What is this silly ‘real work’ gate-keeping? I guess the author means their work.
My fitness instructor uses an iPad to refer to fitness plans. He’s doing real work. He uses files to do it as well! Opening an Excel spreadsheet.
My friend is an outdoor teacher and uses an iPad as a map. He’s doing real work. Maps are files.
Another friend works as a train engineer and uses an iPad to refer to technical manuals. He’s doing real work. The manuals are PDF files.
My colleagues who do recruitment at conferences take people’s details on iPads. They’re doing real work too. Each form filled in is a file.
On a normal desktop OS, it is routine to use multiple applications in concert to do work, using files and the clipboard as means of composition.
On an iPad (or mobile devices in general), it is indeed possible to build delightful and useful end-to-end integrated suites for doing so-called "Real work".
The problem is that if you want to perform a task that requires features from two or more applications, you may well be out of luck! Applications can rarely share data, often resorting to cloud services (and thus a mandatory network connection) as a clumsy workaround, and even copying and pasting data between applications can be challenging and error-prone.
On a desktop, any user can invent new workflows. On an ipad, a user can only buy them wholesale. Users are at the mercy of the degree of forethought the app developers put into their designs.
The OSes were removing friction and making it easier and easier to craft our own solutions from tools in an expanding and interoperating toolbox.
And then we got iOS and iPad and each app has its private data, no more command line, no more generic project folders, no file system access, not even copy and paste, and years of "well, I guess you could email it to yourself" or "just pay us every month for iCloud instead of plugging in a thumb drive" nonsense. Those restrictions are being partly and awkwardly eased somewhat, but we're being assured that having self-contained, pre-designed apps for everything is the new way. Apple (which seldom makes claims about the future) is telling us explicitly that the iPad is what the future of computing is going to be. That is not appealing to me, nor is it intended to be.
While it is true of course that you can do "real work" if "there is an app for that", you can't even write your own app for that without paying Apple a yearly fee and getting their approval to put it in the app store. I hope this won't be the only future of computing.
The iPhone and iPad are fine platforms; I use them regularly for my work. However, they are a far cry from Alan Kay's Dynabook idea. A better base for developing on the Dynabook idea would be the Microsoft Surface line of tablets, which can run the full versions of Windows 10 Home or Pro and thus can run modern Smalltalk implementations such as Squeak or Pharo.
I wish there were more work done in the area of composable GUIs, where the core logic of applications is scriptable and where these elements can be combined in ways that could be even more expressive than Unix pipes are. Every now and then I have thoughts about taking a modern Smalltalk implementation and writing a suite of composable GUI apps as a demonstration of this idea.
This topic always takes me back to a Hacker News comment I read many years ago (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13573373) about composable software versus monolithic applications and how commercial software companies are predisposed to support the latter while the free software movement should have focused on the former. I still don't think it's too late, however, as long as there are some vendors selling hardware that users can install their own software on without needing to use a certified app store.
There is a related issue at play here when it comes to how systems are developed. It takes an enormous amount of sustained effort and time to create whole computing systems (hardware, OS, design, etc). The FOSS movement is not really capable by definition of doing this, since it is dispersed and not funded at the level that today's major platforms have been funded. This is precisely why FOSS is so Unix-centric: that is the predominant and free OS that was available at the time the whole movement really came about.
It would take a years-long, well funded research effort to build a truly new computing environment. On the technical side, the desire and some of the knowledge is there. We simply lack funders that are willing to pony up a good amount to the right people and leave them alone. That is was ARPA, PARC, and Bell Labs were able to do in their time, and the disappearance of this kind of funding environment is exactly why we are still reiterating on the accomplishments of those institutions today.
Where the browser is the platform, you might consider using custom elements to fill this role: https://html.spec.whatwg.org/multipage/custom-elements.html#...
Ok... but if you don’t need that you’re not doing ‘real work’?
Apple has pushed the narrative of "What's a Computer", so they're just reaping what they sow.
For tens of millions of people it can be.
Evidence: Hundreds of million of iPhone users who do not have computers. It's why Apple started iCloud backup and restore for the iPhones — So people without computers can upgrade without losing all of their data and settings.
If Apple sold a device which was physically identical to an iPad but ran OSX (with some minor affordances to close the gaps between touch, pen, and mouse input- much as Microsoft has pursued in recent Windows iterations) I'd be ecstatic with it. I've considered trying a Modbook, but the price is a bit eye-watering.
Having access to a desktop-style OS would only add to the range of things you could do with smaller devices. Would it be harder to use than an iPad? Maybe.
Then your work is not a typical example of real work, the same thing being a rock star is not -- even if people exist that are rock stars and get paid for it, so it's still "real work" in that sense.
"Real work" is only real if it agrees with your narrow world view.
It's you who want to enforce much narrower areas of work as characteristic of real work.
"Real work" in the casual sense (what most people consider work, or work most people's work is like) is what agrees with the statistically wider kinds of work people do.
This also has nothing to do with gatekeeping. People still get to be stunt drivers and rock stars and vloggers paid to eat their lunch live on YouTube, whether we consider what they do representative of "real work" or not.
But "Real work" for the purposes of this thread is work that is representative of what most people do / realistic for people to have -- and statistically speaking, being a rock star is neither common, not representative of the kind of job most people do.
To recap the argument made:
A: People can't do real work on the iPad because it lacks X.
B: Really? And what about the people that are Y, they don't need X feature.
A: Well, Y is not real work.
What the person A says is not that (a) Y doesn't exist, (b) nobody has Y as their role, (c) nobody makes money by doing Y (and it is thus, their work).
The charitable interpretation, which is obvious since we're talking about e.g. "fighting aliens" (which indeed, is not a "real work" in any sense of the term), is that A means Y is not really representative of the work most people do, and that the percentage of people doing Y is small to not count for the purposes of how useful an iPad is for real work.
It makes sense then to define "real work" by what the majority of "real work" is, not the exceptions, even if the exceptions are still real work.
