The iPad needs the software to catch up with its hardware

In case you missed it, Apple unveiled new iPad Pros April 20th for their Spring Loaded event. These new iPad Pros are beyond anything that was expected from a hardware perspective.

Here’s a quick list of the best new features:

  • M1 chip inside
  • 5G Capability
  • 12.9” iPad Pro gets an all new mini LED Liquid Retina XDR display
  • Up to 16GB of RAM available
  • Up to 2TB of storage (with SSDs that are twice as fast as previous drives in the iPad Pro)
  • All new 12MP front-facing camera with ultra-wide lens and Center Stage

It is clear that Apple is leaning hard into the idea that the iPad Pro can be a laptop replacement. According to Apple, the M1 processor offers 50% faster CPU than the A12Z and 40% faster graphic processing. it’s clear no punches were pulled.

The difference in hardware between the 2020 iPad Pro and the 2021 iPad Pro isn’t a small jump, it’s a large leap over the chasm between the Mac and the iPad. That said, I can’t help but wonder what about the software?

These latest iPad Pros aren’t looking to be an improvement in the user experience for the next version of iPadOS 14, but instead it is looking at iPadOS 15 and beyond.

It is almost a given that Apple has another trick or two up its sleeve for the iPad this year. They showed their hand for the hardware in the new iPad Pros but they have yet to flourish what iPadOS 15 will bring.

I’m not the only one that thinks that this is just part one of a two-part reveal for the future of the iPad.

Christopher Lawley spoke briefly about his thoughts on what is going to happen with iPadOS 15 saying this in his video about the event:

Seeing as this iPad both got the M1 which gave a huge CPU and GPU performance and a crap ton of more RAM this makes me think that there’s still another shoe to drop on the software side. That there is going to be other stuff that we’re gonna see probably at WWDC or maybe later this year.

Christopher also mentioned the release of the iPad Air 2 in his video, which was a very compelling example of the last time Apple threw everything into the next iPad. While it seemed like overkill at the time, iOS 9 started to make the iPad a pro user computer and it needed that new hardware to make it happen.

It reminds me in a lot of the iPad Air 2, the iPad Air 2 when it came out it was completely, it was overkill, it I was so powerful. But then we got iOS 9 and multi-tasking came along. So I m really curious to see what this other shoe is going to be that can drop.

I remember being so elated with Split Screen and Slide Over when it came out that I truly felt like it was the beginning of a fantastic run for the iPad. So far I still feel like we are in the midst of a transition for the iPad Pro to be an optimal choice for users wanting a fantastic computer.

However, I think that until the software catches up with this new hardware upgrade we will continue to see people comparing it to the Mac. In fact, Jason Snell raised an interesting point about this in his Macworld article.

This is the crux of the issue: Apple’s decision to market the iPad Pro as being powered by an M1 processor. As a marketing move, it’s solid. There’s been so much positive press about the M1 that wrapping the iPad Pro in its halo makes sense. (In truth, the M1 is an evolution of the processors Apple has been building for the iPad Pro for years, so the  real story is that the Mac has adopted the iPad Pro’s processor, not the reverse.)

Here’s the problem with this clever marketing, though: it draws a direct parallel between the iPad and the Mac. And while the Mac definitely lacks in some areas (no touchscreen or Apple Pencil support, for instance) you can basically do anything on your Mac, including run a bunch of apps that originated on the iPad.

The iPad Pro, in contrast, can’t do all sorts of pro” things that a professional-level user buying a device starting at $1,099 might want to do. They can’t run Mac apps (though if you connect a keyboard and trackpad,
you certainly could!), and Apple has failed to build iPad-optimized versions of its own professional apps.

Harry McCracken from Fast Company also had thoughts about the distance between hardware and software for the iPad Pro in his Fast Company article.

Ideally, a device’s software and hardware become so symbiotic that you stop thinking about the distinction between them. Over Apple’s long history, it’s achieved that state of zen more often than any other company. However, the iPad—at least in the iPad Pro era—has yet to reach it. The platform consists of remarkably advanced hardware running an operating system and apps that lag in sophistication.

To make the disparity even more obvious, new iPads don’t follow the dependable, synchronized release schedule of iPhones, which show up in the fall running a newly minted version of iOS. Buy one of these iPad Pros upon release, and you’ll probably be a bit antsy waiting for iPadOS 15—which, even if you’re brave enough to install a beta or preview version, is months away from availability.

Even though I am a huge advocate of the iPad as a computer, I can’t help but agree with Snell and McCraken here. It is a two-sided coin for Apple to give the iPad Pro an M1 chip. One one side it is a fantastic jump in specs and gives the iPad more power than ever before. On the other, it also directly links the iPad and Mac together because for the first time ever they have the same chipset.

I can see reviews coming a mile away claiming that the M1 chip is overkill for the iPad Pro and that it isn’t worth the same price as the MacBook Air, or that users should save money on the iPad Pro and just get the MacBook Air instead. As of right now, I can’t come up with any new arguments on behalf of the iPad than I had before this announcement.

My hope is with iOS 15 there will be more compelling reasons for people to buy the iPad over the MacBook Air.

What iPadOS 15 Needs

Here is a small list of things I believe needs to be in iPadOS 15. This isn’t what I expect to see at WWDC, but instead it is what I believe needs to be included in the iPad for it to really contend against the Mac as a laptop alternative.

Better Multitasking

It has been 6 years since Split View and Slide Over were introduced on the iPad. While these two features have been a staple for any pro user of the iPad very little has been improved upon it over the years.

I think it is high time for Apple to come up with a new system for multi-app workflows. Whether it is something more elegant and easier to manipulate or something that offers even more power I just want Apple to improve upon this feature set.

Pro Apps

I was really hoping that with the new iPad Pro announcement Apple would also give us a taste of Apple’s pro apps on the iPad as well. Apps like Final Cut, Logic, and Xcode are all fantastic examples of showcasing the power and ability these M1 chips can handle. Alas, nothing of the sort came of it. Instead Apple showcased third party apps that have pushed the envelope of what the iPad can do for years now.

As much as I love seeing Apple showcase developers and third-party apps I can’t help but feel that it is a crutch Apple leans on year over year instead of using their own apps to push the envelope on the iPad.

Widgets on the Home Screen

When widgets were introduced on the iPhone the whole world exploded and began customizing the look and feel of their devices. Sadly, when iPadOS 14 came out that ability was only contained for a portion of the first home screen page and nowhere else.

This was a blunder from Apple and it needs to be rectified for iPad users everywhere. I have wanted my iPad home screen to be more of a command center allowing me to get glimpses of everything happening in my day. I also want my widgets to be like mini-apps available on my home screen to use without needing to open the full app.

According to Mark Gurman this is already on the way.

The company is planning the most significant update to the device’s Home Screen since first launching the product in 2010. Following a similar feature for the iPhone introduced last year, Apple plans to let users place widgets — miniature apps that can display the weather, upcoming appointments, stock tickers and other data — anywhere on the Home Screen. Users will also be able to replace the entire app grid with only widgets.

Wrap Up

I am excited about the future of the iPad, and anyone who saw that keynote should be as well. This progress for the iPad Pro is tremendous and I cannot wait to see what Apple has in store for iPadOS 15.

That said, if Apple doesn’t deliver with some kind of power user features what was this all for?