs in Music, and I wonder why these methods must be so convoluted. They are undoubtedly clever, but they also often feel like they are working around outdated limitations to multitasking. So, I have to wonder: is this a way of clearly separating the iPad and the Mac, so users do not attempt to treat one as the other? If so, what is Apple’s long-term strategy?

  1. Or triple-finger tap, a gesture that is somehow even more cumbersome and less discoverable than any of the existing clipboard and undo methods. ↩︎