The iPad Pro needs a Trackpad
My passion for computers and technology started in the late 80s. I clearly remember the day when, in Rome airport on the way to a family vacation to Tunisia, I bought one of the few italian computer magazines at the time (now long dead). I was bitten. At the time, desktops reigned supreme and towers were all the rage. Laptops started to appear, but there was another class of computers that has since all but disappeared, the portable computer. Portable computers were essentially a desktop “designed to be moved from one place to another”, but not to perform work while on the move.
But in 2015 the portable computer is back from the dead thanks to the iPad Pro. The iPad Pro, as people smarter than me noted, is a computer that can be moved from A to B, not a mobile device. And, as all good portable computers, it now needs a trackball to truly fulfil it’s destiny (ok I’m kidding, a trackpad would do).
I know what you’re thinking. Why using a trackpad when we are born with “the best pointing device in the world” and we can use them on the screen? The thing is, if the iPad Pro is at its best when used on a desk, you’ll have to often touch the screen in vertical position to operate it (except when drawing), but we know that “touch surfaces don’t want to be vertical”.
I use mine all the time on a desk, and while interacting with the screen is intuitive, it’s also tiring and inefficient as it forces you to take your hands off the keyboard.
So how to solve this problem? The simplest way would be to allow for pairing of the magic trackpad to an iPad and having some sort of “cursor” on screen to show where your finger would be (like Apple’s own iOS simulator for developers).
Another, more daring, option would be to create a “glass keyboard” to be attached to the iPad (it would look somewhat like the old Microsoft Courier concept). The benefits would be that the same surface can be used as keyboard, including different keys set up depending on the app, and to move the “finger” on screen. Developers could of course find new ways to use the new screen real estate for a new generation of iPad apps, making the platform more unique and appealing. Finally, but importantly, Apple gets us to buy new hardware, which they seem to like.
I realise this is not too far from turning the iPad Pro into a Mac/PC replacement but… isn’t this exactly the point of the iPad Pro? Why not taking the decision to launch a laptop replacement to its natural consequence?
I also don’t think this is something Apple would never do. After Steve Jobs’ passing, the company has proven pragmatic in opening up to different ways of using their devices (think larger screens on iPhones and the iPad Pro itself, 3rd party keyboards, or the Apple Pencil). Also, despite the conceptual heresy, UX wise things would not change much. You still move your screen on the tablet, only the 1:1 local relation between your finger and the action is broken. I don’t think this is a disaster (in fact, you are already using a similar metaphore in the “trackpad-keyboard” functionality introduced with iOS 9).
In my opinion what makes the iPad better than a traditional computer is not the touchscreen per se, but the limit to one app -two now- that keeps me more focused on the task at hand.
Am I crazy? Don’t miss the opportunity to point that out in the comments.
PS: thanks to Martin Rechsteiner for the creative commons Picture (cropping is mine)