Tuesday, 5 April 2016

iPad as PC replacement. Really?

With the release of the iPad Pro 9.7", Apple are finally trying to convince us that the iPad can replace our laptops. Is this because of some great leap in features or functionality? Or are they responding to an increasingly convincing threat from Microsoft's Surface range?

2014-15 was Apple's "bigger = better" period, with the iPhone 6 and giant 6s launching, followed by the iPad Pro. At the time, I thought this attitude was daft, so was delighted by the recent launch of the iPhone SE and the iPad 9.7" Pro: both smaller versions, effectively, of prior models. Nice to see them acknowledging a sweet spot and returning to it.

Then the advertising appeared for the new iPad Pro. As a PC replacement, a productivity machine. Oh really? While the latest iOS introduced a smorgasbord of multi-tasking features, like swiping from the side, and side-by-side apps, they really didn't change my iPad habits much. Now, I should qualify my critique: I've tried using an iPad as a laptop replacement since the iPad 2. It didn't work. Even back then you could double tap the button to switch between apps, and it was quite zippy, so multi-tasking was not the issue. Having used an 11" HP mini as my work laptop before, the screen size was fine, even before the retina displays appeared in later iPads. No, it comes down to two things: peripherals and storage.

Here's a simple test:- 
  1. Do you use a USB stick for work? Transferring files from another device or colleague? If 'yes' then tough, it won't work with your iPad.
  2. Do you have a touchscreen on your PC? If 'yes' how much do you use it with your finger for work-related tasks, versus a mouse or trackpad? Not much, I reckon. Well, the Apple Smart Keyboard doesn't have a trackpad and there's no USB port to plug your own mouse in. There is a pen, though. For $99 extra.
This is not to say that, for certain types of work, the iPad Pro is probably ideal. And there are probably workarounds to the constraints above. But they are workarounds, not the conveniences that a professional user needs.

So, it's fair to say that Apple have not made this bold statement based on any leaps in features or functionality, leading me to conclude that Microsoft's Surface has them worried.

An iPad Pro 9.7 with 256GB + Smart Keyboard + Apple Pencil costs $1250. 
A Surface Pro 4 i5 with 256GB (pen included) + keyboard (with trackpad) costs $1428. 
What's in that $178 difference? The Surface Pro runs Windows 10. Fully-fledged Windows 10, that you can run development tools and full Windows games, like Call of Duty, on. It also has USB ports and SD card for peripherals and storage. It also has a display port to connect it to other displays, like monitors and projectors. In short, it's a device that most professionals could use every day because they are already using something similar. The only thing you can't do on it is run Xcode, which doesn't run on iPad Pros anyway, so no burn there.

Apple continues to make beautifully designed products, but they need to have a word with the Marketing team if that's what they think Pro means. Microsoft are really wooing developers, with decent kit and increasingly open and free development tools. They are following Google in encircling Apple's traditional device-centric core with their cloud of device-independent services. There are signs, in Airplay and other Apple services, that Apple may be trying to shut out these third party encroachments, restricting users to using only their devices for certain features. While it is understandable from a competition perspective, it deviates from their much-lauded user-centric philosophy. 

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