Apple’s iPad Pro and Convergence

Scott Francis
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Many Microsoft proponents (or at least, Apple critics) have been saying that obviously PCs and Tablets, or Laptops and Tablets, are destined to merge into one device.  This implies that the split between iOS and OSX is a hindrance rather than an advantage – and that Microsoft’s unified operating system, Windows 9, correction, Windows 10, was the better option.

But there’s a temptation to get lost in the technical details rather than the strategy. I thought Fraser Spiers put this best:

“What I wanted was Apple to adopt something like the Surface strategy. In saying that, I don’t mean I want Apple to take Mac OS X and jam it into a tablet. What I want is for Apple to make an iPad that can be my only computer.”

My thoughts on the split operating systems?

  • Each operating system is free to evolve at the right pace for the device it is supporting.  As a result, iOS can evolve faster and more dramatically than OSX.  That hasn’t been true for Microsoft’s slower Windows strategy. The pace of innovation on iOS dramatically exceeds either OSX or Windows.
  • Each operating system is held to an exacting standard of excellence. No awkward releases where user interfaces don’t seem to work well or work at all.  Windows 8 suffered from delivering a poor experience on both PCs and Tablets- neither satisfying touch use cases nor keyboard use cases and forcing users to do both when they want one or the other.
  • Each operating system takes none of the extra weight from the other. Each OS has features and APIs that make sense for its supported devices, but not for other devices.  The extra weight of the OSX operating system would use precious resources on mobile devices, and over the last 8 years would have crippled those devices in terms of available user memory.  iOS continues to sport a large advantage over Windows when it comes to the amount of space it uses on device.
  • Each operating system shares commonality where it matters.  For example, in the browser, in maps, in cloud services, in FaceTime, in iMessage, in Continuity.  In Mail, Photos, iTunes Music, Videos, productivity files and applications.  The user doesn’t have to care what operating system they’re interacting with, the line between operating system and device blurs or goes away. 
  • Each operating system does not have commonality where it is inappropriate.  How many times have you seen a mouse cursor on an iPad screen? Never. How many times have you seen it on a Surface when a user is doing something with touch?  Or seen a Surface user switch modes from the Metro UI to a more traditional Windows start button interface.  

When people say they see convergence coming, they may be right, but they may not get what they bargained for.  Because if you’re going to have a screen *and* a keyboard, there are advantages to using the extra space supporting a great keyboard to store battery, chips, and hardware that supports the device.   When you don’t have a keyboard, there are advantages to optimizing for touch use cases over keyboard use cases.

SurfacePro and other hybrid laptop/touchscreen users often talk about how they like the touch screen interface for certain actions.  But this is partly driven by the lack of a functioning track pad.  Apple’s track pads are so much better than any PC track pad that I’ve used as to be completely different devices. Manipulating objects on screen with the Apple TrackPad is natural and efficient and precise.  Trying the same on a typical PC product is an exercise in frustration.  The pads are too small, too imprecise, and too clunky.  So of course these same users would rather touch the screen to indicate what they want.  I rarely hear an Apple user make the same comment (and really, I don’t want those finger prints on my laptop screen!).

At the end of the day, the biggest issue is this:  Windows fans think that convergence is a goal.  Apple and its supports see convergence as a possible side effect – the goal is a great computing experience. If convergence achieves that, then it will happen naturally over time, when the whole user experience is right.

When it happens, my money is on it being iOS-based, and Apple ARM chip design-based, rather than OSX- and Intel-based.  And Apple won’t be first to market.  Microsoft and its manufacturers have that crown – just like they did 10-15 years ago with the first tablets. But where did that get them?  They’re not even on the map with tablets.

“The iPad Pro isn’t so much about the iPad Pro today as it is about what it and iOS will become by 2020: Apple’s vision for the future of personal computing.”