Like the phrase "Nobody uses X" means "very few use X, so few that it doesn't matter", "Y is not good for real work" means "Y is not good for 90% of real work" (the most common types) not "Y is not good for any kind of real word at all ever period".
You do realise this is HN where quite a lot of us are building startups and not getting paid for it.
Also what about people doing CAD, Data Science etc. they also almost always stay within one app.
Are you? Apart from IDE, I also run a version control system, a build system, a CI/CD system, a language runtime..
These are all from different vendors.
I kind of appreciate Apple's approach to simplicity. I use an iPad because I don't want to maintain another computer; syncing configuration, updating packages, etc. But it basically means that I use it as a "dumb terminal" when I hear it has a surprisingly fast processor. Seems like a waste.
I admittedly don't do much of anything with it, but it's neat to have.
I wonder why they emulate x86 instead of targeting ARM though.
More in depth discussion here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18425106
It's actually why they call it IDE because it's an integrated development environment.
I work on open standards for CAD to allow portability of that and am starting to apply this to data science too.
Add Git credentials, importing a project takes care of the setup and build and you can create new Run tasks in most IDEs for calling a different part of your build file e.g. deploy or test.
And I occasionally copy/paste from a browser. But you can do that just fine on an iPad or iPhone.
That said... it’s still less productive to move data between applications than on a PC or Mac. The gap hasn’t been closed yet.
Meanwhile, on desktop I can't paste between Emacs and Confluence because Atlassian went out of their way to break it.
I know what people are trying to get at here, but I think there's also a lot of tunnel vision and selective memory.
Realistically, it's only easier to share data on the PC if the application developers made it easy to share data. There's no shortage of proprietary and undocumented file formats. Heck, there's a small industry built up just for converting CAD files between different formats.
It's really not much different on the iPad.
You said it yourself:
> on desktop I can't paste between Emacs and Confluence because Atlassian went out of their way to break it.
Which presupposes that by default (i.e without Atlassian's messing things up), it would have worked.
On desktop applications, File-level and copy-paste interoperability are there by default.
This is the difference: what is the amount of interoperability you get by default, i.e without specific actions from the app developers?
The fact that you can break interoperability is irrelevant.
Applications share data on the iPad just like on the desktop - copy and paste and opening a document in multiple apps.
often resorting to cloud services (and thus a mandatory network connection) as a clumsy workaround, and even copying and pasting data between applications can be challenging and error-prone.
You can store documents on your device that can be shared just like you can on iCloud and Dropbox.
On a desktop, any user can invent new workflows. On an ipad, a user can only buy them wholesale. Users are at the mercy of the degree of forethought the app developers
Apple actually bought the company that made the Workflow app and integrated more tightly into iOS to allow cross app automation
Not quite. There’s Shortcuts (https://support.apple.com/guide/shortcuts/welcome/ios).
Limited? Yes, but not nothing, either. This _may_ evolve into something that’s more powerful.
I can tell not everyone feels that way when I tell others that my computer died and they offer sympathy like I just lost a relative. It shouldn’t take more than three hours to set up a machine with your work stuff, or somebody isn’t doing their job.
Most of the time when we say "Cloud Services", though, it means exactly one specific vendor. If an app is designed to integrate with Dropbox and GitHub, I can't necessarily substitute an alternative, or run my own replacement instance. If a cloud-based solution becomes unavailable because the company is bought out, shut down, drops old API support, or simply because I've stepped onto an airplane, I'm stuck. The cloud is both a convenience and an accident waiting to happen.
My NAS at home has never sent me an email thanking me for participating in an Incredible Journey and disappeared.
If this data is useful, why am I bogarting it? I should be sharing it, as soon as possible. If some ears are too sensitive to see rough drafts, we can use obscurity or permissions to control premature messaging.
It's the same argument as Bus Numbers, or for DVCS, or feature branches. I don't want days or weeks worth of work hanging out on some engineer's system, which can get wet or take a tumble down the stairs on the way to a meeting or stay home for a week while down with the flu.
Backups are for people with a bus number of 1 (ie, mismanaged teams or personal projects).
So you should have a second repository of any data you have in any account, in a different location, provider, hard drive, or whatever. Because it's only a matter of time until you need it.
And yes this has happened to me, coincidentally after a period of travelling.
Some backed up hard drives in my house and a family member's are probably more reliable.
The iPad lacks flexibility and as a result it is less generally useful than a "PC". Can we agree on that? I own a 12.9" iPad Pro, I love it, and I'm fully bought in with the pencil and the keyboard folio and all that shit. If I want to write or draw or browse the web or watch a video, I reach for my iPad first because it does all those things just as well as or far better than my laptop, and nothing would delight me more than to be able to toss my laptop in the trash (or whatever). But I can't!
Neither can my partner, who does most of her computing (largely consumption) on her iPad, but often has to interact with institutional websites that have poor compatibility. Neither can my mom, for whom I bought an iPad in 2012, which she still uses and loves, but not even the latest and greatest iPad can support her hobby genealogy research workflow, so I had to buy her an iMac, too.
The author's tone may strike some people as inflammatory or self-centered or whatever, I guess, but his essential point is right: the iPad's apps-first design and locked-down nature keep it from being a first-class general-purpose computing machine, especially for creative work. That it works for some people is great--we don't have to fight about that, nor should we. Obviously it is a crazy good form factor and fully capable for many real professional tasks and workflows. But it should not be recommended as a PC replacement for somebody who hasn't looked at all the angles, because it simply isn't a fully capable replacement, and that's what the author is talking about. If anything, I think the author's point is made more narrowly than it could be.
You don't need to sacrifice composability just because of the tablet form factor. You need to be careful with the input methods, sure, but composability on a tablet could actually be better than on a PC if designed well, but we'll never know until someone bothers to try.
For similar reasons I thought Microsoft made a big mistake dumping the Windows 7 UI for Metro (or whatever it's actually called).
If I want to do PC-type stuff, I'll do it on my PC. Tablet stuff I'll do on a tablet.
I think you’re conflating multitasking and stability.
Nothing is stopping you from using an iPad to VNC into a Windows PC on AWS to access that website. It’s inconvenient and complex, just like using your PC on a treadmill, but it’s certainly possible.
