I never felt the need to choose between iPad and Mac. I use and appreciate both of them. But over the past few years, both the Mac and iPad have seemed to be increasingly limited by the artificial barrier that Apple has erected between them.
The iPad is gradually becoming more like a Mac, never reaching the promised land. In the meantime, the Mac has been unable to use many of the iPad’s features.
I admire Apple’s discipline in separating its product lines, but it seems to me that this decision is starting to damage the future of both products. The Mac and iPad are on a collision course, and I’m concerned that they’re both about to hit the brick wall that Apple has built between them.
Not Quite a Mac
In the iPad Pro era (i.e. the last eight years), Apple has put a lot of effort into building Mac-like features into iPadOS. Instead of simply abandoning Mac features, Apple has tried to reinvent that functionality in the context of the iPad.
When it works well, as it did with the addition of cursor support in 2020, it can be a triumph. But all too often, the add-ons feel limited or partial to highlight just how powerful the Mac is. Files is similar to Finder but more limited. Stage Manager is similar to Mac windows, but more limited. Some of the basics of iPadOS (such as the sound subsystem, which can only be played from one app at a time and cannot record system or app audio) were created for the limited world of the iPhone and never seem to have been revised.
And of course, even with full keyboard and trackpad support, the closest iPadOS comes to a MacBook is optional accessories like the Magic Keyboard. An iPadOS laptop might be worth a try, but it will never exist because it encroaches on Mac territory.
One MacBook, no exceptions
While the iPad has always specialized in flexible ergonomics, the design of the MacBook line has been frozen in amber since the early 2010s. You can buy a lot of Windows-based laptops experimenting with ergonomics in interesting ways that break the laptop paradigm of two rectangles that are always connected. While these PCs may be odd, they also offer a level of ergonomic flexibility that Macs don’t. MacBooks are laptops, and that’s all they can be.
Of course, it’s hard to be a convertible mobile computer if you can’t control the device without a keyboard and trackpad. Rumor has it that in a couple of years, Apple might finally add a touchscreen to the MacBook, which would be a terrific development if PCs haven’t had them for ages. The addition of the Apple Pencil was another big boost for the iPad, but the Mac can only use it if you connect it to the iPad and draw on the iPad’s screen.
However, the Mac has all the power and flexibility that the iPad lacks – even the iPad Pro. I can do any job on my MacBook Air from almost anywhere in the world. Podcasts alone make this unacceptable on the iPad Pro, and there are plenty of other features on the iPad Pro that just aren’t as powerful or flexible as they are on macOS.
Let’s explore the middle
Sometimes I look back at all the effort Apple put into the iPad Pro and wonder if it was worth it. All of the Mac-ish feature additions have added complexity that is likely missed for most iPadOS users, and the power users they were intended for are probably well aware of all the ways they don’t really match the Mac features they’re duplicating.
I want to see what happens when the walls come down. Today’s iPad Pro is powered by the same chip as the MacBook Air. Would it be such a cataclysm if I could just reboot this iPad into macOS, or run macOS inside a virtual machine?
Likewise, what if the Mac had a touchscreen and Apple Pencil support, and the shapes were different from traditional laptops? What if the Mac started offering the ergonomic flexibility that iPadOS is so good at? What if I ripped the keyboard off the MacBook and was able to switch to touch mode, which was essentially iPadOS?
I’m not exactly saying macOS and iPadOS should be merged. But I’m starting to wonder if users will be better served if the iPad Pro is more like a Mac and the MacBook is more like an iPad Pro. (Of course, there will still be traditional macOS laptops and cheaper iPads with iPadOS in this scenario.)
For years, Apple has been pushing the iPad Pro into the “no fish, no bird” realm, where no matter how hard it tries, it can never be a Mac. Meanwhile, a Mac can never be an iPad. Looks like it’s time to break down the barriers and let Apple let these two product lines spread their wings. Until Mac and iPad can play to each other’s strengths, I’m afraid neither will be the best version of themselves.