This conclusion becomes apparent when you consider WWDC21’s iPadOS 15 announcements. Beyond finally making iPad multitasking coherent and adding a snazzy new feature to take notes whatever app you’re in, the standout iPad addition was Universal Control. You sit your iPad next to a Mac, move the Mac cursor across to the iPad’s display (no set-up required), and can then control the iPad with your Mac’s keyboard, even dragging back documents and other content. This action, notably, cannot be started on an iPad, which makes the iPad sound like an accessory.
It isn’t. In fact, the iPad reigns supreme in the right hands, particularly in its Pro incarnation. If you’re a digital artist, you’ll love drawing with Apple Pencil. If you’re a photo, music or video editor, you’ll be frustrated by the screen’s confines, but appreciate the means to escape from a desk and work wherever you please, on powerful hardware, directly interacting with your creations. If you’re someone who likes focus (a major Apple theme of late), the two-up app limitation – and just one in full-screen most of the time – moves you far away from the relative chaos and distraction found on a desktop PC or Mac.
The iPad, then, has (currently) settled as a superb primary option in specific contexts, and as a capable, powerful ancillary machine within a multi-device set-up. It might look like a laptop when magnetically connected to a Magic Keyboard (the new white version looks sharp, despite remaining wallet-thumpingly expensive and getting grubby mighty quick). Some aspects of iPadOS might even make the iPad Pro work more like a laptop – and macOS and iPadOS first-party app design is increasingly unified. But the iPad Pro isn’t a laptop – and it doesn’t want to be.
Apple / WIREDWhat Apple’s ultimately doing is seeding elements of familiarity and trying to finesse the transition between its platforms, with all your hardware and software working together. You might take that as an admission that Apple wants to eventually merge the two or replace MacBooks with iPads. That’s missing the point. Apple is trying to make moving between Mac and iPad as smooth as possible. The iPad Pro exemplifies a strategy of using the right device in specific contexts, all within part of a greater ecosystem.
It’s commendable but frustrating, and a strategy no-one has yet fully cracked, but Apple’s discipline brings it close. It’s also a strategy you might disagree with, yet it’s clear and clever, if expensive for the user. However, it’s an approach that invites criticism. It eradicates the notion of modular computing – the one Apple device that can ‘be’ anything.