MacOS on the iPad: A Compromise

or: You Are Not Your Fucking iPad
MacOS on the iPad: A Compromise

Xitter remains a total xhitshow when it comes to trying to have a somewhat nuanced conversation about something. Case in point: yesterday, Joanna Stern linked to a post of mine (which was linking to a post of her's!) with a screenshot of a key point about how Apple could conceivably get macOS working on the iPad – a topic on many peoples' minds right now given just how powerful the latest iPad Pros are and how underwhelming iPadOS remains.

There are over 100 replies/quote Xweets on this now and while I had been trying to respond to some, it would take hours to respond to all. And there is even more discussion on this general topic over on Threads. So instead, I'll use the biggest such response, from Steven Sinofsky, which got its own Techmeme headline yesterday (as well as another nearly 100 replies/quotes just to his take), as a jumping off point.

Sinofsky, of course, knows quite a bit about this general topic as he's the one who famously created and shipped Windows 8 when he was still an executive at Microsoft. And 13 years ago, in my last remaining days as a tech reporter, I took him to task on the meaning of the word "compromise". You see, back then, Sinofsky's stance with Windows 8 was that they could launch it with both a traditional Windows experience as well as the new (at the time) Metro experience, a UI built for touch devices, such as Windows Phone. My stance (again, at the time) was that this "no compromise" approach was actually a huge compromise.

My, how the tables have turned.

Sinofsky yesterday on my vision that the iPad should run both iPadOS and macOS:

It is not unusual for customers to want the best of all worlds. It is why Detroit invented convertibles and el caminos. 

And also, I might suggest, Windows 8!

He continues:

But the idea of a "dual boot" device is just nuts. It is guaranteed the only reality is it is running the wrong OS all the time for whatever you want to do. It is a toaster-refrigerator. Only techies like devices that "presto-change" into something else. Regular humans never flocked to El Caminos, and even today SUVs just became station wagons and almost none actually go off road 😄

I honestly don't think it's "nuts" at all. Perhaps if this was the days of Windows/DOS and booting up an OS took many minutes to complete, sure. Or even the days of Boot Camp, where you could load Windows on your Mac – this was a real thing! Now, given the speed at which computers run and the power they contain, I have to imagine that an elegant quick-switching solution could be managed. But even if not, I think Sinofsky misreads who I envision this feature being for. It's not for my mother, who has used an iPad as her sole computer for years at this point. She loves it, that's all she wants and needs. This is for me, and undoubtedly many of you reading this.

I've owned an iPad since it was first released in 2010. I've also had a Mac (or multiple Macs) over that span as well. And, in fact, I've often had two iPads over that span, as I love the iPad mini more than the iPad itself, even if Apple keeps neglecting it for years at a time. If there is a prototypical user of both the Mac and iPad, I'm that guy. I am almost always carrying one of each in my bag. You know the annoying guy in the airport security line taking out 10 different devices? Again, that guy. It's overkill, sure. But I just never know which I'm going to want to use.

But actually, it's more need to use. Because the reality of the situation remains that if I'm doing something more leisurely, such as reading or doom-scrolling on Xitter, the iPad is much preferred.1 If I need to do any sort of "real work", I need the Mac. People will argue about just what constitutes "real work" and what can or cannot be done on an iPad. But I'm here to tell such people to shut up. I've been doing this for 14 years now. Sadly, iPadOS is still just not where it needs to be in terms of productivity for many tasks you can easily do with macOS.

"So then use a Mac!" Yes, thanks, I do. My point is that it would be great if I didn't have to carry around two devices. Let me pause here – I fully recognize that this wouldn't be great for Apple because it would mean selling one device instead of two for twice the price. I understand that. It does not change my desire.

The reality of the lineup in 2024 is that I wouldn't have to carry around two devices if Apple would simply let the iPad Pro run macOS as an option. Macs and iPads now run the same chips – with the iPad now actually having the faster chips, as it happens – with many of the same general components. Yes, there are differences – as noted in my last piece (and the excerpt Joanna shared), iPads can have cellular connectivity while Macs cannot. Macs have Touch ID, the iPad Pro has Face ID. But that's fine. Apple can figure this out, they have the technology.

