Replacing my MacBook Pro with an Apple Watch 😉

No. I didn’t do this, but it gave me a thought on the perennial iPad-vs-Mac debate we like to have here, and especially in light of @Bmosbacker’s Homeric-length threads on his 30-day experiment to see if his iPad could become his sole/primary computing device and the wonderful discussion about WWDC 24, and @jcarucci’s recently started thread with his thoughts on the 2024 iPad Pro. It strikes me that the iPad-is-not-a-Mac-replacement adherents start from the reasonable assumption that the Mac does everything, iPadOS only can do a subset of everything; so, why would one want to chose to give up a machine that does everything for a machine that does not? Equally, why wouldn’t Apple just enable iPadOS to do everything that a Mac can do and eliminate the debate on at least this one issue?

The question I have for us is why do we even want the iPad to be able to stand alone and serve as a replacement to our Macs?

Let’s put aside the question of cost. Obviously, having one machine to rule them all results in a monetary savings. Equally obvious is that having a less expensive machine that can “do everything” (the user needs it to do) is ideal. Because I don’t think price concerns drive the level of passion we see on the subject of the iPad.

What is it about the iPad that makes people want it so much?

For me, there are 5 characteristics of the iPad that have this effect on me. All five of them together sum up to one result: iPad is a more personal personal-computing experience for me. Here are those five components:

  1. iPad is an extension of me;
  2. iPad seamlessly integrates real life around me with the digital life in front of me;
  3. iPad becomes whatever my content is.
  4. iPad can go everywhere.
  5. iPad is fun to interact with.

I’m going to draw contrasts between iPads and laptops, but none of this is meant to denigrate the laptop. I’ve been a laptop user for 31 years and an iPad user for 12. The comparison is only to highlight what I see as the distinctions between the two systems that have drawn me to the iPad.

First, an iPad becomes an extension of the user rather than a distinct tool. One can get too carried away with this point, of course, an iPad is just a device you hold in your hand. But the mode of interaction with it brings it closer than any other device to something that’s a part of you. You directly connect with an iPad, but connect only indirectly—more remotely—to a laptop. I feel physically closer to the iPad than I do my MacBook Pro. (Even great touchscreen laptops do not achieve the same closeness. To me, it still feels like I am distant from the machine, which makes me understand why Apple does not want to make touchscreen Macs.) The iPad is physically nearer my face, my fingers reach out and experience the content.

Let’s go the other way. What about an iPhone? Isn’t that an extension of your person? An iPhone may be more intimate, but it’s oddly intrusive and less of an extension of the user. A phone seems like a gadget in a way that an iPad does not. For example, I’ve watched people giving speeches using their iPhones for notes. It seems weird. When I see someone give a speech from an iPad, it seems more natural. One reason might be that with an iPad, the speaker can make the text so large that he is looking less frequently at his iPad than he would look at his phone. An iPad is more of a community device, an iPhone more an individual device, which brings me to my next point.

Second, an iPad has an amazing ability to bring real world and digital world into the same space and time. A laptop creates a barrier between the user and the world around him or her. An iPad brings these two worlds together by eliminating the barrier. A laptop is a machine that you manipulate to obtain various results and outputs. An iPad is a gateway that connects one environment to another. On that score, iPad is even better than a virtual reality device where the box on one’s face acts as just another barrier between user and real world. In addition to being a gateway, an iPad is at the same time non-intrusive. It can sit on a table in a meeting, or be held in the user’s hand without interfering with the human-to-human communication taking place.

Third, iPad makes content/information king. Look at nearly every iPad app and you will see this. The content of the app—not the tools that manipulate that content—is the focus. This was further emphasized in this year’s WWDC with the changes to the menu bar and sidebar. This change elevates content.

Apple’s own Human Interface Guidelines emphasize this, too:

Take advantage of the large display to elevate the content people care about, minimizing modal interfaces and full-screen transitions, and positioning onscreen controls where they’re easy to reach, but not in the way.