Is that interesting in the context of a frank discussion of the iPad's capabilities as a general-purpose computing device? No, it isn't.
The point is that PCs have got use cases, iPads have use cases, and they both help people do "real work". In both cases there are situations where the form factor or operating system is an impediment to getting "real work" done.
The fact that one aspect of iPad - multitasking - is rough around the edges, doesn't deduct from the overall proposition of iPad or the ability for it to be used in "real work". The form factor itself is a huge benefit to certain types of job, the OS is built to work with that form factor, and this is something that iPad does better than anything else (at least if sales are an indication).
The PC is not remotely the best tool for every computing job, and just because you're, say, a pilot, doesn't mean you're not doing real work.
I feel like perching it on the control panel would work pretty well, or perhaps a tall side table if you did it a lot. Not sure what's so hard about any of that, but it's not really all that relevant IMO.
> And while I haven't done it, I'm pretty sure I can just spin up a desktop PC in the cloud and remote into it; it's not that hard, but it is inconvenient.
Can my mom do that? I mean, she's intellectually capable of learning how, presumably, but I wouldn't even bother with that rigamarole. I'd just buy a PC, and so would she. Both of us own PCs and iPads, but it's pretty clear which one we'd choose if we could only afford one or the other, and that's the point of all this: if you are a person who sits down at your computer and makes things, if you can only afford one or the other, without any other information (and most people will really have to dig into it to be sure, and still risk getting burned in the future), it's obvious which one you should buy.
> The point is that PCs have got use cases, iPads have use cases, and they both help people do "real work". In both cases there are situations where the form factor or operating system is an impediment to getting "real work" done.
I never said you can't do "real work" on an iPad. I do "real work" on mine all the time, and the whole point of my original post in this thread was that people are—as you are now, to me—talking past each other, using this "real work" phrase as an excuse to do so.
I'm typing this comment on an iPad. I love my iPad and I have a very good idea of what it can and can't do. All the things it can't do (for me, at least) are 100% imposed by the operating system and apps-over-files model.
> The fact that one aspect of iPad - multitasking - is rough around the edges, doesn't deduct from the overall proposition of iPad or the ability for it to be used in "real work". The form factor itself is a huge benefit to certain types of job, the OS is built to work with that form factor, and this is something that iPad does better than anything else (at least if sales are an indication).
Multitasking isn't the thing that stops me from totally replacing my PC with my iPad, and it's not the only thing the author of the OP article brought up (if he even brought it up at all).
See above re: "real work".
> The PC is not remotely the best tool for every computing job, and just because you're, say, a pilot, doesn't mean you're not doing real work.
See above re: real work. At no point in this thread have I suggested that you can't do "real work" on an iPad, and, again, I am personally a counterexample to that claim.
On the other hand, maybe there's a good reason that Plan 9 never caught on.
Probably the use case that is best suited to an iPad.
Of course that’s a silly analogy—there’s no technical reason why Visual Studio couldn’t be ported to run on iPad.
Most impressive thing I saw was two bundles of 12 foot rebar. I was reminded of jousting.
You better inform Apple then, that the Python IDEs that are available in the App Store need to be banned!
I think we will need some examples to support that claim.
Retail is one. Any retail company that doesn't have a legacy system to integrate with uses iPhones and iPads for their POS systems.
Logistics is another. According to an ex-girlfriend who works in LTL, the logistics industry is 90% people with iPads and iPhones. The only people who aren't using mobile devices for their "real work" are people like her who are chained to a desk doing back office stuff.
Tradesmen is another. When my water heater burst, the water heater guys, the plumber, the guys who replaced the floor, the guy from the gas company, and the guys who replaced the walls all took pictures of the situation before, during, and after to document what they did. Copies went to me, to the landlord, and to their office.
It's like carrying around a whole office's worth of office equipment in your pocket. It's a document scanner, you can use it to measure stuff, to get paperwork signed, to take pictures and look at them later, it's a level or flashlight in a pinch, you can load reference materials on it, and on and on, and that's without getting into really specialized software or peripherals that let you do all kinds of cools stuff.
I have a project where I try and create at least 2 pieces of abstract art every day on my iPhone. It’s great for getting ideas out quickly. Over 1500 pieces later I’m still going.
Also, on the iPad, Procreate and the Affinity apps plus the Pencil are amazing.
Hauling a laptop through all those environments was a pain. They would typically need to set their laptop down to type anything, even a brief five word note. Using a laptop could be done, but an iPad with a strap on the back enabled them to hold the device with one hand and input inspection results with the other. This along with other app improvements made the entire inspection process easier and faster for everyone involved.
Think about how many people use clipboards and printed forms in their work. Ask why they need the mobility of a clipboard. If those reasons are sound, then they would probably be a good candidate for an iPad / tablet application for their workflow.
Edit-I wish they’d release an oddly large iPad Pro. I think some interesting use cases might exist in the 24”,30”,higher screen sizes. Not unlike LFD displays.
I generally have found it maddening that apple has set it up so that everyone has to "ask permission" before something is allowed on ipad/iphone/ipod. And they never let this happen before except to import from a camera (and the same camera adapter that worked on an ipad was not allowed on an iphone)
I agree 100% that calling it "real work" is terrible, but I still think the authors points about resilience of files in the process of making digital products are important.
Lawyers, accountants, nurses, doctors, paramedics, tree surgeons, baristas, plumbers, electricians, shop assistants, mechanics, jewellers, cleaners... most of these people - if they want to use computers at all - want them to be less complicated, they don’t generally care about interoperability between applications, and iPad in some cases fits the bill. Its simplicity for some of these use cases is an enabler.
To my mind there seems to be two independent narratives at play here:
- “is the iPad better than a general purpose computer?” for many use cases, yes it is.
- “Is it perfect?” Perhaps not yet. But it’s more perfect for those use cases than what came before.
