What is Apple’s Take on the iPad?

Federico Viticci just issued his voluminous 10,000-word review of the new iPad Pro. It looks like there is a lot to like in the new hardware with that XDR screen and wicked fast M1 processor. The Apple hardware team continues to crush it.

However, the thing about all of these iPad reviews is that they all seem to come with an asterisk about the limitations of iPad software. For years now, the iPad hardware team has lapped the iPad software team. That lead only seems to get longer over time and, to power users, it’s frustrating.

While this new iPad runs faster than a MacBook Pro on some benchmarks, it still is pretty terrible at file management. I know the rallying cry this year is that we need something like Final Cut to take advantage of the sexy new hardware. I’d argue we also need the ability to efficiently work with tags and sort our files. Where Final Cut on the iPad represents the high-hanging fruit, there still is a lot of low-hanging fruit (like adequate file management) on the tree. I remember feeling the same way a few years ago right before WWDC. It always seems like the iPad software is just barely adequate to keep up with the iPad hardware.

While I feel this tension nearly every time I pick up an iPad, that isn’t true for everyone. I have one kid in college and another in grad school. They both use their iPads in class exclusively. The current apps and features are just fine for them. I think there are a lot more people like my daughters than there are like me. It’s when you start pushing toward the edges that these limitations show up.

All of this got me wondering how Apple sees the iPad. Do they look at it the way I do, as an alternative computing platform to the Mac, or do they look at it like my kids do, an excellent tablet device but never to be on par with a Mac? Put simply, are we still thinking about cars and trucks? Apple markets the iPad as a truck but develops software as if it is one of those tiny electric cars that feels just a step beyond a golf cart. It’s actually more complicated than that because what they’ve done at this point is build fighter jet hardware with a put-put car software engine.

I understand Apple is not a single entity but a group of people. However, I do wish they would be more explicit about what the collective Apple thinks of the iPad. If they look at it as my girls do, I would probably stop banging my head against its software ceiling and use a laptop a lot more. I know that is the case for a lot of readers. Since the M1 MacBooks hit the streets, I’ve heard from many readers and listeners who stopped using their iPads because the new Macs’ long battery life and excellent performance were enough to pull them away from the iPad.

I know Apple isn’t going to come out and explain where they see the iPad explicitly. It seems too much to hear them say, “We’re making the iPad to be good at this, but we’re not bothering to make it any good at that.” They will, however, be announcing the new iPad OS updates next month. I will be watching that carefully. Because while we are not going to hear Apple tell us directly their intentions for the iPad, we can deduce those intentions from the software they choose to ship. I’ll be deciding how much a role the iPad plays in the next year of my life based on that.