Trying to Make the iPad Something It's Not

Earlier today, I tweeted in response Ted Landau's Macworld piece, Why the iPad Still Can't Be a True Mac Replacement:

"I think the problem here is that they're trying to shoehorn a desktop workflow into a place where it doesn't fit."

I'd like to expand on that thought a bit.

In his piece, Mr. Landau lists several things the iPad would need to have–or do differently–before it could become a serious competitor to the Mac:

  • Some kind of backup solution
  • A visible file system, however basic
  • Ability to hook up more peripherals
  • Better typing capabilities (this one feels a bit unexplained; he doesn't specify exactly what it is he's looking for)
  • Multiple-window management

Do I think these are terrible ideas? No, not particularly. On one hand, I'm sure they would benefit certain people looking to use the iPad as their main workhorse. But on the other hand, I think these sorts of "needs" stem from old ways of thinking.

I understand why somebody would desire these features. The desktop metaphor has been an integral part of personal computing for nearly 30 years now, and it's simply what people are used to. Still, that doesn't mean we should think about shoehorning desktop-like features into the iPad.

The iPad was never intended to compete with the Mac anyway. Why would Apple undercut their own product line like that? It's possible that they see it as a transitional device that will gradually encourage migration away from the Mac and onto the Next Big Thing, but for now it's more of a complementary companion device than a conflicting one.

Of course, the iPad is certainly powerful enough act as someone's only computer if needed, but not so feature-robust that Mac lovers should be worried about their favorite computer disappearing from the Apple lineup anytime soon.

I do think that the whole desktop metaphor, one where we must manage multiple windows and external devices, is slowly on its way out. Kids growing up with iPads aren't going to care about these things in the future. Nobody is going to call for multiple windows on-screen. But still, all of that is probably a LONG way off. And by that point, there will probably be another couple of huge paradigm shifts that we haven't even imagined yet.

For now, I see the Mac and iPad sticking around together for a while. And that's perfectly okay.