Your claim that only a minority of people use more than two applications needs a source, because I don't know a single person who gets by with just two applications for work. Pretty much everybody uses at least an email client/office messaging app, a browser, and Word, and those are just the generic tools; there are very few people who don't also use work-related, specialized tools.
When Joel Spolsky was starting out I agreed with at least four out of five things he said and the fifth was more of a “huh?” As time went on quite a few “no, Joel” and a few “yikes” reactions began. He petered out when I still thought half of his stuff was good. I’m sure others have kept going.
Otherwise, yeah, it makes little sense, because, yeah, just about every other kind of work, short perhaps of literal bricklaying, has been radically changed by tablets. The last time I had to visit a hospital, I got the impression that they might have had more money invested in iPads than in CT scanners.
I don't see this as a failure. Expecting the iPad to be positioned as a device that would outright displace an existing line of Apple products that's typically sold at 2-3x the price point strikes me as an impressive failure to intuit Apple's priorities. The iPad was intended to break into - and even create - new markets, not to cannibalize its cousins. And if you look at it that way, it's been an amazing success.
[EDIT] "but why's a camera important to construction work?" want to get a usable estimate of how much tile you need for a room in about 5 seconds flat, recorded for later use? Snap a photo of the floor with the 4' by 8' plywood exposed. Done, you can walk away now. Ditto drywall if the studs are exposed and follow standard spacing, and so on.
This is about productivity. Real-work is usually about being about to do many different things with a single machine. This typically requires interoperability between applications, a file system (to access data thru a unified interface even outside of apps), and standard ways of storing data. The iPad can be very good for doing very specific tasks in one application, but everything else is lacking.
Of course, if your "work" depends only on a single application, then you will be happy with pretty much anything. If you need to work with a wealth of different applications, at the same time, on the same machine, then "real work" won't be possible on an iPad easily: probably do-able, but akin to painting with spaghetti instead of brushes.
But why are we saying that this isn’t ‘real’ work? Why are you putting ‘work’ in scare quotes?
Because by 'real work' we mean creating stuff, not consuming stuff.
Using a tablet as a fancy embedded device with pre-loaded industrial apps isn't creating stuff.
Why is creative work the only 'real work'?
Do you honestly think someone who does an exhausting 12 hour shift repairing trains, covered in grease, is not doing 'real work' because they aren't creating anything?
I didn't say that. I'm just explaining what the original article writer's phrase ('real work') means here in this context - the context of personal computer users. Think of it like this: by 'real work' he wants to say 'really using the personal computer to its complete potential as a force multiplier'.
It takes talent to insult them all.
Maybe, but that's accidental, because every tool sucks and you might as well use a sucky tool if it's trendier.
I do cut/paste and drag/drop between multiple apps every day. Can also use USB drives and inter-app file transfer to work on the same document.
So it's a bit like saying that "this bandsaw doesn't is terrible for hammering nails." It's true, but that doesn't mean a bandsaw is a useless tool.
I find it interesting that your first example of a file-centric (rather than app-centric) workflow describes the file by the application that creates/views/edits it. Can you do anything with this "Excel spreadsheet" on an iPad other than open it in Excel?
Search for “Electronic Flight Bag tablet”. Not only is it a thing, there are competing products.
Pilots fly planes using iPads. It’s a ludicrous suggestion that that isn’t real work.
I guess where I diverge from the author is that I don't really think it's a problem that it's mostly a consumption device. I think desktop computers are so thoroughly better as creative devices that maybe its fine that the ipad has its own niche.
I used the term "real work" because that's the term people use when they write "you can actually use the iPad for real work" articles. I think it's clear from context that "real work" means the kind of work Steve Jobs introduced the iPad for, i.e. the work people traditionally do on PCs: writing letters, creating presentations, doing spreadsheets, and so on.
I do acknowledge that people do real work on iPads; I pointed out some examples in the first paragraph. The problem is that these are clearly niche tasks, as is reflected in the iPad's sales numbers.
The iPad works well for some people, who do very specific tasks. That's genuinely great for them, but it's clearly not what Apple had in mind for the iPad. And in my opinion, it's not what the iPad's true potential could have been.
Real computer work is making software or graphics that require either computational power (video, graphics, music) or access to the Unix shell (programming). The first category is ready to go, capability wise, on iPad, but like the author said there's no incentive for those companies to make iPad versions of their software. The second category is a non-starter because of the App-centric nature of iPadOS.
I do most of my spreadsheet work on an iPad.
I've owned 3 iPads (currently iPad Pro 12.9) and while I love them for reading and consuming media I've never been able to do any kind of work on it other than answering a quick email.
So... are there any web developers here (since it's a common occupation of many HNers) who do all their work on an iPad without any kind of desktop or laptop?
Referring to documents on an iPad while doing other work != doing work on an iPad.
Other people have posted examples of things where the primary/producing part of the work is done on the iPad though (drawing, audio production, presumably Excel/word/PowerPoint or equivalents are decent)
I don't think it will ever do the stuff out at the edges very well.
Everything else is just pretend Work :)
No I just gave examples of people doing real work who don’t need lots of files.
An outdoor instructor may just need a single file - their map. A train engineer may need a single file - their reference manual. They’re still doing real work!
Computer power users like composability, interoperability, "unix philosophy" / "do one thing well" -- whatever you want to call it -- because it's a powerful tool.
RodgerTheGreat summed it up really well:
> On a desktop, any user can invent new workflows. On an ipad, a user can only buy them wholesale. Users are at the mercy of the degree of forethought the app developers put into their designs.
Power users are frustrated because we like the iPad hardware and want to be able to use it, but Apple seems to have latched onto the idea that good tablet design requires them to sacrifice this idea. I and many others don't believe this is necessarily a requirement. Yes, the form factor is different, and you need to be careful with input methods, but good composability should still be possible, and could even be better than on a PC -- but Apple doesn't seem interested in actually trying. That's the criticism.
The iPad is a tool. Would someone argue that a hammer is flawed because it only can be used in some ways, some professions and for some tasks? A laptop is a tool, a PC is a tool, a mainframe is a tool, a calculator is a tool and a saw is a tool. So what?
