The iPad is Not a Truck

In his review of the iPad Air, Nilay Patel longs for Apple to make the iPad the One Device. (Read my own review of the iPad Air here.) Recalling the iPad-as-car/PC-as-truck analogy, he reconsiders Apple’s usually-admired philosophy of boldly saying “no” to ideas and product features in order to achieve perfection:

I don’t think most people can fully replace their PCs with an iPad Air. Not just yet. The potential is there, just off in the distance and over the next hill, but we won’t get there until iOS sheds the culture of no and embraces the fundamental truth about cars: they’re about freedom. They’re about personality and expression and waking up early to stare down the sunrise on the coast with a heart full of possibility and the means to achieve it.

Cars are about yes.

I understand where Patel is coming from, but I think there’s something missed.

For one thing, while he (and maybe even I) may wish to replace his PC with an iPad, that’s not the kind of device Apple is trying to make with the iPad. Patel’s critique presumes that the new iPad in a sense fails because it still can’t handle (or can’t handle well) all the tasks performed by consumer PCs. But Apple clearly doesn’t intend to make that device. Steve Jobs said as much when he introduced the iPad in 2010; the iPad fits in between a laptop and a smartphone, and does certain things better than either. It is intended to replace neither of them. But folks are welcome to try, of course.

Truly, I think what Patel really wants (and again, maybe me, too) is a different device entirely. Something more like the Microsoft Surface Pro 2, but with iOS/OS X, and designed with the taste and exacting standards of Apple. This speculative machine, however, is not an iPad, though it would clearly inherit many, if not most, of its features. More likely, it’s a variation on the MacBook, slimmed down and portability-optimized well beyond where even the 11″ MacBook Air is today, with a Retina-quality touchscreen.

I’d like that device. But it’s not an iPad, and if you take the iPad for what it’s intended, you can see that it hasn’t missed any marks or opportunities on this point .

It’s another issue, though related, as to whether the iPad version of iOS should differentiate itself more from the iPhone variant, which I think it really should. And Patel gets this right, and I don’t think it’s come up much:

There’s still clearly so much left unexplored about the iPad and what it can do — all that boasting about iPad-optimized apps gets a little less meaningful when it’s clear that even Apple hasn’t spent a lot of time thinking about how certain things should be tailored to the iPad instead of the iPhone.

Shouldn’t Siri be a different experience here? Shouldn’t the camera app offer some tangible benefit to the growing number of people who insist on taking photos with their tablets? Why is the notification system still so goofy, and why does multitasking feel so jumpy?

All solid points. But what is the end goal for making these improvements? Let’s use Patel’s own analogy. Cars may be about “yes,” but not “yes, make me more like a truck.” Perhaps Apple isn’t looking to make the iPad more PC-like, but to make it a better, and more fully-realized iPad.

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