The Problem’s Never the Hardware

Today’s Apple event has come and gone, and in its wake are some new iPads, a slightly saner iPad lineup, and some questions.

The biggest one for me is this:

Does Apple know what the iPad actually needs?

Right before debuting new iPad Pros, John Ternus said that Apple was “gonna crush the limits of what you can do on iPad.”

iPad Pro

As nice as the new OLED display looks, and no matter how powerful the new M4 may be, the iPad’s problem in 2024 — or another year for that matter — is the software. Fourteen years into its lifespan and the iPad still can’t seem to fully shake off its iPhone OS roots. Almost everything Apple has attempted to bolt atop iPadOS to make it more useful for more people has come with weird tradeoffs. Look no further than something like Stage Manager, or that just today Apple announced a version of Final Cut that can use external drives for project storage.

(Don’t get me started on file management on iPadOS. It’s still such a mess.)

I fully understand that iPadOS has to serve an incredibly wide range of customers, from little kids to people who want to earn their living using just a tablet, and I don’t envy the folks at Apple who are trying to move the platform forward without alienating a wide swath of the iPad’s user base.

There is a lot of good in the iPad. Running the same library of apps as the iPhone is a big deal, and doing so in a more secure way than traditional personal computers is an even bigger one. The combination of a touch screen, the Apple Pencil, and traditional input methods like a keyboard and trackpad makes the iPad extremely versatile.

However, as I wrote yesterday, the iPad can never become what Apple promised unless Apple drastically changes course here.

Maybe Apple is okay with that. “The Mac is back from the brink,” you may say, “so why not have two platforms and let people choose which one is best for them?”

I think that’s the reality we’re living in now, but I’m not sure anyone has told Apple. The company seems to continue to believe that the iPad is a general-purpose computer, and it’s just not, at least for a lot of people. When WWDC rolls around in a few weeks, I suspect iPadOS will continue on the trajectory it is currently on, and I think many of us find that a bit underwhelming, especially given how incredible the iPad’s hardware is.