Of course, a PC might be a better tool for your workflow, your work, your results. But that might be different for someone else. Work with the tools that fits your needs best!
Why do we need to criticize one tool because it is not equal or better to another? Gruber is right in regards of discoverability and consistency of (multitasking) gestures on iPadOS. There is room for improvement. The lack of "professional" iPad software should be directed more towards the developers than Apple - why needs some iPad app to be crippled in comparison to its Mac counterpart? Valid concerns.
But calling the iPad a failure because it doesn't fit to your work, your workflow and your processes? Because it isn't the ultimate general purpose tool? I know authors still using a typewriter. I know some that use iPads because of the "single app interface" and less distraction. I know others using laptops (and complaining about distraction). All are doing "real" work (as many other professions mentioned in this thread) and all have their preferred way of working.
If a developer/power user is happy with his Mac/Win/Linux setup, why does s/he need to criticize the iPad for NOT being the right tool? Or are these folks just unhappy with their setups and desperately hoping Apple will give them a better (-toy-) tool for less bucks? Or is it just en vogue to bash Apple?
You're making exactly the mistake I described. You're getting hung up on how the criticism was lobbed, when it wasn't meant to be taken literally. Obviously it's not actually a failure: it's made billions of dollars for Apple.
> The lack of "professional" iPad software should be directed more towards the developers than Apple - why needs some iPad app to be crippled in comparison to its Mac counterpart?
The problem isn't the software, because the goal isn't to have one or two magically complex IDEs that can do everything, the goal is to allow useful ways to shovel intermediate data around in between apps. That has to happen at the operating system level, and so the criticism needs to be directed at Apple.
> Why do we need to criticize one tool because it is not equal or better to another?
Because it fucking could be better, and it's maddening that it isn't! That is a totally valid reason to criticize something!
If you want to use a woodworking tool analogy, it's like a tablesaw with a crosscut sled welded to the table. Sometimes I want to make a rip cut. I could buy a new table with a welded-on rip fence and spend an hour retooling every time I want to switch tasks... But interchangeable fixtures are useful, and I'm allowed to be upset when other people stubbornly refuse to acknowledge this.
If the issue persists and remains unacknowledged even after a decade of criticism, you should expect that people are going to start using hyperbole out of sheer frustration. But that's "frustrated person language" -- you still shouldn't get hung up on the literal phrases.
The real "problem" with the iPad is the size. Laptop have been getting smaller and thinner (gigantic 17" laptops used to be a thing). iPhones have been getting bigger (more iPad-like or at least iPad mini-like), but it's probably close to big enough.
It turns out Steve Jobs was wrong. The iPhone is not a too small version of an iPad, the iPad is an iPhone that's too big. That's not to say there's no room for it in the product lineup. It just happens to be more like the Mac Mini than the iMac.
For the third time, "real work" is not the actual criticism. It's inexact language used by a frustrated person, and you're taking it literally when you shouldn't be.
> If the kind of work it can do is the problem with the iPad
Nobody is saying this. The kind of work you can already do on an iPad is great. We're just frustrated because with a little bit of thought at the operating system level, the device would also be capable of doing a lot of other things well, without any sacrifice to the all of the existing apps and workflows that make the device popular.
I wonder how true this really is? Removing the need for files or composability was a “feature” of the iPad from the beginning. To simplify things. For example, add in more native support for a real file system from the beginning, and many of the apps that were designed without a file system /composability in mind now is designed completely differently, and may no longer work as well/simply as the current users experience them today.
I don’t pretend to have a crystal ball and know how things “might’ve been”, but I think saying that by supporting a native file system/composability, things would be “the same but better” may be a bit naive.
That's why "real work" is a bad criticism. I put it in quotes, because yes, I read what you wrote and you're frustration. It sucks but I don't think the iPad is ever going to be that. It would be better for you, but it won't make the iPad a more popular product.
I have found it really great for one type of serious work: writing. (With an external keyboard of course, which I think is fair.).
And I think there are some places where it really ought to be the better tool for professionals:
* Editing photos (pretty good already but not pro-level)
* Audio workflows (can't judge but seems good?)
* Video workflows (maddeningly weak at this point)
* Storyboarding (again can't judge)
I get that Apple doesn't consider this a tool for making software, and I sort of wish I could get by with just writing and editing the occasional photo, and I realize that I could of course write whatever I want in Xcode if I had time.
But as a UNIX guy, having returned to the Apple ecosystem after it became a UNIX ecosystem, the inaccessibility of the UNIX sitting under iPadOS still rubs me the wrong way.
Probably because we want it to become better :-)
> But calling the iPad a failure because it doesn't fit to your work
I'm sorry that's the impression you took away from the article, because that wasn't what I was trying to communicate. Perhaps I shouldn't have said "failure", but I did try to explain what I meant by the word, by going back to what the iPad was originally meant to be: the car to the PC's truck, a better device than a PC for the vast majority of users.
I think it's unfortunate that it failed to achieve this.
It's great that there are authors who still use typewriters, but that's exactly my point: that's what the iPad is. It's a niche tool for people who have very specific needs. That's fine, but I don't think it's the iPad's full potential.
Which equates to a fraction of computer use globally. I'd be willing to bet large amounts of money, most people who use a computer couldn't even tell you what composability is. They just don't care.
You're frustrated because the iPad is not a replacement for a laptop.
Er, yeah? So what?
That's not what it's designed for. You're complaining that a Tesla Model 3 is crap off road.
FTR, I have an iPad and I wouldn't even consider doing my day job on it. Could it be redesigned to fit my workflow? Of course, but then it would be worse for the things I actually use it for.
So why say it can't?
Why put down what other people as not being 'real work' because they have different requirements to you?
I pointed it out because it's nasty, belittling, unnecessary, and as you've said, not even true.
Why not reach for a kinder phrase like 'can't be used for more complex content creation workflows' instead of this toxic language.
