The iPad Event

I was struggling to make it through yesterday’s iPad event video. At one point I paused and went outside to do some weeding. That’s how captivating the event video was. Weeding!

Part of that is the fault of Apple’s formulaic and sterile presentations, which are not a new phenomenon at this point. Lex Friedman, and others, would like Apple to bring back live events to get some life back into these things. I doubt they’d give over this level of control for the chaos of live events, but just something recorded that’s more energetic. It’s giving “high school presentation”. It’s giving somnambulant, honey.

The other issue was the subject matter —iPads.

As I said on Mastodon:

If you are someone who regularly uses an iPad, and you needed new hardware for some reason, then any new iPad hardware is an iPad for you. If you didn’t use an iPad (or had one collecting dust on a shelf) I don’t know why today’s announcements would make you want to buy an iPad.

That’s what I keep coming back to when I consider a media event like this. This was a big production, both in terms of the video itself, and the dual press events in New York and London. It’s not nothin’ to go through this effort to pitch these iPads to consumers either directly, through the sleepy video, or indirectly, through the press.

To go through all that effort and the appeal of the new iPad Air is that it’s like an older iPad Pro, and that the iPad Pro is a thinner iPad Pro, is … well … underwhelming if the hardware wasn’t a primary concern for you before yesterday.

The tandem OLED is great. The M4 sounds pretty amazing (I can’t wait until that display controller finds its way into Macs). The Pencil Pro seems nice, if perhaps a little over engineered for people used to Wacom tablets that have been asking for physical buttons and comfortable grips. The new Magic Keyboard seems very MacBook-like with its function row, and big touch pad.

However the headline feature that Apple thinks will knock our socks off is that the iPad Pro is Apple’s thinnest device ever. [Sound of crickets chirping.]

This is an especially challenging sales pitch when the price of an iPad Pro has ratcheted up a little, and it needs new accessories if you want to do those fancy things. You wind up spending more than it would cost to buy some Macs. Yet, if you spent that comparable sum, you might have a far less capable machine because of the tremendous peaks and valleys in what an iPad can do.

The consistent refrain before, and after the event is that Apple isn’t addressing the iPad software platform.

Jason Snell:

What I’m saying is, when it comes to iPad Pro hardware, it feels almost like Apple can do no wrong. On the software side, iPadOS is still rife with limitations that probably don’t matter much if you’re just using it to watch TV in bed or triage a few emails—but matter a lot if you’re trying to go beyond a limited set of features and some specific apps.

I will live in hope that the next version of iPadOS will address some more of these issues. (I have expressed this sentiment every single time a new iPad Pro has been released. It hasn’t helped.)

Federico Viticci:

The elephant in the room, which I plan to address more in-depth in a future story, is that while the iPad Pro’s hardware was fine before and is finer now, its software was a letdown before, and nothing has changed after today’s event. I don’t need to rehashwhy I think Apple is missing a huge opportunity by not embracing the iPad Pro as a machine that could do both iPadOS and macOS equally well in the same package. I’ll save that for iPadOS 18 at WWDC. What I will say is that if there was a gap between the older-generation iPad Pro hardware and its software, that gap is now a Tears of the Kingdom-sized chasm between these thin, OLED iPad Pros and iPadOS 17.

Marques Brownlee:

“But the thing is, and I feel like we’ve been saying this for years, is it kind of doesn’t matter how powerful they make the iPad. It’s still an iPad, right? It’s still iPadOS. And we’ve seen gigantic improvements in the M-series chips. And these iPads are like the most powerful chips on paper ever, but they’re still iPads. So the last thing we need after all this time is just another spec-bumped iPad, right? […] So in this awkward meantime [between iPads shipping next week and WWDC], here we have these really, really impressive spec-bumped iPad Pros, but the list of things it can do is the same as my three year-old M1. Just saying. What a time to be alive.

While Stephen Hackett didn’t attend the press events in person, he’s got a pretty succinct critique on his blog:

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.

So, like I was saying, there’s no sales pitch here for people that were previously uninterested in iPads. As if the maximum addressable iPad market has been reached and now the only way to move the needle on sales is to entice existing owners to upgrade.

The Mac is still pitted against the array of PC vendors out there, so it does have a sales pitch to those PC buyers and isn’t just reliant on its own iterations. The iPad is also poised as a PC replacement, but it’s always depicted as a more appliance-like replacement.

Send some emails, use QuickBooks on BART, “catch up on a hit show, like Palm Royale.”

