The iPad was announced on January 27, 2010 — just over ten years ago. And this anniversary has started a discussion among our community about the state of iPad, where it has succeeded and where it has failed. I have my own opinions which I’ll share at the end, but I thought I’d do my best Michael Tsai impersonation and share some choice quotes from others who have written about this occasion.
The iPad at 10 is, to me, a grave disappointment. Not because it’s “bad”, because it’s not bad — it’s great even — but because great though it is in so many ways, overall it has fallen so far short of the grand potential it showed on day one. To reach that potential, Apple needs to recognize they have made profound conceptual mistakes in the iPad user interface, mistakes that need to be scrapped and replaced, not polished and refined. I worry that iPadOS 13 suggests the opposite — that Apple is steering the iPad full speed ahead down a blind alley.
There are small elements of friction, like how the iPad does not have paged memory, so the system tends to boot applications from memory when it runs out. There are developer limitations that make it difficult for apps to interact with each other. There are still system features that occupy the entire display. Put all of these issues together and it makes a chore of something as ostensibly simple as writing.
Ten years later, here I am, with a sufficiently large and advanced iPhone on one side, and a sufficiently compact and powerful laptop (the 11-inch MacBook Air) on the other. And the combination of these two devices has effectively neutralised any need I might have for an iPad. After ten years, the only area where the iPad has truly become far better than a laptop and far better than a smartphone is art creation. For that, it’s a really astounding tool.
Advanced iPad features are mostly invoked only by gestures — which gestures are not cohesively designed. The Mac is more complex — which is good for experts and would-be experts, but bad for typical users — but its complexity is almost entirely discoverable visually. You just move your mouse around the screen and click on things. That’s how you close any window. That’s how you put any window into or out of full-screen mode.1 Far more of iPadOS should be exposed by visual buttons and on-screen elements that you can look at and simply tap or drag with a single finger.
The age-old uncertainty of whether the iPad can completely replace your PC and whether you can do work on the iPad remains. There is a simple answer to both questions: it depends on your computing requirements. To still utterly condemn the iPad as incapable of doing work is ludicrous and often a statement made by disputatious observers.
I might dig into other comments separately but in general I have to say that I’d like iPhone development to slow down and iPad development to speed up. iOS 14 should be stability and no new features on iPhone and a real effort put into pruning iPadOS. I’d also love to see more work put in by Apple to make professional apps such as Final Cut Pro on iPad and it’s own apps such as Reminders split out of the OS and put into the store as an app that can be worked on independently just like Microsoft or Google do. […]
The iPad in my opinion isn’t tragic or a failure, it just needs a bit more focus for the power users.
Tom Warren, writing for The Verge:
Apple’s iPad may have transformed the tablet market, but it now appears to be growing into something more. The next decade of the iPad will define whether it remains as a third category of device that’s capable of occasionally bridging the gap between tablet and PC or if it’s ready to fully embrace life as a laptop.
John Voorhees, writing for MacStories:
iPad keynotes are very different today. The black leather chair is gone, and demos emphasize creative apps like Adobe Photoshop. The ‘single slab of multitouch glass’ is gone too. Sure, the iPad can still be used on its own and can transform into whichever app you’re using as it has always done, but there are many more layers to the interaction now with Split View, Slide Over, and multiwindowing, along with accessories like the Smart Keyboard Folio and Apple Pencil.
That’s quite a transformation for a product that has only been around for 10 years, and with the more recent introduction of the iPad Pro and iPadOS, in many ways it feels as though the iPad is just getting started.
A decade after its introduction, I think the iPad is still an underappreciated step in the storied history of computing. If anything, it has been let down by the limited imagination of application developers, who have failed to harness the capabilities of this device.
The iPad situation is serious. As an old warrior of the early Mac years recently said, one worries that Apple’s current leadership is unable to say No to bad ideas. Do Apple senior execs actually use the iPad’s undiscoverable and, once discovered, confusing multitasking features? Did they sincerely like them? Perhaps they suffer a lack of empathy for the common user: They’ve learned how to use their favorite multitasking gestures, but never built an internal representation of what we peons would feel when facing the iPad’s “improvements”.
There are, needless to say, no companies built on the iPad that are worth anything approaching $1 billion in 2020 dollars, much less in 1994 dollars, even as the total addressable market has exploded, and one big reason is that $4.99 price point. Apple set the standard that highly complex, innovative software that was only possible on the iPad could only ever earn 5 bucks from a customer forever (updates, of course, were free).
I have a more optimistic outlook on the iPad than many of the bigger influencers within the community. It’s far from perfect, but I think the state of iPad is overall positive. There are issues with the multitasking interface, text selection, mediocre mouse support, and more — I trust that these annoyances will be smoothed out over time, though.
And even with these issues, my iPad is still my primary personal computing device. With the help of Fantastical, Day One, Bear, Things, Ulysses, Spark, Slack, Code Editor by Panic, Pixelmator, and more, I can do just about everything I was using my Mac for prior to going iPad-first in 2015.
There are still plenty of limitations on the iPad, but the ceiling feels higher for me than it does on macOS. The key is access to automation through Shortcuts. On macOS, I’ve used Alfred, Quicksilver, Automator, and countless other apps within the category, but I’ve never been able to build anything quite as advanced as I have with Shortcuts.
It’s difficult to feel pessimistic about a platform that is home to a productivity tool that has clicked for me like Shortcuts has. And seeing Apple integrate it into the system as deeply as they have shows that they get it. It’s just a matter of tightening things up and continuing to aim the ship in its current direction.