Many of these articles also state as a fact things that haven't been true of iPads for a while. If you want a file-centric experience you can have it--at least if you select apps that have been updated in the past several years. All of my files are stored in iCloud Drive, which is synced to my Macs just like Dropbox, and which works flawlessly with iPhone and iPad apps that properly implement the Files app APIs. I don't have any data silos. Yet I view the option of using an iPad purely as an app jukebox with data silos as a major win for many, many users.
I stopped using laptops years ago. No, I can't do everything on an iPad Pro. But I find iPadOS to be a superior operating system for a small, portable screen. (I'm defining small as below 20"). I use a 27" iMac for more advanced tasks (as well as a media server, etc).
It took a cloud native approach to really get the real benefit from the cloud. It takes an iPad native approach to benefit from the iPad.
That said, I agree with the OP's argument, which is effectively that if you have to go out of your way to say, "No really, you can do real work on an iPad," you have missed the point. Of course you can do real work on a lot of devices. Is the device particularly good at it, though? Maybe, in some cases. But for a large number of us—and apparently that number is large enough to slow tablet sales—doing work on a tablet is just not good enough. We're either in "Work mode" where a laptop is better or in "Consumption mode" where the laptop or phone is just fine.
It's funny that in this thread people are saying the same thing that the OP pointed out. In effect: "You can do real work on an iPad." Great. But the topic at hand, whether you care about it or not, is conjecture about why the devices are not selling better.
Of course, this discussion is about work, not how one reads books, but I think something similar is happening. Tablets are too close to other devices (laptops, smartphones) which are not going away, and therefore they are appear to have hit a hard upper limit.
My 14-year old daughter used to use tablets; now she uses her chromebook, her smartphone, and her desktop, but never an iPad. Most impressively, she even uses a Wacom tablet, which she plugs into her desktop, because she liked it better than the iPad for drawing. I think she is not alone, and people her age will go into the workforce more accustomed to using phones and laptops to get things done.
With a few tweaks to the OS, and a keyboard cover the iPad could be used for all the things that iPads are currently used for and all the things that people still need desktops/laptops for. I think the frustration is coming from people who see that they're being unnecessarily constrained.
Even being able to dual boot iOS or macOS would solve the problem.
>In first year 2010–2011 Apple sold 20 million iPads. That same year would turn out to be an historical high water mark for PCs (365M, ~180M laptops). Analysts had forecasted more than 500M PCs were now rapidly increasing tablet forecasts to 100’s of million and dropping PC.
The iPad and iPhone were soundly existential threats to Microsoft’s core platform business.
200 million units sold. $10 billion in quarterly revenue.
Man, I wish I could have that kind of "failure."
I was wrong. The iPad saw adoption by the everyday consumer. Give it to the kids so they could play games, watch videos and stop bothering mom. Mom liked how simple it was to check her email. Etc. They created an entire new market. THAT, is not a failure.
Checking email, general websites, discord use, videoconf, etc etc all on ipad. Drawing, sketching, music generation. Excellent.
What is not so good:
No support for tough work background threads. Don't suggest Spotify as counter-example. Audio streaming is a non-challenge for modern cpus.
No support for on-device app development. Both of my ipads leave my raspberry pi computers in the dust in terms of ram, processing power and graphics. Yet, each pi is more functional as a general machine because I can easily remote into them. I can easily build code on a pi and run it. Using ipad I need something like Pythonista to get anywhere near the same. Workflow is useful.
I don't think my ipad pro deserves the "pro" moniker however. It is moving towards but it is no where ready.
Don't believe me? Look at the apps for email as just one example. Try setting up filters/labels in a ios app like gmail. For that matter, show me all the headers for a particular email. Can't. Basic things I'd like to do. Especially with spam handling. A pro device doesn't have stripped down interfaces. It can have hidden functionality revealed through a setting. Even a few 70 year olds have complained to me about limitations with the various email and calendar apps. They use desktops for "complex" tasks.
Why can't other browsers use non-safari engine? Why no extensions support for browsers?
Its the dumb-it-down-for-ipad mindset that is holding the ipad from being a true pro device.
SSH on ipad is what keeps my ipad useful for development. Thats real enough for me. Why can't I run a compiler natively on the ipad? Its got the processing power.
Wheels for the mind. Make it happen Apple.
As a JAMF swilling AASP, I've lost my patience at the slaverers (it's always the webdevs) and share my opinion freely that the "Pro" in MacWhatever Pro means "an accessory for someone who considers themself a professional", not "professional-grade equipment".
I consider it part of a healthy aspirational realignment. Some move on, others try to prove me wrong. Both end up closer to their enlightenment.
Although, all it would take to flip me on iPads is something like Chromebook's Crouton, and I'd lifecycle every MacBook Air with an iPad Pro 2nd Gen and offer them in place of MacBook Pros. They're almost amazing, and it just hurts that there's either no support or no feature parity with the major creative and engineering software we license.
iPads are top notch for media and productivity, but the platform's niche utility is way outclassed by its own hardware and other products more common in industry.
Because people like the author of this blog post keep saying that people can't use the iPad to get real work done.
At this point, it's become maddening. Do I still carry a Mac laptop around with me? Yes. Are there some things I can do on a Mac I can't do on an iPad? Yes.
But it goes both ways. Are there some things I can do on an iPad I can't do on a Mac? Unequivocally yes. Does that mean, in those contexts, I should throw shade at the Mac and say people can't get "real work" done on the Mac? No, that's absurd.
A smartphone != tablet != laptop != desktop != watch != smart speaker, etc., etc. Different devices for difference purposes, and the fact they all overlap in many ways is a nice bonus, not a problem to bemoan.
But many can, and barring certain industry specific specialty tools, I’m unfamiliar with everyday laptop software for everyday people that doesn’t have a plausible counterpart.
"As nice as the iPad" is subjective but there are pretty nice Android tablets out there.
I really want android (or chromeOS) tablets to be as good, because i'd much rather use android apps than windows or iPad apps, but the hardware just sucks.
But yeah, other than that, it would be hard to be productive with just a tablet I reckon.
This is precisely what we are using iPads for right now. Our clients and end customers are very comfortable using Apple hardware. The screen size on these devices is perfect for most interactions. If you have the device in landscape, it's about as wide as a 8.5x11" document at 1:1 scale.
