The iPad turnaround

Andreas Stegmann
Jun 5 · 4 min read

This years WWDC was packed. I was criticizing Apple for Sign in with Apple, now I applaud them for iPadOS.

Which is also quite the unpopular opinion, I guess:

the introduction of iPad OS. This is, to be clear, mostly a marketing move: iPad OS is very much the same iOS it was two days ago.

I do think it’s more than cosmetics: It marks a stark departure. A departure I called for after the introduction of Apple’s new iPad Pro line:

The Pencil is maybe mightier than the mouse. But that’s not what’s holding the iPad back. It’s that it’s lacking all forms of backward compatibility for the remainder of so-called edge cases. […]

Don’t despair, I think iOS 13 will fix this.

To illustrate, look at some of the changes in iOS 13…pardon me…iPadOS:

Files support

iOS and therefore the iPad is famous for trying to break with the importance of files as a central element in personal computing. There was no access to the file system — it got obfuscated for the user.

Fast forward to today. The Files app gained SMB or USB drive support and cameras can transfer data directly into apps like Lightroom.

Mouse support

Speaking of basic necessities: Support for USB mice. It seems to be quite advanced in the implementation details. The cursor, of course, is owing its big nature to the framing as assistance feature. One can only imagine the political dealings in Cupertino that culminated in this compromise.

Which makes it even sillier to go back and read Apple tech commentators praising Apple to not including mouse support. It was treated like a symbol of the past, whereas Touch & Pen are the only future.

Looking at the history of the GUI, I wrote:

The transition from Keyboard-first to Mouse-first was possible because people were free to still use the keyboard.

Now we are transitioning to Touch-first. In the same manner the transition is now possible because people are free to still use the mouse. At last users can’t excuse the holdout on PCs with the lack of mouse and keyboard input methods. Some will come for “doing mail” or watching YouTube, and ending up doing their tax returns.

It doesn’t mean that Touch or Pen have failed, it’s just that Touch or Pen only have failed (to convince enough users to switch).

Desktop Class Browser

I said it before, having a real browser can’t be overestimated. Heck, there is a whole OS that is basically a browser. Being able to go to the full webpage of an service is important. Maybe because a web service doesn’t have a dedicated app, maybe because you don’t have the time for downloading and installing. Suddenly, a lot of stuff is possible that was unheard of.

I would be happier if they would’ve gone all the way. Especially regarding extensions. But I get that Apple isn’t eager to fully support those or PWAs. #StrategyTax


Last but not least: The iPad having a dedicated OS (if only by name) is a commitment. A commitment to build software that is specialized for the powerful hardware. A commitment to build software for Tablet-specific use cases. A commitment to have at least something new at every WWDC to show (instead of the on/off cycle of the past).

All images from Apple’s marketing page

What does it all mean? First of all, the iPad is taken seriously by Apple — after a long dry spell. True, these features are due for ages. True, Android tablets had those for a while. True, the iPad has still a lot of unfulfilled potential.

Yet these observations are meaningless, if the product iPad (hardware + software + ecosystem) ist still superior to the competition. (We can argue if they always play fair game in sealing off their ecosystem, but that’s another discussion.)

And secondly, this tweet holds quite the observation:

Apple tried to force us into the future of computing with little transition or safety net. The majority didn’t wanted to be forced. Now they’re trying again, with a slightly different angle:

  • Trying to make a better laptop instead of a bigger iPhone
  • Backwards compatibility instead of greenfield approach
  • Being more aware of what users already do instead of telling them what to do

The next step would be an iPad convertible that works like the Surface Book.

Don’t get me wrong, iPadOS has some way to go to be a complete replacement. It’s not a black & white transformation either, we’re still talking about Apple. Other basic stuff, like the option to choose default apps is still missing. But from now on it’s more a question of execution — where before it was mainly a question of politics & positioning.

Andreas Stegmann

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Product guy @ Likes customer-oriented tech, mobile, UX & business models.