People do use and love their iPads, so perhaps what it is is enough. It serves a role.

The iPad might not ever need to be more than the iPad is now, but at this point you know if that aligns with you or not. Unlike some others, I’m not expecting any dramatic innovations at WWDC this Summer, and even if there were you’d be on a beta iPadOS until the Fall if you really wanted to use them.

But the Pro Apps

I am really at a loss when it comes to Apple’s Final Cut Pro for iPad 2 and Logic Pro for iPad 2. Lovely names. I haven’t heard of anyone using the first versions (which is not to say that no one uses them, just that if there was a professional non-linear editor for $4.99 a month you’d maybe hear about someone using it.)

Apple might have thought it sounded impressive when they punctuated the event with, “Shot on iPhone. Edited on Mac and iPad.” That’s not quite as impressive as the fall MacBook event that was shot on iPhones. I’ll be interested to see if they release a BTS video in a few days that shows us how much of this was Final Cut Pro for iPad. At what point did they export the project files on that one-way trip to the Mac? How much did they render on the iPad?

Functionally, they still don’t match the desktop counterparts feature for feature. Like exporting video, which you can’t do in the background or it will kill the export.

The Final Cut Pro for iPad project file format continues to be incapable of round-tripping between a Mac and back to an iPad. It’s a one-way trip.

As already noted, the project files can at least finally live somewhere other than the iPad’s on-device storage. I’d love to hear an explanation about why that feature took this long.

They still can’t use disparate files in the file system though, which is bananas. Sure, you reduce the chance that someone will open a project file to find missing media, but you also bloat this opaque package file container, and need to pay attention to whether or not you have “Include All Media” checked when you export your project for a Mac or you lose anything that’s not being currently used on the timeline.

I do understand that things are this way because iPadOS file management is based on iOS file management, and that can’t ever be as complicated as a Mac because it might hurt people’s wittew bwains, but aren’t these pro apps supposedly for people that would use Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro on a Mac? Who is the target market?

Personally, I was also a little let down that the new features for announced for Final Cut Pro for iPad 2 and Logic Pro for iPad 2 were mentioned to bolster the iPad, when those same features were coming to the Mac. Not because I wanted those features to be exclusive, but because it felt misleading to frame them as iPad features and quietly mention the Mac.

With the notable exception of Final Cut Camera (woof, what a name) multi-cam support, which apparently a Mac can’t handle. It must be because the file system is too complicated on the Mac.

Back to the Future

The main tension here seems to be people who want to be able to use an iPad as a complete drop-in replacement (or merely on-the-road substitution) for a Mac in as close to 100% of the circumstances that they would use a Mac for. Otherwise that is all that M4 horsepower for? Jason and Federico have both opined that the solution to this ought to be with Mac virtualization. Letting people choose to run a macOS environment on their iPad which has the same M-class chips.

If people are asking themselves “how much RAM should I get for my iPad?” Then maybe we’ve crossed into more Mac-like territory than people are willing to admit.

I don’t think that is an unreasonable request, and it seems to be the simplest route to appease those users, while also leaving the basic iPad experience unmolested.

Fold iPadOS back into iOS. The jig is up anyway. When iPadOS was split off from iOS it was supposedly to let it be its own thing, but that hasn’t happened. It’s just a platform Apple can deprioritize when they’re focusing on getting iOS out for the far more important new iPhones.

Let iOS be Apple’s friendly, touch operating system. Let macOS be Apple’s slightly less-friendly OS for power users.

Would it be a great touch-first experience to use today’s macOS on the iPad? No, but that’s way less of a problem than some “but but” nerds make it out to be, because of accessories, like the new Magic Keyboard that looks just like the lower half of a MacBook Air, touch pad and all. Universal Control, virtual desktops, etc. People are already capable of using that UI on those devices. No one would be required to use it anyway.

In my humble opinion, it seems much more difficult, and fraught to revise everything from the file system up so that not everything needs to live in package files. To allow background export and rendering entitlements so people could actually multitask. An honest to god Terminal app where people could install things like Python, or Node to do development (even if that was sandboxed from the system processes, but could mingle freely with files).

Anyway, this is my two cents, as someone that can’t remember the last time he charged his iPad Pro. Make of it what you will, but definitely listen to the far more exuberant iPad users that feel a little bummed out by the best iPad Airs and the best iPad Pros ever made.

2024-05-08 17:30:00

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