Also, it is intuitive for most of our users to capture photos of documents or read barcodes using iPads. If I had to build this using USB webcams or even laptops with embedded webcams it would be far trickier from a UX perspective. Also, some of our clients have iPads with LTE connectivity so they can seamlessly go into the field and work with end customers who don't have time to come to them.
That said, the app development ecosystem around Apple is a fucking nightmare. Signing your apps, dealing with regressions after iOS major version updates, trying to do anything at all inside XCode, attempting to automate your builds, etc. This is why we are looking at supporting a wider range of devices heading into 2021 - Surface/Win10, Android, and PWA. IMO the holy grail is PWA, Apple just needs to give it better support (I am quite aware of why they do not want to). If we could somehow get everything working via PWA, we would immediately dumpster the iOS codebase and do the whole thing exclusively using Blazor server-side.
I would use it in my current job, however we have very strict rules about what we are and are not allowed to do with personal devices regardless of their make and model.
It's quite amazing how capable it is once you rustle up a git client, and editor, and a wireless keyboard.
Apple isn't leading either on the software front. All the stock apps are just resized apps of their iOS counterparts with nothing extraordinary about them. Most happy users are just using a bigger web-browser, or a bigger drawing app (with the same functionality as on smaller screens), or custom apps that are uploaded on an educational/enterprise portal and are a job requirement. A lot of families use it as an entertainment/learning device for their children where its processing power is underused.
There is almost no money to be made as a developer if you spend all that effort supporting multitasking or adding nice iPadOS-only features. Customers won't pay and Apple only makes your life harder with every OS release.
In addition to that, Android has had mouse support since at least 2012. It took Apple what, 8 generations to add it into iPad OS?
However, your overall point is correct. the Ipad is more successful as a "productivity" tool than Android among regular people, despite the suite of Microsoft Office apps being fairly similar in quality across both. I'm assuming that Office style apps are what's mostly being used, and not specialist apps like Procreate or Affinity which are iOS only.
My guess is that people are more willing to buy Apple for tablet productivity as their support is more reliably available and it's easy to get third party accessories. On the Android side there is no such guarantee. Samsung is only OEM even attempting to compete with the iPad Pro, but its support doesn't have the same reputation and accessories aren't always available in all markets.
For a device that didn't have a public file system until recently, the iPad's both works and makes sense. It's iPod, mobile phone, Bluetooth headphones all over again, on a feature level.
Except when it isn't. When you actually need to transfer a file from/to an Ipad to another device, and that you cannot access the file system and you don't have any other Apple device to do so, this is the hardest device to work with. I remember being honestly puzzled as to how to do it, and looking online for numerous "solutions", all of which involved installing more applications to hopefully do the trick. Pure horror. (It was, as far as I know, impossible to transfer files even thru a direct USB connection without any specific application - meaning USB was completely useless by default).
This is a problem for a computing device because writing is a pillar of human culture and economy. A device that places writing second is a device that has excluded itself from vast swathes of what people use computers for.
iPads are good at many thing that involves passive consumption, or drawing using the Pencil, or pressing buttons, etc.
I have an iPad and it complements my laptop well - I use it for reading music. The iPad is not a failure. But it's also not replacing my laptop. It is an accessory to it. I'm sure that Apple, a company that sold me both devices, is ecstatic about that.
It places writing first, whether with pencil or keyboard, no laptop does both as well.
I can't design UIs on it (no Figma or Sketch - yes there are some vector drawing apps but they don't compare)
I can't edit high quality video on it (locked down codecs - only h264/h265, no prores, no raw codecs, no ability to install codecs beyond what the OS provides)
I can't use an iPad to write software for iPad (no xcode)
File management with iOS13 is better but still clunky compared to desktop OS's.
Yes there are many things you can do with it that qualify as work for many people, but compared to desktop it's still very much lacking in many areas, and not really progressing significantly either. I wish iOS was more extensible by users and it could have a better chance
The laptop is about four times as old as the iPad, and it hasn’t fully replaced the desktop either.
I'm skeptical if the situation would be better without an app store. The app store provides monetization and that leads to higher quality apps. I think what we'd really want is for iPadOS to open up to more integrations, like an integration app that offers a different home screen / app switcher / task manager experience.
And yes I know there's some (creative/primary - not augmenting something else you're doing) work that does work better on iOS^. But that's an exception, not the rule.
^I mention the OS and not the tablet form factor because (as the article mentions) that is the main problem here.
And none of this really matters, it's fine to have a tablet with an OS that's tailored for certain use cases. But people keep trying to claim that an iPad can replace a regular PC, and that's just not true for a lot of people.
I write and respond to a lot of emails.
I talk to people on Teams.
I do a lot of work in Adobe Analytics, Hue, Jira, SFMC.
The main thing that I’ve had a tough time replacing (and I’d be so thrilled if someone here has a good suggestion) is Postman. Because I write tons of little example payloads for APIs to send off to developers to get them started on projects or to test internal stuff. I’d love a native solution for that.
Another one said they were common with children, which is true. But if they grow out of them, then they also might not be replaced that often. Birth rate in the first world is steady or falling. High end device sales for children should tend to follow.
What is the author referring to, exactly? I've seen screenshots of the original Mac with multiple windows open on screen.
It wasn't until Andy wrote "Switcher" that the Mac supported more than one app, which, the first time it demoed made my jaw drop! Andy is a really smart guy. To be fair, Switcher had limitations due to memory and no hardware multitasking support in the original 68000. It was more like cooperative coexistence than true multitasking.
Multi-tasking really wasn't a thing on PCs much before 1988; I mean, you could do it, if you had a bottomless pit of money with which to buy RAM by the half-megabyte and a 286-class processor and a memory manager like DesqView or a penchant for paying DR big ticket license fees for Concurrent CP/M-86, but otherwise ...?
Time telescopes our memories.
Ahem, the Amiga would like a word...
