Does Apple Really Have Something Up Its Sleeve?
I’ve ordered a new iPad Pro, and it’s currently backordered. But, lately, I’ve been debating about canceling the order.
(Note: I’m posting this a week before WWDC 2021, so I’m hoping that Apple proves me wrong, but I doubt it.)
What’s got me thinking are the reviews of the new 2021 M1 iPad Pro. The consensus of many of them seem to be — well, sure the M1 is faster than the 2020 iPad Pro. But, the 2020 (and even 2018) iPad Pro was already a fast machine. But —
It seems like a number of reviewers feel like the iPad Pro is now being held back by the constraints of iPad OS. That’s feeling especially true now that we’ve seen that the M1 chip is perfectly capable of running Mac OS. Sure, developers have to optimize their programs to take advantage of the new chip, but even in emulation, applications run very well on the M1 chip on Mac OS.
Plus, Apple has started to blur the lines between iOS and Mac OS even further by allowing iOS apps to be compiled to run on Mac OS. (Kind of a dick move by Apple to its developers IMO — here, have another platform that you should make apps for with free updates forever. A rant for another time)
So, the question is: What, if anything, does Apple have planned for the iPad Pro? What’s the point of having an iPad Pro with an M1 chip if it’s still constrained by iPad OS?
It’s like handing someone the keys to a brand new Ferrari that’s limited to driving no faster than 30 mph.
It still has a pencil. The 12.9 has a new screen. Sure.
The original iPad Pros had better screens and the ability to support the Pencil to distinguish them from the rest of the iPad lineup. Now, though, most of the current iPad lineup supports one of the Pencils, and the screen enhancements have mostly trickled down as well.
But, as we move towards a world where ALL Apple devices are running with Apple silicon, where does that really leave the iPad Pro?
Well, there are some options:
1) Do Nothing: Apple can keep doing what they’re doing, which isn’t much.
They might make some folks happy by creating Final Cut for iPad OS, but I think it’ll be severely limited. I don’t think Xcode will ever happen, or if it does, the workflow will be such a pain in the ass that most developers will simply not bother.
But, mostly, this means Apple makes a few tweaks here and there, but they leave the iPad Pro completely limited by the OS. Eventually, the iPad Pro features will likely be absorbed back into the main iPad line.
Why just take the boring route? Why not do something more with the iPad Pros?
Like what, you might ask?
2) Start experimenting with bringing Mac OS features into iPad OS.
Give the iPad a true “desktop” and a fully functional file system. Maybe a terminal, but I don’t think Apple will ever do that. What about bringing more interconnectivity between a Mac and an iPad Pro? Let an iPad use an external display as an extended desktop (which is rumored to be coming). Or, what about this? Allow Macs to use iPads as pen displays. Connect an iPad to a Mac, and then, as long as they’re tethered, you can run Mac OS apps on the iPad and use the iPad Pro and Pencil as an input device. Wacom won’t like it, but they still have larger/better displays.
How about this? Bring full multi-user support to iPad OS, which a lot of people have been wanting for years.
It’d be a bit tricky because Apple may have to “split” iPad OS into two: one for Pro features and one for normal iPads. Apple will likely never allow apps to be installed without going through the App Store. Tools that would be useful for developers would also likely be not be allowed on the platform.
3) Let’s just go all out: Mac OS Touch. Allow touch to be fully integrated into Mac OS, and allow the iPad Pros to be the first machines to run it.
Touchscreen Macs?!? That’s crazy. Apple would never invest in a niche market like that. Or, would they?
Microsoft has already built this niche with the Surface line of products, and there seems to be a decent sized community of folks who are using or would like to use the iPad as their main computer.
We know the M1 can run either iPad OS or Mac OS. So, why not push the envelope? It could be a way to keep the iPad Pro line more relevant by pushing them to the Mac side.
This might take longer — and it might become a phased thing like they’ve been doing with converting iOS apps to Mac OS apps and the migration to Apple silicon.
The long term goal, though, would be to evolve the iPad Pro into a new line of Macs with touch support. They’d probably have a new name, and they’d probably come with two thunderbolt ports, but they’d be Macs.
Imagine running a full version of Mac OS on an iPad, even in some limited form until Apple was ready to go to the next step. Maybe you can run it in emulation? Maybe you can choose to configure the iPad Pro to run in either Mac OS or iPad OS?
iPad Pros are already at a price point where they kind of sit between the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pros. The only Mac that might be cannibalized would be the 13 inch MacBook Pro. But, Apple can solve that by keeping the iPad Pro (MacBook Touch?) a generation behind the MacBook Pro M-series of chips. There are rumors abound that Apple is planning on a new M-series for the MacBook Pro line.
Unless it proves otherwise, Mac OS and the rest of the Mac line would remain without touch. Likewise, iPhones and the rest of the iPad line would stay within the bounds of iOS and iPad OS.
But, the main goal would be that Apple would have a platform where they could be free to experiment with the idea of truly integrating iOS and Mac OS. Chances are, they’ve already have. The lessons learned from the new platform could result in new enhancements to either line. Maybe it becomes worth adding touch in some form to ALL Macs? Or, maybe features would evolve out of Mac OS Touch that could enhance iOS and iPad OS?
This is all fantasy, however.
At the end of the day, though, I don’t think Apple will take any risks with pushing the limits of iPad OS. I would love to be wrong about this, but I seriously think that the only things that will be announced for iPad OS at WWDC this year will be some minor tweaks to the OS. Apple will put M chips in the iPad Pros, but the machines will continue to be limited by Apple’s constraints on the OS.
And that’s a damn shame.
We’ll see, though, what Apple announces at WWDC.