On the iPad Pro

The reviews for the Apple Surface are coming in. There’s two reviews at The Verge, one at the Wall Street Journal, and John Gruber’s got early access from Apple as well.

The general gist? If you’ve ever read a Surface Pro review, you’ve read all the iPad Pro reviews. Well, mostly – the complaints leveled at the Surface Pro are being tip-toed around a bit now that they apply to an Apple product, of course, and suddenly, the magic argument “but it will get better in the future” is now completely valid, while the same argument is never considered valid for the Surface Pro (or something like the Priv and its early bugs).

That being said, all reviews dive into just how uncomfortable the iPad Pro is to use as a laptop – and the problem, of course, is iOS itself. iOS is a mobile, touch-first operating system that Apple is now trying to shoehorn into a laptop role. iOS provides no support for mice or trackpads, and the keyboard and iOS lack most basic shortcut keys, so in order to do anything other than typing, you’ll need to lift your arm and reach for the screen to use touch. This is something Apple has mocked for years as the reason not to include touch on laptops, and now they release a device which requires it 100%.

This is what happens when you run out of ideas and try to shoehorn your cashcow – iOS – into a role it was never intended to fulfill, without being gutsy enough to make the changes it requires. The iPad Pro is clearly screaming for a touchpad (and proper keyboard shortcuts), but it doesn’t have any, and according to John Gruber, it never will (a comment I filed away for later when Apple inevitably adds mouse support to iOS).

Microsoft’s Surface may not be perfect, but its problems stem almost exclusively not from a lack in hardware capability or a faulty concept, but from Microsoft’s Metro environment being utterly shit. The concept of having a tablet and a laptop in the same device, seamlessly switching between a tablet UI and a desktop UI, is sound – the only problem is that Microsoft doesn’t have a working tablet UI and applications. Meanwhile, trying to shoehorn a mobile, touch-first UI into a laptop form factor is just as silly and idiotic as trying to shoehorn a desktop UI into a mobile, touch-first form factor – and Apple should know better.

Or should they? Paul Thurrott, earlier this week:

While the iPad Pro was in many ways inevitable, it also points to a crisis of original thought at Apple, which has been coasting on the iPhone’s coattails for perhaps too long. At Apple, the solution to every problem is another iPhone. And the iPad Pro, like the new Apple TV and the Apple Watch, is really just another attempt to duplicate that singular success in other markets.

Thurrott really hits the nail on the head. The iPhone became a success because Apple sought – and succeeded in – designing an interface and interaction model that was specifically designed for the iPhone’s input methods – the multitouch display, the home button. Ever since that major big hit, they’ve been trying to shoehorn that exact same interface and interaction model into every major new product – the Apple Watch, the new Apple TV, and now the iPad Pro. However, if there’s one thing we’ve learned from Palm OS (pen-first, mobile-first) and iOS (multitouch-first, mobile-first), it’s that every form factor needs a tailored interaction model – not a shoehorned one.

When you’re a hammer, every problem looks like a nail – which sums up Apple’s new major product lines ever since the release of the iPhone, and the iPad Pro seems no different. It will do great as an iPad+, but beyond that? It’s not going to make a single, meaningful dent, without considerable restructuring of iOS’ UI and interaction models – and lots and lots of crow.

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