The 68000 hardware could support preemptive multitasking just fine; what it lacked was a hardware MMU. You couldn't run an OS with protected virtual memory on a 68000 without external hardware support (sometimes another 68000 was used for this!). Accordingly, all tasks on the Amiga had access to each other's memory space and even the kernel's. But the fact that Switcher, MultiFinder, and later versions of Mac OS could only support cooperative multitasking was more a Mac OS limitation than a hardware one.
Yes, exactly. Thanks for clarifying. As you say, the lack of preemptive multitasking was mainly an OS limitation, although a hardware MMU would have really helped. I remember at the time reading about the hoops that Andy had to go through to get Switcher (which, as mentioned in other replies, became MultiFinder) to work. One of the issues was that the single app OS model used a bunch of low memory locations as system globals...on every context switch these had to be saved and restored because each running application could change them. (ouch!)
In the original MacOS, only one program* ran at a time. You could have multiple MacPaint windows, for example, but if you wanted to use MacDraw, you'd have to quit MacPaint.
From a process point of view, this was single-tasking.
Andy Hertzfeld wrote the first multi-process environment for Macintosh, "Switcher." With Switcher, you could have MacPaint and MacDraw (or any combination of as many as four apps) open simultaneously.
Only one would control the entire screen, so if you were using MacPaint, the MacDraw (for example) windows were hidden. When you "switched" to another app, it was like side-scrolling the entire screen, the entire desktop scrolled horizontally to the left or the right and another scrolled into view.
Later on, MacintoshOS (pre OS X) acquired its own cooperative multi-tasking capabilities, and when that happened, you could have multiple windows from multiple apps visible on the screen at the same time and switch by clicking on another window.
It was quite the hack for its day, and had a cool UX, it was like having four Macintoshes arranged in a carouself, you could "switch" between processes.
As another comment points out, there was another thing called a "Desk Accessory" that could co-exist on the screen with a full application. But these were not full applications and had very limited capabilities.
What Apple seems to have done though is avoid an uncontained failure. I could have seen other tech leadership teams going all in on the iPad Pro, and removing/deprecating other lines completely at this point.
They've started incremental investment in the iPad after years of low/no investment. This seems like a better strategy to realise the full capabilities of the product while retaining what works. This is too slow for some people, but I don't know of another option, especially when an ARM transition on laptops is a consideration.
There are some circumstances where the combination of portability and screen real estate makes it a better choice than a laptop or a phone. There are some applications that are more well suited to tablets, and some that are more well suited to a laptop, desktop, server or phone instead.
They’re all computers, there’s not many reasons you couldn’t run a web server off a tablet or phone, it’s more a case of choosing the right tool for the right job at the right time. From that perspective, iPads and tablets in general are just a different tool, you can beat a nail in with an iPad in a pinch, maybe, but why not just grab an actual hammer?
But that’s boring. It doesn’t play into the narrative that tablets, with iPads at the vanguard, were or are predestined to replace laptops entirely in exactly the same way that GUIs replaced what we used to call command-line interfaces and surely not a single soul on Earth uses those anymore.
Obviously the only thing holding this back is Apple’s own policies, and if they would just let the next Adobe rise up and take their rightful place as a software giant making tools for iPads, surely its destiny as a laptop-murderer would be fulfilled. That would be so much better than merely being absolutely top tier for digital painting, digital clipboards, digital books, bedtime movies, and at least being serviceable as a third-rate cash register.
tl;dr: laptop-murder is more exciting than another tool to choose to have in your tool belt or not.
Simple example: Why can't I pop-up my iPhone X screen as a window on one of my three workstation monitors (Windows 10) and run it from my computer?
Why can't I make calls with it from my computer?
Why can't I click on a phone number on a web page in Chrome and dial it with my phone?
Why can't I type a text message from my PC keyboard and send it with the phone?
Why can't I copy and paste onto the phone?
Why can't I copy and paste an image and send it with the phone?
Why can't I do the reverse and grab things from the phone from my PC?
Why can't I access a file system transparently (other than images)?
For that matter, why can't I transfer large videos?
Why can't I use my PC headset through the PC to communicate using the phone?
I mean, the thing sits there ALL DAY, 10 to 12 hours a day, right next to my workstation. If I want to do anything with it I have to go from a full size keyboard with arrow keys and all kinds of nice things as well as a beautifully efficient trackball to typing with one finger on a small screen and using the f-ing ridiculous select-copy-paste mechanism, etc.
If I want to send someone a link from my PC I have to email it or SMS it to myself, grab the phone, disconnect it from the charge cord (because it is inconvenient to do anything with it plugged in), go to SMS, email or FB messenger, copy the link, go back to wherever I need to go to send it, paste it and click send.
It's 2020. The phone should meld into the computer with full transparent operability. Same for tablets.
BTW, this is what I was hoping Microsoft would finally bring to life with Windows Phone. I was eagerly awaiting this one killer integration. I firmly believe that would have inspired, I don't know, a billion people world-wide to adopt Windows Phone. Instead they wasted time trying to make it an iPhone killer. It didn't need to be that. All it had to do is become symbiotic with a PC in all possible ways and it would have been an absolute hit.
Here's hoping they try again. If anyone from MS is watching, call me, I know exactly what you have to build (and you guys have no clue).
As for Android tablets, Google never really took them seriously and it shows.
Granted ChromeOS and Chromebooks have done a good job of covering some of the tablet use case space, obviously not entirely, but it seems like a better place to focus.
Yes they did. Back then Apple also did something called "advertising" to try and convince enterprise users that Macs could be used in a business environment.
In more recent times they resorted to a very petty form of advertisement that, by way of direct, cherry picked comparison points, they tried to convince everybody that Macs were just as good as Windows PCs. At that time there were tons of articles commissioned to push the same point and even whole websites.
It was never really true though and it still isn't. Macs were only any good for certain workloads, just like the iPad, and only if you could look past their wonky UI and hardware design choices.
I can't even imagine what you would or could use an iPad for that a thin laptop like the xps wouldn't run circles around even in terms of portability. It just seems to me like these people bought a very expensive 2 year old computer and need to justify it to themselves and others.