The iPad Pro with the Magic Keyboard now looks more than ever like a Mac. It also now feels more than ever like a Mac. There is one major difference...

Apple Invents a Laptop with a Touchscreen
The new iPad Pro is awesome. And a bit silly.

"But, but, but the touchscreen." Yes, touch. Thank you, I didn't think of that.

The new iPad Pro has a beautiful OLED screen. It's touch-enabled. But you know what? It doesn't have to be. It could just be used as a regular old screen. Boring, I know. Talk to the Mac folks. They love this level of boring, it seems.

Here's how it would work, people:

  1. You buy an iPad Pro
  2. You buy a Magic Keyboard
  3. Upon docking with the keyboard for the first time, the iPad Pro asks if you'd like the option to run macOS on the device sometimes when it's docked.
  4. It would be made clear that this is a "power user" feature that's neither required and would also require manual execution to invoke when wanted
  5. You don't want it? Just want to use your iPad as a regular good old iPad? Great, you never have to worry about this. Just as no one who doesn't buy the Magic Keyboard – which, I'll remind you, is a $300 keyboard – would never be any the wiser about such functionality.
  6. If you do decide to use macOS sometimes when docked to the Magic Keyboard, it would be made clear that macOS is not touch compatible. You can touch the screen if you'd like, but it's just leaving greasy paw prints, just as we all accidentally do on our MacBook screens today.

Eventually, some simple touch functionality is brought over to macOS because, guess what, Apple is working on touch-enabled MacBooks. Because of course they are. Because it's 2024. Because my young children will probably never use computers that don't have some element of touch to them. It's a much more natural form of computing. The mouse and keyboard came about because we didn't yet have such technology. Now we do, and we should use it. And we will.

I'm not saying it's the end of keyboards and mice (I mean, technically I already said this about mice years ago – but you know, trackpads). These are precision tools that still very much serve a purpose. That's exactly why we have the Magic Keyboard accessory for the iPad. It's a compromise – with reality.

Unfortunately, Apple is not living in reality when it comes to professional productivity with an iPad. The hardware is beautiful and brilliant. The software is just not where it needs to be for such tasks. We've given Apple nearly 15 years now to improve this – and they, in turn, have given developers that amount of time to come up with new ways to do productivity on the iPad. There have been some great creations to come out of that. And that's wonderful. But in many ways, the whole system has gone backwards with certain types of productivity. It's perhaps because everyone thought productivity would have changed/shifted by now. But here we all are, still using many of the same tools from yesteryear.

Anyway, the above is about as simple as I can lay it out – my third attempt, or I guess fourth, mind you. An iPad Pro with the option to run macOS, which an iPad Pro can do, if you buy the Magic Keyboard and opt-in to using it as a power user feature. No touchscreen capabilities. No destruction of the iPad as we know and love it. An option. A compromise.

One more thing: you need to calm down. I've been writing on the internet for a long time now – coming up on 20 years, this year, in fact. And for a long time, I did that professionally. And for a long time I was seen as an "Apple fanboy" in such writing. That's fine, I cared most about being correct – still do – and I think I was, most of the time. And I am here too. But that's not my point. My point is that while my own stances (and clearly those of Steven Sinofsky) change over time, the amount of people on the internet willing to yell and argue with you about those stances remains constant.

People get very, very upset if you say something that goes against their own stance on a topic. It's like a religious zeal, but about a company. Or in this case, just one product. Really, who gives a shit? It's just an opinion. The heart wants what it wants. And my heart wants to run macOS on the iPad Pro.

Your heart doesn't want that? That's cool. Apple agrees with you. For now. But that's not something to be proud of. You're not protecting them from anything by defending them. They're a three trillion dollar company, you're you. They'll change their mind and then you'll change your mind. Think different. You think about them a lot. They don't think about you at all. Except when they think about how to sell you both an iPad and a MacBook.

1 Certainly because there's actually a working native Xitter app for the iPad, whereas on the Mac, you have to use a web app, which is worse. (Yes, the Mac app is somehow still alive, but with about 1/10th of the features of Xitter itself now. It's even still called "Twitter". I believe they just forget about it. Shhh.)