The iPad is, again, a gateway into the user’s content. It puts that content front and center. A laptop’s design prioritizes the desktop; menu bars; programs; tools, commands, and the UI elements needed to access them; and files. Clearly, we users were acting on content with our laptops long before iPads existed. Yet, the content is less prominent, unless the user executes commands to make it more prominent: think going into slideshow view in Powerpoint, or making a video go full screen. iPad, like an octopus blending into her surroundings, disappears becoming the user’s content. Only a virtual reality headset can offer a more immersive experience, and while that level of immersion is delightful it has some serious drawbacks, in my view. Primarily, the drawback results from the way it creates such a hard separation between real world and virtual world.

Fourth, this flat piece of glass that is an iPad, is portable and flexible to the extreme. It’s also more unobtrusive. It’s great to take notes on it in places where a laptop might be out-of place. Like sitting in a church pew, in a small-size meeting, or when interviewing people. I’ve never been asked to put my 12.9” (now 13”) iPad away during plane take offs and landings.

It’s a matter of degree, for sure, as many of us have been taking our laptops around with us everywhere for years. But to me, the iPad is a little lighter (which isn’t huge, my laptop is not that heavy), and at the same time, feels less fragile than my laptop. My iPad’s been covered in goop in the kitchen, covered in sand at the beach, covered in french-fry grease after I’ve taken my kids to the golden arches (ahh, McDonald’s if that expression is not understood by my international friends), I’ve thrown it in a tiny backpack and ridden 26 miles on my bike with it on my sweaty back. I may have written about this before, I’ve even run over an iPad (after forgetting I left my briefcase by the rear wheel of my car) and it worked perfectly fine other than that it was warped and wouldn’t sit flat on the desk. It didn’t even scratch the screen. iPad is far easier to integrate into every aspect of life than a laptop is. And, honestly, that’s saying something because laptops have been the pinnacle of portability.

Fifth, one of the things that we talk about a lot here on the MPU forum is the “delight” factor. Many of us were drawn to tech because of this delight factor. iPad’s are fun to interact with. I find it satisfying when I can fling several apps around with my fingers—whether that be in Stage Manager (my preference) or the old Split View / Slide Over method—while pulling information from those apps and Spotlight and assembling them into something somewhere else, with a video playing in picture-in-picture, and all the while accomplishing some task that should be impossible to accomplish on a sheet of glass. When I’m at trial, I have my trial presentation app (TrialPad) open and instead of having a hotseat operator with me in the courtroom, I can directly access, present, call out, highlight, and markup exhibits right as I’m examining a witness. I never have to break eye contact with the witness or jury. At the same time, I have Word open in a narrow window (using Mobile View mode) with my examination outline or speaking notes. I couldn’t do that with Word on Mac (or PC) because there is so much window chrome, I’d never be able to see my text. It’s fun. It’s serious work, but it adds to the pleasure you derive from doing something you love.

Maybe there are more factors that I’m overlooking, but these five seem to sum it up. Okay, your turn.

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Excellent, detailed post. I don’t share your love of the iPad, but I enjoyed reading about why you do love it, and I’d never want to take that away from you!

Just a few observations and minor quibbles (and maybe a teensy bit of snark) from my side of the fence:

Because of the sandboxing and other ways Apple prohibits me from making them my own, the iPad and iPhone both feel less of an extension of myself than my Mac does. They mostly feel like Apple’s devices that I simply use.

Gosh, whenever I’ve used an iPad, my fingers reached out and touched a pane of glass. Maybe yours really is magic!

I don’t see anything special there. Giving a speech from notes on any tiny medium would come across weird. It’s the difference between having your speech notes on letter size paper and having them in a notebook that fits in your shirt pocket. Of course, with paper there’s no risk of electronic glitches in the middle of your speech.

Without a keyboard on it, which makes it indistinguishable from a laptop to most people, you have to use the virtual keyboard or a stylus. And I personally find either one a horrible way to take notes. I’d rather use a bluetooth keyboard to take notes on my phone. A lot of people find handwriting with the Apple Pencil the best of both worlds; I find it the worst.

It doesn’t fit in my pocket, so it has to go in a bag, which doesn’t seem extremely portable to me relative to a thin and light laptop. When I’ve used an iPad in the past, I found myself either making do with my phone or feeling that if I’m bringing my bag, I might as well bring my laptop. And again, if you add a keyboard, you aren’t saving any weight or size.

