Why the iPad Failed at Being the Next Big Thing.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Apple_II_mouse.jpg

When it was initially released, the iPad revolutionized the definition of a computer. It brought the ease of use of an iPhone with the advantageous form factor of a keyboard-less computer.

The iPad was, and is, a wonderful machine. It is an excellent computer for people who don’t care about computers: no need to install an anti-virus, apps are closing automatically (no more cluttered desktop), app installation and updates are easy and automatic. Basically, an iPad can take care of itself regardless of the user’s knowledge of computers. It is offering just the right amount of power most users needs in a form-factor perfect for everyday life.

Nevertheless, the iPad didn’t become the ultimate computer replacement Steve Jobs had envisioned. It instead became a glorified web surfing and video watching machine.

This is all because the iPad fell short of a few simple features that changed it from a go-go to a no-no as a main computer for most people.

The Mouse

First and foremost, the lack of a good pointing device makes the iPad inefficient for work. The mouse pointer was, and is, the most advanced, precise and efficient way to interact with a computer. Yet, the iPad relies mainly on fingers. Fingers are user-friendly and natural to use, but they don’t offer the necessary precision for pretty much any type of work. For example, text editing is simply unbearable on a touch screen: selecting text and individual characters with big and imprecise fingers is a real challenge. This makes navigation inside a paragraph arduous in comparison to a mouse-based editor.

Fingers are problematic not just for text editing, but for arguably every professional use of a computer. For example, photo-editing: using fingers to apply filters to a photo is pretty easy. However, when it’s time to use brushes and other precision tools, a finger does not offer the pixel-perfect precision often needed. The Apple Pencil solves this problem, but Apple should have made it many years ago when the iPad was still making its name.

Pretty much any activity other than consuming media is impractical on the iPad. It always can be done faster on a mouse-equipped computer because fingers are just not suited for digital work. A device cannot revolutionize computing if previous computers did things better.

One Shared Storage Space

From the first iPad, I’ve always been surprised by the lack of shared file storage space between apps. I find it hard to believe that Apple didn’t think it was a good idea to let apps access the same storage space. Instead, they decided that every app should have its own folder with no way to read the files from another app without a manual transfer.

Here’s why this is extremely unpractical: let's suppose someone receives a compressed folder by email and they need to edit the image and the Word document in it, and then send it back. On a PC it would be pretty easy: uncompress the folder and edit the Word document and the image. Then compress back the folder and send it. Instead, on an iPad, the user has to go through this file-transfer crazy-house:

  1. Transfer the file from the mail app to a a zip app to uncompress the file.
  2. Transfer the image file from the zip app to a image editing app.
  3. Transfer back the image from the editing app to the zip app.
  4. Transfer the Word document from the zip app to the Word app.
  5. Transfer back the Word document to the zip app once edited. Then compress back the image and the document together.
  6. Transfer the zip file to the email app and send it.

The fact that multiple apps cannot edit/read the same file at the same time and that files need to be transferred even for simple edits makes it total madness for anyone wanting to do useful work. All these file transfers would be unnecessary if all the apps shared the same document folder where they could all access the same zip file with its content (like on a PC).

At least, on iOS 8, Apple introduced iCloud Drive and common storage spaces to solve this problem. Unfortunately, it was too late. The iPad was already considered a mainly-for-web-surfing machine at that time.

One More Thing…

This last point is the hardest of all to implement, but it would have made the iPad a complete PC killer. I’m talking here about app portability.

App portability: the capacity of taking an already existing application and modifying it to work on another system. For example: porting Microsoft Word from Windows to iOS.

There are so many applications out there made for other platforms like Windows and macOS. Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Suite are great examples of desktop softwares that were desperately missing for many years on the iOS platform. If Apple had made an effort to make it easy (or at least easier) to port computer softwares to iOS, more professional softwares would have been ported to the iPad. One example of how difficult it is to port software to the iPad is Microsoft Office. Even after a multiple years of development, the Word iOS app is still much inferior to the desktop version.

Apple Blew It Up

Apple blew their chance to transform the face of micro-computing, and they know it. Now, they are trying to get back in the professional tablet market with the iPad Pro series. However, it is too little too late when compared to the Microsoft Surface’s growing popularity. The missing mouse pointer, the problematic storage scheme and the missing softwares destroyed the iPad’s credibility as a business machine right from the start. Sadly, this caused the iPad to simply become the glorified Netflix machine as we know it today.


Hi, I’m Maxime! I hope you had as much fun reading this article as I had making it. If it’s the case, don’t forget to click the little green heart! 💚💚💚

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