To bring an iPad instead of a phone or laptop, you have to really want that big touchscreen, and I think that more than size and weight is the main factor for most people who do that, especially artists or those who have to use a device standing up. Or lawyers—that’s one I wouldn’t have guessed!

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For me it goes back to Apple’s first iPad and the Keyboard Dock. It was, and is, that the iPad starts as a hand held tablet. I love that form factor. A slab of thin glass and aluminum that is the computer. To this day I still marvel at the simplicity of it. The iPhone never hit me the same way and in fact I didn’t get my first iPhone until 2012. I always felt the screen was too small and still do. It has it’s place and its uses but for me that’s when I’m out on a walk or engaged in other outdoor activity. But that’s a very specific role.

Transformer

Going back to Steve Jobs’ positioning of the iPad during his keynote introduction of it, it’s the device in the middle. The iPad, with its larger screen, felt like a real computer without the attached baggage of a keyboard getting in the way. The iPad as a transformer, a modular computer that fits into my environment in ways other computers cannot.

Right now I have it attached to stand that’s connected to the shelf next to my futon. I have a similar stand attached to my desk. This allows the iPad to be elevated and moved around to a variety of angles and heights. I’ve got it elevated to eye level, 16" above my lap where I’ve got a keyboard/trackpad. The stand has a magnetic attachement for the iPad so I can pull the iPad off easily to move, hand hold it or pop it into the Magic Keyboard. It is the hub of any configuration. The only limit is my imagination and willingness to experiment… well, that and available accessories. I have imagined so many more than currently exist. More than anything I want exactly what Microsoft is offering with the new Surface: a thin keyboard/trackpad combo that connects via Bluetooth. If the Logitech Combo Touch had Bluetooth it would be that.

Touch and multitasking

Interacting via touch has never gotten old. Instantly natural and magical. Like something that shouldn’t be possible but is. That’s the delight. It’s magic paper. That’s the connection you describe. Multitasking via touch gestures continues to be a delightful experience and is central to productivity and enjoyment in my use of the iPad.

App ecosystem

My dock is bursting with apps that get daily use. Over the years I’ve rarely had a problem finding an app solution for what I’ve needed. It’s generally the case that there are several apps to choose from for any particular task I need to do. And it’s generally true that a well done, built-for-iPad app doesn’t feel like a compromise. The last gap in my toolset was filled by Affinity Publisher in the fall of 2022. Like the other Affinity apps, it sets the bar for what’s possible with a “desktop class” app. The opposite approach to that taken by Adobe.

iPadOS

It’s become a common request that Apple make a touch MacBook or allow macOS to be installed on iPads. Would I switch to macOS if it were available as an option on the iPad? No. I’ve come to prefer iPadOS and with each year I enjoy it more as Apple has taken steps to expand it’s capabilities. My experience has been made much better by the addition of macOS-like features to iPadOS for those that want them. I think of it as two modes of the same OS. The original basic experience for those that want that and the more advanced Mac-inspired mode that’s been added over the past 3-5 years. Most notably, the addition of cursor support, Stage Manager, external display support, and the improved Files app have created a far more capable, flexible experience in iPadOS.

Speaking of Files, just today I learned that Files in iPadOS 18 will be able to erase and reformat hard drives. A feature too small that Apple didn’t mention it during the WWDC Keynote. But this is exactly what we can expect: year by year, Apple keeps adding features to close the previous gaps.

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Wow! Sure enough….

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Great explanation of why the iPad is your preferred device.

Quick question:

Is that so you can separate them and still use the keyboard and trackpad?

I seem to remember the reviews of aftermarket iPad keyboards like the ones from Brydge saying more or less, “but it uses bluetooth” instead of Apple’s proprietary direct connector, implying that it was inferior, though that may have been due to earlier versions of the bluetooth spec.

But I currently use a bluetooth keyboard and mouse every day without issue.

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If only you could erase and reformat the internal storage on the iPad itself and install an alternate OS when Apple declared your perfectly functioning device obsolete and stopped providing security updates…

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Yeah, I often use a Bluetooth keyboard and a Magic Trackpad when I’ve got the iPad in an elevated stand. But it sure would be nice to have an all-in-one, thin and light pull off that I could use. I have and use the Logitech Combo Touch which is very similar to the new Surface in form, if it offered a Bluetooth function it would be perfect.

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Interesting. I just looked at the Logitech Combo Touch, and it probably wouldn’t work for me because of the flap/kickstand holding the screen up. Most people say designs like that are unstable without a flat surface to sit on, and I often like to work with a laptop on (who would have thought?) my lap.

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Without a way to backup the iPad it cannot be a replacement for a traditional computer IMO.

I prefer an iPad because it is an always connected device that can be used sitting at desk or while moving around. And it works for me because I have no problem using cloud based solutions and a Mac/PC as a backup server.

Apple’s AI solution is on-device/private cloud compute, which appeals to a lot of people. And requires larger processors, more ram and battery capacity, and more local storage than a cloud based solution.

More than anything else the applications we select determines the hardware we can use.

Yeah, no way it would work on a lap. That said, I’ve got it on my lap at this very moment! :rofl: BUT, I always have a couple of pillows on my lap and/or a lap desk - then the iPad/Combo Touch on top of that. I work from home, often from my futon so I’ve got all sorts of arrangements.

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Not to brag, but my MS-DOS computer could format drives back in 1985, and even earlier for people who got their PC before I did :slight_smile:

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Ha! Have it run your Fedora 40 spin with KDE Plasma 6.1?

Funny to think about, but there is something deeper here to consider. Our MS-DOS computers had to provide for users to format disks because nearly all users had to format disks in order to use their machines. IPad’s have sold remarkably well for the last 14 years without burdening users with the need to format, partition, defrag, or otherwise conduct low-level disk I/O tasks. Tis’ a testament to the iPad, indeed! Perhaps, we are going backwards?

IPadOS could have exposed users to i/o management facilities from day one. It was a design goal (apparently) not to do so. That Apple is opening up iPadOS in response to power-user demands is a positive. It impresses me that Apple is doing do so in ways that are consistent with the design philosophy of the device and its user environment.

IPadOS has got to be the first OS—whether accidentally or by design—that started with the interface first and worked backwards slowly but (seemingly) purposefully to expose more and more infrastructural elements.

Formatting disks used to be something all users did regularly; now it is something most users never even think about.

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One of the major reasons why iPhones and iPads have been so successful with the non tech crowd is precisely because management wasn’t needed, or even exposed. People hate file systems for the most part. It’s not logical for them to have to tell the computer what to do or where to put the file.

I hear it enough from my clients: if I delete Word (on a PC), will it delete my documents? and I see it: all their documents are in Downloads and aren’t renamed. Search doesn’t look inside their PDFs so they’re not findable anymore.

If one uses an iPad, all these problems go away for the most part.

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Sure! Or an Android ROM like Lineage :wink:

The same is true not only of iPhones, but Android phones and tablets. It’s more a testament to cloud storage and the advent of relatively abundant local solid state storage, combined with the model of computers as sealed, factory-configured appliances for running apps that was ushered in by the smartphone era.

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My guess is that this feature will be used quite a bit by creatives who take advantage of things like recording 4K/60fps video in Apple ProRes on their phone directly to an attached drive. Once you’ve copied all those HUGE files over to the iPad Pro using Thunderbolt, the fastest way to re-use that drive is usually to format it.

It used to be my go-to method for readying CF and SD cards for the next photoshoot too, using the DSLR camera to re-format the cards. Naturally after I had offloaded the files to my Mac and verified I could read them.

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People are used to working that way, though, and power users want more functionality. This is just the latest example of Apple giving them just that. A few years ago, it might have been a reasonable assumption that this would never show up on an iPad, much less an iPhone. A lot has changed in those few years.

My guess is that the tipping point for this is video recording on the iPhone getting so high-res that it has to be recorded to external drives so it doesn’t swamp internal storage.

Oh, my goodness, Tom from Byte Review posted a video about his feelings about iPad that will probably resonate with a lot of people here.

In the video, he created this funnel drawing that went left (wide end) to right (narrow end). On the right were the people who the iPad was perfect for. The text is getting written across the screen as you watch: Artists; Specific Users; Students…… The final item on the list was hilarious: